Coyne’s Third Rule for Life

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, when I was about twelve I decided to compile a list of “Coyne’s Rules for Life”: a series of simple instructions that, I supposed, would improve everyone’s existence.  Ah, I was a lad full of hauteur then!  But I still maintain that the first two rules,  formulated at that early age, are useful. I never got past the second rule.

But now I’d like to report that, more than half a century later, I’ve come up with Rule #3!

First, let’s review rules #1 and #2:

Rule 1: When you’re buttoning your shirt or sweater, always start with the bottom button, and work your way up. (That way you’re sure not to put a button in the wrong hole.) Everyone should do this!

Rule 2: When running the water for a bath or tuning on a shower, turn the cold water on first, then add the hot. In that way you won’t scald yourself when testing the water.

And now I present the the rule I formulated today after nearly bumping into someone on the street at high speed, and then engaging in one of those “body-jousting contests” in which each person moves to the same side so that bumping is not avoided. Sometimes the mutual side-stepping can go on several times. The solution?:

Rule 3: When you are walking down the sidewalk, or in the street, and encounter another human or bicycle about to  bump into you, stop walking and stand in place! The other person or vehicle will swerve to avoid you, and thus avoid a collision.

I invite readers to add to these rules. Remember, these are Rules for Life, which differ from “Laws of Life,” like “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I am asking for practical hints that will help nearly everyone.

A reader wins the “name the kitten” prize

On February 2, I showed the following picture of this unnamed Bengal kitten (to be precise, a “seal lynx point” Bengal), and asked readers to suggest a name, offering an autographed and cat-emblazoned copy of WEIT to whoever gave an adopted name.


One of the names that owner Joe and his people were tossing around was “Ozzy,” and a reader suggested this:

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Sure enough, I’ve just ascertained that pacopicopiedra’s name was adopted as the cat’s official pedigree name. Joe wrote me this:

Yes, his full name is Jayuzuri Blizzard of Oz, with us calling him Ozzy.

So, pacopicopedra, whoever you are, send me your address and how you want your book signed, and I’ll get one out (I’ve now replenished my supply). By the way, I asked Joe for the latest picture of Ozzy, and here it is;


My New Republic piece on faith-healing laws

I guess I’ve developed a side hobby of writing about laws that exempt parents from prosecution after they’ve hurt or killed their kids by rejecting scientific medicine in favor of faith healing. But it really angers me, for it’s a tangible case of harm that’s not only caused by religious faith (or faith in woo), but is completely preventible. Without religion, hundreds of kids would not have died, many in horrible agony.

My post from Friday on Christy Perry, a Republican advocate of keeping Idaho’s religion-exemption laws (you can’t be prosecuted for anything in that state if you harm your child by relying solely on faith-healing), has been fully revamped, and is now published in The New Republic as “Faith-healer parents who let their child die should go to jail.

You might go have a look just to give the site some attention. I feel strongly about this issue, and if you’re in Idaho please lobby your state legislator to support the rollback of the exemption laws in a bill that will come up this year.

Saturday Night Live does an ISIS ad

I used to watch SNL religiously (that’s a metaphor), but lost interest after a while when the last actor I liked—Chris Farley—died. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but it’s never seem to recapture the days of the original cast: Bill Murray, Jane Curtin, Larraine Newman, Chevy Chase, and especially the comic geniuses of Gilda Radner and John Belushi.  But occasionally they still have some funny bits, and this is one. It’s at once funny, shocking and sad, especially in light of the three British students who absconded to Syria not long ago.

You might recognize Dakota Johnson, one of the stars of The Movie That Shall Not Be Named.

Yahoo News reports widespread outrage about the ad, but I find it a clever satire, and certainly not tasteless. But if you disagree, you’re welcome to weigh in below.

Imagine waking up to find your daughter has joined ISIS. You know you’ll never see them again, and one of the British women who joined them sent a message to her parents that she’d “meet them in the hereafter.”

Jeffrey Tayler: Let’s offend religion more often

I continue to be amazed and impressed by Jeffrey Tayler’s anti-theist writings at Salon (see here, here and here for earlier examples). And I’m nearly as amazed that Salon, the bastion of New Atheist bashing, publishes this stuff.

Tayler, a contributing editor at The Atlantic who lives in and reports about Russia, and has written many books about various places, has a new and productive sideline in going after religion. His latest effort in Salon has the pull-no-punches title, “We must offend religion more: Islam, Christianity and our tolerance for ancient myths, harmful ideas.” Unless you’re one of the few religionists who reads this site, you’ll like it, for it’s positively Hitchensian in its eloquence and “stridency.”

Tayler takes off from the Charlie Hebdo affair, and his message is to de-fang religion by constantly calling it out for its harms, which, he says, will eventually reduce those harms—at least the incessant terrorism directed at journalists, bloggers, and outspoken critics of Islam.  A few apposite quotes:

Let’s dispense straightaway with the juvenile argument of “offense” (to religious sentiment) as grounds for declining to publish or say anything.  No Western constitution or legal code guarantees citizens the right to go about life free from offense.  Laws provide for freedom of expression (with some restrictions, especially regarding state security, hate crime and incitement to violence), but they cannot forbid potentially offensive expression without destroying the very right they are meant to protect.  (French law forbids denying the Holocaust, which does create contradictions and harm free speech, but that is another matter.)

If we decided to recognize such offense as an actionable private wrong, how would we, in any case, measure it, or determine what is de jure offensive?  To devout Muslims, the sight of uncovered women and the serving of pork and alcoholic beverages cause offense.  Devout Hindus would certainly find beef offensive.  Devout Catholics could draw up their own list, and Jews, another.  In short, a lot of things might offend a great number of people all over the place.  In a world ever more connected by the Internet – the means by which “offensive” Muhammad cartoons reached Muslim-majority countries as distant from Europe as Indonesia – there is no way to guard against offending someone, somewhere.  We should not be obligated to take into account a work’s potential for inciting murderous mass tantrums in faraway lands or slaughter at home when evaluating it for publication.

To those who defended Columbia University’s “this-is-a-safe-space-where-we-shall-offend-no-one” signs, read that second paragraph again. And remember that a room containing a devout Muslim and a female Columbia student with visible ankles or uncovered hair, is not a “safe space” for that Muslim. Nor is a room in which a hyper-Orthodox Jew must sit next to a woman.

But wait! There’s more! With the lovely paragraphs above, you get this as a bonus:

A surfeit of slipshod thinking and befuddled verbiage has complicated our discourse about both the Charlie Hebdo and Lars Vilks affairs.  Notwithstanding logic and the damage done to our prospects for self-preservation, we avoid frank talk about Islam – the main faith today inspiring terrorism.  It helps no one to hurl poppycock slurs such as “Islamophobe” or Islamophobic” at those who talk forthrightly about this.  And remember, unless you solemnly believe in the Quran, there is nothing – absolutely nothing — in it to “respect.”  (The same goes for the Bible and the Torah, of course.)  Attempts to shield religions from censure in the face of overwhelming evidence – President Obamaleads the pack of invertebrate Western politicians doing this — amount to nothing more than pandering acceptance of ancient myths, harmful ideas and the increasingly gruesome violence to which they often lead.  Ideologies merit no a priori respect; people do.

(The word “invertebrate” comes, I suspect, from Mencken via Hitchens, and it’s exactly appropriate.) We should adopt the last sentence of that paragraph as a motto. One reader suggested to me, and I think it’s a great idea, that we replace “Islamophobe” with “Muslimophobe.” The latter term is much clearer as an indication of bigotry, while the former conflates dislike of Islam with bigotry against Muslims, a conflation that many people deliberately promote.

Finally, I didn’t realize that sharia councils were still going things in the UK. I’d heard about them, of course, but thought that they’d been abolished. Apparently I was wrong. Nor did I know that those councils were approved by, of all people, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Britain should deep-six them immediately.

We have, in fact, begun surrendering in the West, and not just by buying into the notion that criticizing Islam is tantamount to attacking Muslims as people.  We should shiver with revulsion at the example of multicultural “tolerance” with which the United Kingdom has furnished us.  There, for Muslims who turn to them (for women, this is not necessarily a voluntary move), 85 Shariah councils dispense “justice” in “family matters” – marriage and divorce, inheritance and domestic violence.  That is, in matters in which girls and women are most vulnerable.  (A campaign is underway to abolish the councils.)  In pursuing this path of “tolerance” the United Kingdom has traduced Muslim women hoping for a decent life in a “developed” country, including those who just want to keep their clitorises safe from the savage ritual of female genital mutilation.  The U.K. outlawed this in 1985, but families often send their young daughters back to the home country for a “vacation,” during which local butchers set to work slicing off their clitorises and sowing up their vaginas – at times without anesthesia.  A 2003 law would throw parents in jail for 14 years for forcing such a “holiday” on their daughters, but so far, no one has been convicted.  The practice continues.

Who came up with the idea of establishing Shariah courts in the land of Shakespeare and Byron?  Not Muslims angry at being discriminated against.  No, none other than a good Christian “man of the cloth” – the bland sobriquet should really be one of foul opprobrium — the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams.  In 2008 Williams declared that such a sickening “beau geste” toward (radical and not so radical) imams would lead to better “community relations.”  This is the sort of “multicultural tolerance” beloved by all those “men of faith” (of whatever sect, and I do mean men) who slyly scheme or openly militate for the second-class status of women, for interference with a woman’s right to do as she pleases with her body, for the stigmatization (or worse) of sexual minorities, for a culture of shame attaching to sex, and for the child-abuse teaching in schools of ludicrous explanations about our entirely non-celestial origins.  With bishops like Williams, who needs imams for enemies?

Like it or not, we are engaged in a struggle for the soul of our Enlightenment civilization.

. . . In this war, the best weapon, by far, is the truth.  Now more than ever, telling the truth counts.  So please, do it.

Now isn’t that refreshing after the waffling, dissimulation, and pandering of unctuous people like Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong, and Glenn Greenwald? Let’s hope Tayler continues to turn these out at Salon. Even if we agree with him already, it gives us a frisson of pleasure to hear this again. And perhaps those on the fence will be converted as well. It’s not impossible, for people like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, despite their supposedly strident rhetoric, turned many away from faith.

McMaster University’s disgusting apologia in the Makayla Sault case

If you’re a complete n00b here, we’ve been following the story of Makayla Sault, a Canadian First Nations girl who died of leukemia at the age of 11 because her parents decided to abandon the live-saving chemotherapy and try “traditional” cures, including the traditional Aboriginal cure of visiting the Hippocrates Quack Health Institute in Florida for a vegetarian diet, vitamin injections, and “cold laser therapy.” It didn’t work, of course, and Makayla recently died.

“J. J.,” another First Nations girl, also afflicted with leukemia at age 11, has similarly given up chemo for “alternative” (i.e., ineffectual) medicine with her parent’s support; she will die soon, too.

Last week I reported that Makayla’s mother, Sonya Sault, gave a self-serving and exculpatory lecture at McMaster University under the aegis of McMaster’s Indigenous Studies program. As the Globe and Mail reported, “Ms. Sault spoke at an event organized by McMaster University’s Indigenous Studies Program in an effort to understand the problems between First Nation peoples and the health-care system.” Ms. Sault reported that her daughter had pleaded for the cessation of chemotherapy, implicitly pinning Makayla’s death on the child’s own wishes. That’s reprehensible, for the parents’ job is to ensure that the child understood that any sickness from chemotherapy was a necessary side effect to save her life (and now there are drugs to alleviate those side effects). Their job was not to cave in to the child’s request, or to pressure from their tribe.

As far as “understanding the problems between First Nation peoples and the health-care system” goes, it’s clear from both the lecture and the smarmy letter below that what McMaster means is that the health-care people need to allow First Nations people to abandon scientific medicine for their own ineffectual but indigenous cures. The understanding is meant to be one-way, not mutual.

This letter, which I found on McMaster University’s Indigenous Studies Program website, is an exercise in political correctness, using the excuse of expressing sorrow for Makayla’s death to push the program’s own agenda.

Now it’s admirable to try to preserve traditional cultures and prevent discrimination against First Nations people, but this letter implies more: the “culture” that should be preserved includes the right of First Nations people to kill their children by withholding modern medicine. Although couched as a plea for mutual tolerance, the letter is really about everybody else respecting the wishes of First Nations people:

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This letter positive drips with disingenuousness.  Let’s deconstruct it:

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They expressed their support for a decision that would surely kill the girl, for the survival rate for untreated lymphoblastic leukemia is 0%. And really, to say that the young girl was “wiser” than all of us? That’s ridiculous and patronizing, for unless Makayla was completely irrational or unwise (and she did have a vision 0f Jesus), she would have endured the chemotherapy to stay alive. And if she wanted to reject it, her parents should have insisted otherwise. And since her parents didn’t, the Canadian government should have stepped in. In what sense it it “wise” to allow a child to die when she had a substantial chance—72%, according to her doctors—of being alive. And really, were the Indigenous Studies (IS) folks “optimistic” about her survival? Her doctors sure weren’t, for, unlike the IS people, they knew the prognosis was terminal without treatment.

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What they mean here, which is clear from the rest of the letter, is that they want the doctors and public to learn, not the First Nations people or those who supported the Saults’ decision to kill their child. They are more interested in preserving the sensitivities of First Nations cultures than in saving the lives of First Nations children. As far as I can know, Makayla wasn’t mistreated or bullied (although the parents, probably ridden with guilt, might claim so), and the “stress” experienced by her family and community came largely from the public who objected to their callous decision. If they were “stressed,” well, that’s just too damn bad. The child’s life was at stake.

What this whole letter boils down to is this lesson: “Our goal is to ensure that First Nations people don’t get offended or upset when dealing with the healthcare system. If we must allow children to die preserve the equanimity of the parents and tribe, we will.”

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I suggest you read that disgusting editorial in CMAJ, “Caring for Aboriginal patients requires trust and respect, not courtrooms.” In its call for doctors to respect the feelings of “Aboriginals” (which of course they should—up to the point that that respect is fatal), the physician-authors basically put the imprimatur on the court’s decision to allow J. J. (the still-surviving child) to forego therapy, thus sentencing her to death. From their paper:

Had the court forced J.J. to undergo such treatment, the mistrust, anger and resistance that might have ensued within her community could have greatly compromised any future ability to provide optimal care not only to her, but to all Aboriginal people. For the state to remove a child from her parents and enforce medical treatment would pose serious, possibly lifelong, repercussions for any family, but such action holds a unique horror for Aboriginal people given the legacy of residential schools.

I’m sorry about those horrible residential schools, which have thankfully been eliminated, but children’s lives are at stake now.  If courts must force children to take life-saving treatment, and that angers Aboriginal people, I’m sorry, but life trumps feelings. And perhaps those people will eventually learn that the doctors know best in cases like this.

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While there is perhaps a hidden message here that First Nations people should also work with the doctors (i.e.,  accept medical care), it’s not very obvious. And, as you see from the first sentence above, the IS people affix the blame for the situation on the “insensitive” health care providers. But really, would an increased “sensitivity” have changed the Saults’ minds? I doubt it, for, according to them, they acceded to Makayla’s own wishes to avoid a treatment that made her sick. That has nothing to do with cultural insensitivity. And I seriously doubt that the doctors treated Makayla and her parents badly; at least there is no evidence of it from the news.

The root cause of “this case”, if by that we mean Makayla’s death, is the inability of her and her parents to either understand the odds, or their insistence on ineffectual traditional medicine (i.e., cold-laser treatments). Another root cause the murderous sensitivity of the IS people and the Canadian government in “respecting” the parents’ decision. “Indigenous medicine” deserves respect and support only insofar as it works, which in this case didn’t—and couldn’t.

This whole letter is an exercise in exculpation, couched in the terms of political correctness: “mutual respect,” “cultural safety,” “respect and support of indigenous medicine,” and so on.  What it leaves out is that the course of action recommended by McMaster’s Indigenous Studies program led to the death of this child:


I am not suggesting, of course, that doctors be insensitive to the backgrounds and feelings of their patients, whoever they be. But I’m suggesting that if parents try to force a religiously- or ethnically-motivated “treatment” on their children, a treatment guaranteed to hurt or kill them, then that’s where the sensitivity must stop and the coercion must begin. By supporting Makayla’s refusal of scientific treatment, McMaster’s Indigenous Studies Program is complicit in her death. They sense this. In response, they blame the doctors for their insensitivity. The letter sent by the IS program is doubly repugnant because it’s an attempt to exculpate their participation in the Sault Charade by chastising doctors and the public. The Indigenous Studies Program should have kept their noses out of this case, and recognized that their politically-correct academic stance is deadly to a child with leukemia. I am particularly offended by the letter’s supposed intention of “honouring Makayla.” It’s better to honour a child by saving her life than to engage in postmortem recriminations and breast-beating.

If you want to voice your opinion about this (and I’m sure emails from Canadians will carry the most weight, but I urge anybody who feels strongly about this to write in), this address, of the director of the Indigenous Studies Program, seems to be the most appropriate address from see the “contact” page for other officials):

Dr. Rick Monture

Hamilton Hall 103/H


Readers’ wildlife photos

My call for photos elicited a bonanza of lovely pictures, so our tank is temporarily full. Thanks to those who replied!

Let’s start, as is customary, with photos from Stephen Barnard in Idaho. He calls these photos of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) “Mug shots” (probably for the crime of piscicide). I’m not sure whether these are of Desi (the male of the pair) or Lucy:



Raptors from reader Bruce Fall:

 These are juvenile Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii), a species you have featured previously. These were taken in July 2013 in my small South Minneapolis backyard. Five youngsters fledged from the nest in a neighbor’s yard, and hung out for weeks in our yard; we rarely saw the parents. The first photo is of three drinking and bathing in the birdbath; the other two were on the ground below.


The second is of two siblings side by side on a crossbar. According to Birds of North America Online, females are 1/3 bigger than males, which is one of the most extreme cases of reverse size dimorphism in hawks. Although I can’t confirm the sex of these birds, presumably the big one on the left is a female and the much smaller one on the right is a male. These are weeks out of the nest and full sized; they aren’t going to get any bigger. Females are roughly the size of crows.


Here are a couple of landscape photos from reader Todd Fife of Kentucky, who likes to photograph arches:

Kentucky is only behind Utah (and maybe Arizona) in the total number of these geologic features.  All the arches I have included here are on private property.  The one of Hall Hollow is two photos spliced together.

Hall Hollow:


Bear Pen Hollow:

bear_pen_hollowReelfoot Lake, Dawn:



Pride of Man

We continue on with the songs of Gordon Lightfoot from his first (and best) album “Lightfoot!“, released in 1966. “Pride of Man,” was written by Hamilton Camp (1934-2005), and is one of only three cuts on the album not composed by Lightfoot. It’s religious—almost like the book of Deuteronomy set to music—but it’s still a great song.

Monday: Hili dialogue

Thank Ceiling Cat for small mercies: the temperatures this week are predicted to be above freezing for the first time in ages. Here are the predicted high and low temperatures for Chicago over the next seven days (in °F).

Screen shot 2015-03-02 at 4.00.48 AM45°F high tomorrow: I can hardly believe it. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the beasts find their warmth with each other, and hey, that’s my sofa that Cyrus is on!

Cyrus: Why do we insist on sleeping on this small sofa?
Hili: Because it has higher social prestige.

(Photo: Sarah Lawson)
In Polish:
Cyrus: Dlaczego my się upieramy, żeby spać na tej małej sofie?
Hili: Bo ma wyższy prestiż społeczny.
(Zdjęcie: Sarah Lawson)
And some felid lagniappe: check out this link provided by reader Susan.


The phinal Philomena

It’s with a heavy heart that I inform you that, after today’s post, we’ll have exhausted all of Philomena Cunk’s “Moments of Wonder” clips—and I don’t know if there will be any more. But reader Alex kindly called my attention the new posting on YouTube of the entire episode of “Weekly Wipe” from last Friday, and if you follow the time marks I’m about to give you, you can see Philomena in all her glory. The video is below.

For “Moments of Wonder” on “Medicine”, start at 25:31 and go to the end.

For Philomena and Barry Shitpeas’ analyses of the 2015 Oscars, start at 15:25 and stop at 19:41.

And yes, Monster Munch really exists. Has anyone tried it?
But take heart, there are other Cunk videos aboot, and we’ll have one from time to time. For example, here’s Philomena and Barry’s earlier review of the movie “Twelve Years a Slave” (from the beginning of the clip to 1:24).
And here’s some new jargon to be used here:
“Going full Cunk”: Irredeemably thick
“Cunked out”: The result of the action named above
“Cunk it up”: Act thicker than you are (Diane Morgan’s own term)



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