Ireland’s Same Sex Marriage Referendum: The Losing Side responds.

by Grania Spingies

In May this year Ireland voted to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The results demonstrated that there is a bizarre disconnect in the Catholic Church. While Bishops and other dignitaries urged a No vote and then denounced the subsequent result; the slam-dunk victory for equality came from the very people the Bishops had been counting on: the average Irish Catholic.

Some of the subsequent responses of those hoping for a No vote have been saner than others.

Prior to the election certain hard-liners amongst the clergy had warned that the Church would no longer conduct the civil part of the marriage ceremony if Ireland voted Yes. It’s not clear to me whether this was intended to be some sort of threat to motivate the general public to vote for the “right” thing; or whether the powers that be were simply overthinking things and thought this would protect them from having to conduct same sex marriages. Either way, they have done an about-face on this position. Considering the demand for civil ceremonies is on the rise in Ireland and church attendance is dwindling, this may have been a very sensible decision on the part of the Bishops. They had little to gain, but there was the prospect of plenty of money and good will to lose.

Then there were the law suits. These were private applications challenging the legality of the Referendum. Both seemed to be weak and spurious claiming that the Referendum was “unfair”. The argument seemed to be based on the fact that more people appeared to be voicing support for a Yes vote and that therefore the No vote was not getting equal coverage.

My favorite allegation: An Post (the Irish post office) issuing a St Valentine’s Day Love stamp with an equality symbol was a “subliminal message” influencing the Irish voter.


Both cases lost and their appeals were rejected yesterday.

Last, and almost certainly least, we get to the lonely campaign waged by the so-called Dublin-based “Children’s Protection Society”, whose decades-long battle against modernity and secularism makes liberal use of conspiracy theories and made-up facts; from their 1996 battle against condoms being made available in vending machines, to their rabid pro-life screed (it’s certainly colorful and creative) and in recent days this was handed out at a public shopping center.


It’s possible that this is simply meant as a punitive rebuke to all those who voted Yes in the Referendum. One can only assume that its authors firmly believe that no-one knows how to use the Internet to verify its spittle-flecked claims.

Either way, they’ve lost. There isn’t going to be a do-over. Only time will tell whether the naysayers will choose to accept that gracefully or whether they will continue to rail against it.

Cecil the Lion: The Séance

by Grania

Most of you will already know of this story, an American tourist hunted and killed a lion in Zimbabwe and is now being investigated because the lion he shot happened to be a beloved tourist attraction at Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve, Hwange National Park. Walter Palmer is now under investigation as this hunt was clearly not legal although he maintains that he thought it was. Inevitably in the Age of The Internet,  he is also now the target of threats and abuse both online and in the “real” world. He may deserve no better, but mob justice is always going to end badly. Humanity knows this from countless lessons in history. It’s why we have courts and laws and lawyers. But we don’t always seem to remember our history, and more’s the pity.

I don’t really have much to say on the subject of trophy hunting. I think it is cruel and pointless. It is also both legal and big business in many countries in Africa, so canned hunting is not going to go away any time soon. Instead of targeting the rather tasteless individuals who make use of these hunting safari clubs, the internet’s time might be more usefully spent raising awareness about animal conservation or petitioning governments to put a stop to the this type of hunting.

All of this is an overly long preamble to a new angle I did not see coming.


Luke, I am your fath- oh no, wait.



Apparently Animal Communicators are a thing. Or at least, they think they are a thing.



The author doesn’t just talk to animals. She talks to dead animals, and – this is the clever bit – they talk back. For a fee, of course.

It is unclear what “Raise your vibration” means, but perhaps it is one of those things that is hard to translate from the original. His style is a little archaic, but then again, perhaps that is a fault of the dead-felid-to-live-human Translator Matrix.

Why do humans do this? Self-delusion, self-aggrandizement, cynical self-promotion; take your pick.


Friday: Hili Dialogue

Good morning! Grania here.  Yes, we made it! Happy day of Frige if you are on the west side of the Eurasian landmass, happy day of Śukra if you are on the eastern side, and of course, also Quetzalcohuātl in Mesoamerica.

Today in 1975 labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, and there are still only conspiracy theories about what happened to him. Today is also the birthday of writer J.K. Rowling (her adult novels are good, you should try them) and NASCAR racer Louise Smith.

Hili is back to philosophizing this morning, although it is that specialized niche of philosophy that deals with food, and more specifically, food for Hili.

Hili: Can you eat the bird and have it too?
A: No, but you can eat veal from a can and have the bird.
Hili: A bowl is not as exciting.


In Polish:

Hili: Czy można zjeść ptaszka i go zachować?
Ja: Nie, ale można zjeść cielęcinę z puszki i zachować ptaszka.
Hili: Miseczka nie jest tak ekscytująca.

Mammals are like mammals

by Grania

Why rescue pets are awesome.

You rescue one of your cousins, you win every time.

I believe we are closely enough related to understand the faces without resorting to anthropomorphism.

From Deveoh who have a post devoted to animals rescued and given caring forever homes. There are many more happy cats and dogs at the link.



I’m Batman.





Templeton keeps up the woo

My science friends who criticize me for going after the John Templeton foundation too critically, saying to me, “Hey, they fund real science and not just woo,” should have a look at this 6-minute video (click on screenshot) called “Science and the Big Questions”.  It shows how reputable scientists like Brian Greene (physics) and Martin Nowak (evolutionary biology) have been coopted by Templeton to help sell their aims. (Greene’s World Science Festival is largely funded by Templeton, as is a huge chunk of Nowak’s research.)

Screen shot 2015-07-29 at 9.54.43 AM

Note the implicit references to theology, as in Greene’s statement that “We want the person who think about the world one way to come into contact with someone who thinks about the world perhaps a different way and see: are they really at odds? Are there points of contact? Are there ways they can meld together and yield a richer picture of the way reality is constructed—or not.” Now one could say that he’s not talking about theologians, and perhaps he isn’t, but then have a listen to the rest of the video.

Frankly, I’m not sure how anything other than science can tell us “how reality is constructed.”

Shortly after Greene appears, we see Martin Nowak, a Catholic, being more explicit: telling us why scientists should talk to theologians.

The whole tenor of the Templeton Foundation is to change its words without changing its aims. “God” and “theology” are largely disappearing in favor of “The Big Questions, ” “Meaning and Purpose,” “Other Perspectives,” “Spirituality” and “Getting Other Points of View.” But make no mistake: the intent is still to find a rapprochement between science and religion. If you read Faith versus Fact, you’ll see that Templeton continues to hand out millions of dollars to projects, even scientific ones, that involve input from theologians. Theologians have nothing to contribute to understanding our cosmos. Yes, they can tell us about the history of thought about God, but that’s not much difference than telling us the history of thought about Zeus, Wotan, or Santa.

Philosophers I have no problem with, for they can provide valuable input to some scientific research programs. But theologians? Those who study nonexistent beings? They have no place in any endeavor that aims to tell us about reality.

Line up, you impecunious scientists! For the small price of selling your soul, you have over a 50% chance of getting a big grant proposal funded (my emphasis). I almost hate saying this, as I can see the scientists saying, “Hey, Coyne has told us that we can get some big money!”

Some stats:

Founder: Sir John Templeton
Established in: 1987
Size of endowment: $3.34 billion (2013)
Location: West Conshohocken, a suburb of Philadelphia, PA
Number of employees: 82
First year Templeton Prize was given: 1973
Templeton Prize value: £1,100,000 sterling (approximately $1.7 million)
Number of living Templeton Prize Laureates: 19
Total grant payout and charitable activities: $966 million (1987-2013)
Total grant payments: $103 million (2013)
Number of grant requests: 360 (2014)
Number of grants approved: 188 (2014)
Average grant size: $1,021,000 (2014), with 35% under $250,000
Geographical range of grants: International
Year Templeton Press was established: 1997
Number of books published by the Templeton Press: 216 (to date)

And their mission:

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

The operative words here are “new spiritual information.”

Earth reentry!

by Grania

Here’s a jaw-dropping gif* from HighTechPanda


And to answer their question, I don’t care if I could handle it, but I certainly want the experience.


*Pronounced GIF with a hard G because of reasons and also because the acronym stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and we say graphics with a hard G and not like ssjz-raffics.

Classic American road trips

I’ve just gone on my own Big Road Trip, but it doesn’t compare to the others made famous in American literature. Over at Atlas Obscura, Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez have collaborated to make an interactive map of many great road trips in American literature, ranging from Blue Highways to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a book I really never liked) to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (a book I loved). The journeys listed are in the lower right of the map below.

Here’s a screenshot of the map:

Screen shot 2015-07-29 at 6.09.49 AM

And what you can do with it (click on each journey, and then on the dots to see the specific reference to the place):

The above map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012), and maps the authors’ routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer’s descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times.

Of all these journeys, my favorite by far is Kerouac’s On the Road, which had a profound effect on me in my twenties. Supposedly typed on a single sheet of adding-machine paper, largely in one go, it’s the story of Kerouac and his best pal, Neal Cassady, as they criss-crossed America (and even went down to Mexico) in search of nothing but pure experience. I haven’t reread it lately, but the abandonment of The American Dream in favor of wild perigrinations has stayed with me my whole life, even as I pursued an academic version of the American Dream. I did do road trips in my youth, hitchhiking across the U.S., and from time to time would leave the lab behind and travel to Nepal, India, and other remote locales, all in search of the experience denied me in academia.

Kerouac’s trip was by far the most extensive. Here’s a map of his and Neal’s wanderings, followed by one dot-click, so you can see how the map is interactive:

Screen shot 2015-07-29 at 6.15.07 AM

Now THAT’S a road trip!

Screen shot 2015-07-29 at 6.16.13 AM

h/t: John S.

A night on the tiles – a Roman cat paw print

by Matthew Cobb

A piece of Roman tile, dating back 2000 years, was dug up in the English city of Gloucester in 1969. It lay unremarked in the Gloucester City Museum until an archeologist noticed that when the clay was drying a cat walked across it, leaving its trace…

According to the BBC website:

The tile, a type called tegula, was used on the roof of a building in what became the Berkeley Street area of modern Gloucester, a spokesman said.

Councillor Lise Noakes, from Gloucester City Council, said it was a “fascinating discovery”.

“Dog paw prints, people’s boot prints and even a piglet’s trotter print have all been found on tiles from Roman Gloucester, but cat prints are very rare,” she said.

Thursday: Hili Dialogue

Good morning!

Today is Emily Brontë‘s birthday


A: I was looking for you!
Hili: And you found me.



In Polish:

Ja: Szukałem cię!
Hili: I znalazłeś mnie.


 And a special lagniappe from Leon, who has learned a lesson:
Leon: I didn’t know that deers can bark.
leon deer
In Honor of Ms Brontë, here’s The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain playing “Wuthering Heights”. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve heard this. Sorry, Kate.

You had one job

No commentary is required.

tech fail

Hat-tip: Steve Kurtz


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