FvF competition: readers in all the right places

Don’t forget the new Fact v Faith competition, with the rules:

Send a photo of yourself (or a member of your family) holding Faith versus Fact in the most incongruous place or situation you can think of. Be creative. 

We’ve already had some great ones, and we have a few more now. Send yours in before August 20th.

Reader Laurie Sindoni sent us this:

Whom shall I believe…Professor Jerry A. Coyne or the trees? So; here is Geth; reading our new favourite book (he had better finish it before 4 August when we leave for Santorini because that’s MY beach reading!) in front of a tree.  I refer, of course, to the oft-employed retort by Christians when offering undisputed proof of their god: “look at the trees.”



Richard Page sent this in:

This is my attempt at a FvF selfie… taken on Royal Street behind St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. Before Katrina hit, the space was occupied by an enormous live oak (possibly the largest in New Orleans), but the storm caused too much damage and was removed. A touchdown Jesus statue was put in its place, and lit to cast a rather ominous shadow on the back of the cathedral at night. It’s a popular spot for FQ walking tours, including the vampire tours.
Unfortunately, it will have to be disqualified for the contest because I couldn’t get an exposure that would show both the shadow on the building and the cover page on my Kindle… so the cover is dropped in from another underexposed shot… oh well.


Debra Copran wrote in:

I am sending this to you from La Jolla, California.
The controversy over this cross has been in the courts for 25 years.
It was owned by the city of San Diego on public land until they finally found a way to save it.
It has a long history so I won’t go into it here. Rest assured, it will never come down now that the city sold it to a Veteran’s group and now sits on private property so it could be saved.


Peregrinations: New Mexico, part deux

I have long wanted to visit Linda Calhoun and her goat dairy in Mountainair, New Mexico, and I can report that the mission is accomplished. Here’s a brief report.

Linda has, as I recall, 23 goats, which include a bunch of lactating females, a small group of young kids, and five large, bearded males. I believe the ones shown below are the young ‘uns (Linda will weigh in on this, and supply the breed’s name which I can’t recall):

Goats 2

The goats are friendly and curious, and will suck on your fingers but not bite them. They did, however, try to gnaw the hair off my arms. They have a reputation for eating everything, including the classic tin can motif in cartoons, but Linda says that they don’t eat the cans: they are only trying to gnaw off the paper, which resembles the vegetation they eat in the wild.

And their eyes photograph blue with a flash:

goats 3

The goats will stand up if you approach the pen, and thrust their goaty faces right at you!

Goats 4



The males are kept individually or in amiable pairs, for they tend to fight each other. And their pens are covered with sheet metal on the sides so they can’t see the females, for if they did they’d try to butt down the barriers. Typical males!


Twice a day it’s milking time (the males and older females go off for meat, but the main object of the dairy is of course to produce goat milk). The milk usually goes to feed baby goats on other farms rather than cheese, but the cats get it, as does Linda’s husband John on his morning cereal. Linda gets up at about 2:30 a.m. to do the first of the day’s two milkings.

Each goat is restrained on a special raised platform while being milked; it has a feeding trough to distract them and lure them up (they willingly climb on each device as they are called: each goat knows its name):

This goat’s udder attests to its load of milk:

Milking 1

A suction device is attached to each goat (two goats are milked at a time). It takes only about a minute to pump each goat dry. Here’s Linda in action:

Milking 2

The milk is aspirated out of the two teats. . .

Milking 3

. . . and is collected in a scrupulously clean stainless steel receptacle. After being milked, each goat gets a handful of peanuts, which they consider a great treat.

Milking 4

Linda has (and I may have gotten this wrong) five cats. I believe two are in the barn and three in the house; the barn cats are mousers but also get to live in Linda’s heated office. All of them are treated well and are in great condition. Sadly, I lost the email in which Linda gave me all their names, so I’ll have to ask her to supply most of them below.

This is barn cat #1, a fuzzy black cat.

Barn cat 1

Barn cat #2, a short-haired black cat:

Barn cat 2

This is Clawed Monet, the best name for a cat I’ve ever heard. He’s a friendly fellow and was acquired as a feral tom, so he got a large “apple head” before he was neutered. Clawed liked me, and so I found him on my bed when I turned in for the night. What a nice sight that was!

Clawed on bed

Clawed snoozing:

Clawed sleeping

I believe there is a third housecat, which is very shy; I never saw it.

Pewter is a friendly gray cat who has the unusual habit of drinking water from the sink. When you go into the bathroom, he magically appears from nowhere and waits for you to turn on the tap. When you do, he jumps on the sink and laps away. He does not care if the water soaks his head in the process, as it’s doing below:


One day we drove the ten miles into town for lunch. It’s a town frozen in time, looking exactly as it must have sixty years ago. (Movies have been filmed in the town because it requires no props to look old.) The drugstore, for instance, sports exactly the kind of soda fountain that I remember from my childhood:


And at the west end of town is the local restaurant, Jerry’s Ancient Cities Cafe:


In my namesake cafe I had a New Mexican signature dish: chiles rellenos, filled with cheese.


I dissected one so that you can see the batter-fried covered chile filled with cheese. These two were great:

Relleno inside

On the second evening I was there, John prepared a great mixed salad, and offered me a local beer—one flavored with pecans. (Pecans are one of the major cash crops in New Mexico.) Of course I tried it, as I’d never had a pecan-flavored beer, and I thought it was quite good:
Pecan beer

And there’s one local site of historical interest: Salinas Pueblo Mission National Monument. One part of the trio of monuments is the Quarai ruins, where the Spanish built a mission in the early 17th century, basically enslaving the Indians to produce goods that would enrich Spain. Below you can see the ruins of the mission, surrounded by the barely visible remains of the Native American villages, once part of a thriving community that traded salt and other products. The missionaries, I was told, were there mainly to extract wealth for the Spanish crown, not to convert the Indians to Christianity, though that was done as well—forcibly.


Thanks to John and Linda for their hospitality, tour of the goat farm, and provision of felids!


Sunday: Hili Dialogue

Good morning, welcome to Sunday. Jerry is back on the road today, but he has prepared some posts and will check in later.

Today is the day that the back in 1775 U.S. postal system established and Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956. Oh, and in 1943 Mick Jagger was born. Happy birthday Mr Jagger.

Hili is Up To Something today. This can only end well.

Hili: I have an excellent idea.
A: What’s that?
Hili: I’m going to jump on Cyrus from the side!



In Polish:

Hili: Mam świetny pomysł.
Ja; Jaki?
Hili: Skoczę na Cyrusa z boku

Lunches: Louisiana

I’m hanging around Cajun country for a few days, centered in Lafayette, Louisiana, for I know I can take only one large Cajun meal per day. (On this trip I’ve generally been eating only one meal of any sort per day, as I usually have just coffee in the morning and I find that I get drowsy if I drive after lunch.)

Yesterday, after arriving in this capital of Cajun country, I went to what’s perhaps the most famous Cajun restaurant in Lafayette, Prejean’s. Yes, it’s a bit touristy with faux-log supports and a big alligator over the servers’ station, but it’s justly famous for its food. I can verify that after my lunch of crawfish étoufée, a crawfish pie (remember the lyrics of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya“?), and rice. It was absolutely superb, with the crawfish stew studded with nuggets of sweet meat, which also went well with the buttery crust of the “pie” (more like a pasty).


And today I went to another famous place, this time located in Breaux Bridge, which proclaims itself the “Crawfish Capital of the World.” (It’s also famous for allowing residents to use nicknames in the phone book.) The place is Café des Amis. Built in the 1890s and refurbished after two fires, it still has some of the old fixtures and considerable authentic charm:


The inside. It’s usually crowded but there was a zydeco breakfast this morning, with lots of dancing, and people left after breakfast while they cleared out the instruments and amplifiers and replaced the tables for lunch.


My lunch: first, a cup of chicken and sausage gumbo with fresh, locally made bread (potato salad on the side). Yum!


Then an oyster po-boy, which they gave me with three sauces. I used the one the locals eat: a mixture of ketchup, mustard, mayo, and hot sauce. You dress the sandwich lightly, as you want to taste those fried oysters. For those of you who find the idea of a fried-oyster sandwich weird, all I can say is that you haven’t lived till you’ve had a good one.


Look at all the fresh, plump oysters on that sandwich!

I knew that I wanted the local dessert, found only in this region: gateau sirop, a heavy, pecan-studded spice cake over which they pour cane syrup (a thin form of molasses), and then top with ice cream. But I was too full to tuck into it there, so I asked for one to go. The waiter, who was a really nice guy, told me that since I wouldn’t be able to take out the ice cream, they’d give me as lagniappe a piece of their famous white-chocolate bread pudding. Here are both desserts. I’ve polished off the gateau sirop, which was stunningly good (and HEAVY), and will essay the bread pudding later.


Remember, folks, I don’t always eat like this, so no food policing, please.

Man bathes goldfinch in his hands

Reader Adrian sent me a link to this video, which I found on YouTube and can thus embed. It’s a lovely relationship between a man and a goldfinch. I know nothing else about it.

Altar of the Oppressionhood Olympics

by Grania Spingies

I’m not entirely sure about how I feel about this one, but it makes me uneasy.

This news story floated by me on Twitter:

Swedish “Far-Right” Plans Gay Pride Parade Through Muslim Areas; Leftists And Gay Rights Groups Decry The Parade As Racist

The fuss seems to be that a right-wing affiliated Pride Parade plans to go through certain areas in Stockholm where there is a high density of Muslim immigrants.

This is being denounced as “an expression of pure racism” by left-wing and liberal groups.

I can’t read Swedish, but it seems the parade intends to engage in such acts as singing and kissing. Those can hardly be called racist.

Personally I think that deciding to put a Pride march through such an area is deeply misconceived, it’s entirely possible that it will end in violence which is—and always will be—a bad end to seek.

On the other hand, I think a Pride parade going through areas that were predominantly, for example,  Southern Baptist would be praised by the media instead of denounced. None of us need try very hard to imagine the scorn and outrage if a Pride Parade was told that it could not march through through a neighborhood because the marchers had to be “culturally sensitive” to the religion of the ultra-conservative Christian inhabitants.

What is racist is to assume that all heterosexual Muslims in Stockholm are homophobes. From the response I am seeing, the Left is no better than the Right in their assumptions and pronouncements on this one.

Bottom line: I guess what makes me uneasy is how quickly the Left is to sacrifice certain people that they normally would champion, including women such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and now an LGBT group, when it appears it might tread on the toes of certain religious sensibilities.

Do we really only care about gender equality and the right to sexual identity and freedom so long as it doesn’t offend religious communities? Do we only champion women and LGBT issues so long as they closely share our politics?

It makes this leftist liberal really uncomfortable.

Caturday: Big & Small

Felids are no longer confined to the four-legged mammalian body. Behold: KITY radio!


This was Jerry’s contribution to Caturday, he wrote:

It’s a Llano, Texas station, and an oldies station I was listening to while driving.

Today we have a whole lot of videos, from the ridiculously cute to the sublimely majestic.

Here’s some cavity-inducing sweetness for you:

Then we have some of the Big Cats first three are from the BigCat Rescue people.  The last one is from Kruger National Park.

Best friends: lion and tiger


Don’t turn your back!




Well-coordinated chorus of male lions


There’s some good news from Krefield Zoo in Germany, two new Snow Leopards were born, both female.

Credit: Iris Stengel

The Snow Leopard is listed as endangered, the website notes:

As of 2003, the size of the global population was estimated at 4,080 to 6,590 adults, of which fewer than 2,500 individuals may reproduce in the wild.

Here’s a story that is as heart-warming as it is tear-jerking, tigers rescued from a cage get to swim for the first time. They were rescued in New York by International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) and now live at the Safe Haven Rescue Zoo in Nevada. Lily loves it, Carli wants a second opinion.

That should put a smile on everyone’s faces!

Hat-tip: Merilee, Smiley, Tycha Brahe,

A d*g denies evolution

This was sent by Dan Dennett, who said that although it’s not great, it has its moments. And it does.

Peregrinations: New Mexico, part I

Las Cruces, New Mexico is the home of New Mexico State University (NMSU), where two of my friends teach: evoutionary biologist Avis James (named by a mother who was an ornithologist), and ecologist Bill Boecklen. I’ve known Avis for a long time, since she was a postdoc at Chicago working on flies, and later became friends with Bill when the two got married. I visited their home in Las Cruces, which they share with a calico cat named Janet, and after two days we repaired to the mountains to visit one of their friends.

First we tended that friend’s garden in his Las Cruces home, picking vegetables to bring up to the mountains. Here are Avis and Bill with some of our haul:

Bill and Avis

I hate all squashes and zucchinis except for pumpkin, when it’s in pies.

And, of course, no garden in New Mexico would be complete without chiles, the most characteristic ingredient in New Mexican cooking. I favor the green over the red chile.


For breakfast on the day after my arrival, we went to a famous Las Cruces spot, Nellie’s Cafe. It specializes in New Mexican cuisine, and nearly every dish, including breakfast, features the ubiquitous chile.


This is breakfast, which looks like lunch but still satisfied the morning food urge. Along with chips and salsa, I got a mixed plate with a “chile” (pork cubes cooked with scorching green chiles), an enchilada, and a chicken taco, along with rice and delicious refried beans:

Nelly's breakfast

Afterwards we repaired to the county government center, which houses the famous Doña Ana County Kitty Condo, which I’ve posted about before.  It’s where all the county’s bureaucracy is housed, but has a distinctly un-bureaucratic feature, a cat adoption center, started by Bill and Avis’s friend Jess Williams.

Cat condo 1

Enlarge the sign below to read about the Kitty Condos. In short, it’s a large, walk-in cage that houses up to a dozen kittens (they take only young kittens). You can walk into the cage and play with them, or, if you’re working in the building, you can check out a kitten to take to your office for 15 minutes, just as if they were tiny felid library books. That interaction, of course, leads many to fall in love with the kittens—the object of the project.

Cat condo 2

Here’s the large Kitty Condo cage, which housed only two kittens at the time: a tabby and a tuxedo cat (you can see them both at lower left). The sign about one of them “not feeling well” indicates that one had ringworm, but it had been cured. Note that every kitten put into the Condo (now 101) has been adopted:

Cat condo 3

I sat in the cage and played with the tiny tabby, who was a real sweetheart. I can see why so many get adopted.

Cat condo 4

Here’s a video I posted earlier about the Condo project:

Meanwhile, back at the James/Boecklen ranch, they have their own cat, Janet:

Janet 3

Janet isn’t allowed to go out front, and she often stands on two legs peering out the front screened door:

Janet 2

Another meal in Las Cruces, this time at La Neuva Casita Cafe, which TripAdvisor rates as the best restaurant in town. Like Nellie’s, it’s a humble, family-owned place that serves great homemade New Mexican food.

La Nueva Casita

My dinner: a chicken chimichanga covered with guacamole, sour cream, and picante sauce to resemble the Mexican flag. Served with a salad, fideo (Mexican noodles), and rice, it was more than I could eat. Bill and Avis pronounced it good, but not as good as Nellie’s.

La nueva casita chimichanga

We did a several-hour hike in Dripping Springs National Monument in the Organ Mountains. An uphill hike (in brutal heat) took us to a verdant spring where water flows out of the rocks. Although I didn’t bring water, because I was stupid, I couldn’t drink from the spring for fear of giardia. Fortunately, Bill and Avis had extra water for me.

This is a view from up in the mountain toward Las Cruces in the valley below. The plants are ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens), endemic to the southwest US and northern Mexico. The stems are usually gray, leafless, and dry, but they respond to the sporadic rains by putting out leaves.
Las Cruces

More ocotillo and the flowering spikes of sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), whose base in Mexico is fermented, like agave, to make an  alcoholic drink (one plant = one bottle). I’m told it tastes dreadful.

Ocatillo and sotol

This unusual plant, ephedra (Ephedra fasciculata), also known as “Mormon tea” for its curative properties (I’ve had the tea), is a gymnosperm, like pines, but has flowers like an angiosperm (a flowering plant). The flowers are scaly, as if the plant was a “missing link”. It’s one of the three genera in the Gnetophyta, which is taxonomically grouped with gymnosperms, but I’m not sure if that taxonomic placement is firm, or if the group is more closely related to angiosperms.

I’m certain some botanist will weigh in with the latest assessment, but meanwhile enjoy a flower on a non-angiosperm plant:

Ephedra flower

The desert was loaded with cacti (many people use them as ornamentals in their yards, as watering is “un-green” in New Mexico). Here are three species, and I’ll leave it to readers to identify them. At least one or two should be easy, at least for Americans:

Cactus 2

Cactus 3


After the heat of Las Cruces we drove up to to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, which, at 8600 feet, is considerably cooler than the lowlands. There resides geologist Steve Henry, an old friend of Avis and Bill who invited us to stay in his “cabin,” a gorgeous, four-story log and stone construction that he and his wife built around an old railroad workers’ dormitory.

From the porch you get a long view down to the desert, including the famous White Sands National Monument, a gypsum desert where many animals have evolved white coloration to hide from predators or prey. You can see the white flats in the distance:

White sands view

Nearly everyone I’ve met on my trip has several bird feeders, probably because they like biology and animals. Steve loads some of his up with pecans, which are locally grown. That was a real treat for this lucky woodpecker (identify the species!):


Steve also collects local arrowheads, some of which may be several thousand years old. Here’s his collection (you can often just pick them up off the ground):


Shortly after arriving, we went for a hike in the cool forest with Steve and his d*g. He was searching for mushrooms to eat, and though we found some, they weren’t the edible kind. Instead, we ambled about the trees and meadows and picked wildflowers. Here’s Steve and the canid:


This is in all likelihood a fox den:


Here are some native wildflowers we saw on our hike. Botanists should be able to identify them easily:

Flower 1

One with an orthopteran:

Flower 2 with hopper

Same plant but with lepidopteran (name the species):

lower 2 with lep

Flower 3

Flower 4

Flower 5

Flower 6

Flower 7

Avis with a bouquet of the flowers she picked. She exclaimed, “Isn’t it beautiful?” and Bill replied, “Yes, and the flowers are nice, too.” What a romantic!

Avis with flowers

On the way back from the trailhead, Steve stopped at some limestone road cuts so we could look for fossils. He said that this deposit was about 230 million years old. In it we found brachiopods, other shelly stuff, and I came upon part of a largish ammonite:


Avis prepared a great dinner of grilled salmon, tomato-and-cheese tart, and bread, which we ate with some tasty microbrews from Las Cruces, as well as some sauvignon blanc. We dined on the back porch overlooking the valley: life doesn’t get much more pleasant than this (note the wildflowers on the table):

Dinner in the clouds

Saturday: Hili Dialogue

Ah, thank goodness for Saturdays. Unless you’re working, in which case, my sincerest sympathies.


This morning Hili is keeping it real, but she means it in the nicest possible way.

A: Hello, my Princess
Hili: Hello, my bowl-filler.


In Polish:

Ja: Witaj księżniczko.
Hili: Witaj napełniaczu miseczek.

After all, how is a cat supposed to regard her staff, other than with benign tolerance and a measured degree of carefully judged affection.

Today is also the birthday of the world’s first test tube baby, so Happy Birthday to you, Louise Brown.


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