Bids for fancy “Faith versus Fact” copy near $3000

December 8, 2020 • 1:45 pm

The eBay auction for the fancy autographed and Kelly-Houle-illustrated edition of Faith Versus Fact is almost at $3000, which means $6,000 in donations for Helen Keller International as the friends of the charity are doubling all donations. (Every penny of the proceeds goes to that estimable and efficient charity.)

But that’s not nearly enough, I think, since an illustrated copy of Why Evolution is True, with fewer autographs of notables, fetched over $10,300.  Most of us are too poor to bid that much, but if you know a gazillionaire who wants a unique secular item, this would make a swell acquisition.

You can see a fuller description of the book here, and below are two of its pages: one with an illustration and another with some of the signatures.  Kelly and I have signed it, along with 28 secular notables, including three Nobel Laureates and the three living “Horsemen” (horsepersons?)  I didn’t schlep this book around for five years to have it go cheap!

Our auction is still running with three days to go: a multiply autographed and illustrated copy of Faith versus Fact

December 6, 2020 • 9:00 am

As I noted a few days ago, Kelly Houle and I are running an eBay auction for charity, with the object up for bid being a multiply-autographed hardback copy of Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.  The copy for sale has 28 signatures of famous secularists, including the three surviving “horsemen”: Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, as well as others like Steve Pinker, James Randi, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker, and Julia Sweeney. It’s also signed by three Nobel Laureates: Harold Varmus, Adam Riess, and David Gross. See all the signers on my post or the auction site itself. It’s also signed by Kelly and me (I added a crude cat drawing.)

Further, the book has been illuminated with the calligraphy and artwork of our favorite natural-history artist, Kelly Houle, who did a superb title-page drawing and also a few cat drawings. Her artwork on the book can also be seen at the two sites.

Kelly and I did this previously with Why Evolution is True, earning more than $10,300 for a charity, in that case Doctors Without Borders. This year all auction proceeds go to Helen Keller International, an efficient and highly-rated charity that helps alleviate blindness and malnutrition throughout the world. (Peter Singer highlighted it as one of his favorite charities.) As a bonus, the Friends of Helen Keller International have pledged to double any donation, so whoever buys the book will have the satisfaction of contributing twice what they pay to a good humanitarian cause.

The price, with three days left to go, is still lower than I expected, as you can see from the screenshot below (click on it to join the fun). Remember, I schlepped that book around for five years from meeting to meeting, all to collect signatures for this auction. And Kelly labored through long nights doing the artwork. It’s worth more!

Kelly’s illumination of the title page (there are others) and one page of autographs.

One page also has Kelly’s anamorphic mirror drawing of James Randi, one of the signers; the mirror comes with the book:

If you have the dosh and want a unique book with great artwork and a collection of signatures never to be repeated (remember, Randi passed away recently), go over and bid. Or call the auction to the attention of those who might be interested. Remember, neither Kelly nor I make a penny from this, and Helen Keller International uses 82.5% of the donations for its programs—a very high proportion.

How can you overlook a book recommended by The Pinkah? (He also reviewed it favorably in Current Biology.)

The weak laws against female genital mutilation in America

August 22, 2019 • 10:25 am

I wasn’t aware that Ayaan Hirsi Ali had started a foundation, the “AHA Foundation“, one of whose goals is to ban female genital mutilation (FGM) in the U.S. You may not be aware that although FGM is illegal in one form or another in 35 states, there’s no ban on it in fifteen states. Here are the offending states:

Washington (state)
New Mexico
Massachusetts (!!)
Connecticut, and

For two decades there was a federal law against the practice, but a 2018 federal trial of several people accused of practicing FGM wound up with a judge ruling that FGM was a “local criminal activity”: therefore the states and not the government should regulate it. Thereby the judge overturned a 20-year-old law.

But even the nature of the state laws against FGM vary widely. If you look at the article below at the AHA Foundation, you’ll see the various kinds of FGM that are practiced, a map of which states have laws (and what kind of laws) against FGM, and what you can do about it. I’ve added the map, the “surgeries”, and how the laws differ. To get the pdf, click on the first screenshot below:

The various forms of FGM:

And here are the laws graded in terms of severity (and desirability):


The provisions that correspond to the “grades” are based on things like whether “vacation cutting” is illegal (i.e., parents can’t go to another country or state to get their daughters mutilated), whether practitioners and guardians can be prosecuted, whether or not “ethnic/religious culture” can be used as a defense, and whether there are education and outreach programs for at-risk communities. To get an “A” grade, all of these provisions have to be in place in the right direction, and only three states—Arkansas, Utah, and Michigan—get that “A”.

This is unconscionable. Why should it be legal for a parent to horribly mutilate the genitals of their daughters when their daughters can’t give permission?

In case you want to know, I’ve come around to the view that circumcision should also be illegal until a male is old enough to ask for it. I don’t think that asking, however, should allow you to get FGM, as it has but one nefarious purpose: to reduce the sexual pleasure of females. And it has a number of horrible side effects: infection, incontinence, infertility, and the like, and also has led to lifelong trauma. You probably know that Hirsi Ali herself was a victim of FGM.

My only beef is that Hirsi Ali’s pamphlet barely mentions Islam as a promoter of FGM. As it notes:

. . . FGM is not particular to any religious group, nor prescribed by any faith. It is actually a culturally-based practice, a harmful tradition passed on through families and communities that pre-dates all major religions. FGM has been co-opted by some religious sects, but there is no major religion that requires FGM.

Well, this is technically true, but FGM is most prominent in Islam, and, as I understand it, several sects of Islam do promote it strongly. I think the de-emphasis on Islam is a tactic adopted by the Foundation as a way to reduce the harm of FGM without being accused of “Islamophobia” if you oppose FGM.

And indeed, you should oppose it. If you live in one of the many states with no laws against FGM, or deficient laws, write your Senators and Congresspeople.

You can donate here, and I already have.

Although Hirsi Ali has been demonized, threatened, and put on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “anti-Muslim extremists”, she’s been engaged in positive activity her whole political career, including writing her last book, Heretic, on how to reform Islam. And now she’s largely putting Islam aside to fight against a horrible form of anti-woman violence.

Note too that Maajid Nawaz was also on the SPLC’s list, which no longer exists (he sued them), and on the first page of the pdf the AHA Foundation thanks Nawaz’s foundation, Quilliam, for partnering on the FGM report.

These are people who are not keyboard warriors, but activists who take direct action to reduce palpable harm. I admire them and urge you to support them.

Here’s a list of the Foundation’s general goals:

Established by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to put the ideas she writes into practice, the AHA Foundation works to protect women from honor violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. Our programs advocate for freedom of speech on campuses and in public debate, and amplify the voices of Muslim reformers and ex-Muslims.

Worth supporting, no?

Donations to Frank the Kitten more than double the amount requested; his life saved and many other cats helped

July 5, 2019 • 10:00 am

On July 1, I asked readers to contribute a few pounds toward saving the life of Frank the Kitten, who had a fatal liver issue that could almost certainly be cured with an operation. In fact, his owners, who could not afford the operation, sadly gave their beloved kitten to Feline Friends London (FFL; our Official Website Charity™) so that they could try to save him—not expecting to get him back again.

I am immensely happy to report, via the head of FFL (a completely volunteer operation, with all donations going to cat rescue), that the appeal raised more than twice the requested amount of £1000, so not only will Frank’s life almost certainly be saved with the operation, but we also have over £1300 pounds left over going to help other rescued kittens and cats.

Thanks so much to every reader who coughed up the dosh. I thank you, Barbara thanks you, Frank’s owners (who will get him back) thank you, other stray cats thank you, and as for Frank the kitten, well, that goes without saying.

Thanks for saving me!

Barbara, FFL’s head, sent me the email below, and, when I asked, gave me permission to post it.

Barbara’s email:

Hello Jerry

I’ve just counted up the donations to our appeal for Frank, the 15 week old cat who was diagnosed with a liver shunt as a kitten. We have received 135 donations at the time of writing, totalling £2312, so more than twice our target.

Thank you so  much for achieving this for Frank and, since we have received far more than the anticipated cost of Frank’s op, for our other cats in need too. I would like to thank those of your subscribers who have donated, for their generosity towards this young cat. I am truly moved. I have also been moved by the genuine and heartfelt gratitude of Frank’s owners, who are clearly overjoyed and relieved that they can get Frank the treatment he needs. They had originally asked us to take in Frank as they couldn’t afford his treatment but nevertheless wanted to save Frank’s life, and didn’t expect we would offer to do an appeal to fund Frank’s treatment and also allow them to keep Frank.

I will send updates on Frank. He wasn’t vaccinated so I asked Olivier, his owner, to start Frank on vaccinations, which he did earlier this week. Frank has been booked in for the second part of his vaccination course on 25 July and the operation to cure his liver shunt will be organised for soon after then. I asked Frank’s owner to get Frank vaccinated due to the risk of cat flu at a charity clinic, where they treat a lot of cats, many of whom are strays and could be cat flu carriers.

The success rate for this type of operation I believe is 90%. Although I know you are an atheist I will be praying for Frank’s op to be a success. When I look at cats and experience how they continue to inspire me day by day, I know only a force for good could have created a being so pure, so captivating and infinitely worthy of love and yet so vulnerable and desperately in need of all the help they can get from us mere humans.

Thank you again. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all you have done in giving this little cat Frank, a chance and for helping other cats too.

Warm wishes

Please donate to save Frank the Kitten’s life

July 2, 2019 • 8:00 am

Yesterday I appealed to readers to donate just one or a few pounds to save the life of a kitten, Frank, who needs an operation that will almost certainly save his life. If you can spare as little as one pound to give to Feline Friends London (FFL), please read the post and dig down a bit. His owners lost their jobs, and can’t afford the money, but they love him very much and so went to FFL for help.

Here’s Frank:

Please save my life!

You can donate here (and you can specify that the funds go to Frank’s medical care). We have about 300 of the 1000 pounds needed, and I appeal to you once again.

Many thanks!

An appeal for funds to save the life of Frank the kitten

July 1, 2019 • 8:45 am

As you may recall, our Official Website Charity™ is Feline Friends London, a stray-cat rescue organization that relies entirely on volunteer work and which uses 100% of donated funds to rescue cats, foster them, and adopt them out, with most of the dosh going for vet bills. I am a patron of this organization.

Today we have an especially poignant appeal to save an already-owned kitten whose owners can’t afford the vet bills. The cost to save Frank’s life is only about £1000, and I’m appealing to readers to help cover that fee. The story and pictures below come from Barbara, who runs FFL.

We have a couple of cats we are trying to raise funds for to cover vet costs. One is Frank, the kitten in the attached photos. He began having seizures when he was 9 weeks old. His owners asked us to take him on as they cannot afford the life-saving vet treatment he needs. His story is below.

Frank kitten began having seizures when he was 9 weeks old. He presented as being in a permanent daze, with excessive drooling and he could hardly eat. When his owners brought him to the vet, he was diagnosed with a liver shunt, a genetic condition where a blood vessel bypasses the liver. The proteins are not properly broken down, which produces ammonium in the blood, which then damages the brain and the internal organs.

The vet had to keep Frank on antibiotics, lactulose and a prescription diet. He is now 15 months old and doing better, but it is only a question of time before the antibiotics lose their effect and the seizures return. With high levels of ammonium in the blood, Frank may suffer again from seizures, hallucinations, loss of appetite, dizziness, vomiting and eventually kidney stones.

The good part is that Frank can be cured. An x-ray scan followed by surgery would be enough. However both are very costly and his owners lost their jobs earlier this year and struggle to pay their rent,  let alone to cover the cost of complex vet treatment. They both love Frank very much and want to save him, and so have asked Feline Friends London to take Frank into their care. Any donation would make a world of a difference in making this operation happen, to cure this sweet kitten’s liver shunt and give him a future.

We have over 60,000 readers now, and if everyone gave just a dollar, that would save Frank’s life sixty times over. I know that’s not feasible, but if some of you could just give $1, or $5, or $10, it wouldn’t take long until we could cover the costs of the operation.

I almost never ask readers to donate to a cause, and of course make no money off this website. If you could kick in just a few bucks for the kitties—think of it as recompense for what you learn here—I’d be immensely grateful.

You can donate to Frank’s surgery by CLICKING ON THIS SECURE LINK. You can donate any amount using your credit card.

Reader Peter says that you can direct the money toward Frank’s operation, but I think Barbara knows that the surge of donations in the next few days will go for that. His comment:

I think the link you included is their all-purpose donation page. They do have a “comment” field at the end of the donation process, where I indicated I was donating toward Frank’s medical costs.

Please help if you can. I thank you, Barbara thanks you, and as for Frank, well, that goes without saying.

Please donate to Feline Friends London

March 14, 2019 • 8:15 am

I must admit that I was a bit disappointed in the response when I asked readers yesterday to kick in a few bucks (or pounds) to support the Official Website Charity®, now Feline Friends London, a no-kill and all-volunteer cat rescue organization that re-homes felines taken from the London Streets. I thought that people who read this site regularly and enjoy at least some of it wouldn’t mind paying, say, $5 for ten years worth of entertainment.

A lot of people did donate (and said so in the comments, which enters them in a book contest), and I’m immensely grateful for their response. However, only about 50 people responded in the comments, and I had expected 100. After all, if every subscriber gave just one pound (donations are in pounds), the charity would get $77,781.45! One pound isn’t a lot, is it? (I recognize that some who donated might not have registered with a comment.)

I’ll be repeating this appeal every other day for about a week, and then leave you be. But if you haven’t donated yet, please consider doing so, as it’s a terrific cause and the organization is not flush with cash. You can donate as little as you want (donations at the site below—click on screenshot—start at ten pounds, which is only two Starbucks lattes, but you can write in less, using your credit card).

Please click on the site below (or this link) to donate to the organization, described in my earlier post.  The cats thank you, Feline Friends London thanks you, and for myself, well, that goes without saying. If you donate, put your name in either the comments below or at my first post, and you’ll get the chance to win an autographed book with a cat of your choice drawn in it.

Here are some of the cats who need homes:

OMG: $6100!

March 28, 2015 • 2:00 pm

Bidding on the autographed and Houle-illustrated copy of WEIT has gone up another thousand simoleons, and there’s still a bit more than a day left:

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.01.11 AM

I take no credit for that high price, which I attribute to all the nice autographs that festoon the book and the spiffy artwork, but I’m still pleased that it will provide unexpected help for Doctors Without Borders (the recipient of all the proceeds), who say that donations can do stuff like this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.04.57 AM

So we now have 6000 treatments for children with malaria, and 200 months of therapeutic food for a malnourished child. I hope the well-heeled remember that when they’re putting in their bids.

Note as well that at Kelly’s Books Illuminated auction site, 100% of the money for her beautiful cover painting (a full-sized version of the final cover of The Illuminated Origin, with bids now at $970) goes to DwB, as well as $36 out of the $120 for the Darwin’s orchid + pollinator print, of which there are 4 left.  Here’s one of the latter with her description of how it’s done:

I’ve been illuminating orchid and moth prints, a limited edition of 30. I’m painting directly on the surface of the print with mica-based pearlescent paint (made by Fine-Tec in Germany) and shell gold to represent sunlight reflecting off the leaves, flower, and insect wings. It’s not easy to capture the effect in a photo, but this one comes close.


Kelly says she’ll continue to add items with charitable donations to the site, so keep checking back.

And, if you want a nice gift that isn’t as pricey, there are lovely greeting cards featuring Darwin’s first phylogenetic tree in gold letters, 10% of the price also going to DwB (I have a box of those, which I send out only on special occasions). I can’t imagine better presents for the evolution-friendly, especially since you’re helping a good cause at the same time.

Finally, let me leave a link to Kelly’s Facebook page, where she explains the various techniques she uses to create her paintings, prints, and illuminations.


Save a life in 3 minutes

February 1, 2014 • 1:21 pm

A reader who is taking Paul Bloom’s free online course “Moralities of everyday life” (it started Jan. 20), sent me this short video that Bloom uses in the course.  It’s based on Peter Singer’s argument on why we’re obligated to help strangers, and I find it very convincing.

The link at the end to The Life You Can Save site, which recommends some good charities. I also recommend using Charity Navigator, an American site that rates charities based on their effectiveness, financial transparency, and the proportion of donations actually used to help people. I was pleased to see that Doctors Without Borders, the Official Website Charity™, gets the highest rating (4 stars), and gives nearly 87% of its income for its medical program.

I’ve also used Charity Watch (formerly the the American Institute of Philanthropy), which has a convenient page giving the top-ranking charities by area (international relief & development, environmental protection, child protection, literacy, women’s rights, and so on). They give Doctors Without Borders an “A” rating, just a tad lower than the highest, A+.

h/t: Miss May