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.)

Why do people hate Bill Gates?

November 19, 2019 • 10:15 am

The answer to the title question, in these days of polarization, is “Because he’s a billionaire”. With Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren making political capital by demonizing the very rich, this effect has spilled over onto philanthropists, most notably one of the world’s greatest philanthropists, Bill Gates. Along with his wife Melinda, Gates gives away billions of dollars to good causes through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the Foundation’s website is here).

According to Wikipedia, the Gates couple are the second most generous philanthropists in the U.S.—after Warren Buffett. Over its history, their Foundation (henceforth GF) has given away $45.5 billion, almost half of Gates’s total wealth.  And they give to causes I like: they’re international, not focused on the U.S., and the money goes to projects that really save lives—curing malaria and infectious disease, getting people access to reproductive services and clean water, improving agriculture, and so on (see list below).

I was thus a bit nonplussed when someone called my attention to a tweet by Massimo Pigliucci, with whom I’ve squabbled several times in the past. Those squabbles have been mostly over scientism and the “demarcation problem”, or trying to fix a boundary between science and non-science. Pigliucci hates my view that plumbers, mechanics and the like practice “science broadly construed” when they use empirical methods to diagnose and fix problems. Frankly, I can’t be arsed to argue the point, since these people use the same empirical strategies as do scientists. It’s a semantic issue, really, with no practical consequences that I can see.

At any rate, here’s Massimo’s tweet, which links to a conservative Daily Wire article reporting Gates’s criticisms of Warren’s proposed wealth tax, as well as his unwillingness to make political declarations about whom he’d vote for in the next Presidential election.

And so, although almost never engage in Twitter disputes, I responded:

And then Massimo shot back, citing the GF’s work on charter schools (Note about the tweet just below: my content is “not shown” on some people’s Twitter sites because in the past I’ve posted “objectionable” material like Jesus and Mo cartoons. Even the most innocuous things are hidden unless you click the “show media” button.)

I gave up at this point, as a Twitter war is the last thing I want; they’re almost completely useless.

But yes, a democratic society, in principle, shouldn’t have to rely on the charity of billionaires. Still, poor Massimo is missing the point with his “kool-aid” remark. As a philanthropist whose interests are helping the most deprived on the planet, Gates wants his money to go to people in poor countries, not to be sucked up by the U.S. government for missiles, border walls, or other dubious projects.

As for Gates’s “attempts to undermine public education,” I know the GF promotes charter schools, and I have mixed feelings about that, but on balance who can argue that Gates has been a bad influence on the world and should be “despised”? Only a splenetic Pecksniff like Pigliucci.

And who can argue that, given that Gates has pledged to give away most of his fortune, and is already doing so, that he might propose that he can put it to better use than the government grabbing it a large amount of money that could be used for better purposes?

I’m not arguing that richer people shouldn’t pay more taxes, for they should. I’m arguing that the demonization of Bill Gates on the basis of a couple of things he said is unwarranted—a sign of the “eat the rich” sentiment that has enveloped many progressive Democrats.

And that is what Matt Johnson argues in this new article in Quillette (click on screenshot).

Johnson is identified in the piece as a writer for places like Stanford Social Innovation Review, the BulwarkEditor & PublisherAreo MagazineArc DigitalSplice TodayForbes, and the Kansas City Star. It adds that “he was formerly the opinion page editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal.”

First, Johnson recaps what most people can easily find out about the GF:

 Between 1994 and 2018, Bill and Melinda Gates personally donated $36 billion to the foundation, which has issued more than $50 billion in total grant payments since its inception.

A glimpse of what that money has accomplished: The Gates Foundation was a founding partner of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), pledging a five-year commitment of $750 million which launched the program in 1999. Since 2000, Gavi has immunized more than 760 million children to protect them from rotavirus, meningitis, polio, measles, and many other deadly diseases. The World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that Gavi has saved 13 million lives since its inception. After providing the seed money for Gavi, the Gates Foundation continued to support the program with billions of dollars—$4 billion to date, and $1.5 billion between 2016 and 2020 alone, around one-fifth of all donations. And this is just one of the programs the foundation supports—in 2018, it spent more than $4.3 billion on global health and development. When Singer credited Bill and Melinda Gates with saving several million lives, it was almost certainly an understatement.

Then Johnson takes on writer and journalist Anand Giridharadas, who goes after Gates in a video I can’t see, but also in an interview:

But the mask, according to Giridharadas, has finally slipped. He cites an interview at the New York Times DealBook Conference in which Gates argued that Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax is too extreme: “I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I’d had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over.” Giridharadas quoted this portion of the interview and then observed: “When you start to come after his wealth, even Bill Gates gets cagey.” Neither Giridharadas nor the Mediaite article he cited bothered to report the lighthearted tenor of these remarks, or that Gates immediately followed them by admitting, “I’m just kidding.”

I haven’t seen a single report before this one that Gates’s remarks were lighthearted or especially that he said, “I’m just kidding.”

The Presidential-candidate issue was mentioned by, which noted that Gates refused to commit to saying which candidate he favored in 2020 if the election were between Warren and Drumpf:

At a New York Times conference, when asked who he would choose between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Trump, the Microsoft didn’t want to commit and said he’d vote for the more professional candidate, leaving his decision open to interpretation.

That puzzled me at first, but I think Johnson’s explanation below is correct, especially given the data I show after the quote:

. . . Finally, Gates specifically said he isn’t interested in making “political declarations,” about which he has every reason to be wary.

The Gates Foundation works closely with U.S. foreign aid agencies. Would it really make sense for Gates to openly antagonize a vindictive president who’s already deeply hostile to foreign aid spending? The Trump administration tried to cut State Department and USAID funding by 28 percent in 2017, which would have meant dramatic cuts in global health and humanitarian assistance.

In fact, as notes, contributions from the GF to politically affiliated recipients go overwhelmingly to Democrats:

Here are the numbers for the GF, with the lowest percentage ever given to Democrats in one year being 65% in 2019, but 96%-100% in eight out of the 11 years reported!

This is what I’d expect given Gates’s generally liberal views. Do people really think he would vote for Trump? I think the hypothesis that he doesn’t want to rile up an irascible President is a decent one.

Further, money diverted from Gates’s assets for taxes will go to the U.S. government, which means U.S. projects, which in turn means largely for defense (about 22% of Americans’ taxable income goes to the Department of Defense). Gates want his bucks to be used where they have the biggest bang: in poor countries:

There’s a good reason why Bill and Melinda Gates focus on international programs to alleviate poverty and control infectious diseases: That’s where their fortune can do the most good. There are still 736 million people living on less than $1.90 per day, while half the planet lives on less than $5.50 per day. Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization, “In 2018 an estimated 6.2 million children and adolescents under the age of 15 years died, mostly from preventable causes. Of these deaths, 5.3 million occurred in the first five years, with almost half of these in the first month of life.”

Aren’t Warren, Sanders, Giridharadas, and members of the New York Times editorial board supposed to care about inequality? Or do they only care about inequality in the richest country in human history?

Apparently so! Look, there are lots of rich people who sit on huge amounts of wealth and don’t give much of it away, retaining far more than they need to sustain even a hugely lavish lifestyle. But Bill and Melinda Gates are not among them. If you want to demonize somebody, there are lots of obscenely rich people who do all they can to keep their wealth. And you might want to go after Gates because you don’t like what he did when founding Microsoft. But what you shouldn’t go after him for is his unwillingness to commit to a Presidential candidate right now.

Even the abstemious and charitable philosopher Peter Singer defended Gates when speaking against the motion “It is immoral to be a billionaire” at a Oxford Union debate. Johnson reports Singer’s words:

“If you vote for this motion, you are condemning all people who are billionaires … You’re saying that Bill and Melinda Gates are immoral, despite the fact that they set up the Gates Foundation,” an organization which has “undoubtedly already saved several million lives.”

It’s strange that Pigluicci “despises” Bill Gates, a man whose presence in the world has saved and improved innumerable lives. And isn’t that a good way to measure the value of someone’s existence? But Pigliucci, who spends his days making a career out of the futile task of staking out the borders of science, seems unable to recognize a net good when he sees it. That’s odd for a philosopher, isn’t it?

For those of you who want to pile onto Bill Gates in the comments—and feel free to do so—ask yourself if you’ve done even a thousandth as much for the planet as has Gates.

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?

After Frank’s death, his fosterer adopts a new kitten

August 21, 2019 • 3:30 pm

How about looking at a few pictures of kittens this afternoon?

Although Anna (the British human, not Anna the Duck Farmer) didn’t intend to keep Frank, the kitten she fostered before his liver surgery, she was shattered when he died under the knife; and it’s pretty clear she would have given him a forever home had he recovered. (By the way, it looks as if the money many of you donated for his surgery will be refunded, so all of it will be used by Feline Friends London® for cat rescue). But now, though the memory of Frank is still sharp and sad, Anna has taken on a new kitten, and for keeps:

Anna tells us about her new kitten, Pip:

Pip had a rough start in life, being taken away from her mum too early and being passed around, so we took her in as a foster kitten – with a view to looking after her until she finds her future home. This is her fourth home in the four months she’s been on the planet. Poor little soul has understandably been feeling a little lost.

Our two ragdolls, Lottie and Lola, have taken her under their wings, and they’re all three spending lots of time together. (Pip follows the two older girls around everywhere!) She’s a very affectionate little kitten, who needs a lot of attention and company all of the time.

She finally feels settled here, and she seems to be very relaxed. It seems that she has chosen this as her home – so we are very happy to oblige. She’s a pleasure to have around, and we’re delighted to say that we’re keeping her. She is now a member of the family 😊

Meet Pippa (and Anna in the last photo):

Anna and Pippa:


Frank is getting his operation today

August 2, 2019 • 7:00 am

Thanks to the generous readers here, we raised £2000 pounds for Feline Friends London, half of which is going for an operation to save the life of Frank, a young kitten who needs a liver shunt. He’s going under the knife even as I write, and we all wish him luck (the chances of success are at least 90%).

Here are a few photos of Frank with the woman who has volunteered to take him in and care for him while he recovers. She clearly loves him:

And here’s a photo I just got with Frank in the car on his way to surgery. He’s reported to be in good spirits. I will of course provide updates.


You helped save Frank the Kitten’s life

July 21, 2019 • 3:45 pm

A few weeks ago I made one of my sporadic appeals for funds for the Official Website Charity™: Feline Friends London. This was a cat-specific appeal, meant to raise about £1000 for an operation to save Frank, a 15-week-old kitten with a liver issue that caused seizures. His owners, who didn’t have the dosh, turned the cat over the FFL to see if the organization could do anything. They expected that Frank would either die or be given to someone else.

I asked readers to pitch in a pound or two if they could, and, mirabile dictu, you came up with over 2000 pounds, enough to give Frank his operation and help rescue dozens of other cats.  I’m pleased to report that a cat scan (a real one), or something like it, has shown that Frank’s condition is indeed operable with a very high chance of saving his life. His operation is scheduled in a week or so, and assuming he comes through okay, he’ll be returned to his owners, who love him a lot. They are, needless to say, over the moon about this.

So fingers crossed for Frank, and thanks to everyone who was kind enough to make a donation to Feline Friends London. Here’s the kitty you’re helping:



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