Fossilized rabbits in the Precambrian

Haldane

J. B. S. Haldane

In his book The God Delusion, prominent atheist Richard Dawkins wrote, “As J. B. S. Haldane said when asked what evidence might contradict evolution, ‘Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.'”

But how does Haldane’s rather sarcastic and flippant remark translate into English?

Well, consider that the Precambrian describes the geologic period of time between the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion.

According to our experts in paleontology, this particular period of time during the Earth’s development was dominated by single-celled organisms that descended via asexual reproduction from LUCA, an acronym referring to our Last Universal Common Ancestor, formed by a secular miracle of chemical reaction.

So a fossil showing the presence of a more complex and modern product of sexual reproduction, such as a rabbit or a human, shouldn’t be found in rocks formed long before that particular creature could have come into existence, according to these “rules” of evolution.

When Darwin famously suggested that “monkeys make men“, he could have claimed that protozoa make men, but his idea presented in The Origin of Species would have been harder to defend using comparative anatomy as the only weapon in Darwin’s arsenal of evidence to argue in favor of common descent rather than common design.

The idea that every living organism is related through common descent is the very heart and soul of Darwin’s theory — the belief that simple organisms can gradually evolve to become more complex, given the vagaries of time, through variety created by descent with modification via natural selection, of course.

By employing that same logic and extrapolating from the same evidence only a little bit further, one could also reasonably assert that “bananas make men.”

In fact, in his book The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution, Richard Dawkins said as much when he wrote,

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzee, somewhat more distant cousins of monkey, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips…continue the list as long as desired.

Because I didn’t fall off the turnip truck this morning, personally I find this “fact” called evolution more than just a little bit hard to believe. Usually I’m a fairly reasonable person, and yet I have very good reasons for expressing my doubts that Mr. Dawkins’s above claim is true.

For example, another theme central to Darwin’s theory says that if we can look far enough back in time, we can see evidence that ancestral creatures went through radical morphological changes at some point in the distant past. This phenomena allows evolutionary biologists to “predict” when a critical divergence occurred — such as when dinosaurs evolved into birds, or when fish magically mutated into tetrapods.

For whatever reason, it has been generally assumed that Haldane’s comment more or less applied to any fossil evidence that was found in rocks where it didn’t belong, and Darwin’s theory would fall under new scrutiny should that occur.

However, that may have been a foolish assumption.

For example, when fossil footprints were found in Poland that appeared to be 20 million years older than Tiktaalit, the alleged transitional fossil that purportedly bridges the gap between fish and all tetrapods. That seems to strongly suggest that Tiktaalit was not some miraculous intermediate species that magically crossed the boundaries between two phyla.

Crocoduck1

Creationists have been harshly criticized and ridiculed for allegedly demanding that evolutionists produce a crocko-duck transitional fossil.

However, the so-called “educational” website produced by the University of California-Berkeley described Tiktaalit as having “the head of a crocodile and gills of a fish,” and no one seemed to think that sounded remotely absurd.

Protoavis

Protoavis

This extinct specimen pictured on the left has been dubbed Protoavis, which means “first bird.” It allegedly lived during the late Triassic Period, approximately 210 million years ago.

When my friend Landon posted the picture of Protoavis as shown on the left, I suggested that he’d only created a massive headache for himself. After all, he had just pointed to yet another equivalent of a “Precambrian rabbit” that might finally get people questioning the conventional wisdom of Darwinism once again.

Archaeopteryx

Archaeopteryx

This is because Archaeopteryx has been widely accepted as the transitional creature from dinosaurs to birds, and it lived during the late Jurassic, only 150 million years ago.

That makes Protoavis the second “first bird” fossil. However, it looks a lot more like a bird than Archaeopteryx.

How does the die-hard evangelist for evolution respond to such evidence? Most will probably parrot P. Z. Myers, who seemed to be suggesting that evolution theory will not be successfully challenged or debunked until a Precambrian rabbit has literally been found.

And not before.

 

Todd Grantham versus Jeremy Pruitt — which Defensive Coordinator would you rather have?

Georgia legend Erk Russell

Georgia legend Erk Russell

It’s a good thing I don’t drink coffee.

This morning during breakfast when I read Michael Cunningham’s article in the AJC that was published a couple of weeks ago, suggesting that Todd Grantham has done a better job of coaching defense at Louisville than Jeremy Pruitt has been doing this year at Georgia, I would have spit that coffee all over my keyboard.

Water cleans up much easier. Nor does it hurt very much if you laugh while swallowing and some goes up or down the wrong way.

Was Mr. Cunningham serious? Has he actually watched the two defenses play, or simply looked at the raw statistical analysis? In his defense, Mr. Cunningham normally writes about the Atlanta Hawks and professional basketball. He must have wandered a little bit out of his comfort zone.

That’s the only way I can guess someone might think Todd Grantham could do a better job at Louisville than Jeremy Pruitt has been doing this year at Georgia.

He simply can’t have watched Todd Grantham coach a defense before.

However, I have. In fact, I watched Grantham in action for four mostly painful years,  from 2010 – 2013, every game the Bulldogs played.

And in my personal opinion, Georgia won the freaking lottery when Grantham left and they hired Pruitt to replace him.

Coaches Pruitt and Richt -- AP photo

AP photo

Now it simply isn’t fair to Grantham to compare him to Jeremy Pruitt, a man who has proven he knows how to coach a national championship caliber defense. Grantham’s work should be measured against Willie Martinez, the guy he replaced.

Grantham was a slight improvement.

But I am sure that I can recognize a well-coached defense when I see one, and I never saw one being coached by Todd Grantham.

Not even once.

During Grantham’s tenure with Georgia, typically Aaron Murray and the offense put up enough points to win in spite of the defense, not with their help.

More often than not under Grantham, our play in the secondary resembled the Three Stooges, instead of a disciplined unit working as a team. I still have nightmares about 4th and 18 at Auburn.

Then after I wake up in a cold sweat and finally go back to sleep, I have more nightmares about the 99-yard bomb Nebraska threw in the bowl game.

In comparison, the vast improvement in Georgia’s defense from week to week with Jeremy Pruitt at the helm has been obvious and remarkable, beginning with the season opener against Clemson.

By the time the second half against the ranked Tigers ended, I could tell that we had seriously upgraded our defensive coordinator.

In the Clemson game, I saw glimpses of brilliant defensive play reminding me of glory days and  legendary Junkyard Dawg defense, coached by Erk Russell.

Now I freely admit that I haven’t watched Louisville play very much this year, simply because I don’t find their games against Wake Forest, Murray State, or the Little Sisters of the Poor very interesting.

At the time Mr. Cunningham wrote his column, Louisville had just defeated Wake without the Demon Deacons scoring an offensive touchdown — with a passing offense ranked #105. Their rushing offense is even worse, ranked #128 averaging only 31 yards a game.

It isn’t difficult to look good against really bad competition. Louisville has only played two difficult games and lost both of them.

In four years of watching Todd Grantham at work, I never saw any effort from his players that reminded me of Erk. His defenses managed three shutouts in four years, all in Sanford stadium.

By  contrast, Pruitt’s defense shut out two opponents in half a season, the most impressive of which being on the road in Columbia last weekend.

The Junkyard Dawgs showed up again last Saturday, proving at ranked Missouri the Clemson game wasn’t a fluke. This time, the effort was sustained for all four quarters.

Missouri would have been in the driver’s seat for the SEC East title, plenty of incentive to win at home. Instead, Georgia’s offense played well enough to win, and the defense absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage and suffocated the Tiger offense from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.

It’s much too early to compare Pruitt to coach Russell at this point of his career — it seems more appropriate to compare him to Brian VanGorder, the best defensive coordinator under Richt,

Until now.

After Pruitt has had the opportunity to recruit a couple of shutdown corners and shore up the secondary, the sky may be the limit.

 

 

The really big money in politics

Charles-David-KochNow if you only get information from uber-liberal media sources like Mother Jones or Media Matters, you might have the impression that the Koch brothers (pronounced “Coke” like the soft drink) are probably the most powerful and corrupting influence out there, when it comes to the really big money in politics. Right?

No, you would actually be wrong.

Wait a minute — even if the Kochs are not the absolute biggest individual political donors on the list, they must at least be in the top 10, correct?

Nope. Not even close.

But hold on now — when Rolling Stone magazine suggested these e-e-e-vil brothers are trying to “buy up our political system” with ill-gotten profits of their “toxic empire,” there must be some truth to those allegations, or their printed accusations would constitute libel, wouldn’t it?

Maybe. I’m not a lawyer. Nor do I play one on television. But if I’m reading the definition of libel correctly from the dictionary, perhaps a lawsuit looms in the magazine’s near future.

So, if not even in the top 10, where exactly on the list of big money donors do the Koch brothers fall?

Well, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website published by the Center for Responsive Politics, Charles and David Koch rank 59th out of the top 100 political donors with donations of slightly more than $20 million dollars from 1989-2014.

According to that same list, the largest single political donor is ActBlue, which alone donated over $100 million dollars more than the Koch brothers.

Unsurprisingly, given their name, 99 percent of ActBlue’s $121 million in total donations went to Democrats. None went to Republicans.

In stark contrast, the Koch brothers were a little less biased, donating at least 8 percent of their total political contributions to Democrat candidates.

Now if one simply looks at the list and the top ten donors and adds the total donations of the ten largest political donors, it becomes easy to determine that well over a whopping $400 million more went in big money campaign contributions from lawyers, big business, and labor unions to Democrat candidates.

So remember this information, the next time a political candidate tries to win your sympathy and your vote by demonizing the Koch brothers.

Their paltry (in comparison to the others on the list, of course) $20 million dollars is just a drop in the bucket of big money in politics.

The entrapment of Todd Gurley

Todd_Gurley_croppedWhen media reports were published claiming the man accusing UGA running back Todd Gurley of accepting improper payment to autograph sports memorabilia had hired an attorney, my initial reaction to the story was one of surprise.

The first, most obvious question that popped into my head was this: Why does the guy who allegedly entrapped Gurley need an attorney?

It turns out that apparently by accusing Gurley, this person has tacitly admitted violating a Georgia law passed in 2003 that would make him legally liable for damages incurred by the University of Georgia through his deliberate causing of recruiting or regulation violations to occur.

Now the conventional wisdom of pundits in the media currently seems to be that Gurley may have played his last game for the University of Georgia. However, I’m not convinced that #3 won’t be suited up again next week for the Dawgs fairly soon, perhaps even as soon as next weekend against Arkansas.

The rationale for my thinking is simply this: unless there is a smoking gun like video of money changing hands or cashed checks showing a direct payment of cash by the accuser to the accused, how will the NCAA justify giving Gurley more than a one game suspension, considering how similar recent cases have been handled?

Reports in the media have emphatically indicated that the video allegedly showing Gurley autographing merchandise does not show any money changing hands. These reports suggest it is only the word of one accuser described as disgruntled and unscrupulous versus the best player in college football, Todd Gurley.

And most people who enjoy college football want to see Todd Gurley play.

Interestingly, it appears that Gurley’s accuser cannot repeat his allegations on the record to the NCAA without incriminating himself, which may be why he hired a defense attorney.

Unless I’m missing something, the best move for this memorabilia dealer would be to retract his accusation or simply refuse to repeat it for the record. If he’s smart, he won’t cooperate with any investigation for fear of exposing himself to the risk of personal financial loss.

Here’s why — if this guy repeats his allegations, without hard evidence to corroborate his claims, the NCAA will be hard pressed to accept his unsubstantiated allegation on face value and impose a drastic punishment…and this guy will have made himself vulnerable to civil lawsuit.

You might ask how much might the University of Georgia expect to recoup if they sued Gurley’s accuser and won? Well, consider the fact that the school spent $40,000 alone just for an insurance policy to cover their prized running back for the 2014 season.

Room, board, tuition, lost Heisman publicity — the potential damages could add up quickly.

Given this information, what is the likelihood Gurley has played his last game for UGA?

Consider these precedents set by the NCAA with their handling of similar recent cases: former Alabama players Julio Jones and Mark Ingram were let off with a slap on the wrist, donating “restitution” for allegedly accepting improper benefits. Neither player missed any game time.

Former Auburn Tiger and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton‘s father demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars for Cam to sign with Mississippi State, but because there was no evidence Auburn paid him or that he knew of his father’s demands, the player was suspended and reinstated by the NCAA without missing any game time.

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M was only suspended for one half of one non-conference game for basically being accused of the same thing as Gurley.

Jameis Winston of Florida State University has only been suspended for one game by the NCAA for far more egregious behavior. Without hard evidence to substantiate these allegations against Gurley, it would hardly seem fair nor defensible for the NCAA to punish him more harshly than any of these other players.

After all, missing the entire Missouri game probably cost Gurley his shot at the Heisman Trophy. It should be noted that the very same memorabilia dealer making these accusations against Todd Gurley has not mentioned Jameis Winston, but allegedly has quite a few of Winston’s autographed items for sale on Ebay right along with Gurley.

Why rat on one guy, and not the other? Why pick on Todd Gurley?

As the story goes, greed is the motive. This particular individual was allegedly upset with Gurley because he wasn’t making enough profit off sales of his merchandise to suit him.

The whole sordid story poses an interesting question: does the NCAA really want to allow this precedent to be set?  Do they want to allow serious allegations to ruin the college career of a player without requiring concrete proof that the allegations are true?

If this is despicable practice, allegedly coercing athletes to break the rules and then framing them, is allowed to succeed,the integrity of college sports will be called into question.

Think about it — if this sort of manipulation is allowed to succeed, how long will it be before a die-hard Auburn fan makes a similar allegation in order to get the best player on Alabama, or vice versa, disqualified right before the Iron Bowl? Or a USC fan sets up a UCLA player, or Buckeye does something like this to a Wolverine?

For these reasons, unless that proverbial smoking gun can be produced proving Todd Gurley took money for his autograph, I think the NCAA has little alternative but to reinstate him.

Even if that evidence proves to exist, the NCAA should think long and hard about revising the rules so people with an ulterior motive can get away with the malicious entrapment of a college kid. After all, college football is essentially semi-pro football, especially in the SEC.

Why can’t the players get paid for their autograph, if some fool is willing to pay for it?

The reward for fostering a dog

southernprose_cover_AANOThe very first short story I wrote about animal rescue and fostering dogs was about Trooper, a little yellow dog once struck by a car and left for dead.

He became one of the many animals my wife and I fostered during our tenure with the Humane Society of Forsyth County, when he had recovered well enough to leave the veterinary hospital.

Whenever someone says that they couldn’t foster a dog or cat because they are afraid of becoming too attached, I often think of Trooper.

My wife and I would have loved to have kept him, but he was a very desirable dog that proved easy to place in the perfect “forever” home where he wouldn’t have to compete with the pack for attention.

Trooper is the reason why my book was named Always a Next One: true stories of dog fostering.

Trooper_poseIf we had adopted him, we couldn’t have fostered Bessie the Basset Hound or any of the other dogs that followed Trooper.

Only by helping good dogs like Trooper and Bessie go to the right homes, perfect homes for them, were we able to help save even more animals.

It was easy to become attached to the fosters, and not as easy to let them go. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

We fostered Pancho for over a year before the perfect home for him came along. I grew very attached to him. Unlike Trooper, Pancho had people issues and wouldn’t easily fit into just any home. When the perfect home for him finally came along, it would have been wrong for me to keep Pancho.

If we hadn’t let go of Pancho, we might not have had space for Trooper during his recovery. There was a  great reward for having that dog in our lives, even if it was only for a short time.

Never forget, there’s always a next one. The reward for animal fostering is bittersweet, to be sure.

You will love the foster pet as if they were your dog or cat, but you know that day will come when they find the perfect home for them, where they will be cared for as well as you could do yourself, as difficult as that may be to admit.

Once in a while, you might come across a con artist like Rusty who got ideas of his own about his ideal home. However, if the dog or cat looks relaxed and happy in their new environment, it’s probably safe to let them go and say goodbye.

Then sometimes when you least expect it, an update will come out of the blue and brighten your day.

We recently retrooper_recentceived this photo of Trooper with his new family, who have proclaimed him the best dog they’ve ever had.

As well they should.

 

 

 

Support Your LOCAL Humane Society

southernprose_cover_AANOYesterday was allegedly celebrated as “National Dog Day,” so I posted a succession of photos on Facebook of pack members, past and present.

Having written the book shown on the left, it shouldn’t be a secret that I love animals. My dogs are all spoiled rotten, and they should be.

All of them were rescued.

Once upon a time, every one of our dogs and even the cat were homeless strays or abandoned, surrendered by former owners: purebred German Shepherds, a Dalmatian…this list especially includes Blossom the Maine Coon.

In return, the pack have rewarded me with their stories. The majority of them came through our connections with our favorite “local” Humane Society, the Humane Society of Forsyth County.

Lisa and I volunteered for that organization over a number of years fostering animals, working at adoption events, walking dogs at the shelter, helping raise funds, and doing anything we could that would save another life. The HSFC operates as a no-kill animal shelter, but has limited capacity.

Please don’t confuse the local Humane Society for animal control. When no kennel space or foster homes are available, animals to be surrendered must be turned away.

In my opinion, no domesticated animal should ever be unwanted. For that reason, animal activists like my wife and me put magnets on our cars that preach messages like “Adopt, don’t shop.”

Adoption from a shelter is a win/win situation, and even cheaper than taking a free dog from a neighbor.

Don’t believe me?

Listen to this real world example: Sheba the German Shepherd was given to me as a “free” puppy — but she cost more than $500 at the vet to be fully vaccinated and spayed.

In contrast, Amazing Gracie, her story immortalized in my short story collection titled Always a Next One,  was adopted from the Humane Society of Forsyth County. We spent a grand total of $150 and that included the adoption fee, all of her vaccinations, and being spayed.

Furthermore, if you purchase a dog from a breeder, you’re going to pay several hundred dollars for the animal, and you may be helping someone operate an unethical business in the process.

For example, a “puppy mill” was recently raided in the Atlanta area, and 357 dogs were rescued from some truly deplorable conditions that would break your heart, make you angry, or both.

And where were all these horribly treated and neglected dogs taken? To the local Humane Society in Cherokee County, of course.

Now if you’re like me, when you read a story about the mistreated puppies at a puppy mill, your instinctive reaction is to want to help, so you reach for your wallet.

Perhaps you don’t live close enough to the shelter to adopt one of those puppies, but you still want to make a donation. You don’t know how to find the website of that specific shelter, in this instance the Humane Society of Cherokee County, but you want to help the animals.

Your heart is definitely in the right place.

You decide to make a donation instead to the Humane Society of the United States, probably assuming that your money will help those dogs you were reading about.

And there would be your mistake.

The Humane Society of the United States has virtually nothing to do with your local animal shelter. The HSUS is a political and marketing organization who are expert at raising funds, but they have very little to do with actually helping or saving animals.

Only one percent of their total budget is redirected to local shelters.

Sure, for a $50 donation they will probably send you a cool t-shirt that says something like “Club sandwiches, not seals”, but they aren’t going to stop anybody from actually clubbing a seal.

However,  they will show you pictures of a seal about to be clubbed in their commercials, so you’ll be sure to open up your checkbook, or pull out that credit card.

It might be true that the Humane Society of the United States might invest some of your donation taking some great PR photos of an actor wearing body armor petting an allegedly abused dog on a chain, but nobody is in any real danger in this obviously staged photo op — except maybe the puppy.

Between spay-or-neuter clinics and vouchers, operating a food pantry for people who can’t afford dog food, reuniting lost pets with their owners, and helping homeless animals find forever homes, even our small and struggling no-kill shelter in Forsyth County manages to help a few thousand animals per year on a small fraction of the HSUS advertising budget.

Now I’m not as familiar with the inner workings of the much larger Atlanta Humane Society, which serves the metropolitan Atlanta area, but I’m cure they help many thousands of animals every year. They’re still local to the community.

I don’t know about their financial needs, but I do know how painful it was when we asked for donations for the Humane Society of Forsyth County, only to be told money had already been given to our “parent” organization, the Humane Society of the United States.

The HSUS make us volunteers with the HSFC feel like orphans. And nobody likes begging for money.

But unlike the Humane Society of the United States, your local Humane Society can’t afford to waste money on expensive commercials during prime time. With the economy struggling, we have had to get very creative with our efforts to raise money, because the really big bucks seem to go to all the wrong people like the HSUS, or PETA.

For example, the Humane Society of Greater Savannah operates a thrift store that now provides a significant portion of the operating budget for the animal shelter.

It’s a win/win situation for the community.

People without cash to donate can donate gently used items to the thrift store, bargain hunters have found their idea of heaven on earth, and all the proceeds go to help homeless animals.

Following their example, the Humane Society of Forsyth County opened its own thrift store, but we remain light-years behind Savannah in terms of being established in the community.

But it’s young, and growing.

Your local Humane Societies are all independent organizations, but they do share several things in common. For example:

  • Most of the staff, and their board members of your local Humane Society are unpaid volunteers. There are a few full-time shelter employees who report to the volunteer board of directors, but staff are typically underpaid — not because they don’t deserve more, but local Humane Societies have limited resources. And the full-time people rarely get time off on major holidays.
  • Local Humane Societies are very frugal and often struggle to raise funds.
  • Virtually all of the money donated to your local Humane Society goes directly to help homeless animals. As little as possible is spent on staff salaries or overhead.

In contrast, the HSUS don’t operate animal shelters or directly help any animals.

Instead, they pay for expensive television commercials that play on the viewer’s heartstrings and siphon off funds that are desperately needed by these local organizations.

The next time you see one of the commercials for the Humane Society of the United States, think about how many homeless animals that your local Humane Society could have saved with a fraction of the $15.75 million the HSUS paid to settle a racketeering lawsuit.

If you want to donate money to a national organization, you might want to consider giving something to the HSUS watchdog organization, HumaneWatch.org, currently campaigning to get the designation of the HSUS as a charitable organization revoked by the IRS.

Amazing Gracie’s terrible ordeal

southernprose_cover_AANOIn my book Always a Next One, I shared the story of how my wife and I came to rescue Gracie, a skittish little Norwegian Elk Hound pursued by a dedicated group of animal rescue volunteers for more than a month before someone finally caught up to her.

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of an even more harrowing rescue attempt that happened only yesterday.

This is Amazing Gracie.

As this picture suggestDSC_0009s, she’s not a very big dog, perhaps slightly overweight for her size at around forty pounds.

Of course, every member of our pack is special in their own right. But Gracie has endeared herself to the point she is the only dog in the pack with more than one nickname. She’s also the baby of the pack.

Depending on the circumstances, she has been called my sunshine because she brightens my day, our little butter bean because of her somewhat rotund body, the Chupacabra because of her feigned aggression at mealtime, and she’s even been called snicker doodle, for some strange reason — by me.

I can’t begin to explain how or why those words occasionally come out of my mouth when I’m talking to Gracie, so I won’t even try. However, her whole body wiggles with joy when I say her name.

How could anyone not love a dog that looks like a little grey German Shepherd and acts like she loves them with every fiber of her being? How could I help feeling a little more protective of her than I would, say, of a ninety pound German Shepherd who would eat you if you posed a threat to me, or my family?

Compared to the mighty Ox or big, ferocious-sounding Shiloh, Gracie doesn’t appear to be even mildly intimidating. Strangers most often use the words “cute” or “adorable” to describe her.

So without further ado, this was yesterday’s big adventure…

*           *          *          *         *         *

Now it’s a very good rule of thumb, when you have more than one dog, to periodically conduct a head count to make make sure that the pack members are all present and accounted for.

But yesterday my impromptu head count of the pack came up short one dog.

Gracie was missing.

A quick check of the backyard proved fruitless. She didn’t come when I called her. I checked and double checked the house, but Gracie was nowhere to be found.

I was completely baffled as to how she could have gotten out of the yard. Both fence gates were securely closed. There weren’t any fresh holes dug under the fence where she might have escaped.

Nor could she have escaped through the house without my knowledge.

Nevertheless, Gracie was definitely gone. It was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth. And in one very literal respect, she had.

On those few, rare occasions in the past when Gracie had somehow managed to get out the yard off leash, it had always been pretty easy to figure out how she escaped– invariably, one of the two fence gates had been accidentally left open.

Yet on those rare occasions, it always proved to be relatively easy to find her.

Gracie never wanders very far from home. Her behavior in that regard has always been quite predictable.

In the past when the gate was left open, Grace simply walked around our neighborhood by herself, following the same route I take her on leash.

However this time, there were no obvious answers to the question of how Gracie could have disappeared without a trace yesterday from our backyard.

For a guy who writes detective novels and takes some pride in spending most of his waking hours trying to think like a private detective, I’m ashamed to admit that I was baffled by her disappearance, completely stumped in fact.

It was a mystery to me as I wondered how Gracie could have disappeared like she had in broad daylight — unless someone had deliberately snatched her.

My wife Lisa immediately joined me in the hunt for our missing dog, repeating my methodical search of the backyard. I decided to get in the van and circle our neighborhood to look for Gracie, even though I had no idea how she might have possibly escaped from the yard.

I rolled down the windows so she could hear me as I called to her, but only managed to back out of the driveway when I heard the most heart-wrenching sound in the world as my wife screamed in sheer panic at the top of her lungs: “Gracie…Oh MY GOD! JOHN! COME QUICK!”

Mere words cannot describe the full range of emotions I experienced as I ran for the backyard. Dread filled me with the ugly thought that I was going to be helping Lisa recover Gracie’s lifeless body.

I harbored no delusions that our story might have a happy ending at that moment in time. After all, I had searched the backyard  rather thoroughly only a few minutes before and had seen no sign of Gracie. She hadn’t made a sound as I repeatedly called her name, never barked or even whimpered loud enough for me to hear.

At that moment in time, I could think of no reason for optimism. However to my shock and amazement, Gracie didn’t appear to be seriously hurt. But she was in a terrible predicament. The torrential rainstorm overnight had gouged out a deep sinkhole in the side of a small hill in our backyard.

Somehow that sinkhole had swallowed Gracie alive. Her head appeared to be at least four feet below the surface of the earth.

Remembering that scene in retrospect, we now realize that we might never have found Gracie in time,  if Ox hadn’t found her for us. Ox stood vigil over the sinkhole until Lisa went to investigate, curious why he refused to budge from a vantage point where there was nothing to see…except, of course, Gracie, at the bottom of a very deep hole.

That ugly little sinkhole turned out to be nothing more than a narrow crevice, a mere sliver in the earth. Backyard_hole_1

But it was really deep.

In fact, it proved to be so deep that our rake almost disappeared underground when placed in the hole handle-first, as shown in the picture below. Backyard_hole_2Gracie seemed to be going into shock.

She was panting rapidly, obviously confused and afraid.

To make matters worse, Lisa became convinced that the hole kept getting deeper.

Normally I’m not one to panic, but I admit that seemed to be the most logical and appropriate reaction under the circumstances.

One of Gracie’s front paws was tangled in some tree roots, and appeared to be the only thing keeping her from slipping deeper underground. The earth all around the hole was extremely soft.

It looked as if the hole might cave worse if I even breathed on it too hard. A couple of landscaping bricks were precariously perched in loose soil, right above Gracie’s head.

Before I completely lost my composure, I dialed 9-1-1 and asked for help.

Within minutes, the Alpharetta fire department had answered my call and began to assess the situation.

One of the firemen pulled out the loose landscaping pavers from the dirt just above Gracie’s head and tossed them out of harm’s way.

I tried to grab the remaining brick but it slipped from my fingers and fell into the hole, narrowly missing Gracie’s head.

Acting on instinct, I dove on the ground near the hole in a hopeless attempt to catch the brick before it fell. I only managed to widen the hole as the shelf of dirt caved in, burying Gracie up to her neck.

Her nose, ears and eyes were about all that remained visible.

The rest of her body was almost completely covered by dirt and mud. At that point, I finally realized that I was part of the problem, not the solution.

I was convinced that my well-intentioned efforts to save Gracie were going to kill her. After doing the smart thing and calling for professional help, why hadn’t I just let the firefighters do their job?

I got out of the way so the other firefighters could assist the man at the hole just when he said, “She’s trying to climb out!”

Apparently, as Gracie wiggled around, the dirt that fell on top of her then fell under her feet, and she began inching her way up toward freedom.

She soon had scrambled and clawed to get within reach and a second firefighter reached in and grabbed Gracie by the scruff of her neck.

“I’ve got her!” the lady firefighter exclaimed.

In the blink of an eye, Gracie was running around in the yard, celebrating her moment of freedom before going inside for a desperately needed bath.

I barely had time to shake hands with the men and women who quickly and professionally saved my dog’s life before they were headed back to the station to wait for the next emergency call.

My wife and I cannot thank the Alpharetta fire department enough for their cheerful assistance in our time of most desperate need. They seemed almost as happy about the happy ending as we were.

Postscript: it took 800 pounds of concrete to fill that sinkhole. It’s really scary to think how a hole that deep and dangerous could develop so quickly, literally created overnight by the erosion caused by heavy rainfall.

A review of “Rescue Me” by Val Silver

Rescue Me: Tales of Rescuing the Dogs Who Became Our Teachers, Healers, and Always Faithful FriendsRescue Me: Tales of Rescuing the Dogs Who Became Our Teachers, Healers, and Always Faithful Friends by Val Silver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rescue Me is a collection of tales about a subject I am personally very passionate about — animal rescue. The stories are told by multiple people, and as a result some of them are more poignant than uplifting…the authors may not speak with “one” voice, but these stories told from the heart will almost certainly touch yours.

The book is worth buying just for the story of Biscuit the “do-over” dog, that went from death row in the animal shelter to become a therapy dog. Another story that resonated with me personally were the delightful “Lollipop Can’t Hold Her Licker” that opens with an unforgettable hook line: “Oh. My. Gawd. Your dog looks just like Gene Simmons.”

With their unified message, the authors said all the right things that another person familiar with the needs and difficulties and a passion for animal rescue wants to hear: spay and neuter. Adopt, don’t shop. Senior dogs need homes, too. Animal rescue is a labor of love, and that love shines through in the stories in this collection.

Amazon helped decide the number of stars this book deserved — five stars meant that I loved reading it, and four meant that I only liked the book. While I found it objectionable that one author described the wonderful, baying voice of a Basset Hound as a “God-awful sound”, I must admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, just as not every aficionado of music appreciates Gene Simmons of KISS.

View all my reviews

The vapid nature of atheism

southernprose_cover_CAFGThere is a common misconception that most if not all scientists are atheists, and that the vast majority of atheists are brilliant thinkers.

True, there are some very smart people who call themselves atheists.

But most of these people remain willfully ignorant of any potential information that might upset their apple-cart of a worldview.

For some people, it is enough for them to simply say they don’t believe in any sort of a God. Others, namely antitheists, actually hate the concept of supernatural intelligence so much that they campaign to eradicate the idea among the general public.

Some of these antitheists constantly lurk on the internet, hoping to evangelize their lack of faith and lead some of the sheeple astray.

I cannot tell you how many times one of these antitheists have threatened to “educate” me on the alleged scientific evidence, only to demonstrate in subsequent conversation that they know even less about the science involved than me.

Most recently, one of these intrepid atheists at a Facebook forum called The Battlefield directed me to read Victor Stenger’s paper titled “A Scenario for a Natural Origin of Our Universe,” presumably to convince me that our universe did not have a supernatural origin.

Before going any further, it should be clearly stipulated that I don’t know nearly as much about physics as Dr. Stenger.

However, after reading a bit of his work, I’m fairly well convinced Dr. Stenger doesn’t really know much more about the origin of our universe than I do.

His “natural origins” paper, found in the Cornell University library, begins:

It is commonly believed that the universe could not have come about naturally. Although many authors writing at the popular and academic levels have described various scenarios for a natural origin, usually based on a vague notion of “quantum fluctuations,” even though they admit their idea is speculative and surrender to the prevailing wisdom that the origin of our universe remains unexplained.

Dr. Stenger began by conceding that the default position should be to assume the origin of the universe was a supernatural event. We were off to an excellent start, to say the least.

The paper was only nine pages long, and three of those were dedicated to footnotes. I won’t pretend that I understood the mathematical formulas and special symbols that Dr. Stenger suggested would show us how to get a universe like ours without God, but I am quite sure he failed to adequately describe the origin of this universe on those pages.

The problems in Dr. Stenger’s logic were painfully obvious, even to a person lacking a PhD in physics.

However, we should acknowledge the positives about Dr. Stenger’s paper before we mention any of the negatives. He attempts to address inflation in his model of the Big Bang rather than ignoring it, for example. Furthermore, after bravely admitting no unifying theory of quantum mechanics and general relativity exists, Dr. Stenger nevertheless tries to apply this non-existent combination theory in his attempt to create a model of the Big Bang that eliminates any need for a God.

If given the opportunity, one might reasonably ask Dr. Stenger: was the purpose of this work a legitimate and scholarly pursuit, or nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse by yet another antitheist to attack religious beliefs under the guise of a genuine effort to perform good science?

Dr. Stenger also wrote in his paper:

We have no direct observations of the event we identify as the origin of our universe, “our universe” being the one we live in but with the far greater portion that arose from the same source now out of sight beyond our horizon. This has led some to insist that, as a consequence, science can say nothing about the origin. Here they parrot the familiar creationist argument that because we didn’t observe humans evolving we can’t say anything about human evolution.

The highlighted statement exposes the blatant bias of Dr. Stenger against religious beliefs and the idea of supernatural creation as the purpose for the paper — proving that the foundation of his entire argument was built upon quicksand.

The mention of inflation in his “natural origin” paper was commendable, but what about fine-tuning, and the anthropic nature of this universe?

Alas, he seemed to have ignored it completely in his “natural origins” paper when attempting to prove the universe could exist without supernatural help.

But on a happy note, to ascertain why that particular paper failed to even mention the alleged fine-tuning of our universe that created the perfect building blocks for life, I was inspired to perform some additional research on Dr. Stenger’s work to help explain the omission.

After a search of the internet, I discovered this paper about fine tuning also written by Dr. Stenger. In this second paper, he significantly downplays the idea of a fine-tuned universe by describing the six cosmological factors identified by Sir Martin Rees as merely anthropic coincidences.

Is Dr. Stenger’s real objective to better understand and hopefully explain the origin of our universe — one of the greatest mysteries of all time — or simply an excuse to sweep all for evidence of God under the rug? He wrote in his “natural origins” paper,

No claim will be made that the model I will describe is actually how our universe came about. The model contains no proof of uniqueness. The purpose of this essay is simply to show explicitly that at least one scenario exists for a perfectly natural, non-miraculous origin of our universe based on our best scientific knowledge. In other words, science has at least one viable explanation for the wholly natural origin of our universe, thus refuting any claim that a supernatural creation was required.

Question: if the mathematical model in question does not describe how our specific universe came to exist, then what good is the model?

Does it merely predict a hypothetical universe that wouldn’t collapse immediately after the Big Bang, or to describe the actual universe in which we live? And why did Dr. Stenger ignore the problem of fine-tuning?

Fellow physicist/atheist Chris Impey used a clever analogy to describe fine-tuning as follows:

Apart from hydrogen, everything else is just a trace element. Just how rare? Suppose a deck of cards represented randomly selected atoms in the universe. In one deck of cards, the aces would be helium atoms and the other forty-eight would be hydrogen atoms. You’d need thirty decks of cards before you’d expect to find one carbon atom. In the thirty decks of cards, there’d be a couple of oxygen atoms, too, but all the other cards would be hydrogen or helium. You’d need to search three hundred decks to find a single iron atom…How do we know what the universe is made of? Astronomers use remote sensing by spectroscopy to measure the composition of star stuff. Each element has a unique set of sharp spectral features that acts like a fingerprint, so by identifying that fingerprint in starlight, astronomers can measure contributions of different elements.

Dr. Impey seems to think the “fine-tuned” nature of our universe makes it a rather uniquely special place. He didn’t give God the credit in his book The Living Cosmos either, however.

Dr. Stenger conversely asserts that “[w]e cannot assume that life would have been impossible in our universe had the physical laws been any different.”

What does that even mean? What other sort of intelligent life does Dr. Stenger propose may exist in an untuned universe?

He means silicon-based life forms, of course…the stuff from which we manufacture computer chips.

Perhaps Dr. Stenger has taken The Terminator movies a little too seriously.

In his book The Big Bang: the Origin of the Universe, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Simon Singh wrote the following about the alleged fine-tuned nature of the universe in which we live:

Similarly, it seems to defy the odds that the six numbers that characterize the universe have very special values that allow life to flourish. So do we ignore this and count ourselves extremely lucky, or do we look for special meaning in our extraordinarily good fortune? According to the extreme version of the anthropic principle, the fine-tuning of the universe which has allowed for life to evolve is indicative of a tuner. In other words, the anthropic principle can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of a God. However, an alternative view is that our universe is part of a multiverse…there could be many other separate and isolated universes, each defined by its own set of six numbers.

As much as I loathe the word “consensus” in relation to science, Dr. Stenger seems to be in that relatively small minority of physicists who argue against the idea that the Big Bang created a universe perfectly suited for us, sometimes called a “Goldilocks” universe because it’s allegedly just right for life.

A significant problem in the paper was that Stenger presupposed the existence of a universe prior to ours, and it “tunneled through the unphysical region around t = 0 to become our universe.”

As atheists often like to ask the question: if God created the universe then who created God? Well, what created this parent universe from which ours emerged?

Grudgingly Dr. Stenger conceded about fine-tuning that “I do not dispute that life as we know it [emphasis original] would not exist if any one of the several of the constants of physics were slightly different. Additionally, I cannot prove that some other form of life is feasible with another set of constants.”

Question: why would Dr. Stenger assume these values of physics were actually constants, and not variables? He even went so far to write, “varying the constants that go into our familiar equations would give us many universes that do not look a bit like ours.”

So why make such an important assumption? To call something a constant in the world of mathematics is to assume it can have no other value but the one assigned.

In other words, Dr. Stenger assumes in his version of the laws of physics that the universe had no choice but spontaneously come into being from absolutely nothing.

About the alleged preexisting universe that supposedly created ours, Dr. Stenger wrote, “Nothing in our knowledge of physics and cosmology requires the non-existence of that universe, so it would be a violation of Occam’s razor to exclude it.”

To be crystal clear about this point, Dr. Stenger has asserted that our universe could come from another universe,  or from absolutely nothing — basically it could come from anywhere but God.

And actually, the anthropic universe problem is much worse than Dr. Stenger’s work suggests. In his paper on fine-tuning of the universe, Dr. Stenger acknowledged that fellow scientist Fred Hoyle once made a successful prediction using the anthropic principle about the excited state of the carbon 12 atom.

The irony was that even though Dr. Hoyle proved the anthropic principle applied to our universe, he rejected the Big Bang theory itself in favor of a steady state, eternal universe, because he also wanted to use science to defend his atheistic beliefs.

Hoyle even coined the term “the Big Bang” to mock the idea the universe had an origin to express his contempt for the idea. Hoyle said the Big Bang argument was pseudoscience, nothing but an excuse to introduce a creator into the creative processes responsible for this universe.

Because of his strong belief that a created universe would require a supernatural intellect to create it, Hoyle stubbornly refused to accept the evidence of the Big Bang as evidence.

Conversely, Dr. Stenger tried to minimize the issue of fine-tuning by declaring the universe deterministic, claiming that something appeared simply because it had no choice, according to the laws of physics.

But according to the chemistry necessary for the origin of life, the only reason we can assume that life is even possible is only because we can observe that life exists. Even if you magnanimously suggest the universe created itself, an equally unlikely event, the origin of life, is next to be considered.

A majority of the experts in physics and chemistry agree the origins of the universe and life were extraordinarily unlikely events. In fact, the only reason we can assume abiogenesis is even theoretically possible is the fact that we are part of the evidence.

The argument is not about creation versus evolution, free will versus determinism, or God versus science.

The events identified by “science” had to happen, or else we wouldn’t be here.

The only question to really ponder is why it happened — did a supernatural God orchestrate this universe, or might we exist only because of extraordinary good luck?

Fred Hoyle was brilliant, but his stubborn blindness to the copious evidence for God introduced problems that influenced his work and sort of made him a laughing stock among the other physicists of his day — not because he became a theist, but because he refused to consider the possibility of a deity even after being been left with no alternative because of the Big Bang. For various reasons, other men were awarded a Nobel Prize that Fred Hoyle earned and richly deserved.

Hoyle could have been mentioned in the same sentence with Newton, Einstein, and Swedenborg, if only his stubborn refusal to even consider the possible existence of a supernatural God hadn’t blinded him to his own errors in logic.

But because I’m not a close-minded freethinker, I read Dr. Stenger’s papers, hoping I might learn something new. I’m not afraid of new ideas that might challenge my preconceived idea that life cannot exist without God.

Unfortunately, the only thing I actually learned was how desperate atheists like Dr. Stenger and Fred Hoyle can become, and the lengths they will go through to protect their own worldview.

When I told my atheist acquaintance who recommended Dr. Stenger’s paper that I wanted a couple of days to research and think about things before I provided any feedback, he replied that he didn’t care to know my thoughts.

The goal of this exercise was always to indoctrinate me into his way of thinking. This person has assumed he can learn nothing from a conversation with me.

He merely wanted to shake my conviction that this universe will never be adequately explained by scientists such as Victor Stenger or Fred Hoyle, not as long as they insist on taking the creator out of this simple equation for creation:

Life = Big Bang + abiogenesis + speciation + natural selection

In the mind of this atheist acquaintance with constipated thoughts, Dr. Stenger has a PhD, which makes him the equivalent of a god.

He completely failed to recognize the fact that Dr. Stenger’s work simply reflects his presupposition of atheism, and is basically useless as a result.

It seems that atheists do not really make great scientists, if only because they are certain of too many things that aren’t really true.

The evil of rape

southernprose_cover_CAFGRape is not about sexual gratification — it is an act of reprehensible violence intended to degrade and humiliate a woman. I could never nor want to defend the act of rape in any way, shape, or form. It’s simply deplorable behavior.

Furthermore, I want to hear nothing said about “legitimate rape” or any other such nonsense intended to diminish the gravity of the crime. Blaming the victim is a despicable tactic all too frequently employed by unscrupulous defense attorneys more interested in winning than in seeing justice served.

Survivors of rape are already forced to live with memories of the violence and the feelings of helplessness, rage, and humiliation for the rest of their lives. If the woman happens to become pregnant as the result of being raped, an additional unfair burden is placed on her shoulders.

At that point, the innocent victim faces a truly horrible choice — what does she do with the baby? She became pregnant through no fault of her own — but how can she keep that baby, if she cannot love it?

Does she have that child aborted? Should she have the baby, and put it up for adoption?

No woman should ever be forced into the position of having to make such a difficult decision through no fault of her own. And I can’t judge her decision from where I stand. Because of rape and incest, I could never in good conscience bring myself to support a universal ban on abortion, no matter how evil and barbaric I think most abortions are.

Men who rape women are cowards. If murder is the worst thing one human being can do to another, rape would have to be a pretty close second.

I have no problem with a convicted rapist being sentenced to death or castration for his insidious crime. Or both, for that matter.

Okay, by now I think I’ve made my point. It should be painfully obvious about how I personally feel about the crime of rape or what should be done with a rapist.

However, I must now ask the reader a serious question: why is rape wrong? How do we know it is wrong? Is it because I said so? Is it because rape is forbidden by law? What makes rape a criminal offense?

Personally, I happen to think there’s a lot more to the answer of how we know rape is inherently wrong than simply because it’s illegal.

When acts of adultery, murder, rape, or incest are reported in the news, the word most frequently associated in my mind with any of those acts is evil.

And we all believe that rape and murder are evil, criminal behavior,  whether we want to admit it or not. Rape is surely one of the worst things one human being could do to another. We are “hard-wired” to know rape is wrong because we were created with that knowledge.

Therefore, when someone asks a remarkably stupid question like “Did God create rape?” rather than giving an equally inane answer, one could see this as an opportunity for a “teachable moment.”

Please allow me to dispense with the ridiculous notion that “God” might have created rape.

God created human beings, endowing us all with the gift of free will that allows us to choose between doing good and evil. Otherwise we would be tantamount to slaves, with no choice but to worship our creator God.

In truth, rape was devised by mankind as another in a long list of acts of depravity, yet one more way for one person to inflict harm on others to make them miserable.

Now I don’t mean to pick on Ms. Burris of Blue Nation Review for misunderstanding the point that Mr. Isaacs seemed to be attempting to make about evolution theory.

Isaacs was merely trying to say if evolution theory really have caused all life to exist without any assistance from a supernatural Creator, then there is no rational explanation for objective morality. In a world absent the objective morality that can only come from God, there is no reason for anyone to assume behavior such as rape or incest would automatically be considered improper.

Furthermore, if evolution really happens without God, it would only be natural that our genes should be selfish. Spreading our DNA indiscriminately through the gene pool should be the perfectly acceptable, reasonable thing to do.

That’s what “survival of the fittest” really means.

The honest atheist who accepts evolution theory as the explanation for their existence may naturally conclude that their life has no true meaning or purpose. We would exist simply to live, breed, and die.

In an atheist world, morality is subjective and therefore must be arbitrary, varying from person to person.

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of objective morality, an evangelist for atheism like Lawrence Krauss, while cleverly disguised as a physicist, can claim with a straight face that he really isn’t sure incest should be declared to be always wrong under every conceivable circumstance.

To be fair, Dr. Krauss isn’t the only atheist academic who gets confused about the source of the “ingrained taboo” of such abhorrent behavior.

Richard Dawkins has also gotten himself into hot water more than once in the past by making comments that trivialized rape and sexual assault.

I recognize that objective morality can only come from the God that created me. Because I really believe that, I have no problem saying that rape and incest are always wrong.

Period.

Exclamation point, even.