Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lawsuit seeks to take 'so help me God' out of inaugural


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A number of atheists and non-religious organizations want Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony to leave out all references to God and religion.

(full article)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Young Jordanians rebel, embracing conservative Islam - Be careful what you wish for

From the International Hearald Tribune:

AMMAN, Jordan: Muhammad Fawaz is a very serious college junior with a stern gaze and a reluctant smile that barely cloaks suppressed anger. He never wanted to attend Jordan University. He hates spending hours each day commuting.

As a high school student, Fawaz, 20, had dreamed of earning a scholarship to study abroad. But that was impossible, he said, because he did not have a "wasta," or connection. In Jordan, connections are seen as essential for advancement and the wasta system is routinely cited by young people as their primary grievance with their country.

So Fawaz decided to rebel. He adopted the serene, disciplined demeanor of an Islamic activist. In his sophomore year he was accepted into the student group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest, most influential religious, social and political movement, one that would ultimately like to see the state governed by Islamic law, or Shariah. Now he works to recruit other students to the cause.

(Full Article)

To our young friends in the region: be careful what you wish for, and be sure to study what has happened to those who've gone before you in places like Iran. By all means stand up, rebel, shake up the status quo, change the government, but make positive changes. When religion becomes the government and the government becomes religion, corruption doesn't abate. If anything, it tends to become even more entrenched.

Secular government may seem anathema to Islam, but when a religious establishment must coexist with a secular government, each helps to keep the other from being hijacked by a corrupt few. When the two become one, there is no such balance. Each benefits from the existence of the other.

Under the George W. Bush presidency, the US (and the world) got a taste of what can happen when religion and government start to become entangled in a context where this is explicitly prohibited. The global reverberations will likely continue for a generation.

Also worth considering is the utter vacuum of evidentiary support for the foundational beliefs underlying religion. As university students, you are young and intelligent, and curious. Never let anything suppress your mind or misdirect your thinking.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Barack Obama, Rick Warren, and Invocations at Presidential Inaugurations

We've all been bombarded by the controversy over Barack Obama's unfortunate choice of pastor Rick Warren to give "the invocation" as part of the presidential inauguration ceremony. We needn't review the details of that controversy here.

A question the so-called mainstream media has utterly failed to raise is why in a secular government, constitutionally separated from religion, an "invocation" is allowed to be part of the inaugural festivities at all. While that same constitution guarantees freedom of religion for individual citizens
(and by inference, freedom from religion for those who do not subscribe to ancient myth), whether or not serving in public office, conflating personal religous beliefs with official governmental functions, be it the inauguration of a new president, the opening and/or closing of governmental proceedings such as congress, or whatever, stands as an abject violation of the principle of separation of church and state; an endorsement of religion in general, and an at least tacit endorsement of the specific religious denomination of the participants, by official sanction.

By focusing on the controversial nature of the particular selection of the pastor, the mainstream press has once again missed the point and failed in its duty to keep the politicians in line. Even the chatter on much of the atheist blogosphere seems to miss the point but for a few of the comments.

Wake up, people. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by the christian "right", the United States of America is not a christian nation; it is a pluralistic society, populated with believers of every major religion and many minor ones, and with believers in reality as well. The atheist community's apparent willingness to accept the notion that some sort of religious invocation is a regular part of a presidential inauguration is disturbing. Granted, not every battle can be fought at once, but if we're going to concern ourselves with this issue at all, we should take it on as the affront it is to the separation of church and state, regardless of the particular pastor involved and his archaic social positions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Fake" Christians?


What is killing the Republican Party? Well, for one thing, Pretend Christians

The Accused:

Supreme Conservative Republican Evangelical American Moralizers -- S.C.R.E.A.M.

The "Christian" War President

"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

"This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."

--George W. Bush

(read full article)

And what about "real" Christians? Where are they in all this?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Small sect gives U.S. Supreme Court a lot to consider

From International Herald Tribune:

PLEASANT GROVE CITY, Utah: Across the street from the city hall here sits a small park with about a dozen donated buildings and objects - a wishing well, a millstone from the city's first flour mill and an imposing red granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Thirty miles, or 48 kilometers, to the north, adherents of a religion called Summum gather in a wood-and-metal pyramid by Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City. Followers of Summum meditate on their Seven Aphorisms, fortified by an alcoholic sacramental nectar they produce and surrounded by mummified animals.

In 2003, the president of the Summum church wrote to the mayor here with a proposal: the church wanted to erect a monument inscribed with the Seven Aphorisms in the city park, "similar in size and nature" to the one devoted to the Ten Commandments.

(read full article)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On California Proposition 8, Marriage, and Government

Many have been following the battle over so-called gay marriage as exemplified by initiatives like California's proposition 8 that seeks to amend the state constitution to define marriage specifically as the union of precisely one man and one woman. Each side presents its arguments similarly to the abortion controversy, not 180 degrees out of phase but at odd angles to each other in such a way as to obscure the central issue and make the debate unwinnable by either party. This is at best a disingenuous tactic; at worst something far more sinister, but in any case it can lead only to more of the same. No side of either issue will be satisfied by any supposed resolution of the argument, whether judicial or by referendum.

Moving beyond the argument in its present form, examining the question of marriage in modern society, several things quickly become apparent:

  • Marriage, though related to the institution from which it descends, has drifted in its ceremonial and legal implications into territory that can be very difficult to navigate, particularly when dealing with marital difficulties and divorce.
  • Government and court involvement in the administration and dissolution of marriages is mostly detrimental to all parties concerned.
  • Religious implications make this a hot-button issue making it much more difficult to address the parties' needs more pragmatically.
These and other observations suggest the following seemingly radical proposition: separation of church and state should extend to the primarily ceremonial institution of marriage - that is, get the government out of the marriage business entirely, and eliminate the legal significance of marriage, replacing it with a newer structure designed specifically to address the needs of people today.

Marriage would revert to the domain of religious and secular social institutions. Ceremonies could be performed by whatever figure the parties respect for this purpose, and would carry only ceremonial significance.

Legal implications of today's concept of marriage would be supplanted by a new structure: a family corporation, separate and distinct from the ceremonial notion of marriage. This special class of corporation would have to be designed specifically for its purpose. It would be required to set forth bylaws for the operation of the family corporation, procedures for how a party would terminate his or her relationship to the family corporation, procedures for total dissolution of the corporation, financial and other responsibilities of the parties, and rules for amendment of these bylaws. In effect, the law would require the equivalent of today's notion of a prenuptial agreement, though it would not take precisely that form.

It would be beyond the reach of law to specify the structure of a family corporation, the gender of its parties, or even the number of its parties. Financial and tax ramifications would have to be worked out, as would the tax status of this class of corporation. Boiler-plate articles of incorporation would become available that could be used as-is, fine-tuned, or modified wholesale, to reflect the needs and desires of the parties, but could in any case serve as a guide to the structure for such arrangements.

This would do nothing to inhibit government from exercising some regulatory function to ensure against abuses and neglect, of children or adult parties to the family corporation. Legal statute would continue to specify the age of majority when children become independent entities.

Such a system has many implications, including:
  • Issues like gay marriage, polygamy, adoption, etc., are taken completely out of public debate and away from those who would seek to impose their ideologies on the public at large. They become, as they properly should be, a private matter between the parties involved.
  • Government is once and for all removed from the bedroom.
  • Church and State separation is strengthened and enhanced.
  • The existing legal baggage and prejudice surrounding the current notion of divorce would be supplanted by clearly-stated procedures for what happens if it doesn't work out.
  • No longer would the wage-earning spouse be inherently at tremendous disadvantage because of the current imbalance in this area.
  • Tyranny of a non-responsible, non-wage-earning party over a responsible wage-earning party through blackmail threats to disrupt the marriage with ruinous consequences to the other would finally be ended.
  • Legal responsibility would be contained between the parties and explicitly framed in the articles of incorporation.
  • Matters of custody would be specified in advance in the articles of incorporation and bylaws.
Managing the transition from existing traditions and procedures presents a challenge but not a terrible one. A standard family corporation could be considered to come into effect to embody existing marriages. At any time the parties could amend this corporation as necessary by mutual agreement, subject to procedures as specified in the corporate articles and bylaws.

Marriages originating in other countries where this is not (yet?) the tradition would have to be respected in some legal structure as well, but if the parties moved to the US, the transition process would apply to them for US purposes.

Finally, this would work best if implemented on the federal level, superseding all relevant state laws and regulations, however it could be pioneered by one or more states until wider acceptance could come about.

Though somewhat radical in nature, this kind of approach is much more in line with the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to which we are supposedly entitled.

Such an approach has the advantage of enabling existing traditions to continue, supporting freedom of and from religion, while at the same time preventing the imposition of any marital ideology over those who do not share it. This is inherently fair and decent, but because of its explicit protections, it will likely meet with opposition from precisely those who would impose their beliefs on others - the very reason why it is so critical to implement protections of this kind.

It will not be easy to bring about this sort of social change, but it would solve a great many problems, while creating relatively few. It is not reasonable to expect quick change to something so radical, but it is reasonable to have the discussion and raise the issues this proposal attempts to address and discuss this proposal as a possible way of addressing them.

[In the interest of full disclosure here, it should be noted that the author does not support either side of this argument and is not a California voter, but would have voted against Proposition 8 on other principles]


This morning we awaken to a new hope. President-Elect Obama is staged to replace the Moron-in-chief and build what we can all hope will be a competent administration, staffed with intelligent, curious, thinking, learning folks with goals and priorities aimed at repairing the tremendous damage done over the past eight years.

None of this would have been possible without the awakening of our population from its long apathetic (and pathetic) slumber. It is reassuring that this eventually happened, but should we ever manage to get another incompetent administration in power, we must not sleep through eight years of it ever again. The price is too high. Convenient as it is to blame the Bush administration, we all share responsibility, particularly for the second term. We the American Public must continually remain on guard against further attempts, and they will occur, to transform this great nation into anything less than what we are meant to be. Leanings toward fascism such as the past 7-8 years have witnessed have no place certainly in this country and arguably in the world. If we cannot lead by example then we cannot lead at all.

Much work remains to be done. We must collectively repudiate the corrupt ways of so many entrenched politicians in DC and in our home states, counties, cities, etc. We must stand against bigotry and ignorance and promote education, investigation, learning, and sharing of knowledge. We must re-establish and strengthen separation of powers and separation of church and state. We have an opportunity here for a transformational period in American history during which we can regain and exceed our past leadership.

Carpe diem, people. Carpe diem.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

God is Hate

From Living the Scientific Life:

Even if I was stupid enough to be religious, this one letter to the editor would challenge everything I held dear because it openly advocates hatred of anyone who doesn't believe in gawd -- in the name of gawd. I was always raught that "god is love" but after reading this letter, I realize I am not ready for this sort of love, nor for the other sorts of love that all you so-called "religious people" embrace, including pedophilia, female genital mutilation and genocide, just to name a few of the aacts you have engaged in. Even though I don't believe in gawd or any of the cruel and hateful actions that a "supreme being" represents, I will say this: I hope all you so-called religious wingnuts burn in hellfire for all eternity.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Creation Museum Claims Big Crowds

From LiveScience:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The museum exhibits are taken from the Old Testament, but the special effects are pure Hollywood: a state-of-the-art planetarium, animatronics and a massive model of Noah's Ark, all intended to explain the origins of the universe from a biblical viewpoint.

The Creation Museum, which teaches life's beginnings through a literal interpretation of the Bible, is claiming attendance figures that would make it an unexpectedly strong draw less than a year and a half after it debuted. More than a half-million people have toured the Kentucky attraction since its May 2007 opening, museum officials said.

For creationists — Christians who believe the Bible's first chapter of Genesis is the literal telling of the universe's start — the museum is a godsend. Many have returned with family and friends, some from faraway states arguing it's one of the few with a Christian worldview.
(read full article)
This is a profoundly disturbing trend. The effect on this country's global political influence, economic viability, and national security is threatened by the collective dumbing-down effect of such self-delusionary belief systems. External threats notwithstanding, our greatest challenge most probably comes from the inside, from institutionalized promotion of ignorance, intellectual terrorists that threaten the very fabric of American life.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sarah Six-pack Needs To Put Country First by Stepping Down

From From The Huffington Post:

Mike Judge, the creator of King of the Hill and Beavis & Butthead, once told a story on Letterman about how, one day, his Joe Six-pack next-door neighbor was inexplicably removing the back windshield from a 1978 Chevy Nova. So Judge walked out to the parking lot of his apartment building and asked the neighbor, "What are you doing?" And the neighbor gleefully answered, "Huh-huh-huh! Huh-huh! Now it's like a truck!"

In the freakishly hamfisted world of Sarah Palin, Mike Judge's neighbor is qualified to be vice president of the United States.

Yesterday, Palin said the following to talk radio wingnut Hugh Hewitt:

"Oh, I think they're just not used to someone coming in from the outside saying you know what? It's time that a normal Joe Six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that's kind of taken some people off guard, and they're out of sorts, and they're ticked off about it."

There's so much awfulness in this quote, it's difficult to know where to begin. Out of sorts? Ticked off? Oh you betcha.

(read the full piece)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sam Harris on Sarah Palin

From Newsweek:

Let me confess that I was genuinely unnerved by Sarah Palin's performance at the Republican convention. Given her audience and the needs of the moment, I believe Governor Palin's speech was the most effective political communication I have ever witnessed. Here, finally, was a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones "God and country." If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could.

Then came Palin's first television interview with Charles Gibson. I was relieved to discover, as many were, that Palin's luster can be much diminished by the absence of a teleprompter. Still, the problem she poses to our political process is now much bigger than she is. Her fans seem inclined to forgive her any indiscretion short of cannibalism. However badly she may stumble during the remaining weeks of this campaign, her supporters will focus their outrage upon the journalist who caused her to break stride, upon the camera operator who happened to capture her fall, upon the television network that broadcast the good lady's misfortune—and, above all, upon the "liberal elites" with their highfalutin assumption that, in the 21st century, only a reasonably well-educated person should be given command of our nuclear arsenal.

The point to be lamented is not that Sarah Palin comes from outside Washington, or that she has glimpsed so little of the earth's surface (she didn't have a passport until last year), or that she's never met a foreign head of state. The point is that she comes to us, seeking the second most important job in the world, without any intellectual training relevant to the challenges and responsibilities that await her. There is nothing to suggest that she even sees a role for careful analysis or a deep understanding of world events when it comes to deciding the fate of a nation. In her interview with Gibson, Palin managed to turn a joke about seeing Russia from her window into a straight-faced claim that Alaska's geographical proximity to Russia gave her some essential foreign-policy experience. Palin may be a perfectly wonderful person, a loving mother and a great American success story—but she is a beauty queen/sports reporter who stumbled into small-town politics, and who is now on the verge of stumbling into, or upon, world history.

The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary.

I believe that with the nomination of Sarah Palin for the vice presidency, the silliness of our politics has finally put our nation at risk. The world is growing more complex—and dangerous—with each passing hour, and our position within it growing more precarious. Should she become president, Palin seems capable of enacting policies so detached from the common interests of humanity, and from empirical reality, as to unite the entire world against us. When asked why she is qualified to shoulder more responsibility than any person has held in human history, Palin cites her refusal to hesitate. "You can't blink," she told Gibson repeatedly, as though this were a primordial truth of wise governance. Let us hope that a President Palin would blink, again and again, while more thoughtful people decide the fate of civilization.

Read full article

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mexico: Supreme Court Upholds Mexico City Abortion Law

They're learning...

From Human Rights Watch via Reuters AlertNet:

29 Aug 2008 16:46:50 GMT
Source: Human Rights Watch

(Mexico City, August 28, 2008) - In a historic decision today, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that Mexico City's law decriminalizing abortion during the first 12 weeks of gestation is constitutional. In a publicly broadcast proceeding, the court voted 8-to-3 in favor of upholding the Mexico City law, which came into force in 2007. A written decision is expected from the court within days. "This decision ensures Mexico is observing fundamental human rights law," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Decriminalizing abortion saves women's lives and respects their equality and autonomy. We applaud the court's decision, and hope governments around Latin America take notice." According to figures from the Federal District, more than 12,000 women have availed themselves of safe and legal abortion services in Mexico City since the law entered into force in April 2007. In many places in the world where abortion is prohibited or legally restricted, women often seek abortions in clandestine and unsafe conditions, contributing to maternal disability and mortality. Mexico's Supreme Court decision will help to ensure that women in the nation's most populated city have access to this basic health care service and do not have to resort to unsafe and potentially life-threatening procedures.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Survey: Many believe in divine intervention

From AP via CNN.COM:

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.

An eye-opening survey reveals widespread belief that divine intervention can revive dying patients. And, researchers said, doctors "need to be prepared to deal with families who are waiting for a miracle."

(full article)

Monday, July 28, 2008

'It's raining nutcase rabbis on the holy land'

'It's raining nutcase rabbis on the holy land'
By Anthony Weiss, The Forward

Picking up the phone at 4:30 in the afternoon, Shmarya Rosenberg answered in a voice still bleary from sleep. He explained that he was just napping after having blogged the whole night, and most of the morning.

"It's hard to do one of these blogs," Rosenberg said. "It owns you. It's terrible. If I had any idea four years ago that it was going to do this, I don't think I could've started it."

(full article)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bush Administration Tries to Redefine Contraception as Abortion

From The Gavel:

The New York Times reports that the Bush Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services is drafting a rule that would place new restrictions on domestic family planning programs. While current law allows health care providers and professionals to refuse to provide abortions based on their religious beliefs, this provision would threaten the funding of organizations and health facilities if they do not hire people who would refuse to provide birth control and defines abortion so broadly that it would include many types of birth control, including oral contraception.

Speaker Pelosi released the following statement on the Administration’s draft proposal:

If the Administration goes through with this draft proposal, it will launch a dangerous assault on women’s health.

The majority of Americans oppose this out of touch position that redefines contraception as abortion and represents a sustained pattern of the Bush Administration to reject medical and sound science in favor of a misguided ideology that has no place in our government.

I urge the President to reject this policy and join with Democrats to focus on preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion through increasing access to family planning services and access to affordable birth control.

From Congresswoman Lois Capps, Chair of the Democratic Women’s Working Group:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congresswoman Lois Capps called on the Bush Administration to stop its misguided effort to restrict access to basic family planning services. According to press reports, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is drafting new rules that would severely restrict women’s health care options while undermining the ability of health care providers to secure funding and provide essential services. It would require all recipients of federal health care funding to sign a written certification that they will not “discriminate” against health care entities who refuse to provide patients with abortions or even birth control.

“Once again, the Bush Administration is carelessly playing partisan politics with women’s health care,” said Capps, a nurse and Vice-Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. “Time and again this Administration has jeopardized women’s access to essential family planning services for purely ideological reasons. Sound science and responsible public health practices should never be trumped by political ideology. This proposal is unnecessary and would be harmful to women’s health.”

Federal law already protects individuals who prefer to not participate in abortion services and many states have refusal clauses for either individuals or institutions that object to providing or participating in abortions. The Bush Administration proposal goes far beyond those measures and attempts to define abortion services so broadly that it would include many types of birth control, including oral contraception and emergency contraception. Capps and several of her House colleagues will be sending a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services objecting to the draft rule and urging the Administration to reconsider its position.

Capps has worked in the past to stop other efforts by the Bush Administration to restrict access to family planning services and contraception. She was part of the successful efforts to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B emergency contraception and also to prevent attempts to restrict funding from certain health providers who provide comprehensive family planning services.

Once again the Bush Administration panders to the Christian "right" at the expense of freedom in America. This is truly obscene.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Think about it ... think about it...

From International Herald Tribune:

JIBLA, Yemen: One morning last month, Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali walked out of her husband's house here and ran to a local hospital, where she complained that he had been beating and sexually abusing her for eight months.

That alone would be surprising in Yemen, a deeply conservative Arab society where family disputes tend to be solved privately. What made it even more unusual was that Arwa was 9 years old.

Within days, Arwa - a tiny, delicate-featured girl - had become a celebrity in Yemen, where child marriage is common but has rarely been exposed in public. She was the second child bride to come forward in less than a month; in April, a 10-year-old named Nujood Ali had gone by herself to a courthouse to demand a divorce, generating a landmark legal case.

(please read the full article)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

George Carlin - Religion is Bullshit

George Carlin, dead at 71 - he will be missed.

originally posted 12/15/2007)

“When it comes to bullshit, big time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do every minute of the day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever ’til the end of time!”

... and here's another one ...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ben Stein's Expelled Exposed

From Scientific American: (cross-posted on Just Whacked)

“Should I be worried about the Crips and the Bloods up here?” These were the first words out of the mouth of Ben Stein as he entered my office at Skeptic magazine, located in the racially mixed neighborhood of Altadena, Calif. I cringed and hoped that the two African-American women in my employ were out of earshot of what was perhaps merely Stein’s ham-handed attempt at humor before he began interviewing me for what I was told was a film on the intersection of science and religion entitled Crossroads.

That is not what the interview was about. And neither is the film, now called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The subtitle exposes its motif—intelligent design has been expelled from classrooms and culture, and Ben Stein sees a sinister conspiracy at work. This supercilious financial columnist and ersatz actor and game show host proceeded to grill me on whether or not I think someone should be fired for expressing dissenting views. My answer: it depends. Who is being fired for what, when and where? People are usually fired for reasons having to do with budgetary constraints, incompetence or failure to fulfill the terms of a contract. If you are hired to teach biology according to the curriculum standards of your school district but instead spend the semester telling students that science has no definitive explanation for DNA, wings, eyes, brains and that mystery of mysteries—bacteria flagella—then, yes, you should be fired posthaste. But I know of no instance in which this has happened, and the film’s examples of such alleged abuses have reasonable explanations detailed at, where Eugenie Scott and her tireless crew at the National Center for Science Education have tracked down the specifics of each case.

(read full article)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

UK Teen Cited For Calling Scientology a "Cult"

From Slashdot:
"A 15-year-old in the UK is facing prosecution for using the word 'cult' to describe the Church of Scientology at an anti-Scientology demonstration in London earlier this month. According to the City of London police at the scene, the teen was violating the Public Order Act, which 'prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.' There's a video of the teen receiving the summons from the City of London police at the demonstration (starting about 1 munite in), and now he's asking for advice on how to handle the court case."

(full post)
What's wrong with this picture?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Starbucks' mermaid's makeover draws a response

Starbucks Corp. has a new more revealing logo of its trademark mermaid. The logo — which offers a more revealing look at the coffee chain's mermaid symbol and goes with brown instead of green as its color — is getting mixed reviews from marketing and public relations experts.

The logo features a bare-chested mermaid with her tail fin split in half. The previous green logo showed less of the mermaid.

The new logo is actually a nod to the coffee giant's past. When the Seattle-based coffee company was founded in 1971, its logo was of similar design. Since 1971, the logo has been gone through various alterations.

A Christian group in San Diego called The Resistance is offended by the new logo and wants consumers to boycott or complain to the Seattle-based coffee chain

(read full article)

Seriously - These self-appointed guardians of some twisted idea of morality need to just shut up. Can't they think of anything more important to do? Perhaps performing some public services that would have an actual benefit somewhere?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Einstein letter dismissing 'childish' religion sells for 200,000 pounds

From AP via

A letter in which Albert Einstein dismissed the idea of God as the product of human weakness and the Bible as "pretty childish" has sold at auction for more than 200,000 pounds ($400,000).

This extraordinary letter seemed to strike a chord, and it gave a deep personal insight one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Powell said.

The letter was written to philosopher Eric Gutkind in January 1954, a year before Einstein's death. In it, the Einstein said that "the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."

Einstein also said he saw nothing "chosen" about the Jews, and that they were no better than other peoples "although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power."

(full article)
Ummm. yup.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reality Check: Science has worked so well that superstition now reigns supreme


I grew up in the era of the Apollo moon launches. One of my earliest memories is traveling to Cape Canaveral and watching from the beach as one of the missions was launched towards the moon. It was pretty incredible.

Despite frequent moves and attending six schools between elementary school and college, science was in the air. I got a firm grounding in how to think critically, how to use data, and how to observe the physical world around me in pursuit of Doing Great Things. Whether my school was in a failing Pennsylvania steel town or in a full-on major city, science was present.

Science has given us great things. And therein lies the problem.

(full article)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sex, Drugs, and the Pope

From The Associated Press via CNN.COM:
Pope: Sex can become 'like a drug'

-- Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged Saturday that the Vatican's teaching against birth control was difficult as he praised a 1968 Church document that condemned contraception.

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the document, Benedict reiterated the Church's ban against artificial birth control as well as more recent teaching against using artificial procreation methods.

(full story)

This from a man who has, ostensibly at least, never experienced sex, or presumably recreational drugs. Hmmm. What's wrong with this picture?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Florida lawmakers debate offering a Christian license plate

From The Associated Press:

MIAMI (AP) -- Florida drivers can order more than 100 specialty license plates celebrating everything from manatees to the Miami Heat, but one now under consideration would be the first in the nation to explicitly promote a specific religion.

The Florida Legislature is considering a specialty plate with a design that includes a Christian cross, a stained-glass window and the words "I Believe."

Rep. Edward Bullard, the plate's sponsor, said people who "believe in their college or university" or "believe in their football team" already have license plates they can buy. The new design is a chance for others to put a tag on their cars with "something they believe in," he said.

If the plate is approved, Florida would become the first state to have a license plate featuring a religious symbol that's not part of a college logo. Approval would almost certainly face a court challenge.

(read full article)
This clearly violates the separation of church and state. If drivers want to advertise to the world that they're brainwashed, they already have the freedom to place stickers and other emblems on their vehicles. There is nothing for lawmakers to debate. The state government has no role in the support and promotion of any religion for any reason. Period.

Update: It appears that this is unlikely to come to pass in Florida; however a similar measure in South Carolina may have a chance (more from Atheist Revolution).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ex-sect members escape polygamy, but not pain


(CNN) -- Long after she escaped a polygamist Colorado City, Arizona, community in 1986, Flora Jessop found another way to escape -- cocaine.

"It killed the pain. It killed the hurt," she said. "I didn't have to hurt so bad because I missed everything I knew."

Once she fled the fundamentalist Mormon sect, she was an apostate. She believed God hated her. Her parents and siblings thought she was wicked. Worst of all, she knew she was damned to hell, Jessop said.

Religion -- the reason these women say they stay -- is also used to validate the brainwashing, and in some cases, physical abuse employed to keep women and children submissive, said Marci Hamilton, author of "Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children."

full article)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Clinton, Obama put politics aside to discuss faith

(CNN) -- On Sunday, after a tumultuous campaign season where religion -- both rumor and reality -- has had a starring role, the two remaining Democratic White House hopefuls, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, again ventured onto terrain that has been dominated by Republican candidates.

It was a risk-filled journey for both: social issues like abortion and gay marriage have long been sticking points for Democrats in their efforts to reach some religious voters.

On a day when her campaign released a new ad talking about her struggles to "climb the mountain," Clinton told CNN's Campbell Brown and Newsweek's Jon Meacham. "I don't think that I could have made my life's journey without being anchored in God's grace and without having that, you know, sense of forgiveness and unconditional love.

"And I am not going to point to one or another matter. I mean, some of my struggles and challenges have been extremely public," Clinton said. "And I have talked about how I have been both guided and supported through those, trying to find my own way through, because, for me, my faith has given me the confidence to make decisions that were right for me, whether anybody else agreed with me or not."

Obama said that to him, "religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren't going well. That's true in my own life, through trials and tribulations. ..."

Obama later added: "I am a devout Christian ... I started my work working with churches in the shadow of steel plants that had closed on the south side of Chicago ..."


Sad that in this modern time of supposed enlightenment, it's still necessary for candidates for public office to declare their faith and allegiance to an imaginary super-being and the archaic superstitions surrounding that idea in order to garner the trust of an electorate riddled with such beliefs. Frightening that these candidates may in fact hold these beliefs and may be influenced by them into making critical decisions perhaps less rationally. Frightening indeed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nun Too Soon

From The Associated Press:

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- A Roman Catholic nun accused of stealing from the Omaha Archdiocese and gambling much of the money away has pleaded guilty to theft.

An attorney says Sister Barbara Markey pleaded Monday to theft of more than $1,500. Defense attorney J. William Gallup says she also agreed to pay $125,000 in restitution.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Audacity of Reason

From Sam Harris via The Huffington Post:
Barack Obama delivered a truly brilliant and inspiring speech this week. There were a few things, however, that he did not and could not (and, indeed, should not) say.

(read on)

Disturbing ad Placement

Do you find this ad and its placement in Science News as disturbing as I do?

click on the image for a larger view.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Dr. Wafa Sultan

"The al-Jazeera network deeply apologizes for the fact that one of its programs' participants degraded Islam and the monotheistic faiths on her own initiative. The channel extends its apology to all its viewers for the offensive remarks and has canceled both reruns of the program"

And with this unfortunate apology, Al Jazeera demonstrates for all to see, the corrupt and repressive environment in which it has to operate. Whether means to make an earnest effort toward unbiased journalism or whether the mission of the news station is purely propaganda may be academic - they evidently have no choice but to pander to Muslim extremist pressure.

Transcript of the full debate courtesy of Aqoul.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Better (very) Late than Never

From TimesOnline:
Vatican recants with a statue of Galileo

Four hundred years after it put Galileo on trial for heresy the Vatican is to complete its rehabilitation of the great scientist by erecting a statue of him inside the Vatican walls.

The planned statue is to stand in the Vatican gardens near the apartment in which Galileo was incarcerated while awaiting trial in 1633 for advocating heliocentrism, the Copernican doctrine that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

... and I suppose this is expected to make it all better now? Token repentance four centuries after the crime? Now that's setting a great example, isn't it?

The church still routinely takes irrational stands in the face of reality, often with devastating human and environmental consequences. Unless it is somehow able to relinquish its self-claimed monopoly on "truth", step into the present day, and begin to remodel itself in light of the world as it actually is, not as people
millenia ago imagined it to be, the church will continue its slow, pathetic descent into irrelevancy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Survey: US religious landscape in flux

From The Associated Press:

The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace

I came across this and felt it deserves to be seen by more people. This is an earnest effort by people on both sides of the Gaza / Israel border - common folk, not religious zealots or political power-brokers, to talk peace; to think and dream about what a 'normal' life might be like; to share those dreams between real people.

Please take a look at to get a different and more human perspective on the conflict in the region.

Note to readers: I have shamelessly borrowed the title of a paper, now somewhat famous in the Internet development community, if a bit dated, addressing a very technical topic of concern during the formative days of the technology that led to this Internet on which we blog today. Though not directly relevant to this topic, I link to it here out of respect for the original author, ironically, an Israeli named Danny Cohen who made significant contributions to the development of the Internet..

Friday, February 22, 2008

Be careful what you wish for...

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is playing with fire... again. Perhaps he shouldn't be so quick to count on Israel's restraint this time around, or that of the United States.

To Israel Nasrallah said in his latest diatribe:
"Your army would collapse at the feet of Imad Mughniyeh. I swear that we would fight you like you never experienced. Your army would be destroyed in south Lebanon"

He added "The Israeli air force is not capable of winning a war and Israel has no alternative but launching an overland offensive . We are ready to achieve victory and no one can protect all of Israel from our rockets"

Nasrallah predicted that Israel will cease to exist , because the "The Arab opposition, including Syria will eliminate Israel"
It is clear from his remarks that he underestimates Israel's resolve and its capabilities. By making remarks threatening their very existence, he provides unambiguous justification for any steps Israel may feel it needs to take. Its characteristic restraint, ignored in the popular press and denied in the Arab media, will not be a factor in a battle in which its existence is seriously threatened.

Isreal will as always make every effort to avoid or minimize civilian casualties, a standard to which its attackers are never held, but in the end there will be much blood and death. Southern Lebanon will be laid waste. The practice of hiding weapons and ammunition amidst civilians, a typical tactic of Hizballah, the various Palastinian militant groups, and others who attack Israel will result in unavoidable civilian bloodshed nonetheless. The death toll will likely reach into the tens of thousands, and though Israel will surely feel the pain, the vast majority of the carnage will be north of the border.

And if Israel is found to be in serious jeopardy, the involvement of the US becomes a serious possibility. It's unclear what form such involvement would take, but the political landscape in the region would not likely resemble its present condition afterward.

Religious delusions on all sides are ultimately responsible for this entire conflict. If suddenly the veil of religious fervor could be lifted, the parties would have much to gain from cooperation.

Related stories:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gorge Bush's Fascist States of America

So after watching Olbermann's latest eloquent rant in which he calls Bush to task for being a fascist, I got to thinking - obviously he's not the first to consider this idea - let's see what other material has been written on the subject. A quick search of the internet turned up a number of sites presenting different views on the subject. I've provided links to some below.

The search also turned up a few feeble attempts to attack Olbermann, but these looked more like preaching to the Bush choir, singing the familiar refrains of their usual hymns, than any substantive argument. As such, I didn't bother to include them here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess I only skimmed these postings - didn't have time to read them in full - but they seemed to be of possible interest.
As is typical of internet sites, their quality runs the gamut but they have much to say.
For further reading, I encourage you to do your own search usng your favorite search engine/s. There're lots more out there than the few I posted here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Olbermann on FISA & Lessig on Barack vs. Hillary

While not specifically atheistic, two videos worth watching here: one, Keith Olbermann's latest eloquent rant against our erstwhile fascist in chief; the other a reasoned presentation by Lawrence Lessig on the important differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

A veto of the FISA bill endangers Americans
Olbermann: The president is demanding immunity for the telecoms yet, he can’t confirm they did anything for which they need to be cleared

Olbermann Special Comment

Lessig on Obama & Clinton

Friday, February 8, 2008

A 'shmita' miracle? Miracle Shmiracle.

Harmful or not harmful superstition? In any case, good for a laugh...

From The Jerusalem Post:
In what some potato farmers in the Negev are taking as a sign from God, the recent frost that ravaged produce across the nation selectively passed over some crops - as if guided, they say, by a divine hand.

Potatoes planted in the Negev before the beginning of the shmita (sabbatical) year, in accordance with the biblical prohibition against plowing, sowing and many other field chores, were spared the damages caused by sharp drops in temperature last week.

In contrast, potatoes that were planted during the shmita year - which began at nightfall on September 13, the first day of the Jewish year of 5768 - were decimated.

(full story)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Vatican rejects criticism of new prayer for Jewish conversion

From HaHaretz:
The top Vatican cardinal in charge of relations with Jews on Thursday denied that a new prayer for their conversion was offensive and said Catholics had the right to pray as they wish.

The Vatican had come under fire from Jewish groups in recent days for changing its Good Friday service to include a prayer urging God to let Jews "recognize Jesus Christ as savior of all men."

Earlier this week, Pope Benedict ordered changes to a Latin prayer for Jews at traditionalist Good Friday services, deleting a reference to their "blindness" over Christ.

Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke in an interview in a leading Italian newspaper a day after world Jewish leaders said the new prayer could set back inter-religious dialogue by decades.

(full article)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What’s So Bad About Religion?

From An Apostate's Chapel:
The first problem that I have with religious beliefs is that [...] acting on the basis of false beliefs can lead to ill-conceived, even harmful, behavior and decisions.

The second problem I have with religious belief is that believers do not live in vacuums. Their religious beliefs are not always private and those beliefs do affect others [...] in numerous ways.

The third problem I have with religious beliefs is the persistent entreaty that I respect religious beliefs simply because they are religious.

(read the full article)

Teaching Lies Jeopardizes America's Future

Came across this recent post on Atheist Revolution, while reading a particularly brilliantly written item, the subject of my next post. This article makes several very important points. Well worth reading.
My son is about to enter college. He is studying history and secondary education with an eye toward becoming a high school teacher. I have begun paying a little more attention to the subject of education and have become more than a little bit concerned. My concern is more about "Christian" education (home, parochial or ‘bible’ schools) and the possible damage this education (or lack thereof) may be doing to the future of America. This potential damage comes on more than one level: social, economic, and political.

(full post)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Love Bomb" Misses the Mark

From Deconversion Bible, a new Atheist blog:
This post was inspired by vjack's article on Christian Culture.

I don't know how many atheists are intimately familiar with the evangelical and cultist tactic called a love bombing. I saw an article about it on Truthdig. The article discusses overt, sinister examples of the tactic where evangelical leaders consciously direct the group members to carry this out. I think sometimes it's just a little more subtle and love bombing is far more extensive than what we give it credit for. I'd like to broaden the applicability of love bombing here because I think it gives valuable insight into a whole set of Christian behavior.

I've always been aware of many Christian behaviors that are built into and thought of as the Christian lifestyle itself. The group members themselves often aren't even meant to be aware of the reasons for their own actions. And often, the group members are so well conditioned into this lifestyle that the group can carry out sophisticated coordinated efforts even with no leader at their center. It's automatic.

I don't think there's a single atheist who hasn't heard Christian leaders calling on their churches to go out into their cities and treat everyone in a loving, caring manner. They always stress the homeless, prostitutes, and even those "inner city" people. Churches then encourage their members to put together friend-making activities such as progressive dinner parties for new recruits. And smaller groups are encouraged to voluntarily go off the deep end with things such as cuddle parties or "ice breaker games" such as this. Christians are obsessed with inventing or adopting superficial friend-making activities.

(Full post)
The full post is well worth reading, along with vjack's Christian Culture post that inspired it and in turn How do you escape a cult when it's all around you? posted by layla on to which vjack responds.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On Genies (and other irrational beliefs)

A husband took his wife for her first game of golf. The wife promptly hacked her first shot right through the window of the biggest house adjacent to the course. The husband cringed, "I warned you to be careful! Now we'll have to go up there, find the owner, apologize and see how much your lousy drive is going to cost us."

So the couple walked up to the house and knocked on the door. A warm voice said, "Come on in." When they opened the door they saw the damage that was done: glass was all over the place, and a broken antique bottle was lying on its side near the pieces of window glass.

A man reclining on the couch asked, "Are you the people that broke my window?"

"Uh...yeah, sir. We're sure sorry about that," the husband replied.

"Oh, no apology is necessary...! Actually I want to thank you. You see, I'm a genie, and I've been trapped in that bottle for a thousand years. Now that you've released me, I'm allowed to grant three wishes. I'll give you each one wish, but if you don't mind, I'll keep the last one for myself."

"Wow, that's great!" the husband said. He pondered a moment and blurted out, "I'd like a million dollars a year for the rest of my life."

"No problem," said the genie. "You've got it, it's the least I can do. And I'll guarantee you a long, healthy life!"

"And now you, young lady, what do you want?" the genie asked.

"I'd like to own a gorgeous home complete with servants in every country in the world," she said.

"Consider it done," the genie said. "And your homes will always be safe from fire, burglary and natural disasters!"

"And now," the couple asked in unison, "what's your wish, genie?"

"Well, since I've been trapped in that bottle, and haven't been with a woman in more than a thousand years, my wish is to have sex with your wife."

The husband looked at his wife and said, "Gee, honey, you know we both now have a fortune, and all those houses. What do you think?"

She mulled it over for a few moments and said, "You know, you're right. Considering our good fortune, I guess I wouldn't mind, but what about you, honey?"

"You know I love you sweetheart," said the husband. I'd do the same for you!"

So the genie and the woman went upstairs where they spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying each other. The genie was insatiable.

After about three hours of non-stop sex, the genie rolled over and looked directly into her eyes and asked, "How old are you and your husband?"

"Why, we're both 35," she responded breathlessly.

"No Kidding," he said. "Thirty-five years old and both of you still believe in genies?????"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Doubting Your Faith?

From Atheist Revolution:
This is for the Christians out there who find yourselves doubting your faith. You are going to receive a lot of advice from your fellow Christians about how doubt will strengthen your faith and may even bring you closer to your god. I'm not here to argue with that or to tell you that such a perspective is necessarily wrong. I just want to point out that there is another possibility you should at least consider. What if the doubt you are experiencing is a healthy sign that your rational mind is trying to break free from a tradition of superstition?

(full article)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Enemy Within

This Man Has No Business Being President
“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And thats what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”
--Mike Huckabee

Hello so-called mainstream media? Are you listening? Why is the coverage of this story so sparse on the major networks? Granted, this guy will not likely be elected and granted changing the constitution is very difficult indeed - this is a good example of the reasons for that - but this is an indication of this guy's mindset.


Keith Olberman on MSNBC:

The single greatest threat to church-state separation in America is the movement known as the Religious Right. Organizations and leaders representing this religio-political crusade seek to impose a fundamentalist Christian viewpoint on all Americans through government action.
--Americans United for Separation of Church and State
The goal of undermining this foundational principle of our nation poses nothing less than an existential threat to our most basic rights and freedoms, and to the United States of America itself. Does this constitute treason?

The United States of America was founded for the very specific purpose of protecting its citizens at large from the religious leanings of a subset of society. To weaken or eliminate such separation quite literally destroys the very freedoms the United States stands for and the purpose for and meaning of its existence as a nation.