News From Around The Blogosphere 12.18.09

December 18, 2009

1. Illinois baseball team makes baby Jesus cry – An Illinois baseball team called the Joliet Jackhammers put up a deliberately amusing sign that seems to mock the sanctimonious invocations of “God” by athletes. Not surprisingly, this offended the fragile Christians who are just so darned persecuted. If only they had some all-powerful, supreme being that was looking out for them. If only.  This gave me an idea for a joke. What can’t tell the difference between the number one and the number three, feels it needs to fight an omnipotent god’s battles for it, and goes “Wah! Wah! Wah!” all the time? Christians.

2. Gov. Jan Brewer saves Arizona from. . .something. I’m not really clear from what – Brewer made an executive order saying that following the First Amendment to the Constitution by providing people the freedom to celebrate their religious holidays.

She similarly barred those agencies from stopping state employees from wishing others either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.”

That’s a great idea. Someone should think about making that some kind of Constitutional Amendment or something. Checkmate non-existent atheists trying to stop people from saying “Merry Christmas”!

3. New South Portland, Maine mayor asks secular humanist to deliver invocation - Well I don’t really understand what the point of an invocation is if aren’t trying to, you know, invoke something, but whatever floats your boat. Mayor Tom Coward chose a college senior named Andrew Lovley who founded the Southern Maine Association of Secular Humanists (SMASH) on his campus to perform the ceremony. Gotta love those names.

4. Screw over your neighbors and win a free trip to Hooters – That’s apparently the latest evil plot by health insurance companies to provent doctors from saving more lives. A new campaign by Chamber of Commerce is actually trying to bribe people into signing up for emails that tell them “how to protect your family’s future and bring common sense solutions to the health-care debate” by offering them free gift cards to Hooters. And by “common sense solutions” they of course mean just continue to let 20,000 uninsured Americans die each year.

5. Ohio school removes ‘belief in God’ from mission statement – Actually, I think that’s more of a demand than a statement. But anyway, they did it to avoid a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Lake Local school board near Canton has voted to delete the reference to belief in God. A final vote is planned next month.

Does anyone else suspect that the real hero of Canton is the man they call Jayne?


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.1.09

December 2, 2009

1. Carl Wieland, head of Creation Ministries International, dared David Nicholls of the Atheist Foundation of Australia to organize an “atheist” vs. creationist debate at the upcoming large atheist conference in Melbourne (you see, it’s an “atheists” vs. the creationists debate at an atheist conference because Wieland wants his flock to belief evolution is just the religion of atheism and not accepted facts that people accept regardless of whether or not they’re religious). Nicholls hilariously declined the request:

If you skirt the question about accredited articles, then it is no wonder you are having trouble finding people to debate. Debate is not science, it is playing upon the prejudices of the audience. Scientific conclusion is about peer reviewing work from accredited scientific journals. I really can’t see Professor Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers or any real scientist taking seriously or bothering to debate about alien abductions even though millions believe it to be true. There are just no credible studies on this as there are no credible scientific studies that support creationism.

Wieland of course went to PZ Myers himself, who responded with nothing but the image presented above.

2. Has science validated the ancient Ayurvedic ‘Neti pot’ as a legitimate medical treatment? – I first heard about the Neti pot a few years ago when it was featured in an episode of Six Feet Under. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of it but had since become somewhat skeptical of it from the little literature I’ve seen on it. A recent review article in American Family Physician found it effective adjunctive therapy for symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis (and they say real “Western” medicine only treats the symptoms). Well a new study made some interesting findings about the Neti pot. It seems that while it may be effective in treating short-term nasal irrigation, long-term use can be harmful.

3. Freedom From Religion Foundation gets strong atheist sign up in Illinois Capitol Building for second year in a row – The text is very similar to the text used on last year’s Washington display that I wasn’t too pleased with, so this is kind of a mixed bag. While I’m willing to be more abrasive towards religion in other venues, I don’t think it’s appropriate to stick such a mean-spirited message on a federal building, regardless of the cause. You choose your battles and you take your audience into account. I don’t even encourage strong anti-religious sentiments on billboards but sticking it on government land is far harder to reasonably defend. It’s one thing when cranks complain that the entirely inoffensive billboards are attacks on their faith because they’ll be seen for what they are, cranks. But you put out actual attacks on people’s beliefs on government property and you’re the one who looks like the giant douche. And I’m really starting to think Dan Barker is a douche.

The Rufus Factor

4. Naked mole rats may be key to human survival from stroke -

Two University of Illinois at Chicago researchers report in the Dec. 9 issue of NeuroReport (now online) that adult naked mole rat brain tissue can withstand extreme hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, for periods exceeding a half-hour — much longer than brain tissue from other mammals.

The findings may yield clues for better treatment of brain injuries associated with heart attack, stroke and accidents where the brain is starved of vital oxygen.


Update on the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago/Sunsara Taylor debacle

November 7, 2009

The other day, I blogged about the controversy that broke out at a weekend meeting of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago, revolving around Sunsara Taylor, who’d originally been invited to give a lecture there but, for whatever reason, was disinvited. And somehow a brief speech she gave at their Sunday meeting expressing her unhappiness about being uninvited led to a cameraman being forcibly arrested by police.

Since writing the previous blog about this incident, I actually received a lengthy response comment from someone calling themselves Evan Kane, who says he’s a member of the EHSC, who gave their side of the story. It was a cut-and-paste response that was posted in the comments section of numerous other blog articles discussing this incident. This was soon followed by three more cut-and-paste response comments from Sunsara hereself; her Volunteer Tour Coordinator in Chicago, Sue B; and Attorney Martha Conrad, who claims to have witnessed the events too. Sue B. and Martha Conrad, who are both associated with Sunsara, are backing up her position.

Well I wasn’t going to blog about this again but because of the comments left in that last blog, and because two other bloggers who’d written about this incident and then received similar (if not identical) comment responses from all four of the aforementioned parties also wrote great responses, I figured that it made my job really easy.

First, there was Hermant Mehta, who very briefly quoted from the three comments on Sunsara’s side on his Friendly Atheist blog and simply concluded with:

I’m not sure if there’s any resolution to be had between Sunsara and EHSC. But at least both sides have had a chance to explain themselves in a public setting.

Then there’s PZ Myers, someone far more known for being invited to give talks, who went a different way.  PZ came out very strongly in support of Sunsara. Now while I’m not going to necessarily just say I agree 100% with PZ (though I’m also not necessarily saying I don’t either), I think PZ makes a lot of great points.

1. Sunsara’s communist philosophy is so far from being hidden. On the two occasions I’ve seen her at panel discussions addressing the very same topic she was invited to discuss in Chicago, I don’t think she went five minutes without citing Bob Avakian’s book, “Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World” and its communist philosophy. If this was something the EHSC didn’t know about ahead of time and she just sort of sprung it on them, which didn’t relate at all to the topic, then I’d understand the EHSC’s position more. But it’s pretty much the thing she’s known for the most. So if they invited her without knowing this was going to come up, then they exercised complete incompetance when vetting her as a speaker. In which case, it’s their fault.

2. While I have no experience of what it’s like to be personally invited to give a public talk (though I plan on probably registering to give a talk at next month’s NYC Skepticamp), PZ Myers has a great deal of experience in that area. And he says that if he was told to water down his talk to leave out anything that audience members might find objectionable, that this would be an unacceptable condition. So according to someone who knows the lecture circuit etiquette  far better than me, it’s inappropriate for the hosts to micromanage the speakers’ talks:

Just the fact that they invite her and then tell her to revise her talk to remove stuff some people might find objectionable is a telling mark against the society. It’s insane to invite Taylor and then ask her to not talk about the communist position; if they got Al Gore to give a talk, would they suggest that he avoid that scary global warming topic, and perhaps not bring up Democratic politics? Please don’t jump on a high horse and sniffily proclaim that you are following your democratic principles, either. The society was not bringing in Sunsara Taylor to decide how the society budget should be spent, or to lay down a plan for the group’s volunteer efforts for the year. She was brought in to explain one person’s position on moral issues, which she agreed to do, and which she summarized for them in a written description. Accurately, near as I can tell; Taylor does not shy away from expressing herself. Apparently, the society wanted a talking parrot who would say only what they already find agreeable…that is, agreeable to a democratic majority. Minority views are not to be spoken aloud, I guess.

That is bullshit. That makes for a lame speaking series; if inoffensive pablum that reinforces what they already believe is all they want, then they should just go to church.

I’m inclined to largely agree.

3. PZ points out that there seems to be conflicting accounts coming from people on the side of the EHSC as well as a vagueness when describing the most relevant details of the incident such as about the provocation for the cameraman’s arrest. And though, again, I don’t agree with Sunsara’s communist views, it’s hardly off-topic. One thing that all sides can agree on is that she was asked to talk about “Morality without gods.” And even though that was the very same topic and title of the TWO panel discussions she’d done in NYC some time ago (and presumably has addressed this exact topic elsewhere already), I think the EHSC was for some reason expecting her to just give the pat answer they wanted to hear, that religion holds the monopoly on blame for society’s ills. But it seems as though once she expanded her criticism to include other factors that she considers also contibute to society ill but which the EHSC disagrees with, they called it “off-topic.” But whether you agree with her or not (and I don’t), that doesn’t make it off-topic.

Ultimately, again, I wasn’t there and I don’t have all the facts. And I don’t necessarily think Sunsara was entirely blameless. I’m not naive. In my previous post I called Sunsara Taylor a bit of a rabble-rouser. I certainly think she’s a contrarian and a passionate revolutionary who thrives on controversy and it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me if at some point after she was disinvited, she and others saw this as an opportunity to get a lot of attention and orchestrated at least a small portion of what went down.

And maybe it’s because I interact with so many wacko conspiracy theorists but I’ve come up with an even wilder possible explanation. Since news of this incident broke, both parties seem to have been behaving identically. First came Evan Kane’s lengthy treatise defending the EHSC, which was posted in the comments section of every blog discussing the matter that I’d come across. Then Sunsara, Sue B., and Martha’s lengthy comment responses followed about two days later all at once on everyone’s comments sections as if they were all sent by the same person instead of each person individually going around pasting the same response in every blog about this story. So my really, really out there theory that almost certainly isn’t true is that this is all one big manufactured controversy to get publicity.

But unfortunately, I have a feeling that the truth is far less interesting.


The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago disinvites Sunsara Taylor

November 3, 2009

Sunsara Taylor is a very interesting character. I’ve seen her speak at New York University on two panel discussions with Massimo Pigliucci and Paul Eckstein, both of which were titled “Morality Without Gods.” All three parties are non-believers on gods. Although both were recorded, I can still only find the first of those panel discussions on YouTube.

What was particularly unusual about those panel discussions was that two of the debaters either identified themselves as Communists or as arguing from a Marxist perspective, one of which was Sunsara Tayler. My impression of her was that she was extremely intelligent and was spot on in her criticism of religion, reminding me a little of Christopher Hitchens. But whenever she turned the conversation to Communism, I found her unconvincing. She’s definitely a rabble-rouser who will happily step head-first into controversy but ya gotta love anyone who has the honor of being called a “lunatic” by Bill O’Reilly.

But the reason I bring Ms. Taylor up is because of an incident that occurred in Chicago this past weekend. The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) invited her to speak at one of their meetings also called “Morality without God.” Sunsara had made the appropriate travel arrangements and everything was all set to go until the EHSC disinvited her at the last minute. According to her publicist, it was because they were uncomfortable with her social/political views such as her Communism as well as beliefs that she doesn’t really hold.

Sunsara initially responded with a letter:

This attempt to cancel my talk has clearly been driven by political and ideological disagreements with me by some on the EHSC program committee. This is shameful for any organization, but coming from [an] organization that prides itself on ethical action and promoting intellectual, philosophical and artistic freedom it is all the more disturbing.

I have to agree. Now I don’t know all the facts here but it seems very shady for a freethought society like the EHSC that prides itself on its ethics and diversity of views to reject certain views from speaking simply because they don’t agree with them. I don’t agree with Sunsara’s Communism either but I think it’s a big mistake to exclude her for that reason as I think she’s a great asset to the atheist community. It’s a rare thing to find an atheist activist who can so move an audience with both intelligence and emotion. I don’t agree with Libertarianism either. So are we going to start disinviting Michael Shermer and Penn and Teller to speak too?

Sunsara’s letter even included several quotes of support from numerous individuals like:  Massimo Pigliucci, Chris Hedges, and Hemant Mehta, to name a few. And today I first heard about this incident from Brian Sapient of the Rational Response Squad, who also wrote an article supporting her. So she’s got “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta and the far less friendly atheist leader of the Rational Response Squad all supporting her. It seems like support is coming from across the board on this one.

And even one member of the EHSC offered to host her at his own home after the EHSC’s normally scheduled meeting time. Then on Saturday, Sunsara was running an unrelated workshop at the EHSC, where she directly addressed this issue:

Okay, she goes a little over the top towards the end there, but she’s not wrong. And while she was not re-invited, she attended the Sunday meeting and made a statement similar to the one she made the day before in the video while standing near her seat.

Then the story got weirder. A man videotaping her statement with her permission got attacked by cops who were called in by the EHSC:

Sunsara’s recounts the incident in her blog:

… plainclothes and uniformed police who had been called in earlier by officials of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) dragged out, maced and arrested a man for videotaping Sunsara Taylor as she stood near her seat and made a statement before the start of that morning’s program about the shameful cancellation of her long planned talk to EHSC that day on the topic “Morality without Gods.”

The shocking incident took place at the insistence of the president of EHSC. About 40 people witnessed the videographer being brutalized by the police in the foyer of the facility. An attorney demanded that the police stop brutalizing him when five officers piled on him as he lay face down on the floor. 6 police cars arrived within minutes.

Ethical? Again, I don’t know all the facts here and have only heard one side of the story. But I think the EHSC has some splainin’ to do.


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.20.09

October 21, 2009

1. Christians inadvertently help popularize atheism on Twitter – The #1 hot topic on Twitter today was “No God”. The reason was because lots of Christians re-tweeted the expression, “Know God…Know Peace. No God…No Peace.” Then some atheists tweeted just “no god.” Then to counter this problem, a bunch of Christians who don’t understand how this who process works came up with the ill-conceived plan to re-tweet the same stupid slogan again many times, frantically. But of course it just had the same effect as trying to fight one’s way out of quicksand, especially as atheists decided to do the same thing they did before, which is just re-tweet “no god.” LOL. I think we can call this spike in atheist popularity on Twitter the result of an unholy alliance between theists and atheists alike.

2. SuperFreakonomics authors are super-freaks – It turns out that Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner latest follow-up to Freakonomics is full of Global Warming denialism. Fortunately, Eric Pooley at Bloomberg.com has taken the time to refute their nonsense.

thank-god-im-an-atheist3. Manufactured atheist schism – I know I’m way late in talking about this but as has been pointed out by just about every atheist blogger already, Barbara Bradley Hagerty‘s article on the alleged schism among the atheist community is more than mildly exaggerated. While there are some big disagreements among us over how aggressive we should be promoting atheism or whether we should be promoting it at all, we’re more than capable of working together. And as the Friendly Atheist points out in the link above, on virtually every point Hagerty gets it wrong. And contrary to the impression created by Hagerty, this community has never been stronger.

4. Scientists alter fruit fly sexuality – While lately I’ve been a bit disappointed with Amateur Scientist’s blog (three particular articles in the last few weeks, where I strongly disagreed with him), more often than not it’s still a superb blog and he’s the only one I’ve seen cover this interesting story:

The flies were altered so that they could no longer produce the cuticular hydrocarbon pheromone, and the boners came pouring in. Flies without the pheromone attracted horny followers from both sexes, regardless of sexual orientation history. And some of them even tweaked the nipples of other species.

5. Chicago Coalition of Reason puts up a billboard – It’s very similar to the slogan being used in the BigAppleCoR’s NYC subway ads that have been plugged on every single local news source around:  “Are you good without God? Millions are.”


Illinois church denied federal money

October 10, 2009

An Illinois church was stopped from collecting a million dollars from the government. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, aka Blagojevich’s replacement, signed a bill to try and get get $11,000,000 in taxpayer money to various religious projects because apparently he never even heard of the First Amendment. . .or the Constitution for that matter. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. We sent the wrong one to jail. Anyway, $1,000,000 of that was going to go to Pilgrim Baptist Church. And now. . .not.

When atheist Rob Sherman filed a lawsuit against our state last year over this illegal earmark, it resulted in an infamous exchange with State Representative Monique Davis during which she stated, “it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists,” referring to Sherman’s atheism.

Sherman now has good news to report:

Pilgrim Baptist Church won’t be getting any of that money.

The excuse that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity used for cancelling the Grant was that there was insufficient money to fund the grant, but we know what the real reason was.

I’m not sure how much of a role Sherman actually played in the reversal but as long as we got a happy outcome, who cares?


The atheist bus campaign hits Chicago!

May 22, 2009

Chicago atheists are actually going with an athvertising slogan I haven’t seen before:

It’s not my favorite but it’s not bad. It should definitely cause people to do some double takes and hopefully will get people thinking.


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