News From Around The Blogosphere 6.30.10

June 30, 2010

1. American Atheists President retiring – Wasn’t Ed Buckner only president for, like, a year? Oh, sorry. It was two years. So now the question is, who’s going to replace him? I don’t think they’ll be asking Ellen Johnson back and the organization’s first president has been dead for some time. So that means someone new. And I don’t know anyone of hand who’d be a good fit.

2. Quacks file lawsuit against Quackwatch – I love Dr. Barrett’s responses and am pretty confident that Doctor’s Data do not have a legitimate case against him. First of all, they did not take reasonable actions to settle the problem outside of the court and ignored his answer to their complaint. Second of all, in the U.S. defamation is extraordinarily difficult to prove. Third, America loves free speech and people absolutely do have a right to criticize organizations making dubious claims. Fourth, the science is indeed against them and libel requires the statements in question be false. Fifth, not only must libelous claims be false but you must prove the defendant knew they were false and deliberately lied. And sixth, libel requires proving the plaintiff’s business has actually been significantly injured specifically from claims of the defendant. I surmise this will be thrown out of court on summary judgment in no time. It’s simply frivolous. Orac also discussing this story here.

3. Dr. Oz wins an Emmy and scathing criticism in the NY Daily News – Here’s a fun little excerpt:

Oz’s demonstrable passion for the eccentric dates back to the mid-’90s, when he spearheaded the Cardiac Complementary Care Center at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and immediately set out to validate the energy-healing regimen known as therapeutic touch – an updated version of the Ancients’ “laying on of hands.” In Oz’s new operating-theater-of-the-absurd, a self-described “radical healer” was stationed at the head of the surgery table, her mission to report any changes she discerned in the patient’s energy as the operation progressed.

4. Best wishes C.H. If anyone can make cancer their bitch, you can.

News From Around The Blogosphere 6.29.10

June 29, 2010

I am so behind on news stories that I’m going to ignore my usual rule of keeping this News From Around The Blogosphere chunk to only a few stories in order to play catch-up over the next few days.

1. Australia elects atheist Prime Minister…who sadly turns out to be anti-gay – Early reports of Julia Gillard’s appointment were met with cheers from the atheist community but now some of our hopes may have been dashed as news comes out that she opposes marriage equality:

“We believe the marriage act is appropriate in its current form, that is recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman, but we have as a government taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples,” Ms Gillard said.

Seriously, how does that sentence come out of the mouth of an atheist?

2. Copenhagen atheists create declaration of principles – The principle focus on religion’s role in public life.

3. Chuck Norris vs. the Secular Student Alliance SSA – Chuck’s pissed that with all the crises happening in the world, Obama found time to honor the SSA but has neglected the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and feels its’ persecution or something. What is it with these Christians who think just being their wishes aren’t met, that makes it persecution? No Bill Donohue, the Empire State Building is not honoring Mother Teresa, so get over it. Anyway, for some reason Chuck feels the BSA should have been invited to a conference on “Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses.” Why I don’t know. I guess Chuck still harboring a grudge against atheists ever since Bruce Lee kicked his ass. Personally, I’m still waiting for Chuck to respond to the email I wrote him three years ago.

4. Robot fish is accepted by shoal as one of their own – Wow, it’s kind of like Avatar except instead of the dude from the last Terminator film transferring his consciousness into a biological shell, it’s a frakkin’ robot.

University of Leeds scientists have created the first convincing robotic fish that shoals will accept as one of their own. The innovation opens up new possibilities for studying fish behaviour and group dynamics, which provides useful information to support freshwater and marine environmental management, to predict fish migration routes and assess the likely impact of human intervention on fish populations.

Robots–is there any news story they can’t make awesome?

5. UK trying to ban homeopathy

Recently representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) condemned homeopathy as “witchcraft.”Now the BMA is going one step further – calling for a ban on homeopathy in the UK. They do not want homeopathy to be illegal, but they want a ban on any National Health Service (NHS) support for homeopathy. The NHS currently spends about 20 million pounds a year on homeopathic remedies (about 0.01% of the NHS budget) and maintains four homeopathic hospitals. This is a small amount overall – but anything spent on homeopathy is a waste. More importantly, as the BMA notes, homeopathy has “‘no place in the modern health service.’

6. Nick Fury, Black Widow, and S.H.I.E.L.D. to investigate Phil Plait? – Apparently someone over at Marvel Comics is a fan of the Bad Astronomy blog because Phil Plaits’ name is in Black Widow’s phonebook.

7. Teenager turns into Spiderman – In other Marvel Comics-related news:

A Cambridge schoolboy has converted two budget vacuum cleaners into a Spiderman gadget which helps him scale walls.

Hibiki Kono, 13, a big fan of the superhero, made the incredible climbing machine using the suction from two Tesco Value vacuum cleaners.

The schoolboy then amazed his friends by using the giant suckerpads to climb the school wall during morning assembly.

“I used to dress up as Spiderman when I was younger and I love all the films so it’s great to be able to climb walls like him,” said Hibiki.

You sir, are awesome.

8. Stem Cells cure blindness

STEM cells have restored sight to 82 people with eyes blinded by chemical or heat burns.

Once again, as Carl Sagan once said, science delivers the goods.

Religion news lightning round

June 27, 2010

I’m really behind on my religion news, so here’s a quick list of some of the major reliigions stories of the last few days:

1. Pope more outraged over Belgian raids of Catholic Church than child abuse – Belgium officials seized nearly 500 files and a computer from the offices of a Church commission investigating allegations of sex abuse. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, said the Belgian bishops were left all day without food or drink even though that was a lie. The Catholic Church in Belgium has apologised for its silence on abuse cases in the past, and for some reason they seem to think that is sufficient justice.

Jeffrey Newell contemplates how many boys he can rape today

2. Sex abuse victim charges Catholic Church with fraud – Sixteen years after being molested by a priest for several years, the victim discovered his rapist, Rev. Jeffrey Newell, is still operating as a priest and his MySpace page lists a half-dozen teenage boys as friends.

That discovery led to a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Los Angeles archdiocese alleging that church leaders engaged in fraud and negligence by allowing Newell to continue serving as a priest long after his alleged crimes were reported.

3. ‘One Nation Indivisible’ billboard vandalized only days after going up – Several days ago, I wrote about the billboard that the North Carolina Secular Association put up above the Billy Graham Parkway. Well, apparently this incredibly benign sign pissed someone off so much that they felt it essential that they break the law to further demonstrate why religion is evil.

4. But another one is going up in Florida

5. Fundies further crusade against the Friendly Atheist – Last year, I wrote several pieces about Laurie Higgins and her Illinois Family Institute’s crazy attacks on Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist. Well, she’s back with some more wild accusations about Mehta, who responds to her latest attacks himself here and here.

6. Scholar suggest Jesus didn’t die on the cross – I’d agree on the grounds that Jesus never existed but historians but theologian Gunnar Samuelsson just says the text has been misinterpreted:

He claims the Bible has been misinterpreted as there are no explicit references the use of nails or to crucifixion – only that Jesus bore a “staurus” towards Calvary which is not necessarily a cross but can also mean a “pole”.

Mr Samuelsson, who has written a 400-page thesis after studying the original texts, said: “The problem is descriptions of crucifixions are remarkably absent in the antique literature.

“The sources where you would expect to find support for the established understanding of the event really don’t say anything.”

7. Detroit Catholics fighting for the right of rapists to go unpunished

Victims of abuse by Catholic clergy are expressing dismay at the strong lobbying the church is doing in Lansing to halt an effort to remove Michigan’s statute of limitations on sex abuse cases. In Michigan, victims must file criminal or civil complaints by the time they turn 19 — what some say is an unrealistic limit on kids who often are traumatized for years by the abuse.

The church maintains that removing the statute of limitations could open the floodgates to abuse cases that are a half-century old and could take money away from programs that benefit the poor.

Yeah, everyone knows that crimes cease being bad if you sweep them under the rug for long enough .

8. YouTube censors music video critical of the Pope

The alternative rock band Fuji Minx recently released a music video for their song, “The Music Made Me Do It.” The video was uploaded to YouTube and then taken down by YouTube without explanation after six days.

The video is dedicated to “Recovering Catholics Everywhere” and features the burning of a photo of the Pope with the word “Confess” written on it in red. There is also a photo of musician Sinead O’Connor in the video which is placed on a dresser covering a picture of Jesus. O’Connor made headlines a number of years ago by ripping up a photo of the previous Pope live on TV.

And you can find an embedded copy of that video in the link above. And the lead singer of the band, Greta Valenti, discusses the controversy in an interview here.

Tom Cruise reconnecting with audiences proves to be mission impossible

June 27, 2010

My movie's number 1, right?! Wait...what?

America has spoken in a loud, clear voice. We’ve had enough of Tom Cruise. The early box office sales are in for Cruise’s new film, Knight and Day, and it doesn’t look good.

Despite opening to average reviews, Toy Story 3 dominated this weekend with $59 million in not its first but its second weekend, raising its domestic total to $226.6 million. That means that Knight and Day‘s opening weekend couldn’t even compete with Toy Story 3‘s second weekend. That’s bad, especially for an action comedy starring Cameron Diaz and the once great Tom Cruise.

And it gets worse than that. Adam Sandler’s latest film Grown Ups also defeated Cruise’s film, debuting at No. 2 with $41 million. And let’s face it. Grown Ups looks like one the worst pieces of shit Hollywood has ever produced.

Knight and Day came in at No. 3 with a pathetic $20.5 million, the lowest for a Cruise action flick in 20 years.

So what’s driving this? Is the film terrible? I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. But I doubt it. It looks like could be a fun way to spend two hours. Of course the media seem to think they know what’s going on. They have a theory, one that I don’t disagree with:

It was the worst result for a Cruise action flick in 20 years and a sign that audiences still have not forgiven him for erratic behavior a few years back, which included his couch-jumping incident on Oprah Winfrey’s show.

Oddly, the media seems to be extremely reluctant to throw around the “S” word but I suspect it’s what many are thinking. Everyone mentions the Oprah incident and the Brooke Shields incident, and the Matt Lauer incident but nobody wants to address the one thing that all these events had in common. They’re all intrinsically linked to Cruise’s role in $cientology: Cruise’s attempts to look like the most joyous man in the world, his hatred of pharmaceuticals, and his repeating the Citizens Committee on Human Rights’ propaganda about Ritalin being a horrible street drug to Matt Lauer.

What the media neglects to discuss is how better informed people have become about what $cientology is all about. Anderson Cooper recently devoted a week to discussing allegations of abuse. The St. Petersburg Times has devoted many months to ongoing coverage of some of the more scandalous aspects of the cult. Anonymous has been picketing $cientology Centers every single month in almost every major city in the U.S. Additionally, they leaked the incredibly embarrassing Tom Cruise on Tom Cruise, Scientologist award show video onto YouTube, which led to countless parodies at Cruise’s expense.

Since the summer of the couch, there’s been pretty much no positive news stories involving Cruise or $cientology. And that’s most likely the real reason Cruise’s career has sunk. The good news for Cruise though is that there’s a way to get America to love him again. He can leave $cientology and publicly condemn it. It’s your move, Mr. Cruise. The fate of your acting career is in your hands.

UK psychics declare profit-making their religion in desperate attempt to save their jobs

June 26, 2010

Just last week I wrote about the disgraceful decision on the part of Maryland’s highest court to reject Montgomery County’s ban on paid fortune-telling services on alleged Constitutional grounds. And I wrote a lengthier piece about it over at the Gotham Skeptic.

But as Mark Edward reports, now it seems the UK may be on the verge of banning paid “psychic” services, citing consumer protection regulations designed to prevent fraud.

It’s safe to say that Paul the psychic octopus is not going to be happy about this. But other psychics aren’t very pleased either. They argue for going back to the 1951 Fraudulent Mediums Act that requires the plaintiff to prove the medium deliberately committed fraud. Another defense they use is that this is all part of their religion, and therefore should be protected under freedom of religion laws. Now I must admit that I’m ignorant of British free speech laws (though I suspect they stole them pretty much from us–limey bastards!) but I’m pretty sure making a living charging people for fraudulent services does not constitute as a religion or as free speech. Religions are free; scams aren’t.

So my proposal is a legal foreign exchange program. We’ll give the UK our sane libel laws and they give us their banning fraudulent psychic reform. Do we have a deal?

News From Around The Blogosphere 6.23.10

June 23, 2010

1. Creationists lose in court again – The Institute for Creation Research (ICR – don’t let the name throw you; they don’t really do any research) have now been denied the right to continue granting their own Masters Degrees. Texas didn’t recognize their accreditation given the fact that everything the ICR promotes is bogus, so the ICR filed to get it approved. Texas Higher Education Coordination Board the organization accreditation, which led the ICR to appeal. But in the meantime, they tried to extend their ability to  grant their own temporary Masters Degrees to whoever they pleased until a court makes a decision. The court has just denied that request on the grounds of it’s complete incoherence:

It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff [the ICR] to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.

Is it gay to fuck someone of the same sex?

2. Anti-gay Lutheran pastor Tom Brock is a gay homosexual – He was found out by a reporter who infiltrated his support group. Don’t worry though. It wasn’t a real support group, just another bullshit one like Alcoholics Anonymous. The goal of this “support” group was essentially to channel their guilt of homosexual attraction into pure hate. Will the real heterosexual homophobe please stand up? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

3. Will Phillips to be the Grand Marshal of the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade – Yesterday, I wrote about Constance McMillen being invited to the White House and to be Grand Marshall at this year’s Gay Pride Parade in NYC this Sunday. But I didn’t hear until today that young 10-year-old Will Phillips, whose refusal to stand for the Pledge in school over gay rights issues I’d written about last year, is to be the Grand Marshall of the parade in Northwest Arkansas.

“It’s wrong for anyone to be treated differently just because of the way they are born,” said Phillips, who declares himself as an ambassador for equal rights.

Congrats Will!

4. Will science bring us immortality within 20 years? – I wouldn’t bet on it. I know Carl Sagan said that science delivers the goods but that’s a little hard to swallow. Though the Telegraph did print this very interesting piece about Ray Kurzweil discussing the potential future medical ramifications of genetic manipulation and nonotechnology. I surmise he probably threw in the 20 years date to get media attention. While we are making amazing advances like those mentioned in the article, we’re still a long way off from anything resembling “immortality.”

5. PETA offers to build a new ‘Touchdown Jesus’ – Last week, I wrote about the flaming destruction of the tackiest Jesus statue in the world outside a mega church due to a lightning strike. Well PETA did what they always do and saw an opportunityto seize some headlines. So congratulations PETA. I’m talking about you. Fortunately, one thing I share in common with the Solid Rock Church is our equal dislike of PETA and saw through PETA’s transparent attempt to co-opt scripture to fit its ideology. And as a result, they turned PETA down…or at least they would have turned them down if they saw PETA as even worth responding to at all…which they didn’t.

Pastor Lawrence Bishop said he wouldn’t have expected such an offer from PETA. “It’s kind of amusing to me,” he commented, adding that he didn’t think he’d contact PETA to respond.

6. Saudi women threaten to breastfeed drivers – I love this story. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive. You see, because Mohammed is such a lover of women’s rights (see previous blog entry). So when a cleric recently issued a fatwa calling on women to give breast milk to their male colleagues or men they come into regular contact with so as to avoid illicit mixing between the sexes, a women’s group saw this as the perfect launching pad for their own campaign.

If they’re not granted the right to drive, the women are threatening to breastfeed their drivers to establish a symbolic maternal bond.

“Is this is all that is left to us to do: to give our breasts to the foreign drivers?” a Saudi woman named Fatima Shammary was quoted as saying by Gulf News.

Obeikan argued in his decree that if the women give their drivers their breast milk, the chauffeurs would be able to mingle with all members of the family without having to worry about violating Islamic law. Some Islamic scholars frown on the mixing of unmarried men and women. Islamic tradition, or hadith, stipulates that breastfeeding establishes a maternal bond, even if a woman breastfeeds a child who is not her own.Drawing from the cleric’s advocacy, the women have reportedly chosen a slogan for their campaign that translates to, “We either be allowed to drive or breastfeed foreigners.”

Awesome. Just awesome.

7. Naturopaths throw other quackery under the bus – Typically, so-called “alternative” “medicine” practitioners will stick up for each other because they all have the mutual enemy of real medicine to contend with. But on a recent Canadian program so-called “Naturopaths” were quick to call just about every other brand of quackery nonsense.

New Islamic ads – dishonesty at its finest

June 23, 2010

The Exploring Islam Foundation has introduced a series of “Inspired by Muhammad” ads on buses in London:

Now on the surface they seem to merely be conveying a positive message of tolerance but in actuality, it’s just the latest whitewashing campaign to depict modern Islam as a force for good in the world and to depict Islam’s critics of being “Islamophobes,” a manufactured term designed to make Islam look like a protected class rather than simply an bad ideology.

Now you’ll notice that while they attempt to attribute social justice, women’s rights, and environmentalism with Mohammed, they don’t actually cite any scripture to back these claims up. The reason of course is that no such passages exist. Also, the unintentional irony of using the one woman in the ad wearing the mandatory hijab in Islamic cultures is the one claiming Islam as a source for female rights is just outstanding.

Fortunately, some have taken steps to correct these ads. I particularly like this one (which incidentally DOES cite the appropriate scripture):

Also, journalist Douglas Murray does an excellent job of addressing Mohammed’s position on women’s rights.

But I also really thought Hemant Mehta hit some important points at the end of his piece, linked to at the top:

Radical Muslims, no doubt, have done awful things and continue to do them.

But Moderate Muslims aren’t helping their cause.

They don’t do nearly enough to criticize the radicals. Sure, they denounce violence in the name of Islam, but how often do you hear them denouncing things like the female face coverings? Anyone remember when they got mad at us for drawing images of Muhammad? One of the most outspoken moderate Muslims, Eboo Patel, compared atheists’ harmless stick figure drawings to a swastika!

You’ll never see an ad in this “Inspired by Muhammad” campaign that says “I believe in free speech. So did Muhammad.”

Or “I believe in peace. So did Muhammad.”

Or “I believe in religious freedom. So did Muhammad.”

Because even the ads creators know those posters would just lead to raised eyebrows and laughter.

While there are many Muslim moderates out there who are very good people, they’re not doing their part to condemn the fanatics and Islam itself doesn’t seem to be the force for any good at all in the world today. At best, the moderates can claim positive contributions today DESPITE the tenets laid out in their holy book.

Pertussis epidemic declared in California

June 23, 2010

There have been well over 900 cases of pertussis in California this year (and 600 more suspected cases are being investigated) four times higher than last year. And we’re only halfway through the year. If it keeps up at this rate, there will be more California cases of pertussis in 2010 than in the last 50 years combined. There have also been five deaths from this easily preventable disease in California this year, up from zero last year and all of which were infants below the age of three months.

Hmm, I wonder what’s suddenly changed? Oh yeah, right. Jenny McCarthy, Mr. Andy Wakefield, and their band of idiots spreading lies about vaccines…you know, to protect the children. I wonder how they’ll respond to these deaths. Probably the same way they respond to all previous deaths they helped cause, by pretending it didn’t happen.

News From Around The Blogosphere 6.22.10

June 22, 2010

1. North Carolina Secular Association introduces great new billboard – I really like this one. It’s a bit subtle but it promotes humanist values, separation between church and state, and cannot reasonably be argued to be mean…cause Zeus forbid we’re a little bit critical in our ads.

2. The Penn is mightier than “The Word” – Outspoken atheist and skeptic Penn Jillette (aka the talking half of Penn & Teller) is coming out with a new book titled GOD, NO! SIGNS YOU MAY ALREADY BE AN ATHEIST AND OTHER MAGICAL TALES. I don’t know much about it yet but ya gotta love that title.

3. Snubbed Mississippi lesbian teen going to the White House – Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen whose high school held the prom without her because of her open homosexuality, was scheduled to attend a Pride reception at the White House tonight where Obama is supposed to have been present and delivering a short speech. She’s also going to be a grand marshall at New York Pride this Sunday. Constance McMillen is having the best week ever. Congratulations!

4. Religious Right bigots protesting Home Depot – Yup, my old friends at the American Family Association are outrage…OUTRAGED that Home Depot signed on as a major sponsor of its 2010 Gay Pride event:

But simply financing the event wasn’t enough for the big box chain.

Home Depot also signed on as a vendor, conducting kid’s craft workshops for children in the midst of loud and boisterous gay activities.

OH NOES! Anything but kid’s crafts workshops! Everyone knows crafts lead to homosexuality, and that homosexuality in turn leads to the apocalypse!

Of course the AFA is launching a protest but it will likely be as effective as their Pepsi boycott that failed to get Pepsi to even acknowledge their existence, let alone cause the company to change its evil, evil, pro-LGBT ways.

A series of news stories about apes and monkeys

June 22, 2010

I’ve come across a number of interesting ape/monkey-related stories over the past few days.

The first is a finding by Japanese researchers that monkeys like watching television:

Researchers used near-infrared spectroscopy to determine that when monkeys watched circus animals perform acrobatics on TV, their brains’ pleasure centers lit up in roughly the same way a human baby’s does when it sees its mother smile. Just one more thing we have in common with monkeys.

Then came a story about the discovery of a 3.6 million year old ancestor of ‘Lucy’:

Cleveland Museum of Natural History Curator and Head of Physical Anthropology Dr. Yohnannes Haile-Selassie led an international team that discovered and analyzed a 3.6 million-year-old partial skeleton found in Ethiopia. The early hominid is 400,000 years older than the famous “Lucy” skeleton and is significantly larger in size. Research on the new specimen reveals that advanced human-like, upright walking occurred much earlier in the evolutionary timeline than previously thought.

For those keeping track, that’s 3,594,000 years before the existence of the entire universe, according to Young Earth Creationists.

I'll make you an offer you can't refuse.

And then finally came the very unexpected story about chimpanzee gang turf wars. Yes, that’s right. I said “chimpanzee gang turf wars.” I think that may have been the name of my band in college.

Bands of chimpanzees violently kill individuals from neighboring groups in order to expand their own territory, according to a 10-year study of a chimp community in Uganda that provides the first definitive evidence for this long-suspected function of this behavior.

University of Michigan primate behavioral ecologist John Mitani’s findings are published in the June 22 issue of Current Biology.

During a decade of study, the researchers witnessed 18 fatal attacks and found signs of three others perpetrated by members of a large community of about 150 chimps at Ngogo, Kibale National Park.

I guess the banana doesn’t fall far from the tree.