News From Around The Blogosphere 1.6.11

January 7, 2011

1. ‘ESP’ study utterly ridiculous – Just hearing ABC World News talking about this ‘ESP’ study made it clear to me that this study is a complete joke. The researcher literally gave people repeated 50/50 chance scenarios, found a ritual that he claimed increased the likelihood of correct answers to a whopping 53 percent, and is calling that proof of ESP. Considering I know how to predict coin tosses better than random guesswork by others almost every time through trickery alone, consider me unimpressed. But Ben Radford and Ray Hyman go far deeper by pointing out major flaws in the methodology.

2. New expose on $cientology coming – In 2009, director and writer Paul Haggis (Crash, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace) very publicly left $cientology, citing the cult’s homophobia and Spokesman Tommy Davis’ lies about the disconnection policies. Now, “Lawrence Wright is writing what his agent calls “the most profound reckoning to date” with Scientology, told through the eyes of director and apostate Paul Haggis.” Something tells me Tom Cruise will not be featured in any Paul Haggis movies any time soon.

3. Californial memorial cross deemed unconstitutional – This should have been a no-brainer, but now the legendary 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court decision that threw out a legal challenge to the hilltop cross brought on behalf of Jewish war veterans.

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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.

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.

Today In Gay

June 11, 2010

I’ve got a bunch of news stories to report concerning gay rights.

1. First, next week a new documentary arrives in select theaters about the role the Mormon Church played in passing California’s infamous Proposition 8, which re-illegalized gay marriage and retroactively revoked the marriages of same-sex couples who had wed in California:

2. And this film is rather appropriately timed as it’s looking as though the Church the government will rule that they didn’t properly report their non-monetary contributions to the campaign to get Prop 8 passed:

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission will likely fine the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints $5,538 for being late to report about $37,000 in non-monetary contributions to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign of 2010.

Now that’s a depressingly tiny punitive charge but maybe with enough public outrage, more serious fines will be charged.

3. But the biggest gay rights story to come out today has to be Iceland’s unanimous legalization of gay marriage:

The Althingi parliament voted 49 to zero to change the wording of marriage legislation to include matrimony between “man and man, woman and woman,” in addition to unions between men and women.

Iceland, a socially tolerant island nation of about 320,000 people, became the first country to elect an openly gay head of state in 2009 when Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir became prime minister after being nominated by her party.

“The attitude in Iceland is fairly pragmatic,” said Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political scientist at the University of Iceland. “It (gay marriage) has not been a big issue in national politics — it’s not been controversial.”

Congratulations Iceland!

California anti-gay legislator Roy Ashburn comes out of the closet

March 9, 2010

Roy Ashburn has consistently voted against gay rights during his time in office. It turns out though that the whole time he was voting against his own interests:

More Sacramento atheist billboards vandalized

March 3, 2010

Christians in Sacramento really, really don’t like the idea of being asked to think critically about their beliefs. Two more atheists billboards were vandalized, one much more severely than the other. Keep in mind that they started out originally being the same exact billboard:

Graffiti reads: "God loves U"

God in the classroom

March 3, 2010

Two news stories relating to religion encroaching on public education came to my attention today courtesy of the Friendly Atheist.

The first involves an industrial arts at Guthrie Center High School in Guthrie Center, Iowa whose love of Jesus led to him denying  a student the right to make “a Wiccan alter.” The project simply called for students to build something from scratch.

Now initially I thought maybe this was acceptable on the same grounds that it be deemed “inappropriate” in school, a defense often used to justify censoring material in public school literary magazines, for instance. And I could see letting the whole thing slide on those grounds.

Unfortunately though the teacher, Dale Halferty, changed my mind by saying too much:

Halferty said he thought about it, and decided allowing the student to make the altar “was wrong on every level.”

“It scares me. I’m a Christian,” he said. “This witchcraft stuff — it’s terrible for our kids. It takes kids away from what they know, and leads them to a dark and violent life. We spend millions of tax dollars trying to save kids from that.”

So by his own admission, this is not about appropriateness but rather it’s all about Jesus. And you know, if the guy had only shut up about his his prejudices, nobody would have questioned the decision and this would not have stirred the kind of controversy that it did.

Halferty said he previously told another student he could not build a cross in shop class because he believes in the separation of church and state. “I don’t want any religious symbols in the shop,” he said.

His viewpoint: “We as Christians don’t get to have our say during school time, so why should he?”

No, no, no. It’s THE SCHOOL and the school employees that are constitutionally prevented from promoting religion, not the students, whose free speech is protected by the Establishment Clause. Of course there’s plenty of legal precedence supporting a public school’s right to regulate student expression on school time and on the school’s property.

Now the other story where religion invaded the classroom is more overtly criminal. Bradley Johnson, a math teacher at Westview High School in the Poway Unified School District in California hung numerous large banners in his classroom that explicitly promote his Christianity:

The banners are about 7 feet wide and 2 feet tall. One has the phrases “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” “God Bless America” and “God Sheds His Grace On thee.”

A second reads “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their Creator,” with the last word in uppercase letters.

Yeah, there’s just no excuse for this sort of nonsense. This is not even close to acceptable behavior for a public school teacher.

Now you’d think this is the sort of thing that would get the guy fired but no. He was sued though. Unfortunately, despite such a clear violation of the law, Johnson won:

Judge Roger Benitez said teacher Bradley Johnson is entitled to a declaration that his First Amendment rights were violated by the Poway Unified School District.

He also said in a ruling Friday that Johnson should get damages of $10 ?from each of nine officials he named in a lawsuit filed in 2007.

Benitez also ordered the district to allow Johnson to rehang the banners in his classroom.

If I were among the plaintiffs I’d appeal on the grounds that this is a gross Mistake of Law as the judge completely mishandled this case. While I don’t know all the facts, this seemed about as much of an airtight case as one gets and it should not have ruled that way.

Here is the judge’s ruling (PDF).

News From Around The Blogosphere 2.4.10

February 5, 2010

1. 1000 rabbis warn against gays in the military – Their claim is that gays in the military will lead to more natural disasters. Well, considering that natural disasters have occurred throughout human history, that seems like a pretty unfalsifiable claim. Are they suggesting then that if gays are kept out of the military that there will never be another natural disaster again? I’d love to see them put their nickel down on that claim. Ugh! Silly rabbis. Trix are for kids. But I am curious. Do you think if a 1000 rabbis were typing on a 1000 typewriters, they could reproduce the Bible?

Alternate title: How to profit off friends and kill people

2. Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, guru of The Secret, has finally been officially charged with manslaughter over the three people who died after a northern Arizona sweat lodge ceremony he led last year.

Ray has built a multimillion-dollar empire as a self-help superstar who teaches people about financial and spiritual wealth, and uses free seminars to recruit followers to more expensive events. He soared in popularity after appearing in the 2006’s Rhonda Byrne documentary “The Secret,” and he promoted it on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live.”

The Oct. 8 sweat lodge ceremony was intended to be the highlight of Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event at a retreat he rented near Sedona. He told participants, who paid more than $9,000 each to attend, that it would be one of the most intense experiences of their lives.

Well, he can’t be sued for false advertising. It was intense all right.

About halfway through the two-hour ceremony, some began feeling ill, vomiting and collapsing inside the 415-square-foot structure. Despite that, Ray urged participants to push past their physical weaknesses and chided those who wanted to leave, authorities and participants have said.

Two people – Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee – passed out inside the sweat lodge and died that night at a hospital. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., slipped into a coma and died a week later. Eighteen others were hospitalized.

According to his attorney, this was all just a freak accident, an isolated incident. Yeah, I bet.

3. Anti-evolution bill in Mississippi proves unfit for survival

Mississippi’s House Bill 586, which if enacted would have required “scientifically sound arguments by protagonists and antagonists of the theory of evolution” to be presented in the state’s schools, died in committee on February 2, 2010, according to the legislative website. In 2009, the bill’s sponsor, Gary Chism (R-District 37), introduced a bill, HB 25, requiring biology textbooks in the state to include a hybrid of two previous versions of the Alabama evolution textbook disclaimer; that bill also died in committee.

Suck it, creationists!

4. More Catholic child buggery – Only a few short months after the final report came in about the Catholic conspiracy to cover up decades of child rape in a Catholic-run reform school in Ireland, now comes news of numerous accounts of child rape in a top German school run by Catholics:

Almost 30 alleged victims have come forward with claims against three Jesuit staff, saying that they were abused in the 1970s and 1980s at Canisius college in Berlin, alma mater of some of the country’s political, business and academic elite.

Peter Riedel and Wolfgang Stab left the school in 1981 and 1979 respectively while the third alleged perpetrator, named as Bernhard E (70), was suspended from the Jesuit order yesterday after admitting one case of sexual abuse.

Stab (65), a former gym teacher, now living in Chile, has confessed to the allegations and last week wrote an open letter of apology, while Riedel has denied the allegations.

You’re telling me that a guy with a name as innocent-sounding as “Stab” has committed heinous crimes? I’m shocked. Again, I’m forced to wonder how the world would respond to Coca Cola Co. if hundreds, if not thousands of its employers were found to have raped children? Why is the Catholic corporation treated any differently?

5. Lancaster, California Mayor claims to be “growing a Christian community” – Both Muslim and atheist groups have condemned Mayor R. Rex Parris’ comments:

Parris made the remarks last week during his annual state of the city address before an audience of mainly clergy and their spouses.

“We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that,” he said, according to the Antelope Valley Press. Parris is also promoting a ballot measure that supports prayer at public meetings with reference to a specific deity such as Jesus.

Someone has already come up with an awesome name for a website critical of him:

California slays creationism

January 16, 2010

After the humiliating defeat in Dover, one would think those cdesign proponentsists had hit bottom. But no, there’s 49 other states they can still lose in. Correct, 48 other states. California just said no to creationism too. This particular case centered around the University of California, which had the audacity to to have actual standards of admission (emphasis mine):

The plaintiffs — the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school — charged that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college.

Creationism was not the only issue in the case, to be sure, but it was conspicuous. The plaintiffs objected to the university system’s policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books — Biology: God’s Living Creation and Biology for Christian Schools — as “inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community.”

Michael Behe defended the textbooks. Of course it’s now a matter of public record that Behe is a liar, thanks to Judge John Jones from the Dover case:

“Professor Behe, his testimony at trial indicated that ID is only a scientific, as opposed to a religious, project for him; however, considerable evidence was introduced to refute this claim. Consider, to illustrate, that Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID
depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God. (P-718 at 705) (emphasis added). As no evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition’s validity rests on belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe’s assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition.”


News From Around The Blogosphere 1.5.10

January 6, 2010

1. Maybe the G-spot issue isn’t settled afterallYesterday, I posted a story about a study that suggested the G-spot is a myth. And today I saw an interesting response to that study, so I figured I’d link to it.

2. Why is Barbara Loe Fisher suing Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Wired Magazine in Virginia? – Another story I blogged about yesterday was the libel lawsuit anti-vaccinationist from Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center against their critics. It seems that she’s suing them in Virginia even though Offit resides in Pennsylvania, Wallace resides in California, and Conde Nast’s offices are in New York. And though this is pure speculation at this time, Orac thinks he may know why? Those states have laws against strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). But Virginia doesn’t. Of course I don’t think it will help her case for the reasons explained in the previous blog on this case linked to above.

3. Christopher Hitchens debates with Unitarian Minister Marilyn Sewell – Well worth the listen. The transcript is also available.

4. Margaret Downey trying to organize atheists in Washington – Margaret Downey of Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia has proposed organizing a Unity Convention to assemble members of all the various atheist organizations around the country in the nation’s capitol. I guess this would be a kind of atheist “Million Man March.” I’m all for it but I have to admit that I’m very impatient. I’ve heard some say it can’t happen until 2014 but I’d like to see it happen in 2010.

5. Is sex the best way to prevent crime and war?

If our distorted relationship with human sexuality is the source of much of this frustration, confusion, and ignorance, societies with less conflicted views should confirm the causal connection. Developmental neuropsychologist James Prescott found that bodily pleasure and violence seem to have an either/or relationship—the presence of one inhibits development of the other.

6. What’s the harm in “alternative” “medicine”? – Remember the story of Daniel Houser, the kid with Hodgkin limphoma who was court ordered to receive chemotherapy, which eventually saved his life after a short period when his mother kidnapped him to prevent evil medicine from saving him? Well, for every Daniel Houser there’s at least one Tamar Stitt. Ten-year-old Tamar wasn’t so lucky. She died because her alt-med-loving parents smuggled her out of Australia following a court order to get her chemotherapy for her rare liver cancer. THIS IS WHY WE FIGHT! THIS IS THE HARM DONE BY “ALTERNATIVE” “MEDICINE!”

7. Clusters of autism cases in California may point to possible environmental factors – We’ve been down this road before. There have been other clusters of autism and it’s not uncommon for randomness to result in the appearance of clusters. But it’s definitely worth investigating.