News From Around The Blogosphere 6.17.10

June 17, 2010

1. Montgomery County, Maryland rejects ban on paid fortune-telling services – Few people are more passionate about protecting the First Amendment right to Free Speech than I am but there’s nothing in the first amendment that protects fraud. A court ruled that alleged “psychic” Nick Nefedro can continue to sell his services as a fortune-teller without having any responsibility to prove his claims. Now I have no issue with people saying they have psychic powers when they don’t. That’s free speech. But the moment they start charging people for their bogus services, then it ceases being a free speech issue and becomes a fraud issue. There is a very clear line here, and it’s the moment money exchanges hands for alleged services being rendered.

August Brunsman

Greg Epstein

2. Are two atheists two too many? – Recently, White House officials met with atheist representatives from a secular organization for the second time ever (the first time was several months ago). This time it was just two representatives from the Secular Student Alliance, August Brunsman and Greg Epstein. Like before, it wasn’t just White House staff meeting with atheists alone but the atheists were simply included among 110 other people invited to discuss interfaith issues. Apparently though, according to Bill Bumpas of the Religious Right propaganda site OneNewsNow, that’s two atheists too many and despite there being 110 other people being invited, this was all part of a giant evil conspiracy to athe-ize America.

I will concede though that there was one atheist too many as I don’t much care for Epstein’s views.

3. Another piece of athvertising, another controversy – The Freedom From Religion Foundation actually showed some restraint for once in Chicago and posted an ad that no reasonable person could possibly find offensive. The slogan on the ad was simply:  “SLEEP IN ON SUNDAYS.” Surely no one could be offended by that, right? Wrong. Apparently, Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church, is having none of that. And wow, if he’s this upset about such a benign ad, I can only imagine how enraged he was when he learned his Church’s highest ranking officials protected child rapists. Right? Right?


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.

Big Apple CoR’s other atheist advertisements

October 22, 2009

I’ve previously mentioned the Big Apple Coalition of Reason’s coming NYC subway ads that have been getting massive media attention. Since then, the brand new and constantly updating website has been flooded with traffic and the campaign’s made both national news as well as international, with my friend Michael De Dora, of the Center For Inquiry being contacted, if I heard correct, by even Italian press. Just some of the press its been getting can be found here.

But also, as I mentioned yesterday, a billboard using a similar slogan has gone up in Chicago, thanks to the Chicago Coalition of Reason. And now that billboard can be see on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

But it’s not all good news. In Moscow, Idaho, the American Humanist Association’s billboard was vandalized.

Though I have to smile at the fact that they couldn’t even vandalize the thing right. Millions are good God? What?! Now an intelligent vandal might have just blackened the second half of the word “without” forming the slogan:  “Millions are good with God.” That would at least be a sentence. Oh, stupid, easily offended vandals!

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 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.”

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.