News From Around The Blogosphere 6.23.11

June 24, 2011

1. Introducing the solar-kini – A designer has created a bikini with embedded solar panels that can charge your mobile technology while your sunbathe.

2. Granite State skeptics hand out psychic bingo cards to John Edward’s audience

The cards had a five-by-five grid of vague “hot words” and scenarios that often come up in cold reading, a term used to describe how it’s possible to elicit information from people without their knowing it.

Mentalist Mark Edward also weighed in on this story here.

3. Hundreds of Mormon ads appear in NYC – Maybe this is just a really elaborate campaign to promote the Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, but something tells me not a single one of these ads mentions the Mormon home planet of Kolob. Maybe if Mormons were a little more honest about their beliefs and practices, more would trust them more and they wouldn’t need the improve their image. And if you’re embarrassed by your own beliefs, maybe you should change your beliefs. Just a thought.

4. Self-help guru James Arthur Ray convicted in sweat lodge deaths – He was found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of three of his followers during a botched sweat lodge ceremony.

5. More proof that reality TV is not real – I’ve worked in reality TV, so I don’t need convincing. But for those who aren’t convinced yet, the opening to “MasterChef” featuring a crowd of allegedly thousands of applicants has been exposed as a clumsy Photoshop job that just pastes the same groups of people multiple times.

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Baby dies of whooping cough in Victoria

February 17, 2011

The anti-vaxxers have another victim. Victoria’s has had its first whooping cough fatality in seven years with the death of a newborn baby at the Royal Children’s Hospital. I guess this is what Jenny McCarthy meant when she told Time Magazine that saving the children was going to take the return of deadly diseases. But I guess Jenny, humanitarian that she is, will just consider this collateral damage:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Baby dies of whooping cough in Victoria on MSN …, posted with vodpod

 

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.23.11

January 23, 2011
Polio vaccination started 1957 in Sweden. The ...
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1. Flu deaths in UK rise dramatically – Anti-vaxxers love to mock health concerns about flu, which they seem to think is no more dangerous than an hang nail. But I’d love to hear them tell the families of the 254 UK flu victims this flu season alone. The number came after the number of UK flu deaths more than doubled in just a one-week period. 195 of those deaths were confirmed to have been from the H1N1 strain and seven of the deaths were of children under the age of five.

We have incomplete information on vaccination status, but based on what is known so far, among 71 cases in which vaccination status was known, 83 percent had not received a flu shot this season.

Thanks Jenny McCarthy.

2. Should anti-vaxxers pay higher premiums? – I thought this was a particularly good idea from one physician. While it certainly won’t change the minds of the hardcore anti-vax fanatics who will likely just view it as part of the evil conspiracy, I do suspect that some people would be more inclined to get the vaccines to avoid paying more insurance premiums:

Refusing to vaccinate a child is dangerous not just for that child but for entire communities. It’s precisely this point a colleague of mine was considering when he had the idea that parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids should pay substantially higher health insurance premiums.

It makes sense. Insurance, after all, is just a pool of money into which we all pay. In determining how much we or our employers pay, risk is taken into account.

The perfect analogy is smoking. If you smoke — and want to turn your lungs black and spend a greater portion of that pot of money on your possible chronic lung disease or any cancers you’ll get — then you may have to pay more.

Why shouldn’t we impose the same logic on parents who refuse to vaccinate their children?

3. Georgia homeless shelter refuses service to gays – The horribly misnamed “House of Mercy” actually states flat-out that they will not provide services to gays because it goes against what the Bible says.

… Elder Bobby Harris, who directs House of Mercy… says that his organization simply cannot tolerate homosexuality in any capacity.

“That act is not tolerated here at all. Let me tell you one reason why: because of the bible, of course. And then we have little children,” Harris says. He then added that if a gay person wants to change their sexual orientation and turn their life over to religion, he would consider serving them.

… Harris told the local press that he would welcome “non-practicing gay people,” but even if the residents were to engage in sexual behavior on their own time off the premises, they would be rejected.

No word on whether they also deny service to the divorced, shellfish-eaters, those who work on Saturdays, or those who refuse to stone their own disobedient children  to death. This is why you don’t rely on religious organizations for charity work. They often tend to care more about Jesus than about actually providing the services they promise. This is just disgraceful.

4. Westboro Baptist Church to picket Kevin Smith’s latest film – According to Silent Bob himself, the WBC is coming to Sundance:

Those movie-crazy cine-nerds at the Westboro Baptist Church are coming to the Sundance Film Festival to protest Red State… presumably for being gay…

I wonder if they realize this will give the film much more attention and will dramatically increase people’s interest in seeing it.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.19.11

January 19, 2011

1. Uncovered secret letter confirms Vatican conspiracy – The 1997 letter reveals that it was indeed official Vatican policy to conceal pedophilia cases from authorities:

Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter demonstrates that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them.

“The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The truly sickening part is that none of these people responsible for this order will ever see the inside of a jail cell because not a single government has the courage to stand up to the Catholic Church.

But here’s one way to get back at them. We could steal this…

2. Blood of Pope John Paul II to be built into an alter – PZ Myers said it better than I could here:

It’s as if they aren’t even trying to avoid the connection to voodoo, vampirism, and blood magic.

3. Guess who’s the #19 Most Loathsome American? – I don’t agree with every person on this list but I’m glad that my friend Jenny McCarthy made it on at #19.

4. Watson, come here…and kick Ken Jenning’s ass! – As we continue to advance towards the goal of creating artificial intelligence, it’s hard to know what will come first, computers rising to the intelligence of humans or humans reaching the level of stupidity of computers. But one possible sign that we’re heading towards the former is Watson, a computer designed by IBM (hopefully not using Windows Vista) that will compete with Jeopardy‘s greatest champions in an epic battle to the death (presumably). After making Steve Jobs sick (presumably), Watson has also already defeated all-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings in a preliminary game. Unsubstantiated rumors says that when asked what it’ll do with the winning prize money, Watson replied, “initiate Judgment D–err, I mean, I’m going to Disney Land.”

5. Homeopaths retaliate against critics with accusations of ‘medical apartheid’ – A group of thirteen of Britain’s most reputable doctors have written a letter to the NHS, calling for them to stop using “unproven” complementary treatments such as homeopathy. So the homeopaths felt it appropriate to liken their level of “persecution” to the suffering of those in South Africa, accusing their critics of “medical apartheid.” Stay classy, guys!

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News From Around The Blogosphere 10.4.10

October 4, 2010

1. British schools imposing Islamic veil on girls – Just when France has banned the burka, Islamic schools in Britain have introduced a new dress code policy requiring girls to wear the niqab.

Moderate followers of Islam said yesterday that enforcement of the veil was a “dangerous precedent” and that children attending such schools were being “brainwashed”.

Wow. Even the moderate Muslims are condemning it. I guess there’s a first time for everything. There certainly weren’t any moderate Muslims condemning extremists on Sunday’s episode of This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

2. One word:  jetpack – Forget plastics. After decades of being denied the flying car and robot butlers, the commercially available jetpack may finally soon be here.

3. Nothing like sex under the influence of placebos – A small study of 50 women suggested that when given a placebo instead of tadalafil (which incidentally is an erectile dysfunction drug–shh, don’t tell them), many women said their sex lives significantly improved.

The women, ages 35 to 55 and all premenopausal, had all been diagnosed with female sexual arousal disorder. But after a few weeks on the placebo, the women as a group reported less distress and more fun in their sex lives.
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Richard Dawkins condemns the Pope

September 20, 2010

The other day, I wrote on Examiner.com a scathing criticism of Joseph Ratzinger‘s attempt to distract the media by equating atheists with Nazis as well as his role in conspiring to cover up decades of Catholic child sexual abuse. Only a few days later, Richard Dawkins gave a speech at a UK rally against Ratzinger where he basically said the same things I did, albeit, probably more eloquently than I did. You be the judge:

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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.


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 5.31.10

June 1, 2010

1. Does Robo Phillip K. Dick dream of electric sheep?

Philip K Dick was brought back to life as a fully autonomous conversational android.

A team of roboticists, computer scientists, designers, and science fiction fans built a “robotic portrait” of the sci-fi author. The project was a collaboration between Hanson Robotics, the University of Memphis, and the Automation and Robotics Research Institute (ARRI) at the University of Texas, Arlington. The android used cameras to track visitors and turn to face them while talking. It used speech recognition and speech synthesis software to listen and respond, and AI routines that drew on Dick’s body of work to hold a natural conversation with visitors.

But for all we know the original Phillip K. Dick was a Replicant too.

2. Muslim apostate in tiny island nation of The Maldives may face death penalty – Going against Islamic law in The Maldives is unconstitutional. Mohamed Nazim did though when he publicly declared himself to be not a Muslim. The penalty for his apostasy is death unless he “repents.” This is not what one should expect from a so-called “religion of peace.”

3. Breast cancer vaccine showing promising results

A vaccine to prevent breast cancer has shown overwhelmingly favorable results in animals, according to a study by researchers at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute.

They found that a single vaccination with the antigen a-lactalbumin prevents breast cancer tumors from forming in mice, while inhibiting the growth of existing tumors.

Human trials could begin within a year.

If successful, it would be the first vaccine to prevent breast cancer, reports CBS Cleveland affiliate WOIO.

4. The vaccine denial movement claims another victim – Andrew Wakefield’s former employer, the Royal Free Hospital in North London, has been ordered to pay £500,000 in damages because they carried out an operation that was ‘not clinically justified’ on a 5-year-old child named Jack Piper.

High Court papers alleged that the colonoscopy procedure performed on Jack in 1998 was ‘not clinically indicated or justified’. They also claimed the ‘principal reason’ for the surgery was to further research into links between autism and bowel conditions rather than Jack’s clinical needs.

The documents also claimed that Jack’s parents were not warned of the risks of the procedure or the ‘controversial and uncertain’ link between autism and bowel conditions. This meant the surgery was performed ‘without lawful consent’ and was an ‘assault’ on Jack.

Oh, the irony. If I had a dollar for every time a vaccine denier insisted that doctors irresponsibly used children as guinea pigs by giving them untested vaccines and that parents were not properly warned of the risks I’d be a rich man. And yet I don’t expect to hear any vaccine deniers to address the Jack Piper incident at all unless to make excuses such as claiming this is just a hoax created by “Big Pharma” to make discredit their movement. It’s funny though how they’re doing fighting for “the children” only when those children are allegedly harmed by vaccines but show no concern whatsoever for any child directly harmed by their position.


News From Around The Blogosphere 4.24.10

April 25, 2010

1. May 20 is “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”! – Obviously this is inspired by the recent controversy surrounding the show South Park. But as my previous post shows, I got started early.

2. Where the South Park creators got it wrong – I’ve written two defenses of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s recent 200th and 201st episodes of South Park over on my Examiner page (here and here). However, Trey Parker was just quoted in a Washington Post “On Faith” article and what he has to say about “atheism” is so extraordinarily idiotic that it merits the kind of mockery worthy of South Park:

But Parker says atheism is more ludicrous to him than anything else.

“Out of all the ridiculous religion stories — which are greatly, wonderfully ridiculous — the silliest one I’ve ever heard is, ‘Yeah, there’s this big, giant universe and it’s expanding and it’s all going to collapse on itself and we’re all just here, just ‘cuz. Just ‘cuz. That to me, is the most ridiculous explanation ever,” he says.

Um, what?! Putting aside the ultra straw man he presents that doesn’t accurately describe the physics, this isn’t just some wacky ideas scientists made up out of whole cloth. It’s empirically testable and measurable. This is not up for debate. It’s scientific fact. And I’m sorry, Trey, if you’re unimpressed by this bastardized version of the science but that’s just too bad.

3. Could the winner of the UK’s next top leader be an atheist? – When asked if he believed in god, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ new leader in the UK, said no. And it seems as though he’s now leading in the polls. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about Clegg. But assuming he isn’t a nutter or a wanker of some sort or another, I’m rooting for him.

4. Canadian climate scientist Andrew Weaver sues newspaper for poisoning the well on climate change – I’ve been saying for a while now that we need to start holding cranks more accountable for their potentially libelous accusations, so I’m all for this. It’s quite different than when the cranks sue their critics like when the British Chiropractic Association sued Simon Singh, because there we’re talking about frivolous lawsuits used merely to intimidate critics. But when the cranks inevitably launch into their grand conspiracy theories, they make serious accusations that often do satisfy the criteria of defamation. And when you’ve got a legitimate defamation suit there’s no shame in taking legal action. And if Weaver is correct and this newspaper did publish articles that promoted “grossly irresponsible falsehoods,” he may have a good case. Of course I don’t know the Canadian statutes on defamation but I’d be surprised if they radically differed from those in the U.S.