2010 This Year In Skepticism – January

January 2, 2011

Here is the first part of my look back at the big skeptic-related news stories from last year. I’m just covering last January in this piece but I’ll try to cover more than one month in the next installment.

Yet another well-designed study hit another nail in the coffin of the hypothesis that the MMR vaccine is linked with autism. Then researchers concluded that there was a lack of evidence supporting special diets for autism.

New smart phone apps emerge that debunk creationism

California said no to creationist curriculum

Pat Robertson blamed the Haitian earthquake on a mythical pact the nation never made with the devil–true story–thus earning him a nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

Vatican Bank accused of laundering $200 million.

Stephen Baldwin said he’d rather see his daughter die than lie about Jesus, earning him a solid nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

The arrest of the businessman responsible for selling dowsing rods, aka magic wands, as bomb detectors.

UK’s General Medical Council concluded that anti-vaccine prophet Andrew Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly.”

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledges $10 billion to vaccines and Doctors Without Borders vaccinates 2,100 kids against Measles in Pakistan – both were big victories for public health around the world.

Skeptics fail in homeopathy-based suicide attempt – The 1023 campaign sparked a great deal of attention on this little publicity stunt and made homeopathy look incredibly stupid.

Star of Scientology orientation film gives farewell performance – Larry Anderson, an actor and long-time member of $cientology who starred in their orientation film left the cult.

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The Simpsons are not Catholics!

October 19, 2010

It seems the Vatican has done something they’ve never ever done before, made a mistake. [snicker]

But seriously though, the Catholic Church has for the second time given praise to the TV show The Simpsons, a show that at one time was pretty universally despised by religious groups. And for good reason. The show’s creator, Matt Groening, is an atheist and the writers have never shied away from mocking the absurdity of just about every religion (except the cult of $cientology, the “church” that the woman who voices Bart Simpson is part of).

The weird part of this news is that the Vatican has declared the Simpson family Catholics even though their church has already been well established as “Presbylutheran,” an amusingly fictitious Christian sect.

But executive producer Al Jean told Entertainment Weekly on Monday he was in “shock and awe” at the latest assertion, adding that the Simpsons attend the “Presbylutheran” First Church of Springfield.

“We’ve pretty clearly shown that Homer is not Catholic,” Jean said. “I really don’t think he could go without eating meat on Fridays — for even an hour.”

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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.


News From Around The Blogosphere 6.18.10

June 18, 2010

1. How Obama can save taxpayer money while improving medical research – This past week, President Obama called on all federal agencies to voluntarily propose budget cuts of 5%. Dr. Steven Salzberg knows how he can the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget, and in the process, actually improve medical research:

Here’s my proposal: save over $240 million per year in the NIH budget by cutting all funding for the two centers that fund alternative medicine research–the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Both of them exist primarily to promote pseudoscience. For the current year, NCCAM’s budget is $128.8 million, an amount that has rapidly grown from $2 million in 1992, despite the fact that not a single “alternative” therapy supported by NCCAM has proven beneficial to health. OCCAM’s budget was $121 million in 2008 (the latest I could find) and presumably higher in 2010. That’s over $240M, not counting money these programs got from the stimulus package (and yes, they did get some stimulus funding).

Now that would be change I can believe in!

Me and George Hrab's glasses . . . George Hrab also seen

2. George Hrab unleashes more trebotchery on the world – If you don’t know who George Hrab is, you are missing out. He’s an incredibly talented (and freakishly tall)  atheist and skeptical musician who produces a comedic, variety show-style podcast every week called the Geologic Podcast, where he often discusses atheist/skeptical themes. And now he’s just released his latest album, “Trebuchet.”

The first track on the album is titled “God Is Not Great,” a nod to Christopher Hitchens’ bestselling book. There’s also a track titled “Death From The Skies,” named for the eponymous book by Phil Plait. This song even features vocals by Plait, reciting excerpts from his book. George Hrab’s music spans many genres but I’d most compare it to that of one of his music idols, Frank Zappa. If you like Zappa, you’ll probably like Hrab’s music. And if you don’t like Zappa, well you’ll still probably like Hrab’s music.

And now, if you want to check out his music, you can listen to the entire new Trebuchet album FOR FREE on the latest episode of his podcast. Check it out.

3. Death by soccer or death by religion – 61-year-old David Makoeya was beaten to death by his own family after a fight broke out over his wanting to watch the World Cup instead of religious programming. But it’s not just the Christians. Islam also getting into the act:

4. Blasphemy with sprinkles on top – Lady Gaga isn’t the only one stirring outrage by wearing a habit this week. An Italian ice-cream maker outraged (aren’t they always) Catholics because of a commercial featuring a pregnant nun enjoying a pot of Antonio Fedirici ice-cream and includes the slogan: “Ice-cream is our religion.” Yeah, apparently that constitutes as “mocking the birth of Jesus”…somehow.

5. Vatican’s “values-based” solution to AIDS crisis – I’ll give you a hint. It involves no condoms and a continent full of dead Africans. I think they should call it their “final solution.”


News From Around The Blogosphere 5.18.10

May 19, 2010

1. Daughter of $cientology’s Australian president speaks out – Yet another child of a major player in $cientology is an outspoken critic of the cult, Scarlett Hanna, the only child of Vicki Dunstan, president of the Church of Scientology in Australia, and Mark Hanna, a former Asian/Pacific director of public affairs for the church. She grew up in the former Cadet Org, which allegedly was preparing children for eventual recruitment in the Sea Org.

“The best way I can describe it is cattle,” Ms Hanna said of their treatment. We were property of the organisation.”

. . .

She claims children of Sea Org members rarely had contact with their parents, lived in separate homes and were granted only 20 minutes each night with their parents.

2. Gay couple convicted of ‘unnatural acts’ – Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, have been in jail since December in the Southern African country of Malawi. Ever since the day after their engagement party. Their only crime is being gay.

Religion's latest victim

3. 15-year-old Jehovah’s Witness dies after refusing blood transfusion – Yup, just another day for religion. So next time someone tells you about all the good done in the name of religion, remind them about Joshua McAuley, one of countless victims of religious ignorance.

4. Thousands flock to Vatican to back pope over abuse – Yay child rape!! If this story doesn’t demonstrate the evil of religion, then nothing ever will. Here are thousands of people who are quite literally showing their support for child rapists and those who protect them from prosecution because they refuse to accept the fact that their church is responsible for unspeakable human atrocities. This really is the ultimate Milgram authority experiment. If they can justify at least half a million child rapes, what else are these people capable of justifying?

5. Dark Horse releases atheist superhero comic – Move over, S.H.I.E.L.D. There’s a new acronym saving the day in comic books, S.H.O.O.T. That stands for the Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Taskforce. I must admit that I don’t really get the concept. It’s an atheist team who fight demons and ghosts, etc. that they don’t believe in, but appear to exist anyway. If they’re fighting them, why wouldn’t they believe in them? Are the monsters they face supposed to be physical manifestations of someone’s imagination or something?



News From Around The Blogosphere 5.17.10

May 18, 2010

I'm Miss USA now. Suck on that, bitches!

1. A Muslim and liberal declared Miss USA – This is a nice step up from Carrie Prejean. Of course the right-wing loonies who last year defended Carrie Prejean as having a right to her idiotic opinions have now come out swinging against the new Miss USA Rima Fakih. Fakih is an Arab-American (are we still doing the hyphen thing?) of Lebanese decent. Of course the right-wing pundits are all claiming liberal bias again because Miss Oklahoma Morgan Elizabeth Woolard lost after saying she was “perfectly fine” with the new Arizona immigration policy.

Of course once again, their over the top outrage seems to coincidentally be against someone who just happens to not be white. So what did my personal favorite insane righter-winger Debbie Schlussel and other pundits say about this trivial little pageant decisions?

– Conservative radio host Debbie Schlussel blamed Fakih’s win on a supposed “politically correct, Islamo-pandering climate” in America and labeled her a “Lebanese Muslim Hezbollah supporter with relatives who are top terrorists.” [5/16/10]

– Right wing pundit and Fox contributor Michelle Malkin ranted that “Fakih’s cheerleaders are too busy tooting the identity politics horn to care what comes out of her mouth” and that “the Miss USA pageant didn’t want to risk the wrath of the open-borders mob.” [5/16/10]

– Conservative author Daniel Pipes, who was briefly appointed by former President George W. Bush to the U.S. Institute of Peace, opined that “this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action.” [5/16/10]

– Fox News’s Gretchen Carlson complained that Woolard’s “informed opinion” may have cost her the crown, and said that Fakih may have won because we live in a “PC society.” [5/17/10]

I’m taking bets on how long it takes for them to call into question her nation of origin and start demanding to see her birth certificate.

2. Vatican’s latest legal strategy – I’m not sure if blaming others and denying any responsibility technically qualifies as a “new” strategy though. Now they’re denying priests at American dioceses are employees  of the Catholic Church and denying what their own “crimes of solicitation” document says in plain Latin, that they are under no obligation to report sexual abuse among their ranks to the proper authorities. This is the equivalent of, say, Toyota denying the defective vehicles were theirs.

3. Another great article on Texas School Board’s war against education

Cynthia Dunbar does not have a high regard for her local schools. She has called them unconstitutional, tyrannical and tools of perversion. The conservative Texas lawyer has even likened sending children to her state’s schools to “throwing them in to the enemy’s flames”. Her hostility runs so deep that she educated her own offspring at home and at private Christian establishments.

And that’s just the first paragraph!


News From Around The Blogosphere 5.11.10

May 12, 2010

1. Psychic scams Oregon man out of $150,000 – In order to remove a demon, a man gave a “psychic” boat loads of cash and a Hummer totaling $150k and now he’s bankrupt. Let that be a lesson for you. Sometimes having a demon around isn’t that bad after all.

2. Mojave cross from Salazar v. Buono Supreme Court decision was stolen – And while I think it’s outrageous that the thing was allowed to remain there in the first place, I have to condemn the actions of whoever was responsible. If it was an atheist or atheists responsible, I apologize for them. I always criticize the religious for not condemning the bullshit actions of their fanatics, so it’d be hypocritical for me to not do the same when it’s possible fanatical atheists were involved.

3.TV stations everywhere fall for fake Yo-Yo trick champ – In one of the best executed pranks in recent memory, some dude fooled a whole bunch of TV stations to give him air time to demonstrate his amazing Yo-Yo skills…which look remarkably like the worst Yo-Yo-ing in human history. But all we really know about “K-Strass,” aka Kenny Strasser aka Karl Strassburg is that he’s gotten on TV at least six times in the past month.

4. Constance McMillen’s Second Chance Prom a huge success – After her high school held a prom without her because she was gay, the American Humanist Association and philanthropist Todd Stiefe donated money to give her and her classmates another prom, an inclusive one. Even the band Green Day donated money  Lance Bass made a personal appearance. Suck it, small-minded assholes running her school!

5. Pope blames church’s own sins for sex scandal – So does that mean then that all the other Catholics like Bill Donohue and Church leaders were lying when they claimed that it was demons, gays, and the media who were to blame?

6. Woman claims 3-D porn got her pregnant…seriously: