#0054 RRS Newsletter for September 7, 2007
First, I'd like to direct you Richard Dawkins' review of Christopher Hitchens' book "god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything".
My favorite part of the review is as follows:
"If you are a religious apologist invited to debate with Christopher Hitchens, decline. His witty repartee, his ready-access store of historical quotations, his bookish eloquence, his effortless flow of well-formed words, beautifully spoken in that formidable Richard Burton voice (the whole performance not dulled by other equally formidable Richard Burton habits), would threaten your arguments even if you had good ones to deploy. A string of reverends and “theologians” ruefully discovered this during Hitchens’s barnstorming book tour around the United States."
Hello, my fellow heathens. For the rest of the month I will be posting on a regular three a week schedule, I may continue this trend next month, we'll see how it goes. So on every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday the newest editions will be up. Some of you may have noticed the counters at the bottom recently, with that I've been keeping track of how many and what days readers have been loging in to read the newsletter, and the aforementioned days seem to be the most popular, counts on Friday and Sunday being especially high. However, the reason for the newly placed regularity is two-fold. The other reason is to better manage my time, since I will be going on vacation from the 19th to the 28th, and there is much to do in the interum in preparation. In the time I will be gone, there will be no newsletter posts (I'm sure you can all manage, lol) so I encourage you all to browse through the previous editions, as I'm sure there are many of you who haven't seen them all. While I'm gone, any questions, contributions, or comments you have will be fielded by my good friend and helper Adrian (a.k.a. Skeptictank, a.k.a. Freudian slip n' slide). Regulars to the chat room are probably familiar with him already.
Table of Contents
Scientology: The Shrinking World of L. Ron Hubbard (25 minute video from 1967)
An Open Letter to Scientology Celebrities
Study finds U.S. Jews distance selves from Israel
Court bans Christian cross on private land in public park
THE RATIONAL RESPONSE SQUAD IS SICKENING! WAHHHH
Do you folks know what a defense mechanism is? Those versed in psychology will know well, however just for kicks we thought we'd do as we were told.
This bulletin is made to alert you to a disgusting and INFURIATING GROUP called the RADICAL RESPONSE SQUAD!!! THEY CAN PROVE CHRISTIANITY IS BULLSHIT! WE MUST SPILL THE BLOOD OF JESUS (wtf is that?) ON OUR KIDS SO THEY KNOW!
We shit you not.... this is what we deal with on a daily basis....
Oh... also tonight on that disgusting and infuriating show the Radical Response Squad, they'll host a guy named Sexo Grammaticus who actually has sex!!!! ARGH!! Here is some of his material.
You can see this disgusting and vile show that you need to let everyone know about here...
Healthy Addict leading the charge
Ashley (a.k.a. Healthy Addict) of RRS Ohio is leading a project to debunk the claims put forth by the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Several other local affiliate heads have signed on to help her in scientificaly refuting each and every claim put forth by the "Museum". The cooperative affiliate heads are, Zombie of RRS Ontario, Bumbklaatt of RRS Colorado, Lunar Shadow of RRS Northern California, Voiderest of RRS Texas, Will Power of RRS Alabama, and myself, Jack of RRS Michigan. This project is still in it's infancy, so more news as it developes. If you would like to assist us in our efforts, contact one of us, Voiderest and myself are regulars here on this site, and the others can be found in the affiliate section HERE , or by clicking their names above. The ultimate goal is to have the resulting material presentable and coherent in a format for tours of the "Museum" for children, to point out to them why all the claims put forth by AIG are horribly inaccurate in any kind of scientific context.
Discrimintory Policy at major college challenged by RRS MSCDAugust 31, 2007 - Friday
POLICY ISSUE UPDATE-1
We had a meeting today with one of the student Trustees at MSCD (Metropolitan State College of Denver). He is a Trustee to the Board of Directors, which includes the President of MSCD. He was a very educated and extremely knowledgeable man who saw that our argument was not only legitimate, but also, that it was reasonable and logical. The nature of issue stems from the first paragraph of the MSCD "Class on religious holidays policy", which states "Students at Metropolitan State College of Denver (MSCD) who, because of their sincerely held religious beliefs, are unable to attend classes, take examinations, participate in graded activities or submit graded assignments on particular days shall without penalty be excused from such classes and be given a meaningful opportunity to make up such examinations and graded activities or assignments provided that advance written notice that the student will be absent for religious reasons is given to the faculty members during the first two weeks of the semester." The issue we have is that people who have religious beliefs are given extra time to complete tests, assignments, etc… While others cannot, (e.g. , including but not limited to atheists/agnostics/skeptics/humanists). The groups described above, can't do this because they aren't a religion. Now, we don't want atheism defined as something that it's not, of course, our main issues are that of subjective application of the policy, academic dishonesty, and outright discrimination. Mr. Harris, the student Trustee we talked to, not only agreed with us but also gave us ideas that we hadn't thought about that supported our concerns/issues. He even gave us a third way in which the policy could be dealt with that we had not thought ourselves. He has said that in his next meeting with the President of MSCD, which is soon; we should have a email from him to share by next Thursday at the latest, he will bring it up and is giving it very serious thought, consideration and effort. He said "a policy that is intended to encourage diversity, actually discourages diversity", going on later to a say, referring to the subjectivity of the policy, "if you're German teacher sent you the policy back and gave you a definite no and your philosophy teacher, saying yes because he/she would probably see your point, would be a definite yes. You would then have P&~P which is a contradiction." The problem of course is that both teachers would be justified under the policy. Also, as Mr. Harris agreed, that the policy could be used, unfairly, to get more time on papers, tests or other assignments which would be unfair to the rest of the students in the respective class. Finally, as Chalmer rightly pointed out to Mr. Harris, that no religion or philosophical viewpoint is more deserving of respect than any other, as in the case that a Christian teacher might and could deny a Wiccan or a Muslim "religious holidays" off because of personal bias. And even though there is a process to deal with this, it is quite unnecessary for both student and faculty. To sum up, Mr. Harris, student trustee to the board of directors, agrees with us and can explain and articulate our concerns very well. He is essentially on our side and will be making things happen soon and we will keep you updated.
Rational Response Squad @ MSCD
Texas State/Church Separation Rally – Austin – Sep 8 2007
Are you tired of hearing about all of the religious bills and now laws coming from our Texas state government lately? Don't you think it's time we had a rally for state/church separation here in Texas?
Come take part in the 2007 Texas State/Church Separation Rally here in Austin, at the Texas State Capitol Building on Saturday, September 8, from noon till 3pm. We'll have speakers from lots of Freethought groups there, including:
|The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers||maaf.info|
|The Freethinkers at the University of Texas at Arlington||www.freethinkersofuta.org|
|The Freethinkers Association of Central Texas||www.freethinkersact.org|
|The Rational Response Squad||www.rationalresponders.com|
Four of the goals of this rally are the following:
- To speak out for the civil rights of non-religious Americans.
- To vocally promote the separation of government from religion.
- To show support for the Croft family in Carrollton who have sued over the moment of silence in their public school. (No matter how the case ends, or whether it's over by then or not.)
- To protest the flurry of religious bills and now religious laws coming from our current Texas State Legislature.
To all local and national Freethought group leaders: We need more group leaders to come speak. Please contact me if you'd like some speaking time at this rally. We also have some great individual speakers lined up, including at least two Foxhole Atheists.
We'll have some signs and banners, but all groups are urged to bring your group's banner. This needs to be a show of strength in numbers, and we now have more Freethought groups in Texas than ever before. PLEASE mark this date and time on your calendar:
Saturday, September 8, 2007 from noon till 3pm.
The State Capitol Building is located at the corner of 11th St. and Congress Ave. in beautiful downtown Austin. We have permission to rally on the south steps. All parking meters in Austin are free on weekends. The date and time were planned for maximum convenience for the most number of folks attending. So come on down!
The Texas Constitution
"Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 4 - RELIGIOUS TESTS
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,
or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding
office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the
existence of a Supreme Being."
Located in North Austin, Texas
Stellar Firework In A Whirlwind
Colour-composite image of the Type Ia supernova SN 2006dr in the spiral galaxy NGC 1288, as observed with ESO's Very Large Telescope. It is based on images acquired through several filters (B, V, R, I and H-alpha) for a total exposure time of 5 minutes. The supernova is the bright object visible to the left of the centre of the galaxy. Many distant galaxies are also seen in the vicinity of NGC 1288, of which some are behind. (Credit: Copyright ESO, Henri Boffin)
Science Daily — Stars do not like to be alone. Indeed, most stars are members of a binary system, in which two stars circle around each other in an apparently never-ending cosmic ballet. But sometimes, things can go wrong.
When the dancing stars are too close to each other, one of them can start devouring its partner. If the vampire star is a white dwarf – a burned-out star that was once like our Sun – this greed can lead to a cosmic catastrophe: the white dwarf explodes as a Type Ia supernova.
In July 2006, ESO’s Very Large Telescope took images of such a stellar firework in the galaxy NGC 1288. The supernova - designated SN 2006dr - was at its peak brightness, shining as bright as the entire galaxy itself, bearing witness to the amount of energy released.
NGC 1288 is a rather spectacular spiral galaxy, seen almost face-on and showing multiple spiral arms pirouetting around the centre. Bearing a strong resemblance to the beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1232, it is located 200 million light-years away from our home Galaxy, the Milky Way. Two main arms emerge from the central regions and then progressively split into other arms when moving further away. A small bar of stars and gas runs across the centre of the galaxy.
The first images of NGC 1288, obtained during the commissioning period of the FORS instrument on ESO's VLT in 1998, were of such high quality that they have allowed astronomers1 to carry out a quantitative analysis of the morphology of the galaxy. They found that NGC 1288 is most probably surrounded by a large dark matter halo. The appearance and number of spiral arms are indeed directly related to the amount of dark matter in the galaxy's halo.
The supernova was first spotted by amateur astronomer Berto Monard. On the night of 17 July 2006, Monard used his 30-cm telescope in the suburbs of Pretoria in South Africa and discovered the supernova as an apparent 'new star' close to the centre of NGC 1288, which was then designated SN 2006dr. The supernova reached magnitude 16, that is, it was about 10 000 times fainter than what the unaided eye can see.
Using spectra obtained with the Keck telescope on 26 July 2006, astronomers from the University of California found SN 2006dr to be a Type Ia supernova2 that expelled material with speeds up to 10 000 km/s.
- "Morphological structure and colors of NGC 1232 and NGC 1288" by C. Moellenhoff et al., A&A 352, L5 (1999) and "Quantitative interpretation of the morphology of NGC 1288" by B. Fuchs and C, Moellenhoff, A&A 352, L36 (1999)
- Type Ia supernovae are a sub-class of supernovae that were historically classified as not showing the signature of hydrogen in their spectra. They are currently interpreted as the disruption of small, compact stars, called white dwarfs, which acquire matter from a companion star. A white dwarf represents the penultimate stage of a solar-type star. The nuclear reactor in its core has run out of fuel a long time ago and is now inactive. However, at some point the mounting weight of the accumulating material will have increased the pressure inside the white dwarf so much that the nuclear ashes in there will ignite and start burning into even heavier elements. This process very quickly becomes uncontrolled and the entire star is blown to pieces in a dramatic event. Type Ia supernovae play a very useful role as cosmological distance indicators, allowing astronomers to study the expansion history of our Universe, leading to the conclusion that the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by ESO.
Virus Implicated In Colony Collapse Disorder In Bees
Science Daily — A team led by scientists from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Pennsylvania State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Arizona, and 454 Life Sciences has found a significant connection between the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees.
The findings, an important step in addressing the disorder that is decimating bee colonies across the country, are published in the journal Science.
In colony collapse disorder, honey bee colonies inexplicably lose all of their worker bees. CCD has resulted in a loss of 50-90% of colonies in beekeeping operations across the U.S. The consortium of scientists who have been studying the role of infection in this phenomenon includes Diana Cox-Foster, professor in the Department of Entomology at Pennsylvania State University, Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Jeffery Pettis, research leader of the ARS Bee Research Laboratory, and Nancy Moran, Professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Ian Lipkin, MD, professor of Epidemiology, Neurology, and Pathology at Columbia, and his team at the Mailman School's Center for Infection and Immunity, together with a team at 454 Life Sciences, used revolutionary genetic technologies, to survey microflora of CCD hives, normal hives, and imported royal jelly. Candidate pathogens were screened for significance of association with CCD by examining samples collected by the USDA and Penn State from several sites over a period of three years.
Using the 454 Life Sciences high-throughput DNA sequencing platform, and analytical methods developed at Columbia, Dr. Lipkin's team searched for footprints of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites in thousands of sequences. Candidates were further characterized by more detailed sequence analysis to ascertain their specificity for CCD and relationship to known and unknown pathogens.
IAPV, an unclassified dicistrovirus not previously reported in the U.S. that is transmitted by the varroa mite, and Kasmir bee virus were only found in CCD hives. The researchers report that IAPV was found in all four affected operations sampled, in two of four royal jelly samples, and in the Australian sample. KBV was present in three of four CCD operations, but not in the royal jelly. One organism was significantly correlated with CCD: finding IAPV in a bee sample correctly distinguished CCD from non-CCD status 96.1 percent of the time.
"This is a powerful new strategy for looking at outbreaks of infectious disease and finding cause. Dr. Cox-Foster recruited us into this project, making a persuasive case for applying our state-of-the-art methods for differential diagnosis of infectious disease in humans, to this challenge in agricultural epidemiology," said Dr. Lipkin. "The profound synergy within the group--bringing entomology, microbiology, and bioinformatics together--enabled us to work toward a solution to this extraordinarily complex problem."
This is the first report of IAPV in the United States. IAPV was first described in 2004 in Israel where infected bees presented with shivering wings, progressed to paralysis and then died just outside the hive. Importation to the U.S. of bees from Australia began in 2004, coinciding with early reports of unusual colony declines.
IAPV was found in non-CCD hives in some cases, which could reflect strain variation, co-infection, or the presence of other stressors, such as pesticides or poor nutrition. The varroa mite, for example, absent in Australia, immunosuppresses bees making them more susceptible to infection by other organisms, including viruses. Other stressors may include chemical pesticides used on plants pollinated by bees and in hives to control pests.
"Our results indicate that IAPV is a significant marker for CCD. This discovery may be helpful in identifying hives at risk for disease. The next step is to ascertain whether IAPV, alone or in concert with other factors, can induce CCD in healthy bees," added Dr. Lipkin.
Bees play an integral role in the world food supply, and are essential for the pollination of over 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide, with the economic value of these agricultural products placed at more than $14.6 billion in the U.S. In addition to agricultural crops, honey bees also pollinate many native plants within the ecosystem. Recently, the increased deaths in bee colonies due to CCD seriously threaten the ability of the bee industry to meet the pollination needs of fruit and vegetable producers in the U.S.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
'Alien' Jaws Help Moray Eels Feed
These X-rays show the normal position of the pharyngeal jaws (upper), and how they can move forward into the mouth to seize food (lower). (Credit: Rita Mehta, Section of Evolution and Ecology and Candi Stafford, School of Veterinary Medicine, UC Davis.)
Science Daily — Moray eels have a unique way of feeding reminiscent of a science fiction thriller, researchers at UC Davis have discovered. After seizing prey in its jaws, a second set of jaws located in the moray's throat reaches forward into the mouth, grabs the food and carries it back to the esophagus for swallowing.
"This is really an amazing innovation for feeding behavior for fishes in general," said Rita Mehta, a postdoctoral researcher in the Section of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis.
The research shows the amazing diversity possible among living things, even in something as fundamental as feeding, Mehta said.
The researcher used a high-speed digital camera to film eels feeding in the laboratory, and was able to capture the rapid movement of these secondary pharyngeal jaws. She also used X-ray and other imaging equipment at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to work out how the jaws could move.
More than 200 species of moray eels are found in tropical waters worldwide, often living in holes in rocks and coral reefs. In the wild, they can reach 10 feet in length.
Most fish feed by suction. When it comes upon food or prey, the fish rapidly expands its mouth cavity, sucking in water and the food with it. Some fish feed by overtaking prey with their mouth open or grabbing it in their jaws, but most of those fish then use suction to move the food from the mouth to the esophagus.
But moray eels have little ability to generate suction through their mouths, Mehta found. Instead, they first grasp food with their powerful, toothsome outer jaws. Then the pharyngeal jaws, armed with large, curved teeth, reach forward and seize it. At the same time, the outer jaws release the prey and the pharyngeal jaws bring it back for swallowing. The whole process takes just fractions of a second.
Other fish are known to have pharyngeal jaws that can grind or crush food, but "nothing this spectacular," said Peter Wainwright, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and co-author with Mehta on the paper. Only the moray eel seems to have a second, mobile set of jaws that can reach forward and grab prey.
At rest, the pharyngeal jaws sit behind the eel's skull. When they reach forward, they move almost the length of the animal's skull, but do not protrude beyond the powerful outer jaws. The arrangement means that if the eel can sink in a few teeth to hold its prey, it can secure its meal with the pharyngeal jaws, the researchers note.
Mehta compared the eels to snakes, which also have to fit large food items through a relatively narrow mouth into a long, thin body. Snakes solve the problem by "ratcheting:" they can separate the left and right sides of their jaw, and hold onto the food with one side while they work the other side of the mouth round it.
Mehta and Wainwright are now investigating how the morays' extraordinary jaws evolved. Other species of eel, such as the American eel Anguilla, feed by suction. Moray eels may have evolved other methods as a result of hunting in confined spaces, where they could not rapidly expand their heads to create suction.
"Eels are an amazingly diverse and bizarre group of fishes, and not very well known," Wainwright said.
The research is published in the Sept. 6 issue of the journal Nature and was supported by grants from the American Association of University Women and the National Science Foundation.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of California - Davis.
'Lego-block' Galaxies Discovered In Early Universe
In this image of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, several objects are identified as the faintest, most compact galaxies ever observed in the distant Universe. They are so far away that we see them as they looked less than one billion years after the Big Bang. Blazing with the brilliance of millions of stars, each of the newly discovered galaxies is a hundred to a thousand times smaller than our Milky Way Galaxy. The bottom row of pictures shows several of these clumps (distance expressed in redshift value). Three of the galaxies appear to be slightly disrupted. Rather than being shaped like rounded blobs, they appear stretched into tadpole-like shapes. This is a sign that they may be interacting and merging with neighboring galaxies to form larger structures. The detection required joint observations between Hubble and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Blue light seen by Hubble shows the presence of young stars. The absence of red light from Spitzer observations conclusively shows that these are truly young galaxies without an earlier generation of stars. (Credit: NASA, ESA, and N. Pirzkal (European Space Agency/STScI))
Science Daily — The conventional model for galaxy evolution predicts that small galaxies in the early Universe evolved into the massive galaxies of today by coalescing. Nine Lego-like "building block" galaxies initially detected by Hubble likely contributed to the construction of the Universe as we know it. "These are among the lowest mass galaxies ever directly observed in the early Universe" says Nor Pirzkal of the European Space Agency/STScI.
Pirzkal was surprised to find that the galaxies' estimated masses were so small. Hubble's cousin observatory, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope was called upon to make precise determinations of their masses. The Spitzer observations confirmed that these galaxies are some of the smallest building blocks of the Universe.
These young galaxies offer important new insights into the Universe's formative years, just one billion years after the Big Bang. Hubble detected sapphire blue stars residing within the nine pristine galaxies. The youthful stars are just a few million years old and are in the process of turning Big Bang elements (hydrogen and helium) into heavier elements. The stars have probably not yet begun to pollute the surrounding space with elemental products forged within their cores.
"While blue light seen by Hubble shows the presence of young stars, it is the absence of infrared light in the sensitive Spitzer images that was conclusive in showing that these are truly young galaxies without an earlier generation of stars," says Sangeeta Malhotra of Arizona State University in Tempe, USA, one of the investigators.
The galaxies were first identified by James Rhoads of Arizona State University, USA, and Chun Xu of the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics in Shanghai, China. Three of the galaxies appear to be slightly disrupted -- rather than being shaped like rounded blobs, they appear stretched into tadpole-like shapes. This is a sign that they may be interacting and merging with neighbouring galaxies to form larger, cohesive structures.
The galaxies were observed in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer as well as Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera and the European Southern Observatory's Infrared Spectrometer and Array Camera. Seeing and analysing such small galaxies at such a great distance is at the very limit of the capabilities of the most powerful telescopes.
Images taken through different colour filters with the ACS were supplemented with exposures taken through a so-called grism which spreads the different colours emitted by the galaxies into short "trails". The analysis of these trails allows the detection of emission from glowing hydrogen gas, giving both the distance and an estimate of the rate of star formation. These "grism spectra" - taken with Hubble and analysed with software developed at the Space Telescope-European Coordinating Facility in Munich, Germany - can be obtained for objects that are significantly fainter than can be studied spectroscopically with any other current telescope.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by ESA/Hubble Information Centre.
Scientology: The Shrinking World of L. Ron Hubbard (25 minute video from 1967)
I think George Bush took lessons from Hubbard on "question dodging". Unbelievably transparent!
An Open Letter to Scientology Celebrities
Study finds U.S. Jews distance selves from IsraelBy Michael Conlon, Religion Writer
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Young U.S. non-Orthodox Jews are becoming increasingly lukewarm if not alienated in their support for Israel in a trend that is not likely to be reversed, according to a study released on Thursday.
Blending into U.S. society, including marriage to non-Jews and a tendency to look on Judaism more in religious terms than ethnic ones, is part of what's happening, the study found.
"For our parent's generation, the question that mattered was, how do we regard Israel? For Generation Y (born after 1976) the question is indeed, why should we regard Israel?" said Roger Bennett, a vice president of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which sponsored the study.
"Until people recognize that a healthy and animated dialogue about Israel is the first step to a meaningful connection, the 'Israel debate' that takes place in America is liable to become moot well before Israel celebrates its 100th birthday," he added.
U.S. support backed by a vocal and politically powerful Jewish lobby has been a key feature of the Jewish state's success since its founding in 1948, an event that is widely backed by U.S. Jews and non-Jews.
But the study found that "feelings of attachment may well be changing as warmth gives way to indifference, and indifference gives way even to downright alienation."
The study found only 48 percent of U.S. Jews under age 35 believe that Israel's destruction would be a personal tragedy for them, compared to 77 percent of those 65 and older.
In addition, only 54 percent of those under the age of 35 are "comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State" as opposed to 81 percent of those 65 and older.
It did find higher levels of support among U.S. Jews, regardless of age, who had visited Israel.
There are perhaps 6 million Jews in the United States, only about a third of them affiliated with a congregation. Of those who do attend a synagogue, perhaps 40 percent are classified as liberal Reform, 32 percent middle-ground Conservative and 8 percent Orthodox, according to surveys.
The findings were based on a representative sample of 1,704 non-Orthodox Jews in 2006 and 2007 contacted in writing. Its error margin was plus or minus three percentage points. The authors said they excluded Orthodox Jews because they tend to be overwhelmingly supportive of Israel.
In general U.S. Jews "have increasingly adopted the American idea of what it means to be Jewish -- primarily a religious identity," Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College, co-author of the study, said in an interview.
"The decline in attachment is widespread. It doesn't depend on how you measure it," Cohen added, with the disengagement no different among political liberals or conservatives.
Cohen also said inter-marriage with other faiths had a strong impact with "younger Jews being much more likely to be married to non-Jews."
The trend is part of a long-term historic slide not likely to be reversed since "people do not seem to significantly grow in their attachment to Israel as they age," the study said.
Steven Bayme, director of contemporary Jewish life for the American Jewish Committee, a major pro-Israel lobbying group, said "assimilation is the biggest problem" with declining support among U.S. Jews, but he said it is not new.
"People growing up where there always has been an Israel" are more detached, he said.
But the study breaks new ground, he added, in finding that politics do not underpin declining support -- that it is not as many assume a response to Israel's handling of the peace process or problems with religious pluralism in the country.
Bayme also said that even though Orthodox Jews were not included in the study, the segment represents "strong signs of Jewish renewal" -- children involved in the Hebrew faith in numbers far disproportionate to those of non-Orthodox families and who in the future will help counter the effects of assimilation outside their ranks, he said.
Court bans Christian cross on private land in public park
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The U.S. government cannot trade a parcel of land to private hands to allow a Christian cross to remain in the middle of a vast federal preserve, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday.
At issue is the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars the government from favoring any one religion, as it applies to a lone white metal Latin cross in the Mojave National Preserve in southern California between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
In 2004, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a cross on a prominent rock on public land was unconstitutional, prompting Congress to pass a law allowing a trade so its immediate area would become private land.
People have been putting crosses in the spot since the 1930s, most recently with one man drilling a metal cross into the rock a decade ago without permission. In 1999, a man requested and was denied permission to build a Buddhist shrine there, setting the stage for a tangled legal fight.
"A grave constitutional injury already exists," Judge Margaret McKeown wrote for a three-judge panel that upheld a lower court ruling. "The permitting display of the Sunrise Rock cross in the Preserve is an impermissible governmental endorsement of religion.
"The government's long-standing efforts to preserve and maintain the cross atop Sunrise Rock lead us to the undeniable conclusion that the government's purpose in this case is to evade the injunction and keep the cross in place," the judge said. "Carving out a tiny parcel of property in the midst of this vast Preserve - like a donut hole with the cross atop it - will do nothing to minimize the impermissible governmental endorsement."
Countdown Special Comment: You have no remaining credibility
Study: US should lower profile in IraqBy ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - U.S. forces in Iraq should be reduced significantly, according to a new study on Iraq's security forces that inflamed debate in Congress on how quickly that can happen without hurling the country into chaos.
The report, authored by a 20-member panel comprised mostly of retired senior military and police officers and led by retired Gen. James Jones, said the massive deployment of U.S. forces and sprawl of U.S.-run facilities in and around Baghdad has given Iraqis the impression that Americans are an occupying, permanent force.
Accordingly, the panel said the Iraqis should assume more control of its security and U.S. forces should step back, emboldening Democrats who want troop withdrawals to start this fall.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said he will recommend to Congress on Monday a gradual reduction of forces beginning in the spring and acknowledged that the slow pace of political solutions in Baghdad had frustrated him, The Boston Globe reported.
"Based on the progress our forces are achieving, I expect to be able to recommend that some of our forces will be redeployed without replacement," Petraeus told the Globe in a series of e-mails, according to a report in the paper's Friday editions. "That will, over time, reduce the total number of troops in Iraq. The process will take time, but we want to be sure to maintain the security gains that coalition and Iraqi forces have worked so hard to achieve."
The force reduction Petraeus expected would come as the five additional brigades deployed to Iraq as part of the current increase in troops ended their tours of duty over the spring and summer and were not replaced, the Globe reported.
Petraeus said he doesn't envision the need to send more troops. "In fact, we are in the process of doing the 'battlefield geometry' to determine the way ahead as the surge of forces inevitably runs its course," he said in the Globe interview.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that administration officials said Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker recommended to President Bush that he stand by his current war strategy and that Bush was unlikely to order more than a symbolic reduction in troops by year's end.
The report from the group led by Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant, contended that "significant reductions, consolidations and realignments would appear to be possible and prudent."
The recommendation echoed previous independent assessments on the war, including the high-profile Iraq Study Group that said the combat mission could be transferred to the Iraqis by early 2008. But the burning question, left mostly unanswered by the panel, was precisely when Iraqi security units could take control and U.S. troops could leave.
The study concluded only that the Iraqis could not assume control of the country without U.S. help in the next 12 to 18 months.
"We need to start transitioning to an Iraqi lead," no matter the timeframe, said retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, a panel member and former NATO commander in Europe.
"I think the signs are there to do that, and we have to reduce that dependency," he added in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The study sparked ongoing debate among committee members on whether to pass legislation ordering troops home.
Democrats want a firm deadline to pressure Iraqi leaders into taking more control. Most Republicans have so far balked at the suggestion, saying military commanders should make the decision.
"There's a lot of people who are armchair generals who reside here in the air-conditioned comfort of Capitol Hill, who somehow do not trust the judgment of some of the finest leaders that our nation has produced," said Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a GOP presidential hopeful.
Democrats and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., expressed skepticism that the Iraqis will reach the necessary political consensus without incentive.
"At the end of the day, we have to make judgments on whether or not we believe continuing military presence by American troops — whether they're in Iraq for a day, a year or 10 years — will make any difference to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and another presidential hopeful.
Clinton sent a letter to President Bush on Wednesday, asking him to address 20 questions in his upcoming assessment on Iraq, including why the troop buildup has not prompted a political settlement.
The panel's finding that the U.S. should reduce its visibility in Iraq is not necessarily at odds with the Bush administration. President Bush has long said the combat mission must be transferred to the Iraqis as soon as they can take over and security conditions improve.
But the study suggests that lowering the profile of U.S. forces is a precondition to improving security conditions. It also says helpful "adjustments" could begin in early 2008.
The Pentagon said Thursday that U.S. troop levels — currently at 168,000 — are expected to hit a record high of 172,000 in the coming weeks.
When asked by McCain whether he would support a deadline for troop withdrawals, Jones said he would not.
"I think deadlines can work against us," Jones said. "I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest."
Jones' report, released Thursday, concluded that Iraqi security forces would be unable to take control of their country in the next 18 months. If Iraqi troops were given more of a lead, as envisioned by the panel, it is expected that U.S. troops would still play a substantial role by providing logistics and other support, as well as continued training.
Overall, the study found the Iraqi military, in particular its Army, shows the most promise of becoming a viable, independent security force with time. It predicted an adequate logistics system to support these ground forces is at least two years away.
"They are gaining size and strength, and will increasingly be capable of assuming greater responsibility for Iraq's security," the report says of military units, adding that special forces in particular are "highly capable and extremely effective."
Worse off is the Iraqi police force. It describes them as fragile, ill-equipped and infiltrated by militia forces. And they are led by the Ministry of Interior, which is "a ministry in name only" that is "widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership."
Jones' panel recommended scrapping Baghdad's national police force and starting over.
The U.S. has spent $19.2 billion developing Iraq's forces and plans to spend another $5.5 billion next year. According to Jones' study, the Iraqi military comprises more than 152,000 service members operating under the Ministry of Defense, while the Ministry of Interior oversees some 194,000 civilian security personnel, including police and border control.
The review is one of several studies Congress commissioned in May, when it agreed to fund the war for several more months but demanded that the Bush administration and outside groups assess U.S. progress in the war.
Bush urges nations on anti-terror fightBy TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer
SYDNEY, Australia - President Bush on Friday urged Asia-Pacific nations to keep up the anti-terror fight, deploying both military might and democratic ideals to turn the tide against extremists. "Pressure keeps the terrorists on the run, and when on the run, we're safer," he said. "We must be determined, we must be focused and we must not let up."
In the speech to business leaders, Bush prodded Russia and China to honor democratic principles and allow more freedoms. He appealed for international pressure against the military government in Myanmar to stop its crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the Southeast Asian nation.
The president added that North Koreans should share the same liberties that citizens of their democratic neighbors enjoy.
Bush spoke optimistically about the war in Iraq and urged other nations not to turn away.
"We're going to succeed in Iraq," he said.
Bush said nations across Asia should understand the importance of fighting terrorism, since they have so often been its victims.
Bush was about 15 minutes late starting his speech, as aides hustled audience members down from the balcony to fill the many empty seats below. He started his remarks with a gaffe. In Sydney to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a 21-nation group of Pacific Rim countries whose economies account for nearly half of all global trade, Bush first referred to the group as OPEC, the cartel of major oil producers. The audience remained quiet through his speech.
Earlier Thursday, the president met with China's President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the summit. Later Friday, he had lunch with South East Asian leaders and was meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bush and Hu, leaders of two of the world's worst polluting nations, both called on Thursday for greater international cooperation in tackling climate change without stifling economic growth. Bush repeated that theme in his speech Friday, calling on Pacific Rim nations to lead the way toward a worldwide trade agreement.
"Our challenge is to strengthen the forces of freedom and prosperity in this region," Bush said.
He said the best way to open markets was to achieve a breakthrough in global trade negotiations known in the economic world as the Doha round.
"The United States is committed to seizing this opportunity — and we need partners in this region to help lead the effort," the president said. "No single country can make Doha a success, but it is possible for a handful of countries that are unwilling to make the necessary contributions to bring Doha to a halt."
Bush also asked the Asia-Pacific leaders for their cooperation on climate change. He acknowledged the fears of some that the United States was trying to construct a successor to the Kyoto Protocol outside of international efforts already under way.
"We agree these issues must be addressed in an integrated way," he said. "We take climate change seriously in America."
The U.S has called for a Sept. 27-28 conference in Washington of the 15 biggest polluters. And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a broader conference in New York on Sept. 24.
The high-level discussions at APEC could shape talks at a U.N. conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, that will start to chart a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The United States never ratified Kyoto, which requires 35 nations to cut emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Bush has been criticized by environmentalists and others for his opposition to the 1997 Kyoto pact, and China has long been slammed for the huge amounts of greenhouse gases its power plants and industries pump into the atmosphere. The fact that neither China nor India, another major global polluter, were covered by Kyoto was one reason Bush has opposed it.
But both leaders seemed to be generally in agreement on the subject.
"We believe that the issue of climate change bears on the welfare of the whole humanity and sustainable development of the whole world," Hu told reporters after his meeting with Bush. "And this issue should be appropriately tackled through stronger international cooperation."
Climate control has been designated a top agenda item for this year's APEC meeting.
"We talked about climate change and our desire to work together on climate change," Bush said.
Bush has proposed eliminating tariffs on environmental and clean-energy technologies. In his talks with Hu, Bush invited the Chinese leader to consider doing the same, said Dan Price, a presidential economic adviser on the National Security Council.
Hu had suggested the United Nations should be the one to spearhead climate control efforts. Price said that wasn't necessarily contradictory with the Bush approach.
Bush said he accepted Hu's invitation to attend the 2008 Summer Olympics. And the two leaders talked about establishing a hot line like the longtime one between Washington and Moscow to alert each other to possible military situations that might seem threatening or be ambiguous.
Atheist Blood Drive
In an attempt to show the world that atheists are every bit as charitable as the religious of society, and that we need no "divine warrent" to be so, the RRS has set up a daughter organization called Atheist Volunteers. We hope you will all chip in. The most prominent of it's projects is the Atheist Blood drive.
Atheists for Autism Research Charity!
Check these guys out, and donate if you can!
Religious Victim of the day
On December 5, 1995, Lisa McPherson was dead on arrival at a hospital 45 minutes north of Clearwater Florida. According to the coroner's report, Lisa was underweight, severely dehydrated, and had bruises and bug bites (see the entire report here).
Lisa's last address was listed by the police as 210 S. Ft. Harrison in Clearwater Florida, which is the Fort Harrison Hotel, a Scientology property. Lisa had been a Scientologist from the age of 18 to her death at age 36.
Lisa was put on the Introspection Rundown that Scientology uses to handle those who have had a psychotic break.
On November 18, 1995, Lisa was involved in a minor car
accident. She was apparently not hurt, but she got out of her car and
took all her clothes off and seemed mentally unstable. She was taken to
a hospital where she was physically evaluated as being unharmed, but the
hospital wanted her to be psychologically cared for. However, some Scientologists
arrived and stated that Lisa did not believe in psychiatry, and she checked
out after a short evaluation and left with the Scientologists. She went
with them to Room 174 of the Ft. Harrison
Hotel for "rest and relaxation" according to the church, but church
logs from Lisa's stay there from November 18 to her death December
5 show differently. Some logs are missing, and a high ranking ex-Scientologist
has written an affidavit in which he claims
that the church has in the past destroyed documents that might get the
church in trouble.
The family of Lisa McPherson sued Scientology and individuals
involved for wrongful death, while Scientology claimed it
did nothing wrong toward Lisa While settlement talks were completed
after being forced by the court, (Civil
Case settled 5/28/04) the case appears to still be active. Scientology
had a web page (removed or moved) that smeared Lisa's aunt and attorney.
On November 13, 1998, Scientology was indicted
on 2 felony charges in Lisa's death. On December 6, 1999, prosecutor
Bernie McCabe presented a response
to Scientology's attempt to get the case dismissed (note: 250k).
On June 12, 2000 the criminal charges were
dropped against Scientology because (so the prosecutor claims) the medical
examiner could not be counted on to confidently testify, even though the
criminal charges were abuse of a disabled person and practicing medicine
without a license. You can read much of the Clearwater
police department's evidence and Scientology's
logs of Lisa's stay, view some of the autopsy
photos, and decide for yourself. Then ask why Scientology now makes
members sign a
waiver specifically against suing Scientology over the Introspection Rundown:
Lisa clause or Lisa McPherson clause:
an adhesion clause to insulate one party from all damages, including
personal injury or death, from known and unknown conduct of commission
or omission of the party so released. An "adhesion clause"
is a recognized legal term which means "take it or leave it",
i.e., that the party signing the agreement has no bargaining power and
therefore no alternative but to include the clause in the agreement.
Article about atheism on the rise
By Josh Jarman
When Friedrich Nietzsche dared pen the words "God is dead" in 1881, some crickets chirped. A critic yawned.
Despite his later influence, scholars say, Nietzsche was not highly regarded before his death in 1890. But nowadays, critiques of religion, his specialty, are popular.
Just check out the New York Times bestseller list.
Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great spent the past 16 weeks in the top five of the list after making its debut in the top spot. Still ranked among best sellers, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is holding out in the top 30 despite being published last September. Other prominent authors include Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.
According to activists, this band of atheist authors heralds a turning point in American society -- when the irreligious stand up and take their place at the table of political power.
The success of these authors is directly proportional to the dramatic rise in religious conservatism and public piety in national politics, said Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry, a magazine published by the Council for Secular Humanism.
"With (President) Bush trumpeting his faith-based initiatives in the face of the separation of church and state, you have a lot of those in the nonbelieving community who feel their civil liberties are in danger," Flynn said.
Add that to the growing number of American atheists and you have a recipe for political activism, he added.
Record numbers of people are living without God, according to a Pew Charitable Trust study conducted by researchers at the University of Akron for the 2004 presidential race.
The study found the highest share of people yet, 16 percent, who said they had no religious affiliation. Some of those were actually nonspecific spiritual seekers or people between denominations, but almost 11 percent of the respondents said they were atheist or secular.
"And if you know anything about minority politics, 10 percent is the magic number," Flynn said. "All of a sudden, you have a place at the table. I think that has a lot to do with the sudden popularity of atheism and these books."
But the Rev. Martin Marty, an author, Lutheran minister and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School, said just because the books reveal a cultural current in America, don't expect a march on Washington.
The history of the various agnostic and atheist movements in this country, he said, is one of a failure to organize.
"Religions have the power to form groups," Marty said. "When you look at the intellectual expression of atheism, it is very individualistic."
The run-of-the-mill atheist is less concerned with the trappings of religion than its political influence, said Marilyn Westfall, a lecturer and board member of the American Humanist Association.
She said there is genuine concern about the strength of the religious right in this country.
"It seems that humans have gone through cycles in which religious fervor must be opposed for the sake of ethics," Westfall said.
Amy Birtcher has seen this thought reflected in Columbus. As president of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio, she has watched the organization's numbers swell from the historic average of about 40 to almost 100 in the past two years.
She said people are turning to atheist authors' works because they validate what they have been thinking for a long time.
"New members tell us quite regularly that the Bush administration and the current wave of conservative politics brought them out of the closet," Birtcher said.
Still, she said, atheists remain one of the most maligned minority groups in the United States. Political polls reveal that people are less likely to vote for a nonbeliever than for a homosexual, she said.
"A lot of people are afraid," Birtcher said. "They can't tell their families. They can't tell their co-workers because they fear real reprisal."
The Rev. Richard Burnett, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church Downtown, said he can understand how invocations of the divine by public officials can feel alienating to unbelievers, though unintentionally.
Having read Hitchens' book, Burnett said it's a good read for Christians, if only to help reaffirm their belief. He suspects that the book's best-seller status is due in part to the faithful trying to find out "what the devil it's all about."
"When we are honest with each other, I think there's a great potential to find truth," Burnett said about the dialogue the books have created between the faithful and nonbelievers. "When the discourse is mocking or trying to score points for either side, I don't think it is helpful."
He said it's important to remember that God does not need to be defended.
Flynn predicts that the popularity of these books is the first step in a coming wave of atheist activism. "It took a very concentrated effort on behalf of the gay community to make people realize you know a gay person," Flynn said. "People realized, 'Hey, I have a gay co-worker, and they're fine.' We need to do that for the nonreligious."
I am a Freethinker
The Godless Guy - Atheist UNITE!
STANDUP COMEDY by Paul Wagner
Huge thanks go to everyone that has helped me out on this endeavor. Specifically, Zombie, head of RRS Ontario for multple article submissions, Voiderest of RRS Texas, my coding guru without whom many of the features of this newsletter (like the Table of Contents) would not be in place, Brian Sapient for his guiding hand and for the space in which this is published, and all of you who have contributed articles. Cheers go out to you all!!!
The darkness of godlessness lets wisdom shine.