#0060 RRS Newsletter for September 27, 2007
Well, guys, I'm off to Daytona tomorrow morning, so this will be the last newsletter until Sunday, October 7. Since there will be no newsletter posts (I'm sure you can all manage, lol) 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 ContentsClick on a title to view the article.
Eleven new animal, plant species found in Vietnam: WWF
Magellanic Clouds Are First-Time Visitors
Astronomers Pinpoint Origin Of Nature's Most Powerful Magnetic Bursts
Oldest Planet Yet Discovered Hints Earth May Survive Our Sun Becoming A Red Giant
Stickam private room for special RRS events (subscriber only)
The RRS is trying to recoup costs associated with the Atheist Alliance International Convention. We are also starring in a documentary to be shot throughout the weekend. Entrance in to this private room is the only way to see the RRS while their movie is recorded and they conduct interviews. This includes the after party and gathering at the RRS house up until Thursday October 4th.
The price for admission to our private room is $30. This admission lasts forever! We'll have many more events in the future including a "breaking free from religion" retreat hosted by Dr. Marlene Winell, author of "Leaving the fold."
We will be providing service through a stationary camera on our laptop which will capture all happenings in the RRS room. RRS members on this trip include: Hambydammit, Rich Rodriguez, Greydon Square, Kellym78, Brian Sapient, Rook Hawkins, Yellow#5 (Mike), Razorcade, Healthy Addict (Ashley Ohio RRS), Belger, and Mr GAWN.
[mod edit: It's Hamby- "dammit" not "damnit," damn it!]
GUESTS SCHEDULED TO APPEAR: Richard Dawkins,, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Edwin Kagin, Ellen Johnson, Hemant Mehta, and many more! The Rational Response Squad movie will be filmed on this day. See it before it's created.
If you are a gold member, visit this secret thread for free admission to the room.
TO GAIN ACCESS TO THE ROOM (READ CAREFULLY)
1. Make sure you create an account at www.stickam.com first. THIS IS CRUCIAL!
2. Purchase your admission for $30, upon checkout use the comment section of your checkout page at paypal to GIVE US THE LINK TO YOUR STICKAM PROFILE! Here is the type of link we are looking for you to provide: http://www.stickam.com/profile/sapient (except we need your profile)
3. We will then send you a friend request on stickam, accept it, and then you will be able to enter room.
Don't forget to put your Stickam profile link!
If you have problems with above link, try this link.
The room will be open most of Friday and Saturday (Sep 28,29). On Sunday the room will be open at night. Monday thru Thursday the room will be open as much as possible. Visitors at the RRS house for the Monday thru Thursday section include: Sapient, Kelly, Rook, Yellow5 (Mike), Gawn, Rich Rodriguez, Greydon Square, Hambydammit, and Razorcade.
If all else fails you can post a response to this thread, and tell us your technical problems.
If you purchase before Thursday (Sep 27) at 10pm est we will have your membership processed by the time the room opens on Friday.
RRS MI, No meeting this month...
Due to the fact that two of the leading members of the Michigan chapter will be on vacation on the day that we usually hold our monthly meeting, we will not be conducting it this month. Next month we will resume the schedule as normal, and hopefully by then we can have more to report on the Creation Museum project. In the meantime, I encourage you all to go to the Meetup.com website and register for the Atheist meetup group in your area. The group listed for my area, Detroit area Atheists, meets on a day that I usually work, so I am hoping to make our presence know through my friend and helper (minion) Adrian, at least once in a while.
Eleven new animal, plant species found in Vietnam: WWF
HANOI (AFP) - Eleven new animal and plant species have been discovered in a remote area of central Vietnam, conservation group WWF announced Wednesday.
Scientists have found a snake, five orchids, two butterflies and three other plants new to science and exclusive to tropical forests in the Annamites Mountain Range, known as the Green Corridor, in Thua Thien Hue Province, WWF said in a press release.
The new snake, the white-lipped keelback, tends to live by streams where it feeds on frogs and other small animals, the WWF said, adding it can reach 80 centimetres (31 inches) in length and has a distinctive yellow-white stripe along its head and red dots covering its body.
"Discoveries of so many new species are rare and occur only in very special places like the Green Corridor," said Chris Dickinson, WWF's chief conservation scientist there.
"Several large mammal species were discovered in the 1990s in the same forests so these latest discoveries may be just the tip of the iceberg."
Of the five new orchid species, three are completely leafless -- a very rare characteristic for an orchid. Like many fungal species, they contain no chlorophyll and live on decaying matter.
WWF is also examining 10 other plant species, including four orchids, which also appear to be new species.
"The area is extremely important for conservation and the province wants to protect the forests and their environmental services, as well as contribute to sustainable development," said Hoang Ngoc Khanh, director of the Provincial Forest Protection Department.
The Green Corridor is home to one of the world's most endangered primates -- the white-cheeked crested gibbon -- and the best location in Vietnam to conserve the saola -- a unique type of wild cattle discovered by scientists in 1992.
The WWF said the Green Corridor's significant population of threatened species is at risk from illegal logging, hunting, unsustainable extraction of natural resources and conflicting development interests, despite commitment for preservation by local authorities.
As well as supporting threatened species the Green Corridor also helps preserve water supplies for thousands of people who depend on the region's rivers and contains vital non-timber forest resources for local ethnic groups who earn a significant proportion of their income from the products.
Magellanic Clouds Are First-Time Visitors
Science Daily — The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) are two of the Milky Way's closest neighboring galaxies. A stunning sight in the southern hemisphere, they were named after Ferdinand Magellan, who explored those waters in the 16th century.
For hundreds of years, these galaxies were considered satellites of the Milky Way, gravitationally bound to our home galaxy. New research by Gurtina Besla (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and her colleagues shows that the Magellanic Clouds are recent arrivals on their first visit to the Milky Way's neighborhood.
"We have known about the Clouds since the time of Magellan, and a single measurement has thrown out everything we thought we understood about their history and evolution," says Besla.
Although they look like glowing clouds to the unaided eye, the LMC and SMC are both irregular galaxies.
The Large Magellanic Cloud is located approximately 160,000 light-years from Earth. It's about one-twentieth as large as our galaxy in diameter and holds about one-tenth as many stars. The Small Magellanic Cloud is located around 200,000 light-years from Earth. It's about ten times smaller than its companion and a hundred times smaller than the Milky Way.
Earlier this year, CfA astronomers reported measuring the 3-d velocities of the Magellanic Clouds through space with greater accuracy than ever before. The velocities were anomalously high.
Two explanations were proposed:
- the Milky Way is more massive than previously thought, or
- the Magellanic Clouds are not gravitationally bound to the Milky Way.
Further analysis by Besla and her colleagues verified the second explanation. The parabolic orbit they calculated for the Clouds, based on the observed velocities, shows that both are on their first pass by the Milky Way.
This result carries several implications. For example, as a spiral galaxy the Milky Way has a large gaseous disk intermixed with billions of stars. That gaseous disk is known to be significantly warped, extending about 10,000 light-years above and below the galaxy's plane. Astronomers theorized that gravitational tides due to previous passages of the Magellanic Clouds caused this warp. However, since the Clouds arrived only 1-3 billion years ago, they are not likely to be the source of the warp.
Another puzzle relates to the Magellanic Clouds themselves. A long trail of hydrogen gas called the Magellanic Stream extends behind the Clouds, spanning 100 degrees of the sky from the earth's viewpoint. Some astronomers suggested that the Magellanic Stream formed due to tidal interactions between the Clouds and the Milky Way. Others believed that hydrogen was stripped from the Clouds by gas pressure as they plunged through the extremely tenuous gas surrounding our galaxy. A first-passage scenario rules out both scenarios.
"We've been left with a real mystery," says Besla. "One answer has led to many more questions."
Finally, the star-forming history of the Clouds themselves must be revisited. Rather than forming stars continuously like the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds have undergone several bursts of star formation followed by long quiet periods. Astronomers thought that the starbursts coincided with previous close passes by the Milky Way. This explanation no longer holds true. Instead, interactions between the SMC and LMC may be the primary force driving star formation in both galaxies.
In the future, Besla and her colleagues intend to focus on the origin of the Magellanic Stream, conducting N-body simulations to puzzle out possible formation mechanisms. Other astronomers will make direct observations and survey the Stream. The combined power of observational and theoretical research may answer the questions generated by the current work.
The paper describing this work has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
Besla's co-authors were Nitya Kallivayalil, Lars Hernquist, T.J. Cox, and Charles Alcock (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics); Brant Robertson (Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago); and Roeland P. van der Marel (STScI).
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Astronomers Pinpoint Origin Of Nature's Most Powerful Magnetic Bursts
Science Daily — University of Arizona astronomers have pinpointed the origin of powerful bursts from nature's most magnetic objects.
The bursts are from "magnetars," some of the most enigmatic objects in the universe.
Magnetars are a type of neutron star, which are superdense stars that pack the mass of a sun into a body the size of Manhattan Island. Tiny magnetars possess magnetic fields that are at least 100 trillion times as powerful as Earth's magnetic field. They occasionally produce powerful bursts, hurling high-energy radiation cascading across space. The origin of these energetic eruptions and the strong magnetic fields is a mystery.
Astronomers discovered a magnetar with the NASA's X-Ray Timing Explorer in July 2003, when it brightened by about 100 times its usual faint luminosity. They continued monitoring it regularly with the European Photon Imaging Camera, known as EPIC, on the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton Observatory until March 2006, when the object faded to its pre-outburst brightness.
As the magnetar faded, EPIC recorded changes in the energies of the X-rays released.
Tolga Guver, who is a visiting graduate student at the UA, working with Assistant Professor Feryal Ozel of the UA physics and UA astronomy departments, compared the magnetar's changing X-ray spectrum with predictions from a computer model. They developed the model to describe the physical properties of a magnetar's surface and magnetic field in detail.
Guver, Ozel and their collaborators found that the data was best fitted with a model that traced the outburst to just below the surface of the magnetar and confined it to an area about 3.5 kilometers (about two miles) across.
"This is the first time both the surface emission and its subsequent reprocessing in the magnetosphere have been incorporated into the same computer model," Ozel said.
"This is a breakthrough because we can now distinguish between surface and magnetospheric phenomena,'' Guver said.
Determining both the size and the location of the powerful burst is like "performing anatomy on a distant, tiny star,'' Ozel added.
Their model also allowed Guver, Ozel and their colleagues to determine spectroscopically the strength of this object's magnetic field. The magnetar's magnetic field is around 600 trillion times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field.
The scientists say they are encouraged because the measurement is similar to an earlier estimate made based on how fast the source is "spinning down," which is the change in the spin period over time. They said it boosts their confidence that their model is correct.
"It is tremendously exciting to be able to compute exotic quantum phenomena that appear only in these ultrastrong magnetic fields and to see these predictions appear in actual data,'' Ozel added.
The astronomers say that they don't yet understand the mechanism of the outburst, which is probably somehow magnetically triggered.
The researchers say they plan to use their computer model to study more magnetars, using more data from X-ray observatories, in the quest for answers.
They are publishing their results Sept. 20, 2007 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The paper's authors are Guver, Ozel, Ersin Gogus of Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey, and Chryssa Kouveliotou of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Arizona.
Oldest Planet Yet Discovered Hints Earth May Survive Our Sun Becoming A Red Giant
Science Daily — An international team of astronomers is one step closer to answering the question, "Will the world end with a bang or a whimper?"
Using an array of telescopes around the globe, a team of 23 researchers led by Italian astronomer Dr. Roberto Silvotti of the Observatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte in Naples has spent seven years investigating the pulses of the star V391 Pegasi. This international collaboration has resulted in the discovery of a new planet -- Peg V392b -- the oldest planet known so far in the universe.
Prof. Elia Leibowitz, of Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy was a member of the team. To date, astronomers around the world have discovered more than 200 planets outside our solar system, but Prof. Leibowitz says his new discovery can shed light on the state of our planet's future.
Prof. Leibowitz made his observations with a team at Tel Aviv University's Wise Observatory -- home to one of only a few telescopes in use today in the Middle East.
"The Peg V391 star unlike our sun, has already passed the "red giant" stage of its life. It is presently shrinking, on its way to becoming a "white dwarf" and dying," he explains. "Because a planet associated with Peg V391 has now been found, for the first time astronomers will be able to study the effect a dying sun has on its planet. This will help draw conclusions about what will happen to planet Earth when our sun starts dying in about 5 billion years."
The discovery suggests that earth, which is at a distance from the sun comparable to the distance of V391 Peg b from its sun, may be able to survive an apocalypse in 5 billion years time, when our sun runs out of hydrogen fuel and starts swelling into a red giant. The scientists involved in this research believe that V391 Peg b has survived through the red giant phase of its sun, which now burns helium rather than hydrogen.
Critical to the discovery of V391 Peg b was the world association WET -- for Whole Earth Telescope -- a group of cooperating observatories on almost every continent. During certain periods of the year, all of the participants view and measure the radiation of a specific star over the course of a few consecutive nights. The star Pegasi V391 was one of the target stars of this network.
Says Prof. Leibowitz, "We are continuing our research on this planet and star. If there is another planet out there, we think there is a good chance we will see it."
Besides providing the raw data from the Middle East region, Prof. Leibowitz also collaborated with Dr. Silvotti on the statistical analysis of the data set collected in Taiwan, Europe and North America. "This analysis is a significant part of observational investigation," says Prof. Leibowitz. "Its function is to demonstrate that an observed feature in nature, claimed to be a discovery of something new in the world, is not merely a random, meaningless phenomenon."
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Tel Aviv University.
Faith upon the earth
“THERE was a functioning bridge until 1470 AD,” says Praveen Togadia, a Hindu fundamentalist, smoothing out his dhoti. “Due to natural calamities, it was disturbed, and parts went into the sea.” To modern, secular eyes, at least, the “bridge” is a 30-mile (48km) chain of sandy shoals across the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. But millions of Hindus see the shoals as physical proof of their beliefs. The Ramayana, a Hindu text, says a bridge was built by monkeys at the behest of a Hindu god, Ram—who duly crossed over to wrest his wife Sita from a Sri Lankan demon. The shoals are known in India as “Ram Setu”, or “Ram's Bridge”.
Now take a deep breath and consider the conflict over a plan by India's Congress-led government to dredge the strait for a shipping canal. While Hindus loathe the project on spiritual grounds, ecologists have different objections. At the junction of the deep, cold Indian Ocean and the shallow, temperate Arabian Sea, the strait is an ecological prize. So far, 377 endemic species have been found in nearby waters.
On this issue at least, the devoutly religious and the greens are on the same side. But the former, it seems, have more clout than the latter. On September 12th the government told the Supreme Court that the Ramayana was not proof of the existence of Lord Ram; and that science suggested the shoals were made by sedimentation, not monkeys. On the same day, the World Hindu Council, headed by Dr Togadia, staged protests across the country. On September 14th the government, at the behest of Sonia Gandhi, the (Catholic) leader of Congress, put the canal plan on hold: a setback for a government which wanted to save ships from a 24-hour loop round Sri Lanka. With elections due next year, Congress feared giving its Hindu foes in the Bharatiya Janata Party a new slogan.
India's greens have little love for their accidental allies. “I'm not protesting against this project for religious reasons but for environmental ones,” says Kushal Pal Singh Yadav, of the Centre for Science and the Environment, a Delhi think-tank.
In many other parts of the world, secular greens and religious people find themselves on the same side of public debates: sometimes hesitantly, sometimes tactically, and sometimes fired by a sense that they have deep things in common.
One more case from India: ornithologists who want to save three species of vulture (endangered because cattle carcasses are tainted by chemicals) see their best ally as the Parsees, who on religious grounds use vultures to dispose of human corpses.
In China, organised religion is much weaker and conservationists also feel more lonely. But Pan Yue, the best-known advocate of green concerns within the Chinese government, says ancient creeds, like Taoism, offer the best hope of making people treat the earth more kindly.
Other tie-ups between faith and ecology are less obvious. In Sweden, the national Lutheran Church, working with Japanese Shintos, recently held a multi-faith meeting on forestry. They agreed to set a new standard for the care of forests owned or managed by religious bodies—in other words, they said, 5% of the world's woods.
This month, representatives of many faiths, including a local Lutheran bishop and a shivering Buddhist monk gathered in Greenland to talk to scientists and ecologists. Patriarch Bartholomew, the senior bishop of the Orthodox Church, led his impressively robed guests in a silent supplication for the planet.
The terms of the transaction between faith and ecology vary a lot. In places like Scandinavia, where religion is weakish, a cleric who “goes green” may reach a wider audience; in countries like India, where faith is powerful, spiritual messages touch more hearts than secular ones do. That doesn't stop some environmental scientists from saying they are being hijacked by clerics in search of relevance. But Mary Evelyn Tucker, of America's Yale University, says secular greens badly need their spiritual allies: “Religions provide a cultural integrity, a spiritual depth and moral force which secular approaches lack.”
Martin Palmer, of the British-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation, says faiths often have the clearest view of the social and economic aspects of an environmental problem. In Newfoundland, he notes, conservationists put curbs on cod fishing—and left the churches to care for families whose living was ruined.
Still, one selling point often used by the religious in their dialogue with science—the fact that faith encourages people to think long-term—may be a mixed blessing. The most pessimistic scientists say mankind has a decade at most to curb greenhouse gases and fend off disastrous global warming; that doesn't leave much time to settle the finer points of metaphysics.
Council of Europe to vote on creationism next weekBy Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's main human rights body will vote next week on a resolution opposing the teaching of creationist and intelligent design views in school science classes.
The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will debate a resolution saying attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted "in forms of religious extremism" and amounted to a dangerous assault on science and human rights.
The resolution, on the agenda for October 4, says European schools should "resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion." It describes the "intelligent design" argument as an updated version of creationism.
Anne Brasseur, an Assembly member from Luxembourg who updated an earlier draft resolution, said the vote was due in June but was postponed because some members felt the original text amounted to an attack on religious belief.
Only minor changes have been made to the initial draft.
"There are different views of the creation of the world and we respect that," she told Reuters. "The message we wanted to send was to avoid creationism passing itself off as science and being taught as science. That's where the danger lies."
The Council, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, oversees human rights standards in member states and enforces decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
If passed, the resolution would not be binding on its 47 member states but would reflect widespread opposition among politicians to teaching creationism in science class.
NATURAL SELECTION DROPPED
Creationism says God made the world in six days as depicted in the Bible. Intelligent design argues some life forms are too complex to have evolved according to Charles Darwin's theory and needed an unnamed higher intelligence to develop as they have.
Some conservatives in the United States, both religious and secular, have long opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools but U.S. courts have regularly barred them from teaching what they describe as religious views of creation.
Pressure to teach creationism is weaker in Europe, but has been mounting. An Assembly committee took up the issue because a shadowy Turkish Muslim publishing group has been sending an Islamic creationist book to schools in several countries.
Supporters of intelligent design want it taught in science class alongside evolution. A U.S. court ruled this out in a landmark decision in 2005, dismissing it as "neo-creationism."
"The aim of this report is not to question or to fight a belief," Brasseur wrote in a memorandum added to the new resolution. "It is not a matter of opposing belief and science, but it is necessary to prevent belief from opposing science."
She said the resolution also shortened references in the resolution to "evolution by natural selection" to "evolution" because some members had misunderstood the reference to natural selection to be an attack on their religious beliefs.
Anti-Zionist Jews Brutally Beaten by Israelis
In The Name of God and Independence
September 24, 2007: In Pakistan, the Taliban are terrorizing, and murdering, pro-government tribesmen. That's a sign of desperation, because similar tactics in Afghanistan played into the governments hands. But in Pakistan, the Taliban believe their own propaganda, that they are on a mission from God, and anything goes. Some tribes have already turned against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The problem with the tribes is that government soldiers and police are just doing their job in fighting the tribesmen. But for the tribes, fighting the government is their profession, and major goal in their lives. While tribesmen may dislike the Taliban, they dislike increased government control even more. This is always a major issue in the endless negotiations army officers and government officials have with tribal elders.
September 23, 2007: In eastern India, Maoist rebels made several attacks, in response to police arrests of Maoist leaders recently, and to enforce a 24 hour strike.
September 22, 2007: In Pakistan, the Taliban released 25 of 250 soldiers captured in an ambush four weeks ago. The ambush is believed to have been carried out with the help of pro-Taliban soldiers. A number of the Pushtun soldiers (about 12 percent of the army) have been found to be Islamic radicals and pro-terrorist. The group that is holding the captive soldiers is demanding the release of arrested Taliban, and the withdrawal of the army from three bases in Waziristan. In the same area, a suicide car bomber attacked an army convoy, damaging one army truck and killing the suicide bomber.
September 21, 2007: In Bangladesh, Islamic radicals held demonstrations in the capital to protest cartoons in local magazines. The cartoons were interpreted by some Islamic conservatives as being insulting to Islam. But the main reason for the demonstrations is to try and break down the power of the caretaker military government, which is trying to organize new elections. The problem with that is the two main political parties are mired in corruption. So whoever gets elected will resume the stealing and patronage appointments that have impoverished the country and made the government ineffective. A minority backs the Islamic radicals, who call for a religious dictatorship, and promise to abolish corruption.
September 20, 2007: Osama bin Laden has now come out and openly called for rebellion against the Pakistani government. The Pushtun tribes along the Afghan border have always been in rebellion against the government, but this fight is mainly about Taliban control of some areas along the border. These areas are being used as terrorist bases, for attacks on Afghanistan, and for training terrorists for world-wide operations.
September 19, 2007: In Pakistan's northwest tribal regions, pro-Taliban tribesmen are attacking the army checkpoints that are restricting movement of terrorists. Over fifty troops and Taliban have died in these battles over the last few days. Most of this fighting is in the Waziristan, where the Taliban are strongest. Normally, most of the government troops in the area are from the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary organization belonging to the Interior Ministry and recruited locally. These men often have divided loyalties, and cannot always be depended to fighting against tribal, or Taliban, militias.
Military probes atheist GI’s harassment claimsSoldier alleges mistreatment by officers, peers while serving in Iraq
TOPEKA, Kan. - Military officials in Iraq are investigating allegations that an Army specialist is being harassed for being an atheist but said Saturday that they cannot find an officer the soldier has named in a federal lawsuit.
Spc. Jeremy Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit against Maj. Paul Welborne and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, this past week. It alleges that Welborne threatened to pursue military charges against Hall and to block his reenlistment because he was trying to hold a meeting of atheists and non-Christians in Iraq.
The suit also alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs.
On Friday, Mikey Weinstein, the foundation's founder and president, released to The Associated Press copies of e-mails from Hall in which the soldier said he had been harassed and threatened on blogs with being killed by friendly fire for filing the lawsuit.
Lt. Col. James Hutton, a spokesman for the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq, said in a statement from Iraq on Saturday that the Army was investigating Hall's situation. But he added: "Several media reports list a person named Maj. Paul Welborne as having been involved in this situation. To date, we have not located any soldier by that name."
In responding to the lawsuit, a Pentagon spokesman said the military does value and respect religious freedoms, but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.
Hall, who is serving with the 97th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Riley, Kan., has been in Iraq since 2006, on his second tour.
‘I might be harmed or worse’
Hall wrote in a series of e-mails to Weinstein that he feared for his safety after being "hallchecked" — being shoved against the wall in a hallway — by fellow soldiers who objected to his lawsuit. Bloggers on the Internet have also referred to "fragging" Hall, or killing him by friendly fire.
"I hope I am not the victim of a hate crime while I sleep tonight. I do not want to die for my country this way," wrote Hall, who said a non-commissioned officer was threatening to beat him. "I'm doing my best right now. But I am still afraid that I might be harmed or worse."
Weinstein said Saturday that the issue was not locating Welborne, noting the incidents alleged in the lawsuit occurred in July and August and the major may have left Iraq since then. Instead, he said, the military must find the soldiers who are threatening Hall and prosecute them under military law.
"We're talking about stuff that happened 36 hours ago. If they can't find the people who have been harassing Jeremy, we will," Weinstein said. "This isn't that hard to do.
"If one hair on Hall's head is touched, there will be hell to pay," Weinstein said.
In the lawsuit, Hall said that his free speech and religious rights were violated a year ago when he sat down with soldiers to eat a Thanksgiving holiday dinner. When asked to join hands and pray, Hall declined, but sat as the other soldiers prayed over the food. A sergeant asked why he would not pray and Hall told him he was an atheist, meaning he does not believe in God.
The sergeant demanded that Hall move to another table and not sit with the other soldiers. Hall said he stayed and ate without speaking to the others.
Challenges to Hall’s beliefs
In July, Hall said he walked away from soldiers in his unit when a colonel wanted them to pray before they went on a mission in the city of Kirkuk.
The lawsuit names Gates as a defendant and alleges he permits a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations, including providing personnel and equipment.
It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism, placing of religious symbols on military equipment and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.
Some postings on military-related blogs have been critical of Hall, with some people wondering how atheists can claim religious freedom if they practice no sanctioned faith.
One individual, posting under the name "Hidog," suggested Hall put on an orange vest and carry a sign "Bong hits 4 Allah" through the streets of Iraq, "because apparently, your Bill of Rights trump your CO's (commanding officer's) orders."
But others said the U.S. Constitution protects "freedom from religion," and defended Hall, adding that they were glad he spoke up against the pressures from some Christians.
Vitter earmarked federal money for creationist groupPosted by Bill Walsh, Washington bureau September 22, 2007 9:10PM
WASHINGTON -- Sen. David Vitter, R-La., earmarked $100,000 in a spending bill for a Louisiana Christian group that has challenged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public school system and to which he has political ties.
The money is included in the labor, health and education financing bill for fiscal 2008 and specifies payment to the Louisiana Family Forum "to develop a plan to promote better science education."
The earmark appears to be the latest salvo in a decades-long battle over science education in Louisiana, in which some Christian groups have opposed the teaching of evolution and, more recently, have pushed to have it prominently labeled as a theory with other alternatives presented. Educators and others have decried the movement as a backdoor effort to inject religious teachings into the classroom.
The nonprofit Louisiana Family Forum, launched in Baton Rouge in 1999 by former state Rep. Tony Perkins, has in recent years taken the lead in promoting "origins science," which includes the possibility of divine intervention in the creation of the universe.
The group's stated mission is to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking." Until recently, its Web site contained a "battle plan to combat evolution," which called the theory a "dangerous" concept that "has no place in the classroom." The document was removed after a reporter's inquiry.
Vitter, Forum have ties
The group's tax-exempt status prohibits the Louisiana Family Forum from political activity, but Vitter has close ties to the group. Dan Richey, the group's grass-roots coordinator, was paid $17,250 as a consultant in Vitter's 2004 Senate race. Records also show that Vitter's campaign employed Beryl Amedee, the education resource council chairwoman for the Louisiana Family Forum.
The group has been an advocate for the senator, who was elected as a strong supporter of conservative social issues. When Vitter's use of a Washington, D.C., call-girl service drew comparisons last month to the arrest of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in what an undercover officer said was a solicitation for sex in an airport men's room, Family Forum Executive Director Gene Mills came to Vitter's defense.
In a video clip the group posted on the Internet site YouTube, Mills said the two senators' situations are far different. "Craig is denying the allegations," he said. "Vitter has repented of the allegations. He sought forgiveness, reconciliation and counseling."
Vitter's office said it is not surprising that people he employed would also do work for Louisiana Family Forum, which shares his philosophical outlook. He said the education earmark was meant to offer a broad array of views in the public schools.
"This program helps supplement and support educators and school systems that would like to offer all of the explanations in the study of controversial science topics such as global warming and the life sciences," Vitter said in a written statement.
The money in the earmark will pay for a report suggesting "improvements" in science education in Louisiana, the development and distribution of educational materials and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Ouachita Parish School Board's 2006 policy that opened the door to biblically inspired teachings in science classes.
"I believe it is an important program," Vitter said.
Critics said taxpayer money should not go to support a religion-based program.
"This is a misappropriation of public funds," said Charles Kincade, a civil rights lawyer in Monroe who has been involved in church-state cases. "It's a backdoor attempt to push a religious agenda in the public school system."
Group has history
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a Christian conservative defeated for re-election in 2004, attempted to open the door for such money when he inserted language into a report accompanying the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act enabling teachers to offer "the full range of scientific views" when "topics that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution)" are taught.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Louisiana law that would have required schools to teach creationist theories, which hold that God created the universe, whenever evolution was taught. In 2002, the Louisiana Family Forum unsuccessfully sought to persuade the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to insert a five-paragraph disclaimer in all of its science texts challenging the natural science view that life came about by accident and has evolved through the process of natural selection.
The group notched a victory last year when the Ouachita School Board adopted a policy that, without mentioning the Bible or creationism, gave teachers leeway to introduce other views besides those contained in traditional science texts.
"Many of our educators feel inadequate to address the controversies," said Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum.
Mills said that his group didn't request the money in the 2008 appropriations bill, and that Vitter's proposal "was a bit of a surprise."
Mills said his group is not attempting to push the teaching of evolution out of the schools, but wants to supplement it. Yet, some of the material posted on the Louisiana Family Forum's Web site suggests a more radical view.
Among other things, a "Louisiana Family Forum Fact Sheet" at one point included "A Battle Plan -- Practical Steps to Combat Evolution" by Kent Hovind, a controversial evangelist who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for tax offenses and obstruction of justice.
Hovind's paper stated, "Evolution is not a harmless theory but a dangerous religious belief" that underpinned the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Looking deeper urged
"I've got so much stuff on the Web site I don't know what's there," Mills said. "We think that in order to teach controversial topics successfully, you have to teach both sides."
The group's "Evolution Addendum for Public Schools," also posted on the Web site, offers a flavor of its concerns. The document rejects the evolutionary connection between apes and humans, questions the standard explanation of fossil formation and seeks to undercut the prevailing scientific view that life emerged from a series of chemical reactions.
"Under ideal conditions, the odds of that many amino acids coming together in the right order are approximately the same as winning the Power Ball Lotto every week for the next 640 years," it states. "How could this have happened accidentally?"
Kincade, the Monroe lawyer, said Vitter's and Louisiana Family Forum's motives are not benign.
"What you have to do is look below the surface," said Kincade, who holds an undergraduate degree in physics and has been active in legal cases in which religious groups challenge science instruction. "It frames the issue in a way that appeals to America's sense of fair play. The problem is, except for fringe people, evolution is an accepted fact of science. It is not a hotly contested issue. The general concept of natural selection and evolution is settled and beyond dispute. To suggest otherwise is misleading. They are trying to backdoor creationism."
Vitter's appropriation was contained in a database compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit group seeking to reduce the number of earmarks in federal legislation. Earlier this year, Congress agreed for the first time to begin linking specially requested earmarks to the names of their sponsors. Taxpayers for Common Sense has compiled thousands of them into searchable databases.
Vitter said the financing request was submitted earlier this year and "was evaluated on its merit." But Steve Ellis, of the taxpayers' group, said most earmarks are not vetted by anyone except the member requesting it.
"Using an earmark to dictate that the Louisiana Family Forum receive the funding to develop a science education program ironically ignores a hallmark of scientific research, making decisions on the basis of competitive, empirical research," Ellis said.
The appropriations bill is awaiting Senate action.
Bill Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7817.
1st amendment is in the constitution, right?
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
Minister urges suffocating flock to wait for Christ, resulting in thirty deaths"An evangelist minister urged his suffocating followers to stay with him in a church and 'feel the presence of the Lord' as toxic fumes took thirty lives, including his own...The three survivors (who had fled in time) described a macabre scene as the minister, identified as Ramon Almazan, urged people to stay calm as they began to choke on the fumes (from a faulty butane lamp) and vomit or faint. "Let Christ come in and stay with us, do not be afraid," he was quoted as saying as his own daughter slumped to the floor."
The Geography of Disbelief
Ali G- Religion
Mupet Pulp Fiction
A Perfect Circle - Passive
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.