#0062 RRS Newsletter for October 14, 2007

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Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or suggestions you can reach me directly HERE. Or on Myspace HERE.
Stay rational,
and the RRS MI team

Table of Contents

Click on a title to view the article.

Click HERE to find your local affiliate!

Rational Response Squad News

Looking for 50 good men, atheist activist call out!

RRS Affiliate News

Newest addition to the family, RRS Utah!

Science News

Second Greatest Toolmaker? A Title Crows Can Crow About Pluto-bound Spacecraft Sees Changes In Jupiter System Dusty Winds Bursting Out Of Black Holes May Have Seeded Planets, Life A Gene Divided Reveals The Details Of Natural Selection


Catholic schools feel fallout of Tory's idea BUSTUP IN BOUNTIFUL Vaccine-linked polio hits Nigeria Muslim scholars reach out to Pope


Vitter earmarked federal money for creationist group Al Gore, UN panel share Nobel for Peace AL GORE WINS NOBEL PEACE PRIZE. WILL HE RUN FOR PRESIDENT? Shiite leader backs Iraqi regional plan


Atheist Blood Drive Atheists for Autism Research Charity! Religious Victim of the day Greydon Square- Arrested??? Response to My Fellow “Atheists” by Sam Harris


Patton Oswalt - Christmas Shoes The Fibonacci in Lateralus Fox News Attacks "Godless" / Free Thought Radio The almost hilarious stupidity of Todd Friel

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Looking for 50 good men, atheist activist call out!

Disclaimer: The title of this blog is a parody of "a few good men." It is in no way meant to lessen the effectiveness of female activists.

In the last year I have received hundreds of emails and comments from people asking how they can help. My suggestion was always to use our forums and participate in the projects that you see come up from time to time on our forums. For those who are curious, most issues of importance come up in our alerts section. Here is a feed to our alerts section for your RSS reader

I have a new suggestion for those who want to help, and I've had recent success putting together a crew. Much of the work I do requires having not only knowledge of the issues we are working on but also advanced knowledge of the internet. Before I waste any more of your time, if you don't have at least 5 hours a week to help for a long period of time (like for at least a year) then you don't have the time to make it worth training you. Please don't take offense, I speak from experience, many have tried to keep up with me and they can't. I bust my ass behind closed doors, and feel like I need a total of 75 part time helpers to keep up with my level of activity. I've had past problems with getting helpers on board that took more time to train than the return on the training I received in work. Please keep this in mind, right now. If you aren't dedicated to helping with what may seem like menial tasks on a recurring basis, but are in effect responsible for big growth, please don't waste my time (by doing so, you may actually slow us down).

Because of time that I lost due to "training" people and along with security concerns, it may take a while to build my trust and the trust of our other volunteers. I am looking for dedicated helpers.

The ideal candidate is one who:
- will use skype.
- While not as mandatory as skype, you know how to access our chatroom and have a mic/cam.
- Can work at least 10 hours a week, hopefully more.
- Would be well versed in either video production, graphics editing, audio editing, drupal, and/or html.
- Can work independently
- Has a good idea on how to utilize internet to research issues.
- Writes well
- Dedicated to helping even if tasks seem small. (ie searching google, cutting and pasting info, data entry, etc...)

You need not have all qualities, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what we need. I am willing to work with all of you in a massive private skype area to work on specific projects to enhance our sites, draw in traffic, and work towards the progress we want to see made in the future.

If at any point we are able to develop paid roles for people, we would first pull them from this group of activists who will be putting in their time on a volunteer basis. Volunteers will receive special recognition and gifts when possible.

If you are serious about wanting a change, and you like how the RRS does it, this is your chance to work with me behind the scenes and make yourself feel better about making a big impact.

If you are interested, your first job is to get skype at www.skype.com. Please also feel free to bump this thread with your interest. In fact, if you don't have the time, just bumping this thread alone will be a help. It'll likely take me a year to build this crew, but when I do, it'll be a force to be reckoned with, that is for sure.

For those that have already been helping and don't have skype, please get it. We'll be using it more often to call on people to help, the instant a project comes up.

After you get skype search for "Brian Sapient." Do not call me, no microphone is attached to this computer, I can't answer. If you have never posted on our board and don't have someone we know that can vouch for you, please be prepared to take the slow track, including starting by posting on our message board. Basically we need to be able to be reasonably certain of who you are and your intentions before we ask for too much from you, I hope you understand.

If you even consider helping us in this sort of manner, please accept my thanks already.

Keep in mind that we currently manage multiple sites with the same name and password and hope to be bringing many more on in the future. Because of our support for Margaret Downey, we already have interest from two major atheist groups to merge. We are not opposed to helping to create the largest multi site atheist community in the world. And if we already are the largest multi site atheist community (I think we are), then we're willing to make it larger, and find the money to afford the server. Special thanks to Gizmo for footing the bill and spending tons of hours on our sites in the last few months.

RRS Network Sites
Your username/password will also work at these sites:
- Rational Response Squad
- Margaret Downey
- Atheist Volunteers
- Prayers To Jake
- Free Thinking Teens
- Ask the Atheist
- Mr. GAWN

Coming soon:

Sites that would come on board if we had the time to help integrate everything properly (requires 5 good coders with time whom can be trusted):

Sites that we could probably get, have expressed interest, or would show interest as a result of support for Margaret Downey:

Many other Atheist Alliance sites may be willing to come on board.

If you found this post long or boring, this volunteer task is likely not for you. This request for help will be posted elsewhere online. If you feel as if it'll make a difference, please feel free to redistribute. If you found this elsewhere and you want me to see your comment, please post it on my blog post version of this.

In Rationality,

Brian Sapient
Rational Response Squad

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Newest addition to the family, RRS Utah!

We have a new chapter as of Saturday, Rational Response Squad Utah is being run by long time supporter *iVY*. So if any readers out there are in that state, be sure to look her up! You can reach her on Myspace HERE! On behalf of the rest of us local affiliates, we welcome you, and I'm sure your chapter will be a great success in the land of the Mormons.

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Second Greatest Toolmaker? A Title Crows Can Crow About


THE cognitive ability to design, make, standardize and use tools is widely thought to be a hallmark of human society, exceeding the capacity even of chimpanzees, mankind's brightest primate relatives. But a biologist who has spent three years studying a breed of crows in South Pacific rain forests reports that the birds actually make tool kits to extract worms and other prey from holes in trees and dead wood.

The toolmaking ability of these crows, he believes, is superior to any observed in other nonhuman species.

All corvids, members of the crow genus, exhibit innate ability to solve many kinds of problems. But according to Gavin R. Hunt, a biologist at Massey University in Palmerston, New Zealand, one species is special: Corvus moneduloides of the New Caledonia island group 900 miles east of Australia.

In a paper published on Jan. 18 in the journal Nature, Mr. Hunt said he had observed that "crow tool manufacture had three features new to tool use in free-living nonhumans, and that only appeared in early human tool-using cultures after the Lower Paleolithic: a high degree of standardization, distinctly discrete tool types with definite imposition of form in tool shaping, and the use of hooks."

Claims by scientists to have detected highly intelligent behavior in animals are often challenged by skeptics, and Mr. Hunt said in an interview that he expected sharp questions from his peers.

In a comment published in the same issue of Nature, Dr. Christophe Boesch, a zoologist at the University of Basel, Switzerland, questioned whether the tools Mr. Hunt observed crows making and using are truly planned or are merely shaped by trial and error for specific tasks. Only if the shape of the tool is preconceived by its makers can the process be considered "by some to be the characteristic of the existence of culture," Dr. Boesch wrote.

But whether crow toolmaking is planned or not, he added, Mr. Hunt's "fascinating paper gives much food for thought and argument," showing at least that "tool use in birds is less stereotyped than previously thought."

A more positive assessment came from Dr. Randall L. Susman, an anatomist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who has extensively studied the anatomy and behavior of wild chimpanzees and other intelligent primates in the African wilderness.

"I'm not a psychologist," he said, "but if the birds Mr. Hunt has observed are actually shaping implements according to some plan, I'd call their activity cognitive. The only higher primates that make tools conforming to a preset template are human beings." Although chimpanzees use objects they find as tools, if they modify the objects at all, it is not according to any standardized pattern, he said.

During his research from 1992 to 1995 in four mountain rain forests of New Caledonia, Mr. Hunt watched moneduloides crows make and use two distinctly different types of tools, one of them hooked at one end, and the other made from a tapered piece of stiff leaf from the pandanus plant, with a barbed edge on one side.

To make hooked-twig tools, he said, the crows use their wide beaks to carefully pull a twig away from a branch using a "nipping cut" to create a distinct hook at the twig's end -- the end the bird inserts into holes. Holding the twigs with their claws and shaping them with their beaks, the crows remove leaves, carefully shape the hooks and trim off the bark to make their tools smooth.

A second type of tool manufactured by the crows uses pieces cut from the stiff, jagged-edged leaves of pandanus plants. In finished form, these tools resemble locksmiths' picks, tapered to points and with serrated barbs along one edge; Mr. Hunt calls them "stepped-cut tools." To make one, a crow takes successively deeper bites from the section of leaf while it is still attached to the plant, and then bites off the finished implement. When the pointed end is inserted into a hole, the natural barbs along the edge of the leaf point outward so that withdrawing the tool snags and pulls up the prey.

Moneduloides are small crows resembling European jackdaws. They have broad bills with which they grasp their two types of tools in different ways. The hooked twig is held at an angle to the bill and the crow moves its head from side to side to probe a hole. To use a stepped-cut tool, the crow holds it by the broad end with the tip pointing straight ahead. The bird probes holes with it by moving its head back and forth.

Mr. Hunt compared the lengths and number of stepped cuts in tools made by moneduloides crows in three different areas, and found significant differences among them, perhaps suggesting cultural differences among neighboring crow communities analogous to differences among early human societies in the ways they shaped stone spear points.

Moneduloides crows evidently value their tools and try to keep track of them, Mr. Hunt said. When crows change their foraging sites they generally take their tools with them, he said, and when crows eat they generally grasp their tools in their feet. Sometimes crows leave their tools on secure perches while searching distant hunting grounds, returning later to retrieve their hooked twigs or stepped-cut leaves.

One of the few animal users of tools is the woodpecker finch, or Camarhynchus pallidus, one of 14 distinctive species of Darwin finches that evolved in the Galapagos Islands and are named for their discoverer, Charles Darwin. But the woodpecker finch does not make its tools. It plucks needle-like thorns from local plants and without modifying them, it uses the thorns as picks to tease prey out of holes. The brown-headed nuthatch of the Eastern United States uses bits of bark to probe holes for food, Mr. Hunt said.

Crows and sea gulls sometimes open whelks and other shellfish by dropping them from a height on rocks, and sea otters use stones as tools to pound the shells of crabs and other prey held against their chests. But Mr. Hunt and many other scientists regard this as different from making tools.

In the wild, pygmy chimpanzees in East Africa modify stems or twigs to "fish" for termites in holes, Dr. Susman said, and in the Tai Forest of Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa during periods of drought and food shortage, he said, chimpanzees use stones to pound open hard nuts that are not normal components of their diet. But the shaping of stone nutcrackers by continued use appears to be accidental, with no plan in mind for making tools according to a standardized pattern, he said.

Nevertheless, the use of stones for cracking nuts seems to vary with different chimpanzee societies; on one side of the Sassandra River in Cote d'Ivoire, Dr. Susman said, the chimpanzees crack nuts with stones, and on the other side, they do not.

Chimpanzees in the wild modify leaves somewhat haphazardly to use as sponges and as umbrellas. Although this activity does not meet all the criteria for planned tool manufacture, Dr. Susman said, "there no longer seems to be a sharp dividing line between the cognitive behavior of apes and human beings." It may be, he said, that the distinctions between bird and human planned behavior has also been blurred; in any case, "humans are part of the continuum of animal cognition, not separate from it."

If New Caledonian crows intentionally modify their tools to specific shapes before using them, he said, their behavior is "qualitatively different from chimpanzees, and I'd call it cognitive."

Zoologists are revising traditional views of the relative importance of genes and learned behavior in young birds.

Experiments have shown, for example, that birds are born with an innate ability to sing the songs of their species, but that young birds need the examples provided by their elders to master the fine points of avian melody; a laboratory bird raised in isolation from others of its species never becomes expert in the songs of its race.

Mr. Hunt said that he had not noticed any evidence that moneduloides chicks learn the art of toolmaking from more experienced birds, but he was not able to investigate the question.

"One thing this kind of study does," he said, "is to impart a feeling of humility and greater respect for animal cognition."

Read the original story HERE!

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Pluto-bound Spacecraft Sees Changes In Jupiter System

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket This is a montage of New Horizons images of Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io, taken during the spacecraft's Jupiter flyby in early 2007. The Jupiter image is an infrared color composite taken by the spacecraft's near-infrared imaging spectrometer, the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) at 1:40 UT on Feb. 28, 2007. The infrared wavelengths used (red: 1.59 µm, green: 1.94 µm, blue: 1.85 µm) highlight variations in the altitude of the Jovian cloud tops, with blue denoting high-altitude clouds and hazes, and red indicating deeper clouds. The prominent bluish-white oval is the Great Red Spot. The observation was made at a solar phase angle of 75 degrees but has been projected onto a crescent to remove distortion caused by Jupiter's rotation during the scan. The Io image, taken at 00:25 UT on March 1st 2007, is an approximately true-color composite taken by the panchromatic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), with color information provided by the 0.5 µm ("blue") and 0.9 µm ("methane") channels of the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The image shows a major eruption in progress on Io's night side, at the northern volcano Tvashtar. Incandescent lava glows red beneath a 330-kilometer high volcanic plume, whose uppermost portions are illuminated by sunlight. The plume appears blue due to scattering of light by small particles in the plume. (Credit: NASA)

Science Daily The voyage of NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft through the Jupiter system earlier this year provided a bird’s-eye view of a dynamic planet that has changed since the last close-up looks by NASA spacecraft.

New Horizons passed Jupiter on Feb. 28, riding the planet’s gravity to boost its speed and shave three years off its trip to Pluto. It was the eighth spacecraft to visit Jupiter – but a combination of trajectory, timing and technology allowed it to explore details no probe had seen before, such as lightning near the planet’s poles, the life cycle of fresh ammonia clouds, boulder-size clumps speeding through the planet’s faint rings, the structure inside volcanic eruptions on its moon Io, and the path of charged particles traversing the previously unexplored length of the planet’s long magnetic tail.

“The Jupiter encounter was successful beyond our wildest dreams,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of NASA Headquarters, Washington. “Not only did it prove out our spacecraft and put it on course to reach Pluto in 2015, it was a chance for us to take sophisticated instruments to places in the Jovian system where other spacecraft couldn’t go, and to return important data that adds tremendously to our understanding of the solar system’s largest planet and its moons, rings and atmosphere.”

The New Horizons team presents its latest and most detailed analyses of that data today at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Orlando, Fla., and in a special section of the Oct. 12 issue of the journal Science. The section includes nine technical papers written by New Horizons team members and collaborators.

From January through June, New Horizons’ seven science instruments made more than 700 separate observations of the Jovian system – twice the activity planned at Pluto – with most of them coming in the eight days around closest approach to Jupiter. “We carefully selected observations that complemented previous missions, so that we could focus on outstanding scientific issues that needed further investigation,” says New Horizons Jupiter Science Team Leader Jeff Moore, of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “The Jupiter system is constantly changing and New Horizons was in the right place at the right time to see some exciting developments.”

Jovian weather was high on the list, as New Horizons’ visible light, infrared and ultraviolet remote-sensing instruments probed Jupiter’s atmosphere for data on cloud structure and composition. They saw clouds form from ammonia welling up from the lower atmosphere and heat-induced lighting strikes in the polar regions – the first polar lighting ever observed beyond Earth, demonstrating that heat moves through water clouds at virtually all latitudes across Jupiter. They made the most detailed size and speed measurements yet of “waves” that run the width of planet and indicate violent storm activity below. Additionally, New Horizons snapped the first close-up images of the Little Red Spot, a nascent storm about half the size of Jupiter’s larger Great Red Spot and about 70 percent of Earth’s diameter, gathering new information on storm dynamics.

Under a range of lighting and viewing angles, New Horizons also captured the clearest images ever of the tenuous Jovian ring system. In them, scientists spotted clumps of debris that may indicate a recent impact inside the rings, or some more exotic phenomenon; movies made from New Horizons images also offer an unprecedented look at ring dynamics, with the tiny inner moons Metis and Adrastea shepherding the materials around the rings. A search for smaller moons inside the rings – and possible new sources of the dusty material – found no bodies wider than a kilometer.

The mission’s investigations of Jupiter’s four largest moons focused on Io, the closest to Jupiter and whose active volcanoes blast tons of material into the Jovian magnetosphere (and beyond). New Horizons spied 11 different volcanic plumes of varying size, three of which were seen for the first time and one – a spectacular 200-mile-high eruption rising above the volcano Tvashtar – that offered an unprecedented opportunity to trace the structure and motion of the plume as it condensed at high altitude and fell back to the moon’s surface. In addition, New Horizons spotted the infrared glow from at least 36 Io volcanoes, and measured lava temperatures up to 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to many terrestrial volcanoes.

New Horizons’ global map of Io’s surface backs the moon’s status as the solar system’s most active body, showing more than 20 geological changes since the Galileo Jupiter orbiter provided the last close-up look in 2001. The remote imagers also kept watch on Io in the darkness of Jupiter’s shadow, noting mysterious glowing gas clouds above dozens of volcanoes. Scientists suspect that this gas helps to resupply Io’s atmosphere.

New Horizons' flight down Jupiter's magnetotail gave it an unprecedented look at the vast region dominated by the planet's strong magnetic field. Looking specifically at the fluxes of charged particles that flow hundreds of millions of miles beyond the giant planet, the New Horizons particle detectors saw evidence that tons of material from Io’s volcanoes move down the tail in large, dense, slow-moving blobs. By analyzing the observed variations in particle fluxes over a wide range of energies and scales, New Horizons scientists are exploring how the volcanic gases from Io are ionized, trapped and energized by Jupiter's magnetic field, then ultimately ejected from the system.

Designed, built and operated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., New Horizons lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in January 2006. The fastest spacecraft ever launched, it needed just 13 months to reach Jupiter. New Horizons is now about halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, more than 743 million miles (1.19 billion kilometers) from Earth. It will fly past Pluto and its moons in July 2015 before heading deeper into the Kuiper belt of icy rocky objects on the planetary frontier.

New Horizons is the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program of medium-class spacecraft exploration projects. Stern leads the mission and science team as principal investigator; APL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission team also includes Southwest Research Institute, Ball Aerospace Corporation, the Boeing Company, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stanford University, KinetX Inc. (navigation team), Lockheed Martin Corporation, University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Energy, and a number of other firms, NASA centers, and university partners.

Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by Johns Hopkins University.

Read the original story HERE!

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Dusty Winds Bursting Out Of Black Holes May Have Seeded Planets, Life

Science Daily The hit song that proclaimed, "All we are is dust in the wind," may have some cosmic truth to it. New findings from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that space dust -- the same stuff that makes up living creatures and planets -- was manufactured in large quantities in the winds of black holes that populated our early universe.

The findings are a significant new clue in an unsolved mystery: where did all the dust in the young universe originate?

"We were surprised to find what appears to be freshly made dust entrained in the winds that blow away from supermassive black holes," said Ciska Markwick-Kemper of the University of Manchester, U.K. Markwick-Kemper is lead author of a new paper appearing in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "This could explain where the dust came from that was needed to make the first generations of stars in the early universe."

Space dust is essential to the formation of planets, stars, galaxies and even life as we know it. The dust in our corner of the universe was piped out by dying stars that were once a lot like our sun. But, when the universe was less than a tenth of its present age of 13.7 billion years, sun-like stars hadn't been around long enough to die and make dust. So, what produced the precious substance back when the universe was just a toddler?

Theorists have long-postulated that short-lived, massive exploding stars, or supernovae, might be the source of this mysterious dust, while others have proposed that a type of energetic, growing supermassive black hole, called a quasar, could be a contributing factor. A quasar consists of a supermassive black hole surrounded by a dusty doughnut-shaped cloud that feeds it. Theoretically, dust could form in the outer portion of the winds that slowly blow away from this doughnut cloud.

"Quasars are like the Cookie Monster," said co-author Sarah Gallagher of the University of California at Los Angeles, who is currently a visiting astronomer at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. "They are messy eaters, and they can consume less matter than they spit out in the form of winds."

Nobody has found conclusive proof that either quasar winds or supernovae can create enough dust to explain what is observed in the early universe. Markwick-Kemper and her team decided to test the former theory and investigate a quasar, called PG2112+059, located in the center of a galaxy about 8 billion light-years way. Although this particular quasar is not located in the early universe, because it is closer, it is an easier target for addressing the question of whether quasars can make dust. The team used Spitzer's infrared spectrograph instrument to split apart infrared light from the quasar and look for signs of various minerals.

They found a mix of the ingredients that make up glass, sand, marble and even rubies and sapphires. While the mineral constituting glass was expected, the minerals for sand, marble and rubies were a surprise. Why? These minerals are not typically detected floating around galaxies, suggesting they could have been freshly formed in the winds rushing away from the quasar.

For instance, the ingredient that makes up sand, crystalline silicate, doesn't survive for long free-floating in space. Radiation from stars zaps the minerals back to an amorphous, glass-like state. The presence of crystalline silicate therefore suggests something -- possibly the quasars winds -- is churning out the newly made substance.

Markwick-Kemper and her team say the case of the missing dust is not firmly shut. They hope to study more quasars for further evidence of their dust-making abilities. Also, according to the astronomers, quasars may not be the only source of dust in the early universe. "Supernovae might have been more important for creating dust in some environments, while quasars were more important in others," said Markwick-Kemper. "For now, we are very excited to have identified the different species of dust in a quasar billions of light-years away."

Other authors of this paper include Dean Hines of the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo., and Jeroen Bouwman of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. Spitzer's infrared spectrograph was built by Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Its development was led by Jim Houck of Cornell.

Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope.

Read the original story HERE!

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A Gene Divided Reveals The Details Of Natural Selection

Science Daily In a molecular tour de force, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have provided an exquisitely detailed picture of natural selection as it occurs at the genetic level.

Writing Oct. 11, 2007 in the journal Nature, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Sean B. Carroll and former UW-Madison graduate student Chris Todd Hittinger document how, over many generations, a single yeast gene divides in two and parses its responsibilities to be a more efficient denizen of its environment. The work illustrates, at the most basic level, the driving force of evolution.

"This is how new capabilities arise and new functions evolve," says Carroll, one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists. "This is what goes on in butterflies and elephants and humans. It is evolution in action."

The work is important because it provides the most fundamental view of how organisms change to better adapt to their environments. It documents the workings of natural selection, the critical idea first posited by Charles Darwin where organisms accumulate random variations, and changes that enhance survival are "selected" by being genetically transmitted to future generations.

The new study replayed a set of genetic changes that occurred in a yeast 100 million or so years ago when a critical gene was duplicated and then divided its nutrient processing responsibilities to better utilize the sugars it depends on for food.

"One source of newness is gene duplication," says Carroll. "When you have two copies of a gene, useful mutations can arise that allow one or both genes to explore new functions while preserving the old function. This phenomenon is going on all the time in every living thing. Many of us are walking around with duplicate genes we're not aware of. They come and go."

In short, says Carroll, two genes can be better than one because redundancy promotes a division of labor. Genes may do more than one thing, and duplication adds a new genetic resource that can share the workload or add new functions. For example, in humans the ability to see color requires different molecular receptors to discriminate between red and green, but both arose from the same vision gene.

The difficulty, he says, in seeing the steps of evolution is that in nature genetic change typically occurs at a snail's pace, with very small increments of change among the chemical base pairs that make up genes accumulating over thousands to millions of years.

To measure such small change requires a model organism like simple brewer's yeast that produces a lot of offspring in a relatively short period of time. Yeast, Carroll argues, are perfect because their reproductive qualities enable study of genetic change at the deepest level and greatest resolution because researchers can produce and quickly count a large number of organisms. The same work in fruit flies, one of biology's most powerful models, would require "a football stadium full of flies" and years of additional work, Carroll explains.

"The process of becoming better occurs in very small steps. When compounded over time, these very small changes make one group of organisms successful and they out-compete others," according to Carroll.

The new study involved swapping out different regions of the yeast genome to assess their effects on the performance of the twin genes, as well as engineering in the gene from another species of yeast that had retained only a single copy.

"We retraced the steps of evolution," the Wisconsin biologist explains.

The work shows in great detail how the ancestral gene gained efficiency through duplication and division of labor.

"They became optimally connected in that job. They're working in cahoots, but together they are better at the job the ancestral gene held," Carroll says. "Natural selection has taken one gene with two functions and sculpted an assembly line with two specialized genes."

Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Read the original story HERE!

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Catholic schools feel fallout of Tory's idea

Louise Brown
Education Reporter

They offered prayers from the pulpit, lined up for Communion and brought to the altar a basket of gourds, which the priest used for magic tricks later.

And after the special Thanksgiving Mass Friday at St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish near Jane St. and Finch Ave., the students of St. Charles Garnier Catholic School walked back to class.

In Ontario's taxpayer-funded, historically enshrined and suddenly – again – controversial Catholic schools, church and class are never very far apart.

Father Daniel Mentesana pops by twice a week to teach prayers and hear Confession. The whole school goes to mass at least once a month, and takes religious education half an hour of every day.

But has Catholic-school funding lost favour with the public?

The Green Party, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and 70 per cent of readers in a recent Toronto Star poll have said they favour one blended, secular school system – and suggest it's time to pull the plug on Catholic funding.

In this bustling inner-city school where children hail from around the world, all 400 students are Catholic, and so are all 50 staff members; caretakers, secretaries, teachers.

"Because we are free to share our faith with students, we don't have to separate who we are from what we teach," said principal Linda Alonzi. "That's what makes Catholic schools so powerful."

That's also what has drawn fire during Ontario's current election campaign.

As voters argued over Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory's vow to fund private religious schools, the historic funding of Catholic schools got pulled into the debate, as it has from time to time since being written into the British North America Act of 1867.

Originally set up to be fair to Ontario's Catholic minority at a time when all schools were religious – mostly Protestant – Catholic schools have become the last public religious schools standing in a province where public schools have become secular. Now the schools set up to be fair to a Catholic minority are seen as unfair to Ontario's new religious minorities.

So while the original campaign hot potato was private religious school funding, it may be publicly funded Catholic schools that feel the political fallout after the polls close.

"All of a sudden politicians have opened a can of worms to attract votes – but all they've done is unify Catholic voters across the province to fight harder for our system," said Grade 6 teacher Mike Teggart of St. Charles Garnier.

"Our school system has been around for more than 140 years ... and if we weren't viable, we would have died out a long time ago."

It's not surprising Catholic teachers are feeling under siege, says Elaine MacNeil, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association.

"There's a fair bit of worry among teachers about what all this controversy might mean for us down the road, and our members do not support funding private schools," said MacNeil, who represents 36,000 teachers from kindergarten to Grade 12.

"We'll do whatever we have to do to protect our system from any challenge to our constitutional rights."

Catholic students are also feeling the political heat. At St. Charles Garnier, senior students say they'll fight to keep the Bible on their book list.

"Even the thought of making Catholic schools (the same as) public is preposterous and outrageous – we really need religion in our lives," says Nora Butris, 13.

Her Grade 8 class watched a recent election commercial on John Tory's vow to fund private faith-based schools, and then discussed the issue of Catholic education.

"Put all students of different religions in one building together?" asked Nora. "It would be like Jerusalem – religious wars.

Classmate Rohmel Andrew has attended both public and Catholic schools, and says although he likes the idea of everyone all together in one system, he would miss the religious element.

"In public schools you don't learn about God or Jesus and I think it's important to learn about how we came to be."

Ina Zaka says being around fellow Catholics "encourages me to be more Christianlike and be a role model to the younger kids."

What do younger students think about the differences between Catholic and public schools? In a visit to a Grade 3 class Friday, Ina listened in on a chorus of answers.

"Catholic schools mean you go to church – and you pray."

"Catholic schools don't let you wear a tank top or use bad language."

"At Catholic schools we learn about God – but public schools worship a different God."

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Police found money, cell phones and a donation jar in Seth Jeff's van.

Late October 2005, just off Interstate 25 in Pueblo, Colorado – 150 miles south of Denver, local police observe a late model SUV swerving through a stop sign.

The vehicle is stopped, its two occupants detained. Thirty-two-year-old Seth Jeffs is arrested for solicitation of a male prostitute. Nathaniel Steed Allred, twenty-seven, is arrested for prostitution when he admits that he had been paid $5,000 by Seth Jeffs for sexual services. Hidden inside the van police find a box containing $140,000 in cash, cell phones, $7,000 in prepaid credit cards. They also find a donation jar labeled 'Pennys For the Prophet.'

Upon further investigation police establish that the two men are couriers on a supply run to assist a fugitive named Warren Jeffs (see photo above), the self-proclaimed prophet and supreme leader of a polygamous sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The FLDS is a break-away Mormon splinter group that believes that if a man wants to find salvation, enter the celestial kingdom of God and possibly become a God himself, he needs at least three wives. It is rumored that Warren Jeffs has 50 wives.

Warren Jeffs is also on the FBI's
Most Wanted list
, a fugitive
who has been indicted on charges including two counts of sexual
assault with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with
a minor.

The 10,000-member FLDS church has been based in the twin cities
of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. The Canadian chapter
of the FLDS is located in a community named Bountiful, located just
outside Creston, British Columbia and headed by Winston Blackmore.

In 2003, the fifth estate's Hana Gartner
sat down with the then-Bishop of Bountiful in an exclusive interview
to talk about his life there, his 26 wives and 80 children, his
faith, and allegations of child brides and of abuse in the church's
chapter in Canada.

At the time, the picture Winston
painted of Bountiful
was of an idyllic, although secretive, existence. But, in three
years, Blackmore's world has changed dramatically. Long considered
a rival to Warren Jeffs, Blackmore was finally ex-communicated from
the FLDS church for questioning Jeffs' predictions that the
world was going to end. This split the Bountiful community into
two, those choosing to follow Winston Blackmore and those that remained
loyal to the new prophet, Warren Jeffs.

The split has turned brother against brother, sister against sister,
and ultimately family against family in Bountiful. Winston Blackmore
is clear who is responsible for the situation, Warren Jeffs. "He
has ruined our faith structure, he has ruined our marriage system.
He has ruined our educational values. It is almost hypocrisy to
consider that someone is the prophet, the president of a church
and they literally spoil and destroy their people."

WATCH the fifth estate ONLINE

Scenic in Bountiful, BC
Watch this story online.
REPORTER: Hana Gartner
PRODUCER: Oleh Rumak

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Vaccine-linked polio hits Nigeria

Nigeria is fighting a rare outbreak of a vaccine-derived form of polio, says the UN's World Health Organization.

It says 69 children in the north have caught the paralysing disease from others who had already been immunised.

The WHO says such rare outbreaks have occurred where immunisation campaigns did not reach enough of the population.

In 2003 Islamic leaders brought a temporary halt to the vaccine campaign in the north saying it was a Western conspiracy to sterilise Muslim women.

The WHO says this rare outbreak of vaccine-derived polio demonstrates the need for more vaccination, not less.

But the concern is that the cause of the outbreak could be misinterpreted by people here and reinforce their scepticism of the whole vaccine campaign.

Scare stories

The WHO says the outbreak occurred when some of those who had received the oral polio vaccine excreted a mutated form of the virus which infected those who were not immunised.

It says the outbreak is ongoing but slowing because of the continuing vaccination campaign, and the last reported case was in August.

The WHO says the outbreak occurred because not enough people were receiving the polio vaccine in the first place.

Northern Nigeria still has a low coverage rate for the vaccination campaign, a legacy of a temporary halt to the programme in 2003.

Those scare stories built on existing traditional scepticism of Western medicine.

But more recently the vaccination programme has made some progress.

Polio cases as a whole are down on last year, in part because of a new programme of polio victims accompanying immunisation teams to demonstrate to parents the risks of not having their children vaccinated.

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Muslim scholars reach out to Pope

More than 130 Muslim scholars have written to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders urging greater understanding between the two faiths.

The letter says that world peace could depend on improved relations between Muslims and Christians.

It identifies the principles of accepting only one god and living in peace with one's neighbours as common ground between the two religions.

It also insists that Christians and Muslims worship the same god.

The letter comes on the anniversary of an open letter issued to the Pope last year from 38 top Muslim clerics, after he made a controversial speech on Islam.

Pope Benedict sparked an uproar in September last year by quoting a medieval text which linked Islam to violence.

The letter coincides with the Eid al-Fitr celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan.

Koran and Bible

It was also sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the heads of the Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist churches, the Orthodox Church's Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and other Orthodox Patriarchs.

The letter, entitled A Common Word Between Us and You, compares passages in the Koran and the Bible, concluding that both emphasise "the primacy of total love and devotion to God", and the love of the neighbour.

With Muslims and Christians making up more than half the world's population, the letter goes on, the relationship between the two religious communities is "the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world".

"As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them - so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes," the letter says.

It adds: "To those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony."

One of the signatories, Dr Aref Ali Nayed, a senior adviser at the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme at Cambridge University, told the BBC that the document should be seen as a landmark.

"There are Sunnis, Shias, Ibadis and even the... Ismailian and Jaafari schools, so it's a consensus," he said.

Professor David Ford, director of the programme, said the letter was unprecedented.

"If sufficient people and groups heed this statement and act on it then the atmosphere will be changed into one in which violent extremists cannot flourish," he said in a statement.

The letter was signed by prominent Muslim leaders, politicians and academics, including the Grand Muftis of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Russia, Croatia, Kosovo and Syria, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt and the founder of the Ulema Organisation in Iraq.

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Vitter earmarked federal money for creationist group

Posted 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.

Read the original story HERE!

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Al Gore, UN panel share Nobel for Peace

By DOUG MELLGREN and MATT MOORE, Associated Press Writers

OSLO, Norway - Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change jointly won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for fighting it.

Gore, who won an Academy Award earlier this year for his film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," had been widely tipped to win the prize.

He said that global warming was not a political issue but a worldwide crisis.

"We face a true planetary emergency. ... It is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity," he said. "It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."

The win is also likely add further fuel to a burgeoning movement in the United States for Gore to run for president in 2008, which he has so far said he does not plan to do.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York said Gore probably enjoys being a public person more than an elected official.

"He seems happier and liberated in the years since his loss in 2000. Perhaps winning the Nobel and being viewed as a prophet in his own time will be sufficient," says Sherrill.

Two Gore advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to share his thinking, said the award will not make it more likely that he will seek the presidency. If anything, the Peace Prize makes the rough-and-tumble of a presidential race less appealing to Gore, they said, because now he has a huge, international platform to fight global warming and may not want to do anything to diminish it.

One of the advisers said that while Gore is unlikely to rule out a bid in the coming days, the prospects of the former vice president entering the fray in 2008 are "extremely remote."

In its citation, the committed lauded Gore's "strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted."

Ole Danbolt Mjoes, chairman of the prize committee, said the award should not be seen as singling out the Bush administration for criticism.

"A peace prize is never a criticism of anything. A peace prize is a positive message and support to all those champions of peace in the world."

Bush abandoned the Kyoto Protocol because he said it would harm the U.S. economy and because it did not require immediate cuts by countries like China and India. The treaty aimed to put the biggest burden on the richest nations that contributed the most carbon emissions.

The U.S. Senate voted against mandatory carbon reductions before the Kyoto negotiations were completed. The treaty was never presented to the Senate for ratification by the Clinton Administration.

"Al Gore has fought the environment battle even as vice president," Mjoes said. "Many did not listen ... but he carried on."

Gore supporters have been raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for petition drives and advertising in an effort to lure him into the Democratic presidential primaries. One group, Draftgore.com, ran a full-page open letter to Gore in Wednesday's New York Times, imploring him to get into the race.

Gore, 59, has been coy, saying repeatedly he's not running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, without ever closing that door completely.

He was the Democratic nominee in 2000 and won the general election popular vote. However, Gore lost the electoral vote to George W. Bush after a legal challenge to the Florida result that was decided by the Supreme Court.

Gore called the award meaningful because of his co-winner, calling the IPCC the "world's pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis."

Gore said he planned to donate his share of the prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that is devoted to changing public opinion in the U.S. and around the world about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

The last American to win the prize, or share it, was former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who won it 2002.

The committee cited the IPCC for its two decades of scientific reports that have "created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over 100 countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming."

It went on to say that because of the panel's efforts, global warming has been increasingly recognized. In the 1980s it "seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent."

"It was a surprise," said Carola Traverso Saibante, spokeswoman for the IPCC. "We would have been happy even if (Gore) had received it alone because it is a recognition of the importance of this issue."

But some questioned the prize decision.

"Awarding it to Al Gore cannot be seen as anything other than a political statement. Awarding it to the IPCC is well-founded," said Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist."

He criticized Gore's film as having "some very obvious mistakes, like the argument that we're going to see six meters of sea-level rise," he said.

"They (Nobel committee) have a unique platform in getting people's attention on this issue, and I regret they have used it to make a political statement."

This year, climate change has been at the top of the world agenda. The U.N. climate panel has been releasing its reports; talks on a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate are set to resume; and on Europe's northern fringe, where the awards committee works, concern about the melting Arctic has been underscored by this being the International Polar Year.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said the prize would help to continue the globally growing awareness of climate change.

"Their contributions to the prevention of climate change have raised awareness all over the world. Their work has been an inspiration for politicians and citizens alike," he said in a statement.

In recent years, the Norwegian committee has broadened its interpretation of peacemaking and disarmament efforts outlined by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel in creating the prize with his 1895 will. The prize now often also recognizes human rights, democracy, elimination of poverty, sharing resources and the environment.

"We believe that the Nobel Committee has shown great courage by so clearly connecting the climate problems with peace," said Truls Gulowsen, head of environmental group Greenpeace Norway.

The Nobel Prizes each bestow a gold medal, a diploma and a $1.5 million cash prize on the winner.

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Shiite leader backs Iraqi regional plan

By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD - The son and heir apparent of Iraq's top Shiite politician came out strongly Saturday in favor of autonomy for Iraq's religiously and ethnically divided regions, a potentially explosive issue on Iraq's already highly polarized political landscape.

Ammar al-Hakim, who is being groomed to take over the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the country's largest Shiite party, has been a firm supporter of federalism from the outset. But his unusually strident language appeared to signal growing impatience with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's inaction on key issues and his failure to bring fractured groups together.

Addressing hundreds of supporters at the party's Baghdad headquarters, al-Hakim called on Iraqis to press ahead with the creation of self-rule regions, but cautioned that the country's unity must be safeguarded.

"Federalism is one way to accomplish this goal," he said.

He said Baghdad's monopoly of power over decision-making and national wealth had turned the central government into a "tyrannical and dominating" body.

"I call on the sons of our nation to create their (self-rule) regions," al-Hakim said.

The idea of breaking up Iraq into self-rule entities has gained traction in Washington after two lawmakers — Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. — proposed giving more control to ethnically and religiously divided regions.

A nonbinding resolution to that effect won Senate approval last month, but Republicans supported it only after the measure was amended to make clear that President Bush should press for a new federalized system only if the Iraqis wanted it.

Al-Maliki and other Iraqi politicians denounced the decision as an infringement on Iraq's sovereignty. But President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and firm proponent of federalism, praised the resolution, saying it cemented Iraq's unity and opposed its breakup.

Al-Hakim is the son of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the Supreme Council leader who was diagnosed with cancer in May and has been receiving chemotherapy treatment in Iran.

The younger al-Hakim delivered the remarks in a sermon commemorating the start of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. His father, the organization's patriarch, greeted well-wishers at the ceremony but did not address the crowd.

The Supreme Council has been a staunch backer of federalism and wants the country's mainly Shiite and oil-rich south become a self-rule region similar to that established 16 years ago by minority Kurds in northern Iraq.

The Iraqi constitution, adopted two years ago, provides for a federal system. A year ago, parliament pushed through a law allowing the formation of federal regions but not for 18 months.

Regardless, federal regions cannot be formed before nationwide elections are first held for local councils. Those councils will decide on seeking union with other provinces to form a federal region. No date has been set for the vote because parliament has yet to pass legislation on the organization of local elections.

The law is one of several Washington has been pressing al-Maliki's government to push through parliament to enhance reconciliation. Others would ensure equitable distribution of oil wealth and reinstatement of Saddam Hussein loyalists in government jobs.

Al-Maliki has failed to achieve progress on the wanted legislation despite a major eight-month-old security drive in Baghdad and surrounding regions that was launched in part to give him the room he needs to make political compromises.

The joint U.S.-Iraqi operation has reduced the level of violence but failed to stem it altogether. On Saturday, a spokesman said Iraqi forces clashed with suspected al-Qaida-linked insurgents during a four-day operation in a Sunni enclave in central Baghdad.

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman, said 48 gunmen were killed in the fighting, in which Iraqi army soldiers were supported by local Sunni tribesmen and other civilians who have turned against al-Qaida in the volatile Fadhil neighborhood.

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saturday, however, saw Iraq's civilian death toll fall to its lowest level in recent memory, with only four people killed or found dead nationwide, according to reports from police, morgue officials and credible witnesses.

The daily number of civilians killed, not including those on days when there were massive casualties from car bombings, had climbed above 100 at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007.

Still, security is the main concern in Iraq, more than four years after the U.S. invasion, but the question of federalism is potentially explosive and could deepen the sectarian divide.

Iraq's once-dominant Sunni Arabs, for example, fear that it would lead to the country's breakup into a Shiite south and a Kurdish north, both with considerable oil wealth, leaving Sunnis the resource-poor central region. They see the creation of an autonomous region in the south as a scheme engineered by Shiite, non-Arab Iran to gain a permanent foothold in Iraq.

But not all of Iraq's majority Shiites back autonomy.

The Sadrists, a parliamentary bloc loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, are flatly opposed to it, while others, like al-Maliki's Dawa Party, warn that federalism could deepen Iraq's security and sectarian woes if implemented soon.

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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.

Click HERE to get more info on this important project!

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Atheists for Autism Research Charity!

Check these guys out, and donate if you can!

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Religious Victim of the day

Babies die because of religious ritual

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and municipal health officials met recently with local ultra-Orthodox leaders to discuss banning mohelim (ritual circumcisers) from performing the Talmudic custom known as metzitzah b'peh (oral suction), in which blood is drawn from the circumcision wound to cleanse it. The New York Times reported on August 26 that this practice became a health issue after three infants circumcised by the same mohel were infected with the herpes virus. One of the babies subsequently died.

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Greydon Square- Arrested???

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Response to My Fellow “Atheists”

As several prominent atheists have now criticized the speech I gave at the Atheist Alliance conference in DC—without, apparently, understanding it—I thought I would take a moment to clarify the point I was making about the use of the term “atheist.”

Is it really possible that PZ Myers and Ellen Johnson think I was recommending that we stop publicly criticizing religion or that I am hiding my own atheism out of “shame and fear”? I would not have thought such a misreading was possible, given the contents of my speech and my rather incessant criticism of religion in my books, articles, and lectures. 

My point, with respect to the term “atheist” (or any other), is that the use of a label invites a variety of misunderstandings that are harmful to our cause. There are many people in this country who do not believe in God and who understand that there is conflict between science and religion, but who do not feel the slightest inclination to join an atheist group or to label themselves in opposition to religion. These people are “atheists” by any measure, but you will never meet them at one of our conventions. They have read the writings of the “new atheists,” sent us letters and emails of support, are quite fond of criticizing religion whenever the opportunity arises, but they have no interest whatsoever in joining a cult of such critics. And there is something cult-like about the culture of atheism. In fact, much of the criticism I have received of my speech is so utterly lacking in content that I can only interpret it as a product of offended atheist piety.

Here is a way of separating my position from those of my fellow atheists who insist that there is power in a label. Let’s call it the “press conference test”:

Imagine President Bush announcing his veto of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research at a White House press conference. A reporter for a major television network can ask one of the following questions. Which would you choose to best strike a blow against religious ignorance in this country?

1. Mr. President, what rational basis is there to worry about the fate of three-day-old human embryos? These embryos do not have nerve cells, much less the nervous systems they would need to suffer their destruction on any level. Your veto, frankly, seems insane to any educated person, and it is painfully obvious that it was the product of religious metaphysics and superstition—not science or morality. Do you ever worry that you may be dangerously misled by your religious beliefs? What can you say to the tens of millions of Americans whose suffering will be needlessly prolonged by your faith-based thinking?

2. Mr. President, as an atheist, let me ask what rational basis is there to worry about the fate of three-day-old human embryos? These embryos don’t have nerve cells, much less the nervous systems they would need to suffer their destruction on any level. Your veto, frankly, seems insane to millions of atheists in this country, and it is painfully obvious that it was the product of religious metaphysics and superstition—not science or morality. Do you ever worry that you are failing to represent the interests of millions of atheists who also vote, or that you may be dangerously misled by your religious beliefs? What can you say to the tens of millions of Americans whose suffering will be needlessly prolonged by your faith-based thinking?

Which question would you like to see asked on the evening news? To my mind, (1) is clearly better than (2). Much better. And yet, many atheists are behaving as though they prefer (2). They seem to believe that our goal, as advocates of reason, will be best served by our using the term “atheist” without concern for its associations, thereby removing its stigma. They believe that announcing ourselves as a constituency in increasingly visible ways is the best strategy for success. Well, all I can say is that question (1) would probably have the support of 200 million Americans today. Question (2), while virtually identical in content, would likely alienate 180 million of these people.  What is more, if we ever succeed in marginalizing beliefs in invisible gods and magic books, question (2) will seem utterly anachronistic.

So pick your strategy.

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Patton Oswalt - Christmas Shoes

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The Fibonacci in Lateralus

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Fox News Attacks "Godless" / Free Thought Radio

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The almost hilarious stupidity of Todd Friel

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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!!!