#0063 RRS Newsletter for October 17, 2007
Table of ContentsClick on a title to view the article.
Priest accused of molestation, is put on leave
Church knew of allegations against volunteer facing sex charges
Sex, lies and videotape: turmoil at the Vatican
Sex abuse by nuns: the unknown story
Submitted by Sapient on Mon, 2007-10-15 10:15.
I'm in a rush, but I just wanted to tell you that the November issue of Radar Magazine has a three page story on us. You can head to Borders Books around the country today to pick up the issue, consider calling in advance to double check. Barnes and Noble stocks Radar, but both stores we visited still had last issue, and the computer didn't think they'd get it for another month. We think that was an error due to the fact that Radar was previously bi-monthly. Another user reports that his Barnes and Noble stocks it.
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Submitted by Sapient on Sun, 2007-10-14 03:50.
I stumbled upon a funny video tonight while cow tipping Way of the Master on the interwebs.
I think the creator supports us with the portrayal of the very rational question posed and the subtext "Rational Response Squad." I believe the editor of the video is someone who abandoned deism for atheism on a myspace group I was in regularly about a year ago. Nevertheless the South Park segment itself is hilarious. Funny rename of Way of the Retard... "Banana Design Squad."
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The Newest Push Against Way of the Master
Over the next few weeks we'll be helping to inform the public like never before of the incredible hypocrisy, dishonest, and craptastic tactics of Way of the Master.
If you dislike the tactics, ignorance, and dishonesty that exudes from the banana boys (Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort, Todd Friel) please repost this message or download the promo video and upload it to your video sharing account (link to your youtube acct). You can also embed this video on your myspace page for a few days to help raise awareness. www.wotmwatchdog.org is filled with content that exposes the crew.
The current lead post at www.wotmwatchdog.org has exclusive, never answered questions by Brian Sapient as to the true goings on, behind the scenes before the infamous "Nightline Debate" in May with Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort vs. Brian Sapient and Kelly.
Here is the promo video:
Direct link to youtube video (upload your vid as a response to this one)
PLEASE COMMENT, FAVORITE, RATE THAT VIDEO!
The actual behind the scenes video can't be shown to you here, because myspace censors the company that is hosting it. Like we said... the exclusive video is at www.wotmwatchdog.org, here.
MORE MIND NUMBING EXPOSES COMING SHORTLY AT WOTMWATCHDOG.ORG!
(Editorial note: One of the members here in Michigan had this to say upon seeing this bulletin on Myspace,
"How can you win against someone who says they can SCIENTIFICALLY prove there's a God by saying, "See that building? Someone had to make it, so there must be a builder for anything. Therefor there must be a God. It's science."
"... Excuse me sir, that's not scientific as it provides no empirical evidence to support it's claim."
"And furthermore, if there must be a creator, then who created God?"
"No see, cuz God is magic, and he doesn't live in this sphere of time and space."
It's a brilliant argument, and I've got no defense against it.
[End sarcasm sequence]" )
Other new developements
OTHER HOT ISSUES:
Brian Sapient blogs about heading to Borders to pick up Radar Magazine.
Some behind the scenes details about the in production documentary about the Rational Response Squad is here. (includes videos)
If you don't receive a confirmation email, make sure to check your junk mail folder and allow us as a sender. Send us an email if all else fails.
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.
Eighty million years without sexThe mystery of how an animal has survived for 80 million years without sex has been solved by UK scientists.
A Cambridge team says the creature owes its existence to a genetic quirk that offers some recompense for its prolonged celibacy.
Many asexual organisms have died out because they cannot adapt to changes in the natural world.
But an evolutionary trick allows this pond-dweller to survive when conditions change, researchers report in Science.
The animal is a tiny invertebrate known as a bdelloid rotifer. It lives in freshwater pools. If deprived of water, it survives in a desiccated state until water becomes available again.
The secret to this novel survival mechanism lies in a twist of asexual reproduction, whereby the animal is able to make two separate proteins from two different copies of a key gene.
Dr Alan Tunnacliffe, from the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge, who led the research, said his team had been able to show for the first time that gene copies in asexual animals can have different functions.
"It's particularly exciting that we've found different, but complementary, functions in genes which help bdelloid rotifers survive desiccation," he explained.
"Evolution of gene function in this way can't happen in sexual organisms, which means there could be some benefit to millions of years without sex after all."
The researchers discovered that two copies of a particular gene, known as LEA, in the asexual pond-dweller are different - giving rise to proteins with separate functions that protect the animal during dehydration.
One copy stops other essential protein molecules from clumping together as the animal dries out, while the second copy helps to maintain the fragile membranes that surround the creature's cells.
Humans and most other types of organism reproduce sexually. The union of sperm and eggs results in two copies (or a pair) of genetic instructions within a cell, one copy inherited from each parent.
This produces two nearly identical copies of each gene in each cell, and therefore two nearly identical proteins.
The "re-shuffling" of genetic material over many generations allows sexual animals to adapt to changes in their natural environment.
In contrast, many asexual organisms have died out because their rigid genetic make-up means they are unable to adapt in this way.
The latest discovery explains why the bdelloids have likely escaped this fate with their mechanism for generating genetic diversity in the absence of sexual reproduction.
The study reported in Science magazine was conducted on a species of bdelloid rotifer known as Adineta ricciae.
Deep Sea Discoveries Off Canada's East Coast
Science Daily — Researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Memorial University of Newfoundland took part in an exciting survey of unexplored depths of the Atlantic Ocean during a three-week mission in July 2007. Deep water corals were a primary focus of the research.
Researchers onboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Hudson surveyed deep water animal life off the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland using an underwater robot known as ROPOS (Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science). With ROPOS, they collected samples and images at depths of 2,500 metres; and transmitted live underwater video footage to researchers at various land locations.
The mission revealed that life in these waters is much more diverse than previously realized. Researchers captured over 3,000 high quality photographs that displayed this diversity, including an octopus with large fins near its eyes, known as "Dumbo," a potentially new species of scallop, and a single-celled organism previously unknown in this region.
Research based on the mission’s findings will continue for the next year at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and its partner universities. The role of the newly discovered species in the marine food chain will be one of the prime areas of study; findings could also have implications for conservation efforts and medicine.
More images are available at
Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by Fisheries And Oceans Canada.
Dawn Of Animal Vision Discovered
Science Daily — By peering deep into evolutionary history, scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara have discovered the origins of photosensitivity in animals.
The scientists studied the aquatic animal Hydra, a member of Cnidaria, which are animals that have existed for hundreds of millions of years. The authors are the first scientists to look at light-receptive genes in cnidarians, an ancient class of animals that includes corals, jellyfish, and sea anemones.
"Not only are we the first to analyze these vision genes (opsins) in these early animals, but because we don't find them in earlier evolving animals like sponges, we can put a date on the evolution of light sensitivity in animals," said David C. Plachetzki, first author and a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara. The research was conducted with a National Science Foundation dissertation improvement grant.
"We now have a time frame for the evolution of animal light sensitivity. We know its precursors existed roughly 600 million years ago," said Plachetzki.
Senior author Todd H. Oakley, assistant professor of biology at UCSB, explained that there are only a handful of cases where scientists have documented the very specific mutational events that have given rise to new features during evolution.
Oakley said that anti-evolutionists often argue that mutations, which are essential for evolution, can only eliminate traits and cannot produce new features. He goes on to say, "Our paper shows that such claims are simply wrong. We show very clearly that specific mutational changes in a particular duplicated gene (opsin) allowed the new genes to interact with different proteins in new ways. Today, these different interactions underlie the genetic machinery of vision, which is different in various animal groups."
Hydras are predators, and the authors speculate that they use light sensitivity in order to find prey. Hydra use opsin proteins all over their bodies, but they are concentrated in the mouth area, near the tip of the animal. Hydras have no eyes or light-receptive organs, but they have the genetic pathways to be able to sense light.
The findings are published in PLoS One. Co-author Bernie M. Degnan, of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, provided bioinformatics tools to complete the study.
Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by University of California - Santa Barbara.
Hubble Shows 'Baby' Galaxy Is Not So Young After All
Science Daily — The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has found out the true nature of a dwarf galaxy that astronomers had for a long time identified as one of the youngest galaxies in the Universe. Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have made observations of the galaxy I Zwicky 18 which seem to indicate that it is in fact much older and much farther away than previously thought.
Observations of I Zwicky 18 at the Palomar Observatory around 40 years ago seemed to show that it was one of the youngest galaxies in the nearby Universe. The studies suggested that the galaxy had erupted with star formation billions of years after its galactic neighbours, like our galaxy the Milky Way. Back then it was an important finding for astronomers, since this young galaxy was also nearby and could be studied in great detail; something that is not possible with observations made across great distances when the universe was much younger.
But these new Hubble data have quashed that possibility. The telescope found fainter older red stars contained within the galaxy, suggesting its star formation started at least one billion years ago and possibly as much as 10 billion years ago. The galaxy, therefore, may have formed at the same time as most other galaxies.
“Although the galaxy is not as youthful as was once believed, it is certainly developmentally challenged and unique in the nearby Universe,” said astronomer Alessandra Aloisi from the European Space Agency/Space Telescope Science Institute, who led the new study. Spectroscopic observations with ground-based telescopes have shown that I Zwicky 18 is mostly composed of hydrogen and helium, the main ingredients created in the Big Bang. In other words the stars within it have not created the same amounts of heavier elements as seen in other galaxies nearby.
Thus the galaxy’s primordial makeup suggests that its rate of star formation has been much lower than that of other galaxies of similar age. The galaxy has been studied with most of NASA’s telescopes, including the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE). However, it remains an outstanding mystery why I Zwicky 18 formed so few stars in the past, and why it is forming so many new stars right now.
The new Hubble data also suggest that I Zwicky 18 is 59 million light-years from Earth, almost 10 million light-years more distant than previously believed. On extragalactic standards this is still in our own backyard yet the galaxy’s larger-than-expected distance may now explain why astronomers have had difficulty detecting older, fainter stars within the galaxy until now. In fact, the faint old stars in I Zwicky 18 are almost at the limit of Hubble’s sensitivity and resolution.
Aloisi and her team discerned the new distance by observing blinking stellar distance-markers within I Zwicky 18. These massive stars, called Cepheid variables, pulse with a regular rhythm. The timing of their pulsations is directly related to their brightness. By comparing their actual brightness with their observed brightness, astronomers can precisely measure their distance.
The team determined the observed brightness of three Cepheids and compared it to the actual brightness predicted by theoretical models specifically calculated for the low metal content of I Zwicky 18 in order to determine the galaxy’s distance. The Cepheid distance was also validated through another distance indicator, specifically the observed brightness of the brightest red stars in a characteristic stellar evolutionary phase (the so-called “giant” phase).
Cepheid variable stars have been studied for decades (especially by Hubble) and have been instrumental in the determination of the scale of our universe. This is the first time, however, that variable stars with so few heavy elements were found. This may provide unique new insights into the properties of variable stars, which is now a topic of ongoing study.
Aloisi and her team published their results in the Oct. 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Aloisi’s team consists of Francesca Annibali, Jennifer Mack, and Roeland van der Marel of the Space Telescope Science Institute; Marco Sirianni of the European Space Agency and Space Telescope Science Institute; Abhijit Saha of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories; and Gisella Clementini, Rodrigo Contreras, Giuliana Fiorentino, Marcella Marconi, Ilaria Musella, and Monica Tosi of the Italian National Astrophysics Institutes in Bologna and Naples.
Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by ESA/Hubble Information Centre.
Priest accused of molestation, is put on leaveIncident happened 47 years ago, Delaware man contends
A priest has been placed on leave after a man accused the priest of molesting him 47 years ago, the Diocese of Charlotte announced yesterday afternoon.
The Rev. Albert J. Gondek, the priest at Our Lady of the Rosary in Lexington, was placed on leave after the man’s attorney, Thomas Neuberger, sent a letter to Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte asking Jugis to remove Gondek from his pastorate.
According to the allegation, Michael Sowden, 59, of Wilmington, Del., was molested by Gondek while Sowden was swimming at a summer camp in Maryland when he was 12. Gondek was a seminarian at the time.
Gondek is a member of the religious order the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales of Wilmington, Del. The order is investigating the complaint.
Gondek has been the pastor of the Our Lady since 1998.
David Hains, a spokesman for the Charlotte diocese, said that under church policy, it would be up to the Oblates to investigate and determine how to proceed. In the meantime, Hains said, Gondek will not be allowed to engage in any pastoral ministry.
Gondek was out of town, according to a church secretary, and did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages left yesterday morning.
Neuberger said that Gondek is the third member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales to be sent to North Carolina after being accused of abusing children in Delaware.
“Why were they being sent there?” he asked.
Sam Waltz, a spokesman for the Wilmington-Philadelphia province of the Oblates, said that officials in the order were not familiar with the complaint and would not comment.
Neuberger said that Sowden, who is retired from the funeral industry, sought help from mental-health professionals more than 10 years ago to deal with his childhood trauma but had never reported the abuse to church officials until now.
In addition to the fondling allegation against Gondek, Sowden claims that he also was abused by the Rev. Francis G. DeLuca at St. John the Beloved Elementary School in Wilmington, Del., where he was an altar boy.
Last month, a New York judge sentenced DeLuca, 77, to 60 days in jail for repeatedly molesting his grandnephew.
Neuberger also represents Eric Eden, a Delaware man who claims that he was repeatedly molested by the Rev. James O’Neill, an Oblate priest who was relieved of his duties as pastor of a Greensboro church in 2003 after officials learned of allegations of “inappropriate behavior.”
Yesterday, Neuberger filed a motion to amend Eden’s lawsuit against O’Neill and other church officials, alleging that the Oblates conspired with the Diocese of Wilmington to transfer 32 pedophile priests - 20 from the diocese and 12 from the Oblates - from place to place rather than report them to law-enforcement authorities.
Bob Krebs, a spokesman for the Wilmington diocese, said he had not seen Eden’s amended complaint and could not comment.
■ Journal reporter Mary Giunca contributed to this report.
Church knew of allegations against volunteer facing sex chargesSuzanne Goldman and Suzanne Wilton, CanWest News Service Published: Monday, October 08, 2007
CALGARY -- Officials at a Calgary church have admitted they were aware of an allegation of wrongdoing against an adult volunteer at his previous church but allowed him to continue working in youth programs under increased supervision for two years.
Police have charged the volunteer with sexually abusing three girls under the age of 14 at Centre Street Church.
According to a statement made by Brian Spiers of Westview Baptist Church during Sunday morning services, church staff investigated the allegations against the volunteer but found no corroborating evidence. As a result, the man was permitted to continue working in church programs.
"Unproven allegations are very difficult for a church to deal with," said Dayle Medgett, senior pastor of Westview church, after the service.
Although officials declined to comment on the nature of the allegation or how they learned about it, they said the man worked for three years as a missions co-ordinator and parent volunteer in the youth program -- but was never alone with children.
Mr. Medgett said upon learning of the allegation the church placed the volunteer under "increased accountability conditions."
He declined to explain those conditions.
Church officials also reiterated that none of the charges against the volunteer related to incidents involving the Westview Baptist Church.
The man has resigned from his position at the church.
Police arrested Kelly Malcolm Grant last week and laid 14 sex-related charges against him in connection with allegations of abuse against three girls at the Centre Street Church between 1994 and 2003.
The charges followed a two-year investigation. It's alleged some of the incidents took place at church retreats out of town.
Mr. Grant was a volunteer in Centre Street's youth ministry before leaving that church about two years ago.
Since then, Mr. Grant, his wife and three children have been attending Westview Baptist Church.
An official with the governing body overseeing Westview and other member churches was unaware of the case.
However, Canadian Baptists in Western Canada executive minister Jeremy Bell said he was confident Westview would have considered the safety of children as paramount.
Mr. Bell said there is a manual for member churches outlining how to handle these types of situations. While it would be unusual to allow someone with allegations of abuse involving children to continue dealing with kids, Mr. Bell said he was confident Westview properly handled the situation.
"They would not have cut [the alleged abuser] slack at the expense of children," Mr. Bell said in an interview from British Columbia. "I am sure that whatever Westview did, they did very carefully."
During services Sunday, Mr. Medgett asked his congregation to pray for the family of Grant and all those involved. He then delivered a planned sermon on forgiveness.
Mr. Medgett said the church has tried to provide support and encouragement to Grant's family and all those involved.
Westview has extensive safeguards for volunteers, including criminal background checks, interviews, and risk-assessment training, Mr. Medgett has said.
Sex, lies and videotape: turmoil at the Vatican
· Official secretly filmed propositioning young man
· Bureaucrat claims he was investigating satanist plot
John Hooper in Rome
Monday October 15, 2007
The Vatican was last night at the centre of an unusually public sex scandal after acknowledging it had suspended a senior official who was filmed apparently propositioning a young man in his office.
Monsignor Tommaso Stenico, a capo ufficio, or section head, at the Vatican ministry responsible for the clergy, insisted yesterday he was not gay. He said he had posed as a homosexual to research a plot by satanists.
The affair is the latest of several indications that the traditional immunity enjoyed by the Catholic church in Italy over sex scandals is gradually giving way.
The Pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said on Saturday he was unable to deny rumours that the Vatican had suspended one of its top bureaucrats following a report shown on Italian television. A few hours later a website identified the official as Mgr Stenico, a 60-year-old official who ranks joint third in the hierarchy of his department, known as the Congregation for the Clergy.
A programme broadcast on October 1 by La7 - the only national channel not owned by Silvio Berlusconi or the state - included a sequence it said had been filmed secretly in a Vatican office. The six-minute sequence was said to have been captured by a young man who had come into contact with a Vatican official via an internet chatroom.
He was invited to have sado-masochistic sex and arrangements were made for a meeting in St Peter's Square. Unknown to the older man, the other man, who said he wanted to expose the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, arrived equipped with concealed video and audio recording equipment.
Television viewers saw the Vatican official sit alongside his guest and say: "You're very good-looking."
"Thank you," replied the younger man, before putting it to his host that he was about to commit a sin.
"I don't feel it is a sin," said the official. When the other man insisted that it was at odds with the teaching of the church, the Vatican official brought the conversation to an abrupt end.
When his guest bade farewell, saying "It's been a pleasure," the Vatican official replied: "Not for me, because you don't fancy me."
Mgr Stenico acknowledged in several Italian media interviews yesterday that he had been suspended.
But he told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that he "wanted to carry out a study, probably for publication". He said he was a registered psychologist and psychotherapist and his aim had been "to study how priests are ensnared".
He added: "I really believe that there is a diabolic plan by satanist groups who take aim at priests."
Father Lombardi said the Vatican had to act with the decisiveness and severity called for by behaviour incompatible with priestly service and the Holy See. Mgr Stenico's case is expected to be judged by a special tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is the latest of several recent embarrassments for the Catholic church in Italy. One of its best-known priests, renowned for his care of drug addicts, is being investigated for sex abuse. And prosecutors in both Turin and Siena are looking into claims of sex abuse and financial wrongdoing by senior church officials.
Sex abuse by nuns: the unknown storyBy Christopher Landau BBC News
The crisis over child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church has cost the organisation both in terms of levels of public trust and compensation payouts.
When American bishops decided in 2002 to conduct an audit of the scale of the problem, their initiative was given a cautious welcome by survivors of sexual abuse.
But one part of the church was not part of the audit.
Nuns, officially known as "women religious", do not always fall under the authority of their local bishop.
This meant they stood outside the remit of the study, even though there are documented cases where Catholic nuns have committed child sexual abuse.
In Portland, Oregon, there are six new lawsuits against the Catholic Church. Two are in relation to accusations made against nuns.
Kelly Clark is a lawyer who specialises in sexual abuse cases in the state.
He said: "I have more resistance these days from religious orders involving nuns, more denial, than I have from any archdiocese or any religious order involving priests."
He says that nuns are 10 to 15 years behind the rest of the church in their attitude to dealing with accusations of abuse.
One campaigner who agrees is Steve Theisen. He was abused over a three-year period by a nun who was a teacher at his school.
His view is: "I don't think they've even taken a first step on this."
Mr Theisen now runs a network for those who have been abused by Catholic leaders.
His research has uncovered more than 60 cases of abuse committed by nuns.
The Leadership Conference for Women Religious is the umbrella group for women's religious orders in the US.
Its executive director, Sister Carole Shinnick, says that her members have worked hard to make sure there are proper policies in place to ensure the protection of children.
But she admits that, unlike the steps taken by bishops to establish the scale of the abuse problem among priests, no audit has been carried out to determine how many nuns have abused children.
"We haven't done an audit... but the fact of the matter is it isn't something we've been asked to do," she said.
And knowing the scale of the problem does not necessarily lead to a solution.
The bishops in the US have now adopted a "zero tolerance" strategy to sexual abuse, which means that priests found to have acted inappropriately must leave the church.
In Silver Spring, Maryland, the St Luke Institute exists to help priests and nuns with psychological problems, including sexual disorders.
The institute was once a major centre for the treatment of priests who had been found guilty of sexually abusing children.
But as a result of the zero tolerance policy, such priests no longer tend to receive treatment within the church - they are simply expelled from the priesthood.
As the director of the centre, the Rev Stephen Rossetti, explains: "Once we throw them out of the priesthood we no longer have a supervisory role - they're gone from our structure.
"They can still be members of the church but they're unsupervised... but where do they go?"
Few would suggest that the scale of the sex abuse problem among nuns will ever reach the rate seen among abusive priests.
But the lessons for the church - about the value of transparency - are the same, and victims of abuse by nuns believe the church has a long way to go to reassure them.
Gates: United front needed on Iran nukesBy ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON - The United State alone cannot force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday. Gates called Iran as "an ambitious and fanatical theocracy," and said he has yet to find "the elusive Iranian moderate," according to remarks prepared for delivery at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
"With a government of that nature, only a united front of nations will be able to exert enough pressure to make Iran abandon its nuclear aspirations — a source of great anxiety and instability in the region," Gates said.
Iran denies it is pursuing nuclear weapons. It says its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy development.
"Our allies must work together on robust, far-reaching and strongly enforced economic sanctions," Gates said. "We must exert pressure in the diplomatic and political arenas as well. And, as President Bush has said, with this regime we must also keep all options on the table." The term "all options" is a veiled reference to possible military action.
Gates said Iran seems increasingly willing to act contrary to its own interests.
"We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime or its leaders — about their designs for their nuclear program, their willingness to live up to their rhetoric, their intentions for Iraq, or their ambitions in the Gulf region," he said in his prepared remarks, copies of which were made available before he spoke.
Gates also expressed a measure of doubt about the gains thus far in the administration's global war on terrorism.
"Despite many tactical successes, overall strategic success against violent extremism has been elusive," he said. "With the extent of the jihadist movement, with its breadth and numbers, even the most effective counterterrorism tactics can only reduce the number and lethality of attacks. Total elimination is infinitely more complex, part of an ideological struggle between the forces of moderation and extremism."
Gates spoke at a Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs dinner where he received the Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Service Award for leaders deemed to have honored the tradition of the late Senator from Washington state who was a leading voice in Congress on national security issues.
Obama reaches out to religious votersBy ERIC GORSKI, AP Religion Writer
The invitation appeared one Sunday in Joanna Chase's church bulletin: Come to a "faith forum" and join a conversation about the intersection of religion and politics.
Living in New Hampshire, Chase is accustomed to pitches from presidential hopefuls, especially those focusing on values-voting Republicans. But this one came from the team of a Democrat, Sen. Barack Obama.
The candidate himself wasn't on the bill. But about 50 people showed up to talk about the war, poverty and trying to seize back the moral mantle some in the GOP claim. The night also featured an Obama video and a campaign altar call — an invitation to become a "congregation contact" and rally support for the candidate.
"I don't know if I will vote for Barack Obama," said Chase, 62, who was inspired enough to organize a similar forum at her United Church of Christ congregation in Northwood, N.H. "There are several candidates I like very much. But I love that he has the character and confidence to allow people to do this. He doesn't have to own every bit of it."
The leading Democratic contenders for the White House all have made a point of talking about religion this campaign season. They discuss their faith journeys and how their beliefs influence their policies. The campaigns of Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards all are doing outreach to religious communities.
But Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has made religion a signature part of his campaign through his own public appearances in places where Democrats rarely venture, and a faith-based voter mobilization, topped by forums in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina that could prove key to organizing.
"I don't think a Democratic presidential candidate has come close to doing anything like this before," said Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. "If you are going to parse the different dimensions of how a presidential candidate does religion, he's doing them all."
Will it win votes? Create a backlash from Democrats angry that religion and politics are too intertwined? Obama has drawn criticism from the Rev. Welton Gaddy of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, who said the senator "has sounded precisely like George W. Bush" in recent church appearances.
A member of the liberal United Church of Christ, Obama has said he was raised in a nonreligious home and had a conversion experience after doing community organizing in Chicago churches. He spoke last year — before announcing his candidacy — of a desire to tackle "mutual suspicion" between religious and secular America.
He invokes biblical imagery, saying that because government alone cannot solve problems, "we have an individual responsibility to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper." At the same time, Obama has lauded the separation of church and state and has paid homage to America's religious pluralism.
Campaigning in Iowa over the weekend, Obama framed the climate change debate in religious terms, saying: "We are not acting as good stewards of God's earth when our bottom line puts the size of our profits before the future of our planet."
Obama's religious affairs director, Joshua DuBois, said his charge is to create a "robust, grass-roots outreach program" — including nonreligious people who view issues through a moral lens and want a voice in the debate. DuBois is a former Obama Senate aide and former associate minister with the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination.
The faith forums, like the one Chase attended in New Hampshire, are perhaps the most visible illustration of the Obama faith ground game.
More than 25 were staged in Iowa and New Hampshire. The campaign is now in the midst of a "40 Days of Faith and Family" drive of forums, gospel concerts and candidate appearances in South Carolina, where Obama is lagging behind Clinton in polls and fighting the former first lady for the state's black vote.
At a recent forum at a public library in Myrtle Beach, S.C., 58-year-old Vietnam veteran Bennie Swans walked in "lukewarm" about the Obama campaign, supportive of Obama's opposition to the Iraq War but otherwise unsure.
Swans said he walked out invigorated by what he saw: "People coming together from various points of life, ages and races, working collectively on issues of faith and politics. Our churches are so segregated. You usually don't see that."
The Mount Olive AME Church member signed on as a "congregation contact."
DuBois said the campaign is clear that political organizing cannot take place within houses of worship, which would land them in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. The goal is to reach friends and family, some of them church members, he said.
Beyond the forums, the campaign stages a weekly interfaith prayer conference call, runs a "People of Faith for Barack" Web site and has a page on FaithBase.com, a social networking site modeled on Facebook and MySpace.
Traditionally, Democratic religious outreach has meant mobilizing support in black churches and bastions of liberal mainline Protestantism. Obama has done those things, but he's also taken part in a summit on AIDS hosted by evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren and appeared at Southern Baptist churches in South Carolina.
At an evangelical church in Greenville, S.C., Obama said he seeks to be an "instrument of God" and expressed confidence "we can create a kingdom right here on Earth."
That prompted Gaddy, of the Interfaith Alliance, to criticize the candidate in a conference call with reporters. Gaddy cautioned against any presidential candidate talking about building such a kingdom while "in an evangelical church in which that terminology has a very specific, indisputable definition that is exclusive rather than inclusive."
Obama's own church background could cause problems as well. His Chicago pastor and spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, emphasizes "black values" in a church message that has stirred controversy.
Polling data suggest religion may help Obama set himself apart from Clinton, the front-runner. A poll last month from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 84 percent of Americans considered Obama very or somewhat religious, compared with 69 percent for Clinton, a Methodist.
Edwards, also a Methodist, had numbers comparable to Obama's and was more likely to be considered "very" religious.
Clinton has cited the influence of Methodism's social gospel and has hired Democratic strategist Burns Strider, a Southern Baptist, to direct her religious outreach. Edwards has stressed how his faith shaped his desire to combat poverty.
Mara Vanderslice, a Democratic consultant on religious issues, said it's striking that Democrats are engaging religious voters in the primary season after virtually ignoring them in 2004.
"That will solidify the involvement of the religious community in Democratic campaigns going into the general (election)," she said. "But it will also change the culture. This will become part of what we do."
Putin warns against attacks on IranBy VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran - Vladimir Putin issued a veiled warning Tuesday against any attack on Iran as he made the first visit by a Kremlin leader to Tehran in six decades — a mission reflecting Russian-Iranian efforts to curb U.S. influence.
He also suggested Moscow and Tehran should have a veto on Western plans for new pipelines to carry oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea, using routes that would bypass Russian soil and break the Kremlin's monopoly on energy deliveries from the region.
Putin came to Tehran for a summit of the five nations bordering the Caspian, but his visit was aimed more at strengthening efforts to blunt U.S. economic and military ties in the area. Yet he also refused to set a date for completing Iran's first nuclear reactor, trying to avoid an outright show of support for Iran's defiance over its nuclear program.
Putin strongly warned outside powers against use of force in the region, a clear reference to the United States, which many in Iran fear will attack over the West's suspicions that the Iranians are secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made similar comments.
"We are saying that no (Caspian) nations should offer their territory to outside powers for aggression or any military action against any of the Caspian states," Putin said.
The five national leaders at the summit later signed a declaration that included a similar statement — an apparent reflection of Iranian fears that the United States could use Azerbaijan's territory as a staging ground for military strikes in Iran.
Putin has warned against such attacks previously, but reiterating them in Tehran gave them greater resonance — particularly at a summit for a region where Moscow deeply resents U.S. and European attempts at greater influence.
The Russian leader also used the occasion to make a nod to Iran's national pride — describing it as a "world power" and referring to the might of the ancient Persian empire.
In Iran's confrontation with the West, Russia has tread a fine line, warning against heavy pressure on Iran and protecting it — for now — from a third round of U.N. sanctions, while urging Tehran to heed the Security Council's demand that it halt uranium enrichment.
Putin's careful stance on completing the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran suggested the Kremlin is seeking to preserve solid ties with Tehran without angering the West.
"Russia is trying to sit in two chairs at the same time," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, told The Associated Press. A pledge to quickly complete the plant would send a "strong signal to the West that Russia is with Iran," he said.
Putin showed he wouldn't be pressed into speeding up completion of the $1 billion contract to build Bushehr.
"I only gave promises to my mom when I was a small boy," he snapped when Iranian reporters prodded him to promise a quick launch.
At the same time, Putin — on the first trip to Iran by a Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin visited in 1943 for talks with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II — said Moscow wouldn't back down on its obligation to finish the plant.
"Russia has clearly stated that it's going to complete this work," Putin said. "We are not renouncing this obligation."
Russia has warned that the Bushehr plant would not go on line this fall as originally planned, saying Iran was slow in making payments. Iranian officials have angrily denied being behind in its payments and accuse the Kremlin of caving in to Western pressure.
Moscow also has ignored Iranian demands to ship nuclear reactor fuel for the plant, saying it would be delivered only six months before the Bushehr plant begins operation. The launch date has been delayed indefinitely amid the payment dispute.
Putin said the two sides were negotiating revisions to the Bushehr contract, and once agreed a decision on fuel can be made.
The Caspian leaders offered a degree of support for the Iranian nuclear program, stressing in their joint statement that any country like Iran which has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has the right to "carry out research and can use nuclear energy for peaceful means without discrimination."
Putin underlined his disagreements with Washington on Iran last week, saying he had seen no "objective data" showing Tehran is trying to construct nuclear weapons. Iran says it need enriched uranium to fuel nuclear reactors that will generate electricity.
The main issue before the summit was the Caspian Sea itself.
Divvying up territory in and around the inland sea — believed to contain the world's third-largest reserves of oil and natural gas — has been a divisive issue among the five nations, and the leaders showed no signs of progress toward resolving the dispute.
The Caspian's offshore borders have been in limbo since the 1991 Soviet collapse. The lack of agreement has led to tensions and conflicts over oil deposits, but Putin and Ahmadinejad strongly warned outside powers to stay away from the region.
"All issues related to the Caspian should be settled exclusively by littoral nations," Ahmadinejad said.
Moscow strongly opposes U.S.- and European-backed efforts to build pipelines to deliver Central Asian and Caspian oil and gas to the West by bypassing Russia, through which all the region's pipelines now flow. Russia has pushed for new pipelines to cross its territory as well.
Putin argued that all pipeline projects in the region should require the approval by all five Caspian nations to take effect, a view that would give each capital a veto.
"Projects which may inflict a serious damage to the Caspian environment can't be and mustn't be implemented without a preliminary discussion by the Caspian five and making a consensus decision in the interests of our common sea," Putin said.
But the idea was barely mentioned in comments by the leaders of the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which are striving to balance their relations with Russia, the West and Asia.
In Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, political analyst Ilgar Mamedov said the veto idea was only "Putin's opinion." Caspian nations "are independent and act in accordance with their own interests," he said.
Pakistan: Preparations for Bhutto returnBy MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Writer
KARACHI, Pakistan - Thousands of Benazir Bhutto supporters surged toward Karachi on the eve of the former premier's return from exile, as police sealed roads and readied bomb disposal squads amid fears Islamic militants could try to kill her.
Bhutto plans to touch down in this chaotic city of 15 million people on Thursday, ending an eight-year exile and launching a campaign that she hopes could lead to her third term as prime minister after January elections.
Negotiations with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that could see the archrivals team up in a U.S.-friendly alliance to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban have already produced an amnesty covering the corruption cases that made her leave Pakistan in 1999.
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) hope that 1 million supporters will greet her in Karachi. Vast billboards proclaiming the two-time prime minister as the country's savior festoon the route from the airport.
With the party already mobilizing rallies and convoys of supporters expected to arrive from across Bhutto's stronghold in southern Sindh province by late Wednesday, many observers believe more than 100,000 will turn out.
Thousands have already arrived from the city of Multan in neighboring Punjab province and from Pakistan's part of divided Kashmir, said Waqar Mehdi, a party spokesman.
The Sindh government on Wednesday appealed to Bhutto to abandon plans for a snail-paced 10-mile grand procession into Karachi, saying it would leave her vulnerable.
A statement from the Sindh home secretary said there was a risk of suicide attacks, roadside bombs, mass killings of PPP supporters and stampedes. It said the main threat was from Taliban and al-Qaida.
"We have informed Ms. Bhutto and her team of the situation and advised them to cut short the program instead of going for a 18-20 hours-long procession as this would be tantamount to inviting trouble," Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem said.
A shipping container fortified with bulletproof glass is being readied to convey Bhutto, and some 3,500 police and paramilitary troops and 5,000 party volunteers will guard the streets, officials say.
"We have taken precautions against suicide bombers and the police are ensuring there are no implanted explosives on the route," said PPP security adviser, retired general Ahsan Ullah. He expressed satisfaction with authorities' cooperation.
Overnight, police used shipping containers to block three access roads on the highway leading from the airport that Bhutto will travel, and seven bomb disposal squads would start sweeping the route by late Wednesday, said Mazhar Shahab, a senior city police official.
Bhutto is due to arrive on a commercial flight from Dubai on Thursday afternoon.
Bhutto, who shares Musharraf's support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, recently courted controversy by saying that she would cooperate with the American military in targeting Osama bin Laden.
Associated Press writer Afzal Nadeem in Karachi and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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
Mexico City - Judge commits 8 over exorcism killingsOfficials said the parents, grandparents and aunts of a 7-month-old and 13-year -old hacked the baby to death and fatally stoned the teenager earlier this month after they became convinced the girls were demons or possessed by the devil. The killings were prompted by her visit to a faith healer, authorities said.
Charity Navigator, America's premier independent charity evaluator, works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America's largest charities.
Fuck your God - Doug Stanhope
Sean Bedlam & Davis Fleetwood. Gabfest #1
Global Warming is real- you aren't.
Louis CK learns about the Catholic Church
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.