#0046 RRS Newsletter for August 19, 2007

hellfiend666's picture

I usually don't post on Saturday, but I had one nearly finished when I went to bed last night/early this morning, so I just completed it, and here you go.

Yet another change was made. When I started this Newsletter it was for the Michigan members, to keep them informed and to get thier feedback on local and national issues. I never thought it would be picked up on the mother site. So, I have changed the Michigan Local News section into the new RRS Affiliate News. I will now be covering anything going on on the local level through the Affiliates. Any meetings, protests, rallies, or functions of any kind that will involve the presence of an RRS Local Affiliate will now be covered.

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 HERE to find your local affiliate!

Rational Response Squad News

Update on the show schedule

RRS Affiliate News

Austin, TX atheists unite September 8th RRS Michigan social gathering at Alberts

Science News

Polluted Dead Star Indicates Planets Like Earth May Have Formed Around Other Stars Water Found on Distant Planet The Planet, The Galaxy And The Laser Fossils Older Than Dinosaurs Reveal Pattern Of Early Animal Evolution On Earth


Church bans broadband over porn fears White-out your bible (video) ACLU sues to stop church donations Idaho Congressman: Hindu Prayer, Muslim Rep Will Doom America


Religion and culture behind Texas execution tally Clergy will be used by Government Iraqi women resorting to prostitution John Stewart tears apart Dick Cheneys Biographer


Atheist Blood Drive
Atheists for Autism Research Charity!
Religious Victim of the day
ACLU sues over ‘intelligent design’ in Pa.


Jon Safran VS God "Jon Vs The Bible Code" Because it's in the Koran.. Red Meat Slayer - Cult Live on the Henry Rollins Show

Rational Response Column

The Continuum, an essay on evolution, by Jack Hellfiend

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Update on the show schedule

See it on youtube.

Tonight we'll host real life Doogie Howser, Eugene Volokh on the show. Tonight we let you behind closed doors to learn about a very personal and private issue to us. Unfortunately we have little choice but to speak out publicly now to raise awareness for this extremely sensitive atheist issue. Join us tonight when we record at 6pm est, or join us again at 8pm est for a re-airing of our conversation.

Brian Trent will also join us tonight to cover current events.


To learn more about tonights topic with Eugene Volokh, view this thread.

Next week: Tuesday August 21st 7-9pm est Firefly515 will rejoin the show.
Friday August 24th, Mr Gawn expected to be in studio guest.

In Rationality,

The Rational Response Squad

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Austin, TX atheists unite September 8th

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RRS Michigan social gathering at Alberts

I've decided the next meeting will simply be a social gathering at a nearby restaraunt/bar called Alberts on the Alley on Thursday, August 30th. I'll be getting there around 6:00 pm. If your not familiar, it's at the corner of Ford Rd. and Middlebelt at 5651 Middlebelt Rd, Garden City, MI - (734) 525-5231. The food is good, and the drink and food prices are great! I'm hoping this will draw more of you reclusive bastards out so we can discuss and just get to know each other. Hope to see you all there, but please RSVP me at [email protected] so I know how many will be attending. I am also still planing a "feild trip" to the Detroit Science Center to see the Universe within exhibit, for Friday, August 24th. We'll meet there at 7:00 pm. Admission is $24.95, for details on this exhibit Click HERE!

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Polluted Dead Star Indicates Planets Like Earth May Have Formed Around Other Stars

Science Daily The chemical fingerprint of a burned-out star indicates that Earth-like planets may not be rare in the universe and could give clues to what our solar system will look like when our sun dies and becomes a white dwarf star some five billion years from now.

Astronomers from UCLA report that a white dwarf star known as GD 362, which is surrounded by dusty rings similar to those of Saturn, has been contaminated by a large asteroid that left more than a dozen observable chemical elements in the white dwarf's atmosphere. Such an observation is unprecedented in astronomy. Was there some kind of violent interaction between the star and the asteroid?

The UCLA astronomers think that after about a billion years orbiting the white dwarf as part of an ancient planetary system, an asteroid got close enough to the star to be torn apart by its very strong gravitational force field. An Earth-sized but exceedingly dense white dwarf is the standard end state for most stars. This particular white dwarf, which is under investigation by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, is located in the constellation Hercules, approximately 150 light-years, or 1,000 trillion miles, from Earth.

The asteroid broke apart into dust particles that orbited the white dwarf and over time "polluted the white dwarf's atmosphere," said Benjamin Zuckerman, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and lead author of the research, which has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

The astronomers note that the spectroscopic observations they are reporting constitute the first detailed assessment of the elemental composition of an object in an extrasolar planetary system.

"The relative abundance of the elements in the white dwarf's atmosphere, polluted by the asteroid, appears similar to those in our Earth-Moon system," Zuckerman said.

"What we have here is a composition of the white dwarf that is fairly similar to that of the inner planets of our solar system," said Michael Jura, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and co-author of the research. "Are there other terrestrial planets like Earth in other solar systems? This white dwarf's fingerprint is a significant advance in demonstrating that something like terrestrial planet formation occurred around this other star and probably occurred around other stars as well, because it suggests the Earth's composition is not unique.

"The asteroid that is being shredded is very iron-rich and abundant in calcium and other elements, and low in carbon, like a sturdy rock," Jura added.

The research implies that the forces that made the Earth and our inner solar system seem to have occurred in this system as well, and probably around other white dwarfs too, Jura said.

Zuckerman said the research result does not rule out the possibility that two planets in this ancient planetary system collided and the orbiting dust and detected elements are from a piece of one of the colliding planets rather than from a more conventional asteroid.

"Something dramatic and violent probably happened," he said.

What knocked the asteroid out of its original orbit? It probably was deflected by the gravitational field of a large planet, Zuckerman said.

Our own planetary system looks very stable, Zuckerman said, but billions of years from now, when the sun starts to expand in size and lose mass rapidly, the planets and asteroids will spiral away, and the planets closest to the sun, like Mercury and Venus, will be engulfed by the sun and destroyed.

"But other planets, probably including the Earth and the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter will spiral out, and their orbits then will make our stable system much less stable," he said.

A third UCLA author on the paper, physics and astronomy associate professor Brad Hansen, said, "In our solar system, objects rich in iron formed closer to the sun than the objects rich in carbon and ice, which formed farther away, where it is colder. This research tells us about the origin of the asteroid, its temperature when it formed and its chemistry — conditions similar to the Earth's."

The group of astronomers, which also includes of UCLA graduate student Carl Melis and Detlev Koester at Germany's University of Kiel, detected 17 elements in the atmosphere of the white dwarf that probably came from a large asteroid; the asteroid may have once been part of a larger body, perhaps like one of the inner planets of our solar system. Many of the elements have never before been detected in the atmosphere of a white dwarf, including the rare elements strontium and scandium.

The gravitational field of the white dwarf is so strong that all elements heavier than the lightest elements — hydrogen and helium — quickly sink into the white dwarf's interior, Hansen said.

The asteroid likely broke up more than 100,000 years ago, and perhaps as long as a million years ago, the astronomers said. The star became a very hot white dwarf approximately 1 billion years ago and since then has been steadily cooling off.

Unlike GD 362, most white dwarfs are pristine in their composition.

"You wouldn't notice another skyscraper in New York, but the same skyscraper in Nebraska would stick out like a sore thumb," Hansen said. "That's the case here. A little change in the atmosphere of a white dwarf is very obvious."

The astronomers used the HIRES spectrometer on the Keck I Telescope to take optical spectra of the white dwarf, spanning the ultraviolet to the full visible range of light. Each element can be identified by its own characteristic spectrum.

The researchers said they find it quite remarkable that even at a distance of 1,000 trillion miles, the Keck HIRES measurements enable them to determine minute details of the bulk composition of a relatively tiny object — as astronomical sizes go — like an asteroid. Currently, no other known observational technique exists that allows for such compositional information to be obtained.

The remains of a white dwarf cool slowly over many billions of years as the dying ember makes its slow journey into oblivion.

NASA funded the research.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of California, Los Angeles.

Read the original story HERE!

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Water Found on Distant Planet

Astronomers are sure they finally spotted water vapor in the atmosphere of exoplanet By JR Minkel

After a few false starts, astronomers say they have finally observed water vapor in the atmosphere of a so-called hot Jupiter, a large gaseous planet tightly orbiting a distant star. Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, a research team measured the infrared starlight shining through the atmosphere of planet HD 189733 b as it passed in front of its star 63 light-years away.

The planet soaked up infrared light at several wavelengths in a pattern expected of water molecules, as detailed online today in Nature. "This is the first convincing detection of water in the atmosphere of a planet outside our own solar system," says Heather Knutson, an astronomy graduate student at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who was not involved in the study.

Researchers expect to find water on many planets outside the solar system, called exoplanets, including Jupiter-size gas giants such as HD 189733 b and HD 209458 b, which orbits a different star. But in February, independent teams of astronomers armed with Spitzer data reported they could not detect water vapor in either planet's infrared glow as it passed behind its star.

To get a different view, astronomer Giovanna Tinetti and her colleagues at the European Space Agency and University College London focused instead on the light grazing the atmosphere of HD 189733 b. Tinetti had predicted that water would absorb more light at the longer wavelength of 5.8 microns (thousandths of a millimeter) than at 3.6 microns, in contrast with other molecules such as methane and ammonia.

The Spitzer data stacked up according to predictions, Tinetti says—especially when combined with eight-micron measurements reported in May by Knutson's team, which used Spitzer to map HD 189733 b's dayside temperature.

"When I saw that was matching so well with what we already got," she says, "I thought, 'hmm, that's extremely good.'"

Tinetti says the earlier studies could be a product of the planets' bright sides cooking to the same temperature throughout, which makes atmospheric molecules less likely to absorb radiation from below.

Knutson adds that an April report of water vapor in HD 209458 b was iffy, because it relied on a weaker signal from the Hubble Space Telescope, which was not designed to study exoplanets.

Detecting water affirms that models of planet formation are on the right track and bolsters astronomers' confidence that they can tackle such challenging measurements, Tinetti says. "It makes you more optimistic about the possibility of repeating the measurement in the future … with a planet that might be more life-friendly," she adds.

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The Planet, The Galaxy And The Laser

Science Daily On the night of 21 July, ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky took images of the night sky above Paranal, the 2600m high mountain in the Chilean Atacama Desert home to ESO's Very Large Telescope. The amazing images bear witness to the unique quality of the sky, revealing not only the Milky Way in all its splendour but also the planet Jupiter and the laser beam used at Yepun, one of the 8.2-m telescopes that make up this extraordinary facility.

"The images are not composite", emphasises Yuri Beletsky. "The camera was being tracked on the stars, which can be easily noticed if you look at the telescope domes on the image (they look a little fuzzy). The colour of the laser beam on the first image actually looks pretty close to what one can see on the sky with the unaided eye."

Most striking in the images is the wide band of stars called the Milky Way. Spanning more than 100 degrees in the first of these images, it shows the dust and stars that are part of our own Galaxy, a spiral galaxy containing about 100 billion stars.

In the middle of this image, two bright objects are also seen. The brighter of the two is the planet Jupiter. The other is the bright star Antares. Another bright star, Alpha Centauri, one of the closest stellar neighbours to the Sun, is visible at the middle-left edge of the image.

Three of the four domes that shelter the 8.2-m VLT's Unit Telescopes are visible on the first image. Streaming out of Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4, is the laser beam used to create an artificial star above Paranal, aiming directly at the centre of our own Galaxy.

At the time the pictures were taken, astronomers were indeed using the SINFONI instrument (see ESO 21/04) to study the Galactic Centre, having a close look at the supermassive black hole that lurks in there.

With so many stars visible from the exceptional site of Paranal, one may wonder why it is necessary to create another, artificial, star? The answer lies in the very sophisticated instruments that are used on ESO's VLT. Some of them, such as NACO and SINFONI, make use of adaptive optics, a technique that allows astronomers to overcome the blurring effect of the atmosphere. This means that astronomers obtain images almost as good as if the whole telescope was placed in space, above Earth's atmosphere.

Adaptive optics, however, requires a nearby reference star that has to be relatively bright, thereby limiting the area of the sky that can be surveyed. To surmount this limitation, astronomers now use at Paranal a powerful laser that creates an artificial star, where and when they need it (see ESO 07/06 and 27/07).

Launching such a powerful laser from a telescope is state-of-the-art technology, whose set-up and operation is a continuous challenge. As seen from the images, this is, however, a technology that is now well mastered on Paranal.

The images were obtained with a digital camera and 10-mm optics, mounted on a small equatorial mount, and are each the result of a single 5 minute exposure.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by European Southern Observatory.

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Image of the night sky above Paranal on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the Galaxy we belong to. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO's VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred. (Credit: ESO)

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Fossils Older Than Dinosaurs Reveal Pattern Of Early Animal Evolution On Earth

Science Daily The abundant diversity of characteristics within species likely helped fuel the proliferation and evolution of an odd-looking creature that emerged from an unprecedented explosion of life on Earth more than 500 million years ago. University of Chicago paleontologist Mark Webster reports this finding in the July 27 issue of the journal Science.

"From an evolutionary perspective, the more variable a species is, the more raw material natural selection has to operate on," said Webster, an Assistant Professor in Geophysical Sciences at Chicago.

Paleontologists for decades have suspected that highly variable species evolved more rapidly than others, said Nigel Hughes, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside. "Various studies have approached questions pertaining to it--but this is the first to convincingly document it in any group," Hughes said.

Most studies have focused on variability between species rather than within them, but in his Science paper, Webster analyzed 982 species of trilobites, ancient relatives of spiders and horseshoe crabs. "They're segmented little creatures, very beautiful to look at," Webster said. "They catch the eye of a lot of amateur collectors, and professionals like myself tend to get hooked on them very easily."

Extinct for 250 million years, trilobites once were the most common creatures in the world's oceans. Trilobites ranged in size from nearly microscopic to more than a foot long, though most of the 17,000 known species measured from one to four inches. "They were very diverse. That, in combination with their abundance as fossils, means they're ripe for studying evolutionary patterns in very old rocks," Webster said.

Trilobites were among the creatures that emerged 500 million years ago, during what paleontologists call "the Cambrian explosion," or "the Cambrian radiation." Before this time, life on Earth was limited mostly to bacteria, algae, single-celled organisms and only the simplest animal groups. But during the Cambrian Period, more complex creatures with skeletons, eyes and limbs emerged with amazing suddenness.

"The paper is relevant to the big question of what fueled the Cambrian radiation, and why that event was so singular," said UC-Riverside's Hughes of Webster's study. It appears that organisms displayed "rampant" within-species variation "in the 'warm afterglow' of the Cambrian explosion," Hughes said, but not later. "No one has shown this convincingly before, and that's why this is so important."

Webster has hunted trilobites from the northwest highlands of Scotland to the deserts of the American Southwest. He specializes in the olenellids, the oldest, most primitive trilobite group ever to evolve. The olenellids also show a great deal of variation within species.

"That led me into thinking there's something weird about these very primitive Cambrian trilobites that you don't see in other ones," he said.

The only way to verify his hunch was to conduct an analysis that combined the data compiled in previously published reports. "It's too much for one person to look at a thousand trilobite species," Webster said.

So for his Science study, Webster combed through 68 previously published studies of trilobites, searching for descriptions of evolving characteristics that could be incorporated into his analysis. After eliminating studies that were inappropriate for inclusion, 49 still remained.

He focused on actively evolving characteristics. The trilobite head alone, for example, displays many such characteristics. These include differences in ornamentation, number and placement of spines, and the shape of head segments. His findings: Overall, approximately 35 percent of the 982 trilobite species exhibited some variation in some aspect of their appearance that was evolving. But more than 70 percent of early and middle Cambrian species exhibited variation, while only 13 percent of later trilobite species did so.

"There's hardly any variation in the post-Cambrian," he said. "Even the presence or absence or the kind of ornamentation on the head shield varies within these Cambrian trilobites and doesn't vary in the post-Cambrian trilobites."

Paleontologists have proposed two ideas to account for why variation within species declined through time. One is ecological. In the very early Cambrian seas, fewer organisms existed than today, which meant that they faced less competition for food. "You didn't really have to be tightly specialized to make a living in the Cambrian," Webster said.

But as evolution gave rise to more varieties of organisms, ecological communities became more diverse. "You had to be very fine-tuned to your particular niche to make a living and to beat out competitors for a limited resource."

The genomic hypothesis offers a second explanation for the decline of within-species variation over time. According to this idea, internal processes in the organism were the key factors. Various developmental processes interact with one another to control the growth and formation of body parts as any organism progresses from egg to adult.

"It's been suggested that early on in evolutionary history, in the Cambrian Period, the degree to which these different developmental processes interacted with each other within the organism was a lot less," Webster said. "As a result, the constraints on what the final organism looked like were relatively low."

Both hypotheses are equally viable in light of Webster's latest findings. "We need to tease apart what's controlling this pattern of high within-species variation. There's a lot more work to do," he said.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Chicago.

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A species of trilobites found in Nevada. Trilobites went extinct 250 million years ago, long before the appearance of the first dinosaurs. (Credit: Dan Dry)

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Church bans broadband over porn fears

Published: 16th August 2007 16:00 CET

A church in southern Sweden has refused to allow a wireless broadband antenna to be installed on its tower, after fears were raised that parishoners would stay home surfing for porn instead of attending services.

The proposal to install broadband equipment at the church in Hylletofta, 200 kilometres east of Gothenburg, would have brought high speed internet access to the community, where residents currently have to struggle with dial-up connections.

But the Church of Sweden decided that the ability to download high quality images and videos could harm the morals of the local population.

"The diocese has formally taken the position that this type of equipment would cause trouble, and could even lead to some people not coming to church," said Torbjörn Sjögren, curator for the Diocese of Växjö, to TV4 Jönköping.

Sjögren denied that the church's position amounted to censorship:

"You can't interpret it like that," he said.

The Local has tried to contact a diocese spokesperson for a comment.

James Savage ([email protected]/08 656 6518)

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White-out your bible (video)

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ACLU sues to stop church donations

By Susan Finch, Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal court here Monday (Aug. 13) to stop Louisiana from making taxpayer-financed donations to two churches.

The gifts targeted in the case — $100,000 to the Stonewall Baptist Church in Bossier City and $20,000 to Shreveport Christian Church — are among 14 appropriations that individual state lawmakers requested for churches in the new state budget signed into law last month by Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Charging that earmarking church-related grants in the state budget is unconstitutional and that the purposes of the grants are only vaguely described, the ACLU in late June asked Blanco to veto them all, warning the dispute could end up in court otherwise.

According to the ACLU, the state in certain circumstances can give money to religious organizations for some programs that provide non-religious social services, but the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the government from making direct, unrestricted cash payments to churches.

"The state is doling out gifts to its preferred houses of worship with taxpayer money," said ACLU attorney Daniel Mach, director of the New York-based organization's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Louisiana | American Civil Liberties Union | Gov. Kathleen Blanco | Mach

Mach added that in vetoing a $75,000 appropriation for the Southern University marching band, the governor had said there are many college marching bands. "How can that possibly be the rule for marching bands but not churches?" Mach asked.

Joined in the lawsuit by its Louisiana affiliate, the national ACLU also complains that the state budget calls for no oversight of the money the Legislature set aside for the two churches.

Mach said the ACLU tried unsuccessfully to get the Legislature to turn over documents explaining the church grants in detail.

Under a policy adopted earlier this year, House members must fill out a detailed form when asking for money on behalf of non-profit groups, explaining how the money will be used and who will benefit. But the forms have been declared privileged "work product" and cannot be publicly released unless the lawmaker sponsoring the amendment agrees in writing.

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Idaho Congressman: Hindu Prayer, Muslim Rep Will Doom America

Echoing the sentiments of religious-right activists who last month decried a Hindu guest chaplain giving the opening prayer in the Senate, Rep. Bill Sali (R-Idaho) warned that “the protective hand of God” could be lifted. Sali also cited the threat of his Muslim colleague, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), but unlike comments last December by Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Virginia) linking Ellison to immigration and 9/11, Sali warned that Ellison’s presence, like the Hindu prayer, would displease both America’s founders and God.

"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers," asserts Sali.

Sali says America was built on Christian principles that were derived from scripture. He also says the only way the United States has been allowed to exist in a world that is so hostile to Christian principles is through "the protective hand of God."

"You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike," says the Idaho Republican.

According to Congressman Sali, the only way the U.S. can continue to survive is under that protective hand of God. He states when a Hindu prayer is offered, "that's a different god" and that it "creates problems for the longevity of this country."

Sali, with the backing of the Club for Growth and a following of social conservatives, won a divisive Republican primary in his GOP district last year, despite warnings from fellow Republicans that Sali was “an absolute idiot.”

Protesters associated with Operation Save America/Operation Rescue disrupted the prayer by Rajan Zed on July 12, attempting to shout the Hindu chaplain down.  Other religious-right activists rushed to their defense and attacked the prayer as “idolatry.” Janet Folger said the protestors “are heroes” and “may be what spares us from the judgment of God.” Jan Markell of Olive Tree Ministries warned that “When Israel went straying and worshiping other gods, very, very serious consequences came down upon her,” adding “America is at a turning point” and can expect a “major” terrorist act this summer.

And back in December, as some on the far Right were asserting that newly-elected Rep. Ellison should not be able to pose for a photo op after his swearing-in holding the Koran – or even to serve at all – Rep. Goode joined in, warning his constituents that “if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.” Goode later expanded on his commentary, explaining that “we were not attacked by a nation on 9/11; we were attacked by extremists who acted in the name of the Islamic religion.” Pat Robertson warned in March that Muslim politicians like Ellison want to “take over” and “institute Sharia.”

Posted by Ezra at 10:46 AM

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Religion and culture behind Texas execution tally

By Ed Stoddard Mon Aug 13, 9:14 AM ET

DALLAS (Reuters) - Texas will almost certainly hit the grim total of 400 executions this month, far ahead of any other state, testament to the influence of the state's conservative evangelical Christians and its cultural mix of Old South and Wild West.

"In Texas you have all the elements lined up. Public support, a governor that supports it and supportive courts," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"If any of those things are hesitant then the process slows down," said Dieter. "With all cylinders working as in Texas it produces a lot of executions."

Texas has executed 398 convicts since it resumed the practice in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment, far exceeding second-place Virginia with 98 executions since the ban was lifted. It has five executions scheduled for August.

The average time spent on death row before execution is about 10 years, not much less than the national average of closer to 11 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. But the average would be considerably longer if Texas were excluded.

A Texas governor can commute a death sentence or grant a reprieve based on a recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor.

But governors past and present, including President George W. Bush and the state's current chief executive Rick Perry, have taken a hands-off approach.

"The courts are not much of a check in Texas and the executive defers to the courts," said Jordan Steiker, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Law and co-director of the school's Capital Punishment Center.


Like his predecessor, Governor Perry is a devout Christian, highlighting one key factor in Texas' enthusiasm for the death penalty that many outsiders find puzzling -- the support it gets from conservative evangelical churches.

This is in line with their emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their own salvation, and they also find justification in scripture.

"A lot of evangelical Protestants not only believe that capital punishment is permissible but that it is demanded by God. And they see sanction for that in the Old Testament especially," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Texas also stands at an unusual geographical and cultural crossroads: part Old South, with its legacy of racism, and part Old West, with a cowboy sense of rough justice.

Some critics say the South can be seen in the racial bias of death sentences with blacks more likely than whites to be condemned -- though Texas is not alone on this score.

Over 41 percent of the inmates currently on death row in Texas are black, but they account for only about 12 percent of the state's population.

Meanwhile, for some in Texas the death penalty is about the victim.

"It's the criminal justice system, not the victim justice system. I need to get justice for my victim. I need to see that justice here on earth," said Cathy Hill, whose husband Barry was shot dead while working as a deputy sheriff almost seven years ago. His killer is now on Texas' death row.

Support for capital punishment in Texas has also been attributed to the state's high rates of violent crime, though it is not strikingly above the national average.

According to FBI statistics for 2005, the national rate of violent crime was 469.2 per 100,000 inhabitants while the same rate for murder and non-negligent manslaughter was 5.6. For Texas, the same figures were 529.7 and 6.2.

While the prolific death chamber in the city of Huntsville, where 19 inmates have already been executed by lethal injection in 2007, makes Texas stand out, the state is also starting to follow national trends toward fewer death sentences.

Data provided by the state's Office of Court Administration for 1996 to 2006 -- when the number of murders fell somewhat but overall remained fairly constant -- show a sharp drop in the number of death sentences being imposed.

The highs over that period were in 1997 and 1999, years in which 37 death sentences were handed down. But in 2005 only 14 convicts were condemned to die in Texas.

The longer trend is a decline of homicides over the past 30 years with a peak of 2,652 in 1991 in Texas and 1,407 in 2005. And fewer murders should translate into fewer death sentences.

Demographics could help tilt the balance a bit further, as the state's booming economy attracts outsiders -- and potential jury members -- from more liberal regions and as its Latino population grows rapidly.

"Demographics could change things as minority groups like Latinos are generally less enthusiastic about the death penalty," said Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

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Clergy will be used by Government

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Iraqi women resorting to prostitution

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John Stewart tears apart Dick Cheneys Biographer

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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

Taslima Nasreen went into hiding after criticizing Islam

In her words:
"In Bangladesh, the fundamentalists were already up in arms against me, and after this news reached them, they went berserk. Every day thousands started staging demonstrations against me, issuing fatwas one after the other, declaring bandhs, and the government, instead of taking action against them, turned on me, accusing me of hurting the religious sentiments of people. By then the mullahs started demanding my death through hanging and instigated lakhs of people to take to the streets."

This woman criticized the flaws within Islam. She received all kinds of threats from peaceful religious folk.

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ACLU sues over ‘intelligent design’ in Pa.

Suit challenges policy on teaching alternative to evolution theory

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Eight families have sued a school district that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution, claiming the curriculum violates the separation of church and state.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the lawsuit was the first to challenge whether public schools should teach “intelligent design,” which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power. The two organizations are representing the parents in the federal lawsuit.

The Dover Area School District voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 to include intelligent design in the ninth-grade science curriculum, in what is believed to be the first such requirement in the country.

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Jon Safran VS God "Jon Vs The Bible Code"

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Because it's in the Koran..

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Red Meat

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Slayer - Cult Live on the Henry Rollins Show

Oppression is the holy law
In God I distrust
In time His monuments will fall
Like ashes to dust
Is war and greed the masters plan?
The bible's where it all began
Its propaganda sells despair
And spreads the virus everywhere

Religion is hate
Religion is fear
Religion is war
Religion is rape
Religion's obscene
Religion's a whore

The pestilence is Jesus Christ
There never was a sacrifice
No man upon the crucifix
Beware the cult of purity
Infectious imbecility
I've made my choice. Six six six

[Lead - Hanneman]

Corruption breeds the pedohile
Don't pray for the priest
Confession finds the lonely child
God preys on the weak
You think your soul can still be saved
I think you're fucking miles away
Scream out loud here's where you begin
Forgive me father for I have sinned

Religion is hate
Religion is fear
Religion is war
Religion is rape
Religion's obscene
Religion's a whore

The target's Fucking Jesus Christ
I would've lead the sacrifice
And nailed him to the crucifix
Beware the cult of purity
Infectious imbecility
I've made my choice. Six six six

Jesus is pain
Jesus is gore
Jesus is the blood
That's spilled in war
He's everything
He's all things dead
He's pulling on the trigger
Pointed at your head

Through fear you're sold into the fraud
Revelation revolution
I see through your Christ Illusion

[Lead - King]

The war on terror just drags along
My war with God is growing strong
His propaganda sells despair
And spreads the violence everywhere

Religion is hate
Religion is fear
Religion is war
Religion is rape
Religion's obscene
Religion's a whore

There is no fuckin' Jesus Christ
There never was a sacrifice
No man upon the crucifix
Beware the cult of purity
Infectious inbecility
I've made my choice. Six six six

[Lead - Hanneman]

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The Continuum

by: Jack

I've been fascinated with evolution for decades! Since the first time I saw that familiar chart of ape to man in a National Geographic at the age of 10. You know the one, a picture of what looks like a chimp at one end and a guy in a buisness suit at the other, with all the "transitional forms" in between. Each one with it's own genus and species specific names prominantly displayed. The whole thing had me riveted, I clamoured for every drop of information I could find on the evolution of man, dinosaurs, sharks, and any other animal that captured my imagination, if even for a short time.

In the past 10 years or so, my interest in this subject waned a little. I kept a casual eye out for anything pertaining to it that I might run across in my daily life, but there was no active search, to speak of, for new information . In the past few months though, (since the inception of this newsletter) I've found myself once again ravenously searching the internet for ANYTHING that concerns evolutionary biology, or astronomy (another of my past consumptions). I hadn't put much analytical thought into the subject in years, so I was almost seeing it for the first time again.

It seems there have been many advances in the feild since I last cared enough to delve, so my hunger has been well sated. In the last month or so, a question has been occupying a good part of my thoughts when this subject sprints thorough my ever increasingly scattered brain. Well, not really a question, I guess, more of a meditation, if I can use that word here on an atheist website, lol. A pondering of the way in which "species" are confined to be labeled.

This train(wreck) of thought was sparked by the ramblings of Kirk Cameron, no less, in the RRS Nightline debate. The bold display he made of the "Crokoduck", along with the other falsifications and the brandishing of his overwhelming ignorance of Darwinian evolution were the catalysts. The thought occured to me that the name scientists give to a species, extinct or otherwise, amounts to placing a pin in long rope and tagging only the millimeter that the pin occupies with a name. All other millimeters on that rope get their own names. The only reason we tagged that point was because we found it, the invisible bits could have been found first, but they weren't.

The more fossils are found, the more this becomes obvious. We pin a name to the skeletons, and fragments thereof, that we FIND, but they are merely a single frame in the movie of evolution. Every "species" is a transitional form leading to whatever comes next. The fossil record, for many various reasons, is actually very sparce. The conditions that must be present for an organism to be fossilized are fairly precise, and the fossils we do find are the proverbial needle in a hay stack. The fact that we have found so many does not disprove this. Think of the populations of animals that have existed on this planet within a single species alone. Some species we only know through a handfull of preserved specimens. The fact remains that there are most certainly millions, or more likely, billions of species of animals that existed on this planet that we have not, and may never, find a fossil record for.

Evolution is a continuum. A long lineage that started billions of years ago, and it is still in progress. The rope has not yet come to it's end. Like the color spectrum, every organism bleeds over into the next, the properties of the first being displayed in all that follows, on a genetic level if not an imediately observable one. We share DNA with fish, not nearly as much as with chimps, but enough to show that we ALL have a common ancestor.

So the next time you see a headline that reads, "New fossilized species discovered!", realize that the animal, or plant in question is a strand in the rope, a single frame of film in the long movie that is evolution. The continuum keeps going, and every species is a transitional form. Wether or not we will be here to see when the rope ceases to be weaved is another matter, on another topic, for another train(wreck) of thought.

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