Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 LadyAtheist Awards

Why?  Because I can. 

First, the good awards:
Woman of the Year:  Candy Crowley for smacking down Mitt Romney in the debates.

Girl of the Year:  Malala Yusafsai

Man of the Year:  Last-minute winner is Joe Biden, for knocking heads in Congress today

Boy of the Year:  Sorry, can't think of one.  Any ideas?

Religion of the Year:  Mormonism, because it became "mainstream" this year

Event of the Year:  Indian public bus rape-murder

Puppet of the year:  Big Bird.  Geoff Peterson was a shoo-in until Big Bird got a mention in the presidential debates.  Keep working at it, Geoff!  You've come a long way, dude!  Just lay off the booze and you'll be fine.

Song of the year:  Gangnam Style, of course!

Video of the year:  The 47% video.  It may have changed history

Shoe of the year:  Yves Saint Laurent's red shoe with the red sole.  Suck it, Christian Louboutin.  Maybe you can start worrying about women who get shot in the face for going to school or raped and killed for riding a bus instead of whether someone else puts a red sole on a pump now.

Meme of the year:  Fresco Jesus

Now the other awards:

Douche of the year:  NRA's Wayne Lapierre

Fool of the year: Mitt Romney

Dumbass of the year:  How to choose?  how to choose?  It has to be Todd Akin, but Mourdock is a close runner-up.  Oh wait, Karl Rove.  No, every member of Westboro Baptist Church.  *sigh*  Let's just call 2012 the Year of the Dumbass.

Ignorant harpie of the year:  Michele Bachmann

Loser of the year:  Honey Boo-Boo, who will look back on her show years later and cry

Disaster of the year:  The Mayan Apocalypse.  It was off by 500 years or so.  They failed to see Cortez coming & got the date wrong!

Thugs of the year:  the creeps who raped a woman on a city bus in India. 

Sports team of the year:  m'eh who cares?  It's just a game.  Which game?  They're all just games!  Why do people care about sports????  It's not like it matters who wins, unlike Project Runway.

Facebook meme of the year: ecards.  They're getting old.  I still like some of them but they're getting old.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday Links wheeeee

Frankenfish?  Genetically engineered salmon won't get into the food chain because it will only be sold to people who can be trusted not to let it escape?  I'm not a foe of GMOs but this one is a little creepy.

Letters to the L.A. Times after the Newtown shooting.

And whose fault was it?  Atheists' of course.

"I was Adam Lanza," essay by a formerly troubled teen who identifies with Adam Lanza.  "We can be stopped.  We can be saved."   I hope his words have an effect.

Single women, and single men to a point, trend overwhelmingly Democrat.  

Mormon Senator (R-ID) Crapo arrested on DUI charges.  I wonder if he accepted an offer of coffee at the pokey to help him sober up.

The New York Post is duped by a fake Facebook account for the surviving Lanza brother.  Really?  They didn't know FB accounts could be hoaxes?

Oates bites Hall on the face

Non-Christians celebrate the holidays, sometimes.

A Catholic artist works out her ambivalence & issues in some creepy looking works.

Sister Wendy looks at Christianity through the eyes of better artists.

Vulnerability is power.  That is, when Christmas coincides with the mass murder of children.

I love Judaism sometimes.  A reader asks the rabbi, is it acceptable for Jewish workers to go on strike?  In case anyone wonders why there are so many Jewish lawyers (assuming that's really true), the answer is in stuff like this.  A long history of applying the Torah to modern problems and issues has honed the legal methodology you'd need to interpret other laws.

The woman who was gang-raped in India on December 16 has died.  Her attack sparked demonstrations.  I hope her death will inspire reform of India's laws and culture.

The New York subway push captured on video turns out to be a religious hate crime of the most ignorant variety:  the woman who did this pushed this Indian Hindu because of 9/11.  I have always considered bigotry a mental illness.  This proves it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Links to Brighten your Solstice... if you haven't been abducted by Mayans

A lot of these links are related to last week's school shooting.  I grouped them at the top so you can scroll down if you're past the saturation point on this incident:

Indiana man threatens to kill his wife then wipe out elementary school kids... the night before the Newtown shooting!   The police chief didn't take the threat seriously (though the guy was jailed).  I wonder if he'd feel the same way if had happened on Saturday.  (Some news sources are reporting this as a copycat plan)

Scientific American Mind made a 2007 article free online after the Newtown shooting:  Deadly Dreams: What Motivates School Shootings?

A law enforcement site offers its analysis of schools as targets from the perspective of terrorism.  That's basically what mass shooters are, but with personal agendas instead of group goals.  They offer this chilling analysis:
when seeking to cause the greatest psychological, emotional and lifestyle impact on an entire nation, through the deaths of large numbers of the most innocent, no target offers terrorists as much impact as the killing of children

Journalist's Resource has a link round-up for research on mass shootings (some are pay-per-view articles, though)

Mother Jones has a guide to mass shootings. 103 semi-automatic handguns or assault rifles vs. 39 revolvers or shotguns.  (I found this while arguing with someone on FB who said changes in gun control wouldn't have prevented Newtown)

But you don't have to trust them.  The FBI puts homicide data online.

And the other Sandy Hook, the Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreational Area in New Jersey was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy:

Two sea turtles with hypothermia were rescued in Oregon.  It is doubtful whether one of them prayed as she was missing a front flipper, so couldn't do the prayer pose.

The video of a golden eagle attempting to kidnap a toddler was a hoax, but it was fun while it lasted.  Popular Science had to one-up the golden eagle story by writing about a huge extinct eagle of New Zealand.

An evangelical preacher bemoans his faith's decline in America.  ... without mentioning creationism.  The guy lives in New York so maybe he's not as familiar with teh crazee branches here in the Midwest.

Pakistan wanted to name a college for Malala.  She asks them not to.  Because of humility?  NO, because it would threaten the lives of other girls.   grrrr

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the Islamic Dark Ages

A very passionate talk about the dangers of allowing religion to suppress scholarship:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weep for the Aryan Girl-Children

My sweet-natured Facebook friends have been sharing a bunch of stupid graphics about the Connecticut shootings, and if it makes them feel better, good for them.

But... I have to note that the graphics tend to favor 1) girls, 2) blond-haired girls, and 3) blue-eyed blond-haired girls.

The kids were all white except one that looks like she was mixed race, but they had every variety of coloring and both varieties of sex.

Am I the only one to note the pattern?

...and then three-arm Jesus shows up in school:

and an atheist site offers up this:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

God, Guns, and Mental Illness

TV, the blogosphere, and Facebook all agree:  the Connecticut shooting happened because of guns, mental illness and taking God out of schools.  Or just one of those things, depending on your point of view.

So yet another rohrshach test in the news reveals the pet peeves of us all.  We hate and mistrust someone because of something that they do wrong.

Two of my previous blog posts are getting a lot of hits this weekend:
(about stupid statements of "faith" after tragedy)
(review of some of the research on rampage killing)

People came to my bit about stupid expressions of faith after a tragedy via keywords such as "angel taking children to heaven" or "child angels in heaven."  The latter is due to shameless self-promotion in blog comments at Pharyngula and sharing with some atheist facebook friends.

Rampage murders are not the result of any one thing, much like car wrecks and plane crashes.  They are the result of a toxic soup brewing in the mind of someone who can't or won't put the brakes on their destructive plans.  There have been very few rampage murderers, just as there have been very few airplane crashes.  But because of their shocking nature, we pay more attention to these events than to the uneventful daily events that make up the numbers in the more-likely side of the odds equation.

The Connecticut killings are probably more of a "workplace" killing than "school killing," because the killer wasn't a student, and if he was a former student, he had left the school ten earlier.  The Dunblane massacre comes to mind.

And then there's the problem of fame:  we make these people famous by having nonstop television coverage and ummm blogging about them.  Once that toxic soup of rage, guns, disappointment, resentment and possibly also mental illness starts brewing, the hope of fame through one final grandiose act is the remaining ingredient to cook up a plot like the Connecticut shooter's.  Already his name is a household name, known to us well before the names of any of his victims.  He got what he wanted.

Would belief in God stop someone who's got that toxic soup brewing in their brain?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  More likely, the same forces that make self-annihilation attractive could make belief in God untenable.  Or in the case of Andrea Yates, belief in God would be an ingredient in the toxic soup.

It's easy to understand how primitive people could believe in "demons" that would turn an ordinary person into a killer.  Someone in the right frame of wrong frame of mind might even respond to voodoo designed to cast out those demons, but sometimes the human mind and brain just isn't right and those of us with functioning minds and brains can probably never comprehend their actions completely.  They are alien to us, and so whatever is alien to our self-image would naturally be part of our assumptions.  Atheists are aliens to religious people, so *thwap* there's one assumption slapped onto the story.  Those of us who are sane find crazy people alien so *splat!* there's another one.  The result is a rorschah blot that may resemble the story on the surface but only if we saw that pattern to begin with.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Prayer Memes Erupt on Facebook after School Shooting

20 children and 6 adults dead, non-stop coverage by television all day long, Facebook friends find out by checking Facebook, then they feel silly for all their pointless posting, sharing and liking.  The Christians feel guilty for their selfishness, then they feel they must atone by praying.  But just praying isn't enough to atone for such a wasted life.  They must announce it and make sure that all the people who saw their Facebook posts earlier in the day can see that they're now praying.

Because, you know, prayer is unselfish.

And because, you know, prayer isn't a waste of time like Facebook is.

Cue the meme war.  I only collected two today because apparently the first couple of meme generators got it "right," (added the prayer chain abomination too because it's just so tacky!) and then I saw the atheist response: 

Response from The Atheist Bible Commentary Page

Yeah, pretty much sums it up!

Oh my my my I was far too premature in posting graphics for the infidels.  Here are some more to make you shake your head:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Week in Links

Older people's brains are more gullible.  Does this explain Mitt Romney's fanbase?

Atheism on the rise in Texas.  The Houston Press interviews vlogger Aron Ra and others at the Texas Freethought Convention, and give a little history of Texas atheism, including the Freidankers, German free-thinkers who settled in the Hill Country (which Austin is part of) in the 19th Century.  (I always wondered about the German names for towns!  Boerne, Kerrville, New Braunfels and Gruene among them)

The National Audubon Society holds an annual Christmas Bird Count.  It's an annual count of bird populations at about Christmastime, not a count of Christmas birds.   The Great Backyard Bird Count is in February.

Hemant Mehta (a.k.a. The Friendly Atheist) writes in the Washington Post about the experiences of non-theistic high school students.

California moron calls atheist attempts to insist on compliance with the First Amendment "unconstitutional."  She doesn't seem to have read the Constitution, though.  Typical.

Atheists Anonymous, support group for oldsters in California.  No, they're not giving up atheism, just being treated like dirt.

Election post-mortem from Pew:  White evangelicals weren't turned off by Romney

Evangelicals want to abolish electoral college.  Gore would have been the winner over their idiot Dubya, so I can't see why.  Maybe they want attention if they live outside of a swing state.  Who wouldn't want nonstop robocalls and endless TV and radio commercials for months on end?

Notre Dame has decided to be more gay-friendly.  And in Germany, gay pedophile priests have been shown to be psychologically "normal," at least according to a study put out by one church.

Hindu schools in Nepal borrow from the Catholic practice of making students classless with uniforms, in the mass prayer day.  (That was what my Catholic friends always said justified having uniforms, though everyone seemed to know who the rich kids were)

A West Point senior leaves the school because of religiosity on campus.  He wrote “I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same,” Mr. Page wrote in his letter of resignation.

Meanwhile, in India, the courts have decided not to force religion on children, or at least one.  

Tonight is the beginning of Hanukkah, or Chanukkah, or Channukkahhh...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Charity Link Round-up page

Check out my new list of charities that I feel confident don't include prosletyzing in their work.

I didn't list secular charities like Freedom From Religion Foundation, because there are lots of lists like that on the web.  There's so much begging for charity money this time of year I decided to look into which ones I would want to donate to... assuming I had disposable income.

Feedback & suggestions welcome, though if you have a boatload of criticisms or ideas of how I could do it better if I had another thirty or so hours to spend, then do it yourself and send me the link.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sad News for Eagle Watchers

This year I became enthralled by the nest-cam in Decorah, Iowa, that watched a clutch of American Bald Eagles from egg-laying to fledging.  I learned that last year the Raptor Resource Center that runs this project had put a transmitter on one of the babies and I checked periodically to see her progress on their map.

This year, the first baby eagle (D12) died from electrocution on a power pole near the nest soon after fledging.  It was shocking because of the suddenness, but also because it was a bird that I "knew."  The team posted about electrical poles' danger to birds, especially large raptors.  With their large wingspan, there's more chance of a bald eagle being electrocuted.  A group inspired by D12's passing worked to make poles in the area safer for the fledglings.

Last week another of the clutch was found dead from electrocution:  D14 had been equipped with a transmitter and was being tracked like his older sister.  He was found in Iowa at the foot of an electrical pole.

The sad blog post is here:

The previous year an eagle (D1) was fitted with a transmitter, and she has returned to her natal home after summering in Canada.  Her survival seems even more miraculous fortuitous after seeing what happened to two of the three eaglets from this year's nest.

A raptor-safe power pole is amazingly simple to make.  I hope more people will be inspired by this new tragedy to make their area poles safe:

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Wasn't going to do a link round-up this week but a few things caught my eye:

The Religion Clause blog has a list of the religious mentions in the proposed Egyptian constitution.

Leesburg, Virginia is Ground Zero in the War on Christmas again.  I can't say I support the atheists on this one.  One Leesburg official (who was apparently in a coma on 9/11/2001) called atheists "fanatical terrorists."

Can Islam be a force for good in climate change?

Can Islam be gay-friendly?

Robert Schuller & his family have to survive on less than a million dollars after the bankruptcy of their Crystal Cathedral ministry.  Oh boo hoo  Maybe they should pray to win the lottery.

A priest named Schueller pisses off the pope by wanting women to be ordained & questioning celibacy.  It's too bad he isn't also a pedophile.  The pope would have ignored him.

Former Episcopal priests are turning Catholic, and for these guys it's okay to be married priests.  (similar to the rule in Eastern orthodox churches).   How does the vatican wrap its head around its head?

Presbyterian parishes are leaving the denomination to join a more conservative version.   Would Calvin be proud?

Religion gives me a headache.  It's no wonder fundies look so glassy-eyed.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

Minute Physics added some art to Neil DeGrasse Tyson's answer to the question:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nuttery on the Left: The Anti-GMO Hysteria

One of my friends shared this piece of shit video on Facebook.

 This "Health Ranger" is also the perpetrator of Natural News:  Curiously, this guy also happens to believe every other food myth of the radical left:  raw food diets, "alternative" medicine, and whatever hits his fan from day to day.

My friend is a sucker for a lot of this stuff.  Like me, she went into a field that didn't require a background in the sciences.  Unlike me, she isn't ashamed of her ignorance and fails to use her intelligence to make up for her educational lacunae.  I know quite a few people like this.  They're smart but not schooled in the sciences or practiced in true skepticism.  My friend claims to be "skeptical" when in reality she's just suspicious.  Not the same thing at all.

The anti-GMO movement is particularly irksome to me because it paints all genetically-modified foods with the same tainted brush of suspicion. It would be one thing if they claimed that specific strains of GMO corn affected the environment, or that peanut allergies are due to one specific variety of peanut. But no, they don't differentiate between products.  It's all suspicious.

And rather than go to pubmed and read up on the research themselves, they let crackpots like "The Heatlh Ranger" tell them what to think.  Some "skepticism" there.

Here's what I found by searching pubmed:  There is a possiblity that crops grown to be impervious to roundup may have residual roundup on or in them, which may affect endocrine functions in mammals (rats are the only animals studied so far).  That's pretty much it.

There are issues that could indeed make GMOs bad, but there are also potential advantages too:
  • Higher yields means less hunger and less land used for crops
  • Hypo-allergenic crops can be developed
  • Sterile plants won't invade natural areas
  • More nutritious crops can be developed
  • Crops that make it to market reduce waste
Not to mention, everything we eat is already genetically modified, through selective breeding and hybridization.  Nothing we eat, from the banana (hear that, Kirk Cameron?) to the cow, is as it was originally found in nature.

And speaking of nature, this is the source of the anti-GMO hysteria:  the naturalistic fallacy.

In some people, it borders on the religious.  They revere their romanticized natural condition without really knowing much about actual nature.  They believe in the magical power of food to make them live forever, or at least until 100.   They pass along whatever their leaders say without questioning it.  And they reject all alternate explanations for even obvious myths.

I have encountered many varieties of "food nazis."  They demonize particular foods and insist that everyone else should follow their advice on healthy living.  (The Nazis were big health nuts, we often forget)   They don't want the rest of us to enjoy an omelet because they ignorantly believe that eggs cause high cholesterol (they don't).  Or they have never been fat and they believe they know what foods fat people should eat (no long-term studies of diet have shown more than modest temporary weight loss).  Or they think killing animals for food is unnatural for humans (we evolved as omnivores, not vegans).

They mean well, so you can't smack 'em.  So you have to rant in a blog post.  So I did.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Week Links (but none about Thanksgiving!)

Does the FFRF have a chance against the IRS?  They took the bait from brazen preachers who scoffed at the law, and now it's up to a federal court to set things right.  The other side says:  "I don't know how the FFRF can claim it's been harmed by the IRS."  Uhhhhhh anyone who is a taxpayer paying on the national debt has been harmed by money not being raked in.  We'll see...
“I think the lawsuit itself really borders on frivolous. I don’t know how the FFRF can claim they’ve been harmed by the IRS‘ refusal to enforce the Johnson Amendment,” Mr. Stanley said. “But, on the chance it does, then we will seek to protect those churches.”

Read more: Atheists sue IRS for ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ - Washington Times
Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter
“I think the lawsuit itself really borders on frivolous. I don’t know how the FFRF can claim they’ve been harmed by the IRS‘ refusal to enforce the Johnson Amendment,” Mr. Stanley said. “But, on the chance it does, then we will seek to protect those churches.”

Read more: Atheists sue IRS for ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ - Washington Times
Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

The Economist looks at atheism in Islamic countries.

A Washington Post blogger talks about life as an atheist in Saudi Arabia.  It's enough to make me grateful for the First Amendment, among other perks of being born in the U.S.A.

A new book titled Christianity, Islam, and Atheism gets a pro-Christianity spin here.  The book is published by Ignatius Press, so guess how atheists fare?  (The publisher's video is hilarious)

Fundamentalists in The Netherlands gain ground in local elections.  These fundies are even worse than American fundies: they don't believe women should have the right to vote!

Tibetan Buddhists continue to self-immolate in protest.  China is not only unimpressed, it's angry at the Dalai Lama for not putting a stop to it.  If China does nothing and his supporters continue to commit suicide, isn't China right to just wait it out?

More Baptists who wish they were Episcopalians:  offended by racist pastor, parishoners petition for help from the Southern Baptist Association.  Isn't local hiring and firing of pastors a principle of Baptist theology?  These people will have to do what other disgruntled protestants have done:  start their own church and find a pastor who will tell them what they want to hear (which in this case is better).

Is Egypt backing away from the edge?   I couldn't find the clip but I heard a great quote on CNN: Egyptians had chosen an Islamist only because the alternative was from the old guard, which was a tyrannical rule.  And now their Islamist president is threatening them with the same kind of suppression they had just rid themselves of.  Perhaps there will be a Second Arab Spring, at least for Egypt.

Having read a little about Middle Eastern archaeology, I was reminded this week that layers in cities or settlements are dated based on burn residue.  Egypt, Gaza, and Aleppo are adding another layer this week.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Petition to nominate Malala Yousafzai for Nobel Peace Prize

Ask President Obama to nominate Malala for the Nobel Peace Prize

Sign here:

This petition has a huge number of signers but it's Canadian (no offense to Canadians)'s petition:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Do You Want to Die?

A pro-life Facebook friend couldn't help but pass along this story about a guy in a vegetative state who "communicates" via thoughts he has while in an fMRI machine.

A brain injured patient gets put into the machine and the doctor trains him to think about playing tennis or think about walking through the house, then assigns "yes" to one and "no" to the other so he can ask him some questions.  The aim is to improve the "quality of life" for these patients, which is a noble goal... assuming the guy really does have higher level cognitive functioning.

Another version of the story has this seemingly amazing piece of information:
"This was a landmark moment for us because for the first time, a patient can actually tell us information, important information about how they're feeling and their current situation," said lead researcher Dr. Adrian Owen on Tuesday.

A simple google search finds that the same doctor has made this claim before, using the same methods:

That was in 2006, and in 2007 several responses to the article criticized his methods, conclusion, and lack of attention to alternate explanations for his "findings."   I found that previous article and its critics in about five minutes (slowed down only by having to register with  How hard did the BBC reporter look?  Or the news organizations that have been repeating it?  When a story is too good to be true, shouldn't they assume that maybe it isn't?
This was a landmark moment for us because for the first time, a patient can actually tell us information, important information about how they're feeling and their current situation," said lead researcher Dr. Adrian Owen on Tuesday.

Read more:

But what really irks me is that the doctor asked the patient is he was in pain.  And guess what?  He's not!  I'm sure the answer is at least as reliable as a Ouiji board.

But will he ask if they guy wants to continue to live in that state? No, of course not.

The coward couldn't ask the most important question, because if the guy said "no," the doctor's ambitions get launched into a whole other sphere, one that is contrary to the his wishes.  After all, if these guys really want to die, then he's out of a job.

Or, he'll have to start proving that his patients lack the psychological fitness to decide to end their lives, which would call into question whether they're able to consent to participate in his research. He's no ethicist or psychologist, so the patient ceases to be his, one way or another.

I'll be keeping an eye out for his article that is supposedly forthcoming, and I'll request it from my library's interlibrary loan department if I have to, because I want to know why he's been researching the same thing for years without ever coming to the point of asking the patients if they want to be allowed to die.

Shouldn't he ask that question eventually?  If I were in that state, that would be the first question I'd want them to ask me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Election Week Links

Indiana's Richard Mourdock turned to prayer to help him in the election.  Andrew Phipps, the fundy speaker who organized this thing, is a dot-org!  His 501C3 should be ripped up and fed to the devil!  Outgoing governor Mitch Daniels gave this nutter the "Distinguished Hoosier" award.

In the end, Mourdock's rich friends couldn't buy the election.  And something that gives me even more hope, Mourdock only received 60% or more of the vote in a few counties.

Fox News reports machines are switching votes from Romney to Obama... only in that direction!  Apparently they don't follow the news very closely because other people are reporting votes for Obama were switched to Romney and there's video to prove it.

We don't have our first Mormon president, but we have our first Hindu and Buddhist in Congress.

The numbers:

Romney won the white vote almost everywhere.    Too bad for Romney, white people are only 72% of the electorate.  And women are over 50% of the electorate, and not fond of mysogynists.  And non-religious people are a 12% voting bloc that politicians shouldn't ignore.  Asians didn't buy Romney's economic message, either.  Polls of polls saw this coming.  So in the end, Moneyball beats Goebbels Rove.
Or was Rove's real problem lying to himself?

...and in other news:
Church services for atheists?  People are showing up at 8:30 a.m. for this.  That's about 4 hours too early for me.  If the local UU tries this here, I'll check it out .. if it's not too early!

An Australian Catholic priest reveals systematic cover-ups of pedophilia in the church.

The pope worries that after gay marriage is recognized, polygamy would be too.  Polygamy would be much more complex, with three having to agree, and a whole boatload of other considerations, but I would back that too for consenting adults, not marriage between adults & teens as cult leaders do.  I wonder how he feels about Catholics voting for Romney.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mental Illness and the Main Characters of the Bible

I would have to say that the number one reason I'm an atheist is that all the religions of the world rely on magical communication between the other-world and people -- selected people -- in this world.  Those who have been chosen to see, hear, know or otherwise learn of the other realm then transmit this specialized knowledge to the rest of us. The few who believe them call them "prophet" or "seer" or "shaman" and revere their every word from then on.  After all, normal people don't hear voices, believe their dreams, or see people who aren't there... or do they?

Did Moses see an actual burning bush

Even if Moses did exist, and even if he did write or dictate his experience accurately, and even if his story was transmitted faithfully for thousands of years before being committed to papyrus, he probably did not see an actual magical burning bush.  He either saw an ordinary burning bush, or he had an hallucination.  Hallucinations of fire are not that unusual. In Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, Clinical Neuroscience (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1996), Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D writes:
Hallucinations may occur secondary to tumors or seizures involving the occipital, parietal, frontal, and temporal lobe, or arise secondary to drugs, toxic exposure, high fevers, general infections, exhuastion, starvation, extreme thirst, partial or complete hearing loss including otosclerosis, and with partial or complete blindness such as due to glacoma ...  For example, tumors or electrical stimulation of the occipital lobe produce simple hallucinations such as colors, stars, spots, balls of fire, flashes of light.

Next, Moses supposedly heard the voice of God, not coming from within his own head, but from somehwere else.  (Or God wrote the commandments on the two tablets himself) A certain type of brain injury can cause that too, as can schizophrenia.  Stress can also cause auditory hallucinations, including stress due to sensory deprivation.  Moses was alone, so we don't "know" what his sensory input was.  Another potential cause is a milder condition, in which ordinary sounds (such as the wind rustling through a shrub high on a mountain) can be misinterpreted in the brain and turned into full-fledged vocalizations from outside the mind.  And "The most common type of auditory hallucinations in psychiatric illness consists of voices" so the likeliest thing for Moses to hear in this state would have been one or more voices.  Since he was alone, naturally he had nobody to attribute the voices to other than God.  Someone experiencing the same thing today might make the same mistake (unless they had just ingested a psychogenic plant!)

So my verdict on Moses:  some kind of hallucinatory experience, from any number of causes, is much more likely than God performing a miracle and then talking to him.  Moses most likely did not exist, but ancient people would have been aware of the phenomenon of seemingly sane people having hallucinations that they interpret as coming from a divine source.

Dreams likewise seem to have an external origin.  Even the few people who claim to be able to do "lucid dreaming" or otherwise control their dreams admit they work very hard at it.  For the rest of us, dreams are foreign invaders into our experiences, spinning out stories that can be the cause of great distress.  Like hallucinations, our reality-tester in our brain is out of commission and after the fact has no basis for knowing what was real.  Everything seems real in a dream.  I do agree with dream interpretation as a psychological tool because the same brain that goes about our daily business dreamed up the dream story.  Even when people know that they've had a dream, it still seems significant to them, and it may be.  Dreams reveal how our brains are processing our lives and how we feel about events.

In Genesis, Jacob saw a ladder reaching to "heaven." And then, just like Moses, he "heard" God telling him that he and his progeny would rule the earth.  When he woke up he believed it was all real and he made a life-decision based on it:  he "founded" the city of "Bethel."  A later dream-God told him to abandon his city.  This may say as much about culture as the individual:  plain old good judgment can't be presumed in their leaders.  They need to be supported by a higher authority.

The other big dreamer in the Bible is the most famous: Joseph, who had prophetic dreams of his own and became a dream interpreter for Pharoah.  Again, assuming any of this stuff happened as it was written down hundreds or thousands of years later, this is a very convenient way for someone to manipulate another person.  Just like phony psychics who do cold readings, a clever "dream interpreter" can get their mark to believe almost anything.  Coincidentally, Pharoah rewarded Joseph with valuables.  Joseph sounds more like a con artist to me than a prophet.

In almost every culture and in folk life generally, dream interpretation can be a game, a prophesy or a form of manipulation.  Did Jacob's ladder mean anything?  Did Joseph really get messages from God through his own and others' dreams?

No.  Not likely at all.  Dreams are just dreams, though sometimes they are revealing of something in our experience or thinking.  Seeming proof of supernatural communication is wishful thinking.

Sometimes people just seem to "know" things in the absence of having been told by a real or hallucinated figure.  To the person holding the delusion it's every bit as real as the ideas they have about the actual real world.  Something has gone very very wrong for them.

The obvious example from the New Testament would be Jesus, assuming he really meant "son of God" when he called himself "Son of Man."  There's no description in the Bible of Jesus being told by his mother that she'd been impregnated by God.  He had siblings, and presumably was the oldest, so he would have been somewhat elevated in the family by virtue just of being the oldest boy.  That's enough to mess with any child's brain. 

Delusional Disorder is currently defined as delusions in the absence of other symptoms, which family and culture do not support.  If your culture does support the idea that a person can be magically special, it would be not be a delusion by today's standards, but I think that's a cop-out.  The culture itself can share a delusion (as Richard Dawkins says of course), and an individual's psychosis can fit right in with it.  More recently, we have had the famous cases of  Jim Jones, Charlie Manson, and David Koresh.  They were able to gather a group around themselves in a personality cult reminiscent of Jesus and his disciples, with even more success in some ways, yet would they be considered mentally ill if the outcomes hadn't been so drastic?  We've been too polite about the (somewhat) less dangerous versions of them such as Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, and L. Ron Hubbard.

And the person harboring the delusion can appear normal:  "Unfortunately, patients with delusional disorder do not have good insight into their pathological experiences. Interestingly, despite significant delusions, many other psychosocial abilities remain intact"

So... was Jesus really the offspring of a human-deity mating?   Assuming that story wasn't cribbed from other stories current in his time, why should his belief in his divinity be more convincing than the "false" prophets?  It's not.

Conclusion:  Jesus, if he existed, and if his story was transmitted accurately, probably was more like Jim Jones and Charles Manson in his path to self-delusion than a truly half-divine man-god. The fact that others believed him, doesn't make it more true any more than Charlie's followers convince most of us that he was anything but a demented, delusional cult leader.

Which brings us to Paul, who in my opinion is the true inventor of Christianity.  What happened to him  on the road to Damascus?  In Acts 9-13 it says:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you musist do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
The bright light sounds hallucinatory for sure, possibly due to something like an ischemic stroke, or stress-related hallucination.  This is his one big moment, not one of a long series, so he wasn't mentally ill, but he could have been in a temporarily ill state.  The others "hearing the sound" doesn't necessarily confirm the experience, especially since they didn't see anyone, and presumably didn't hear the bright light.  One, he was a leader and who is going to say "No, boss, I didn't hear nuthin?"  But also, it's possible for the person hearing the voice to believe others also heard it.  And since his companions weren't the ones writing about this story, is it likely (assuming they were real persons of course) that they were the ones telling the story to whoever did write Acts?  No, it's much more likely, that if Paul existed, and if he'd heard these things, and if he told others about them, that only his version of events was written down.

So... did Paul really hear Jesus talking to him on the Road to Damascus?  Since he'd never actually met Jesus before the crucifixion, how would he know?  He had only the voice's word for it, and disembodied voices just can't be trusted.  So my verdict on Paul:  hallucination and biased reporting.

You could go through the holy stories of any other religion and find the same types of stories (sometimes the same story with different names!) and because the people telling the stories were credible, powerful, charismatic, or dishonest, the stories became the basis for religions.  If you were born more than 100 years ago, you could hardly be blamed for believeng that other people's delusions, dreams, and hallucinations were actual windows into another reality.

If you believe in other people's delusions today, though, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Links, mostly political sad to say

Romney on Mormonism, the whole interview.  He's very testy.  How charming would he be in discussions with world leaders?

We know how he is with women:  he would let a woman die rather than abort, and he would try to force a single mom to give up her baby for adoption or face excommunication.

The New Republic's article on Mormonism and Capitalism is interesting reading & references some books on the history of Mormonism.  The more I know the more creeped out I am so don't look for book reviews here.  Link them here if you write em, though!
The Taliban kills an anti-Taliban official in Pakistan.  Apparently Osama bin Laden's rhetoric about the U.S. having too much influence in Saudi Arabia was a hollow excuse for his true goal: destroy secularism.  They found some closer to home, but it will be a hollow victory in the end.  They can't possibly think people will let them rule over them after all this carnage.

Tuesday's election may see the first U.S. congress member who is a Hindu.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Atheism + Covered in "Trolls News"

Well, the atheism battles have finally reached the zenith, nadir, or uhh extreme corners of the news world. The forums for Atheism + were flooded with disgusting images, and they were disparaged in the Urban Dictionary. Makes an atheist proud. Can the jerks who are taking time out of their lives to stalk, harrass, and troll the Atheism + movement get any lower? What happened to trolling Christian Forums? That used to be such fun.

Full coverage on "Trolls News:"

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Links of the Week

The story of this suicide pact makes me want to find a friend like this guy's friend.  His sister tried to make him pray.  His friend gave him the peaceful ending he wanted.  I can't imagine the courage and loyalty there.

Oregon & Massachussetts are voting on whether to make assisted suicide legal.  There would be a lot fewer "murder"- suicides if people weren't forced to suffer by the outdated ideas of religious zealots.  In Canada (and perhaps elsewhere?) compassionate physicians are breaking the law.

In Pakistan, a degree-granting school for girls and young women is being named after Malala.  The students are nervous but not intimidated.  Parents support it too.  Good for them.  I hope the Taliban gets thrown out on its arse for what they did to that girl.  This is reminiscent of Brown vs. Board of Education... but worse.

We shouldn't pat ourselves too hard on the back, though.  International observers will be watching our election, and they are facing a threat of criminal prosecution for doing so.  Perhaps a certain party is worried that their vote-stealing scheme might get outed.
The Center for Inquiry is taking on the issue of secular celebrants in the backward hick-infested Fundy State of Indiana, where only clergy are permitted to do it currently.

Jesus for President, 2012!  Yay!  (I hope they siphon off enough Republican voters to give Virginia, Florida & Ohio to Obama!)

Even health care workers can be infected with the anti-science virus.  All health care companies should adopt a mandatory flu shot order as a way of weeding out people who shouldn't be working there in the first place.

European Catholics think they have to out-evangelize Islam.  Well at least they're not using the word "crusade."  Well, that's what they say.  Perhaps they were inspired by the French government's financial support of contraception and abortion.

Muslims celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice at Angel Stadium.  The "most important" holiday celebrates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac.  Ummm yay for the Religion of Peace?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rape Pregnancies: "Something God Intended"

Ahhh Indiana, Hick capital of the Midwest.  Here we have our Republican candidate for the Senate showing the state for the backwards hick-infested pseudo-Christian cesspool that it is:

 The guy who beat almost-centrist Senator Richard Lugar in the primary said "[life is a] gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Never trust a man with no lips
Logically, if everything is god-ordained, then yes this makes sense.  By the same token, god must intend millions of babies in Africa to die from malnutrition, dysentery, and war.  God also must have intended the people of the midwest to live in constant fear of tornados, since he smites whole cities he doesn't have very good aim to take out only the bad midwesterners.  And of course there are the pregnant women who died in "the Flood."  God wasn't against abortion then, was he?  Well, whatever God wants is just dandy by these people.

I think Salon sums it up exactly right:

Here’s why this is happening: The newer crop of Republican candidates and elected officials, are, more often than not, straight from the base. They’re less polished than their predecessors; they’re more ideologically pure. As a result, they’ve accidentally been letting the mask slip and showing what’s really at the core of the right-to-life movement.

For years, the movement has fought plausible charges that it is anti-woman by repackaging its abortion restrictions, in Orwellian fashion, as protections for women. They’ve done it so successfully that until recently, when so many alleged “gaffes” went viral, no one really noticed. What is the so-called Women’s Health Defense Act? A proposed ban on abortion before viability. What are “informed consent” laws purporting to give women all the information they need before having abortions? Forced ultrasounds, transvaginal, and some of them involving the forced viewing of the ultrasound, at the woman’s expense, under the stated supposition that she has no idea what’s growing inside her unless someone makes her look. (Never mind that 60 percent of women who have abortions have already given birth at least once.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Linky Links this Week

Japanese shrine to WW2 dead a harbinger of right-wing sentiment.  I feel the same way when I see hick cars and trucks with Confederate flags in the U.S.  What is wrong with these people?

In Turkey, a musician is on trial for blasphemy.  Why do they care what a musician thinks?   Just how weak is this theology anyway?  First they shoot a little girl for going to school next they are afraid of a musician's opinions.

Is Judaism compatible with atheism?  I love this quote: "I’m aware of all the wrongs of organized religion – which is why I prefer Judaism, because it’s a very disorganized religion."  The writer is in Canada, which probably explains why he is oblivious to the fundamentalist trend in American Judaism where I used to live (Brooklyn).  "Cultural Jews" are pretty cool people on the whole.  If I couldn't be openly atheist I would tell people I'm Jewish but be one of those cultural Jews that doesn't really believe any of the holy moly stuff.

Speaking of Brooklyn, in Crown Heights, where I once worked, a crazy Jew who fell asleep naked while trespassing or something, got beat up by the cops and now the community is up in arms.  Nobody is questioning why he isn't wearing a top hat and has apparently cut his hair, not to mention why he sleeps naked in places he doesn't belong.  I hope someone helps the poor guy!

Genital correctness isn't going over in Evangelical Christian circles.  Sing along everybody! "You say vagina, I say... SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

Ted Haggard seems to be evolving on the issue of gay marriage.  He almost sounds rational here!

The U.S. Air Force Academy allows celebration of a Hindu deity.   They'll portray it as an attempt at inclusiveness, but really they just don't want to give up Evangelical prosletyzing.  Still, rather a good thing that cadets may develop a little understanding of others.

The New York Times says the Benghazi attack committed by extremists who were inspired by that stupid video, but there was not a demonstration.  "It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, 20, a neighbor of the compound who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.” " ... not al qaeda.  Mitt Romney will continue to claim Obama should have known 100% of the details within hours of the attack, of course, even though the bad guys made no claims of responsibility. This same group has attacked consulates of other countries over perceived insults to their thin-skinned prophet.

Russia destroys a Pentecostal church in Moscow as part of their crack-down on non-Orthodox Christianity.  Now that Godless Communism is gone, uhhhh yay? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Greetings from my Binder

When I send my resume to a potential employer, I don't want to be in a "women's" binder.  I want to be in the binder with everybody else who meets the minimum qualifications for the job I've applied for.  And then, I want my resume to stay there and duke it out with the other resumes and not be tossed into the circular file (or the "NO" binder?) just for being a woman's resume.  I don't want my potential employer to say, okay we've got five white men, now let's grab the women's binder, the Hispanic binder, the Asian binder, the black binder and the disabled binder and find some token hires.

Just thought I'd clarify that in case readers don't understand why that line has become the take-away from last night's debates.  (Just watched Piers Morgan repeatedly not getting "it")

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Links Links Links

Typing "completely wrong" into google image search yields some LULZ

This is how 1950s horror movies start, but it happened this week! 

Dear Abby is on the side of salespeople who say "Have a blessed day."  I've been annoyed by that one too, and no, it's not a secular greeting.  Only religious people use it.

Pakistan's Taliban tries to assassinate a little girl.  Seriously, they are afraid of a teenager who wants to go to school?  If 9/11 couldn't get the attention of the less nutty segments of Islam, perhaps this abomination will.  The backlash is starting already.  Quotable quote: "One human rights activist said that while there was "a great big moderate majority" in Pakistan but "it never speaks up".  Perhaps they're taking a cue from the cowards in the U.S. who are afraid to speak up against the Christian Taliban.

Meanwhile, Pakistan goes after a different kid for "blasphemy."  Seriously?  Kids?  WTF is wrong with that country?

In Canada, students who protest religion in schools have their way

Biden & Ryan represent two sides of American Catholicism, and it became an issue in the VP debate.

Even a neurosurgeon can be fooled by his brain.  Sam Harris explains what really happened.  Now if only Newsweek would feature Sam Harris's rebuttal in a cover story.  (Found via Why Evolution is True blog)

Liberty University grad & straight fundy lives life as a gay man for a year, then writes a book about it.

SCOTUS will debate gay marriage this year.  YAY!

Dearborn Michigan is the hub of Islam-Christian tug-of-war on Free Speech, with crazyass Koran-burning pastor the latest combatant.

The Hindu festival of Durga Puja sounds like fun or at least artistic and creative.  It sounds almost as commercial as Christmas, but with more colors.    The downside is that idols get thrown into rivers for um... some religious purpose... but they often contain lead-based paint.

A Baptist church ordained a gay man and other Baptist churches want to excommunicate that church... or something.  When Baptists are coming around you know the culture war is over.  Or... Baptists will have to rethink being Baptist and letting churches select their own clergy.  "The action also goes against the long-known Baptist principle of the autonomy of the local church"  If they want to drop that principle, then they'd be Episcopalians!

In Atlanta, Wal-Mart wants to sell liquor next door to a church.  The church thinks being withint a few hundred feet of liquor will damage their children's minds.  Seriously?  I can think of better reasons not to be near Wal-Mart (see photo)  The church won this battle, but I hope Wal-Mart appeals.  This law seems to me to be a clear violation of the First Amendment, since there is only sensitivity toward Christian establishments.  Why not ban Starbucks near Mormon temples or any store selling Spam near a mosque?  Or any meat-eating establishment near a Hindu temple?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012