Reflections on the Recent Member Talk Regarding Global Climate Change (GCC)

We owe Sebastian and Jackie a big ‘thank you’ for their presentation last Thursday night. The turnout was impressive and the food was great, as usual. And it was a pleasure to meet the new members to our group: Clint and Susan, Barry and Roz, and Nate who just moved to Durango within the month! The discussion following Sebastian’s remarks was very engrossing, as members offered many different observations. As usual, members of the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango displayed a wide range of opinion!

Reflecting on the presentation, I want to offer a few observations of my own. In retrospect, I wish that we had polled the group in more detail about our personal perceptions of the extent to which human actions are the prime mover of global climate change (GCC). While no one present at the discussion believed that GCC was 100% natural or 100% the result of human action, everyone did agree on a mushy middle that a combination of human activity and natural cycles must underlie the phenomenon. I would have been interested to know who felt that the underlying cause is MOSTLY man-made…say, 90% human caused and 10% natural. I am not a scientist (ha!) but this is my belief.

In support of the above I refer you to the Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  IPCC is a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world, under the auspices of the United Nations, which concluded there’s a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 250 years have warmed our planet.  Specifically, the industrial activities of our modern civilization have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in just the last 150 years. The panel also concluded there’s a better than 90 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.

The IPCC has concluded that the rate of increase in global warming due to these gases is unprecedented within the past 10,000 years or more. The panel’s full Summary for Policymakers report is online at  http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf

Supporting the IPCC report, NASA has this to say on its ‘Vital Signs of the Planet’ website http://climate.nasa.gov/ :

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.

Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. They also show that [in the past 150 years], large changes in climate have happened very quickly, geologically-speaking: in tens of years, not in millions or even thousands.3 

hockey stick graph

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

As Clint pointed out, the graphs shown last night depicting historic wide swings of temperature are not relevant to the GCC discussion. Yes, the Earth has experienced many different climate conditions over the course of millions (billions) of years, BUT the question of GCC has to do with climate’s impact on HUMANS, NOW. That the Earth was much warmer in the distant past than it is today does not matter since the spikes in the graphs, for the most part, pre-date the existence of homo sapiens and our ancestors. As an example, the Earth was a molten hell-scape 4 billion years ago, but that that has no bearing on the climate issues we face today. There is no question that the Earth, itself, will continue to exist…the Big Question is whether human kind will survive in the long term.

I am also troubled by the graphs we saw during the presentation because the time-scale changed dramatically within single graphs. In the same graph, the scale for the modern era showed time scales in increments of decades/centuries but the time scale for earlier eras showed millions of years…the result was a graph that visually distorted the record of climate change throughout Earth’s history. The effect was to visually equate changes that occurred over tens of millions of years with the changes that have occurred over the past 150 years. Granted, had the graphs used a consistent time-scale, the graph would have cumbersome – an accurate graph would  probably have wrapped around the room. I am not claiming that the intention was to deceive, but the end result was exactly that.

NASA (not a liberal, green bunch of hysterics I hope all will agree) cites the following alarming facts:

  • SEA LEVEL RISE: Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century
  • GLOBAL TEMPERATURE RISE: All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880.5Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.
  • WARMING OCEANS: The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • SHRINKING ICE SHEETS: The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
  • DECLINING ARTIC ICE: Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
  • GLACIAL RETREAT: Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
  • EXTREME EVENTS: The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.
  • OCEAN ACIDIFICATION: Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.12,13This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.
  • DECREASED SNOW COVER: Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier.

Natural Causes? As to the possible natural causes of the extreme temperatures that we are witnessing in the past 150 years (this is the time frame that is often referenced since we only started to keep comprehensive meteorological records), here are some facts.

Is the variability of the Sun responsible for heating up the Earth?NASA says this:  It’s reasonable to assume that changes in the sun’s energy output would cause the climate to change, since the sun is the fundamental source of energy that drives our climate system. 

Indeed, studies show that solar variability has played a role in past climate changes. For example, a decrease in solar activity is thought to have triggered the Little Ice Age between approximately 1650 and 1850, when Greenland was largely cut off by ice from 1410 to the 1720s and glaciers advanced in the Alps.

But several lines of evidence show that current global warming cannot be explained by changes in energy from the sun:

  • Since 1750, the average amount of energy coming from the sun either remained constant or increased slightly.
  • If the warming were caused by a more active sun, then scientists would expect to see warmer temperatures in all layers of the atmosphere. Instead, they have observed a cooling in the upper atmosphere, and a warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere. That’s because greenhouse gasses are trapping heat in the lower atmosphere.
  • Climate models that include solar irradiance changes can’t reproduce the observed temperature trend over the past century or more without including a rise in greenhouse gases. 

Are volcanic eruptions to blame? It was mentioned that volcanic activity, such as the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the early 90’s, affects climate and resulted in a cooler global temperature for the year following the event. That is true. But according to the US Geological Survey (again, not a hysterical ‘green’ outlier group), the cooling was a result of energy-reflecting micro-particles and ash which were launched into the atmosphere by the eruption, not CO2 or any other greenhouse gases (GHG).

Volcanoes do release significant volumes of GHG. The USGS estimates volcanoes release CO2 in the range of 0.13 gigatons to 0.44 gigatons of GHG each year. A gigaton is equal to 1,000,0000,000 tons…that is, 1 billion tons. That seems impressive until you compare it with the amount of CO2 that is released annually from human activities: 35 gigatons of GHG per year.    Read more about it here: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hazards/gas/climate.php     and here:  http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/archive/2007/07_02_15.html

In summary, to say that human activity dwarfs natural sources of GHG is a vast understatement…the USGS notes that natural sources produce less than 1% of the volume of GHG produced by human activity.

Is there a ‘hidden agenda’ at work, driving the discussion using fear-mongering?  Is the science of GCC ‘not settled’ as some members claimed at the Member Talk? An objection was raised during our discussion about  the often-quoted figure of ‘97% of scientists’ who are said to agree that GCC is human caused. The objection is that the figure is inflated and/or skewed because scientists who have no standing to comment on climatological issues and theories have nonetheless weighed in on the topic.

So where, exactly, does the 97% figure come from? The website ‘Skepticalscience.com’ addressed what they call ‘the myth’ that there is no scientific consensus regarding GCC with ‘The Consensus Project’:   “…A Skeptical Science peer-reviewed survey of all (over 12,000) peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change‘ and ‘global warming’ published between 1991 and 2011 (Cook et al. 2013) found that over 97% of the papers taking a position on the subject agreed with the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.  In a second phase of the project, the scientist authors were emailed and rated over 2,000 of their own papers.  Once again, over 97% of the papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agreed that humans are causing it.”

I offer the following list from the Governor’s (CA) Office of Planning and Research of 197 international scientific organizations who have determined that GCC is: a) real, b) human caused, c) is a threat to human life in the near-term…

  1. Academia Chilena de Ciencias, Chile
  2. Academia das Ciencias de Lisboa, Portugal
  3. Academia de Ciencias de la República Dominicana
  4. Academia de Ciencias Físicas, Matemáticas y Naturales de Venezuela
  5. Academia de Ciencias Medicas, Fisicas y Naturales de Guatemala
  6. Academia Mexicana de Ciencias,Mexico
  7. Academia Nacional de Ciencias de Bolivia
  8. Academia Nacional de Ciencias del Peru
  9. Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
  10. Académie des Sciences, France
  11. Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada
  12. Academy of Athens
  13. Academy of Science of Mozambique
  14. Academy of Science of South Africa
  15. Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS)
  16. Academy of Sciences Malaysia
  17. Academy of Sciences of Moldova
  18. Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
  19. Academy of Sciences of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  20. Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Egypt
  21. Academy of the Royal Society of New Zealand
  22. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Italy
  23. Africa Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science
  24. African Academy of Sciences
  25. Albanian Academy of Sciences
  26. Amazon Environmental Research Institute
  27. American Academy of Pediatrics
  28. American Anthropological Association
  29. American Association for the Advancement of Science
  30. American Association of State Climatologists (AASC)
  31. American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
  32. American Astronomical Society
  33. American Chemical Society
  34. American College of Preventive Medicine
  35. American Fisheries Society
  36. American Geophysical Union
  37. American Institute of Biological Sciences
  38. American Institute of Physics
  39. American Meteorological Society
  40. American Physical Society
  41. American Public Health Association
  42. American Quaternary Association
  43. American Society for Microbiology
  44. American Society of Agronomy
  45. American Society of Civil Engineers
  46. American Society of Plant Biologists
  47. American Statistical Association
  48. Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
  49. Australian Academy of Science
  50. Australian Bureau of Meteorology
  51. Australian Coral Reef Society
  52. Australian Institute of Marine Science
  53. Australian Institute of Physics
  54. Australian Marine Sciences Association
  55. Australian Medical Association
  56. Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society 
  57. Bangladesh Academy of Sciences
  58. Botanical Society of America
  59. Brazilian Academy of Sciences
  60. British Antarctic Survey
  61. Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  62. California Academy of Sciences
  63. Cameroon Academy of Sciences
  64. Canadian Association of Physicists
  65. Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
  66. Canadian Geophysical Union
  67. Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
  68. Canadian Society of Soil Science
  69. Canadian Society of Zoologists
  70. Caribbean Academy of Sciences views
  71. Center for International Forestry Research
  72. Chinese Academy of Sciences
  73. Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences
  74. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) (Australia)
  75. Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
  76. Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences
  77. Crop Science Society of America
  78. Cuban Academy of Sciences
  79. Delegation of the Finnish Academies of Science and Letters
  80. Ecological Society of America
  81. Ecological Society of Australia
  82. Environmental Protection Agency
  83. European Academy of Sciences and Arts
  84. European Federation of Geologists
  85. European Geosciences Union
  86. European Physical Society
  87. European Science Foundation
  88. Federation of American Scientists
  89. French Academy of Sciences
  90. Geological Society of America
  91. Geological Society of Australia
  92. Geological Society of London
  93. Georgian Academy of Sciences 
  94. German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina 
  95. Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
  96. Indian National Science Academy
  97. Indonesian Academy of Sciences
  98. Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management
  99. Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology
  100. Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand
  101. Institution of Mechanical Engineers, UK
  102. InterAcademy Council
  103. International Alliance of Research Universities
  104. International Arctic Science Committee
  105. International Association for Great Lakes Research
  106. International Council for Science
  107. International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences
  108. International Research Institute for Climate and Society
  109. International Union for Quaternary Research
  110. International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
  111. International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
  112. Islamic World Academy of Sciences
  113. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities
  114. Kenya National Academy of Sciences
  115. Korean Academy of Science and Technology
  116. Kosovo Academy of Sciences and Arts
  117. l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
  118. Latin American Academy of Sciences
  119. Latvian Academy of Sciences
  120. Lithuanian Academy of Sciences
  121. Madagascar National Academy of Arts, Letters, and Sciences
  122. Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology
  123. Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts
  124. National Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, Argentina
  125. National Academy of Sciences of Armenia
  126. National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic
  127. National Academy of Sciences, Sri Lanka
  128. National Academy of Sciences, United States of America
  129. National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
  130. National Association of Geoscience Teachers
  131. National Association of State Foresters
  132. National Center for Atmospheric Research 
  133. National Council of Engineers Australia
  134. National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, New Zealand
  135. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  136. National Research Council
  137. National Science Foundation
  138. Natural England
  139. Natural Environment Research Council, UK
  140. Natural Science Collections Alliance
  141. Network of African Science Academies
  142. New York Academy of Sciences
  143. Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences
  144. Nigerian Academy of Sciences
  145. Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters
  146. Oklahoma Climatological Survey
  147. Organization of Biological Field Stations
  148. Pakistan Academy of Sciences
  149. Palestine Academy for Science and Technology
  150. Pew Center on Global Climate Change
  151. Polish Academy of Sciences
  152. Romanian Academy
  153. Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium
  154. Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Spain
  155. Royal Astronomical Society, UK
  156. Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters
  157. Royal Irish Academy
  158. Royal Meteorological Society (UK)
  159. Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
  160. Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
  161. Royal Scientific Society of Jordan
  162. Royal Society of Canada
  163. Royal Society of Chemistry, UK
  164. Royal Society of the United Kingdom
  165. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  166. Russian Academy of Sciences
  167. Science and Technology, Australia 
  168. Science Council of Japan
  169. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research
  170. Scientific Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Physics
  171. Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  172. Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
  173. Slovak Academy of Sciences
  174. Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
  175. Society for Ecological Restoration International
  176. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
  177. Society of American Foresters  
  178. Society of Biology (UK)  
  179. Society of Systematic Biologists
  180. Soil Science Society of America
  181. Sudan Academy of Sciences
  182. Sudanese National Academy of Science
  183. Tanzania Academy of Sciences
  184. The Wildlife Society (international)
  185. Turkish Academy of Sciences
  186. Uganda National Academy of Sciences
  187. Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities
  188. United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
  189. University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
  190. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  191. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  192. World Federation of Public Health Associations
  193. World Forestry Congress
  194. World Health Organization
  195. World Meteorological Organization
  196. Zambia Academy of Sciences
  197. Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences

In fairness, I will also present the following list of scientific and research organizations which do not believe that GCC is human-caused and believe that GCC poses little or no threat to human civilization:

  • there are none that I can find.

However, there are a number of fossil fuel advocacy groups (which differ from science-based institutions which, unlike advocacy groups, presumably have no agenda beyond uncovering facts) that are in the ‘denier’ camp. See if you can spot the pattern:

  • Americans for Prosperity (funded by the Koch Brothers)*
  • American Enterprise Institute (funded by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries)*
  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ExxonMobil and Koch)*
  • Beacon Hill Institute (Koch funded)*
  • Cato Institute (founded and funded by Koch Brothers)*
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute (ExxonMobil and Koch)*
  • Heartland Institute (ExxonMobil and Koch)*
  • Heritage Foundation (ditto)*
  • Institute for Energy Research (ditto)*
  • Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (ditto)*
  • Information Council on the Environment  (Created by the National Coal Assn, the Western Fuels Association, and the Edison Electrical Institute.  ICE collapsed following the disclosure of their PR firm’s memos directing the ICE media blitz to target “….older, less educated males (who do not actively seek information) and younger, lower income women”. Ads compared belief in human-caused climate change to Chicken Little and Flat Earthers…another ad stated “if the earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis getting colder?”

*Source:Union of Concerned Scientists: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/fight-misinformation/global-warming-skeptic.html#.VeDLKflViko

If I were concerned about anyone pushing an ‘agenda’ it would be the above listed groups.

We Can’t Stop Building Fossil Fueled Energy Plants Because It Will ‘Hurt The Poor’.   One interesting tactic for people and organizations that wish to minimize or deny the anthropogenic nature of climate change is to cite the damage that mitigation of GCC would inflict on ‘the poor’. This argument was raised during last night’s discussion and is a talking point frequently used by many of the above listed groups. I think we should reject this attempt to seize a moral high ground by those wishing to minimize the threat that GCC poses. Bottom line: while there will be plenty of pain for many humans as we stumble in our attempts to avoid ecological disaster, the degradation of the environment hurts all of us in ways we can’t always imagine…for one reason, because of our absurdly short life spans in contrast with the glacial (ha!) pace of nature’s forces.

Our discussion Thursday evening also touched on the fact that the term ‘poor’ is lacking a universal definition in the context of GCC. Someone who is ‘poor’ in an American context might be considered as fabulously wealthy in a third-world context as Nate pointed out.  So, I propose that a better metric would be to consider ‘food security’ for the world’s population in the era of dramatic climate change. Sebastian mentioned that among  the advantages of living in a globally warmer climate would be the possibility of a longer growing season, the addition of arable land in the higher latitudes (estimated to be around 160 million hectares with the biggest gains in Russia and Central Asia – see link below) and increased biomass as plants thrive in the higher concentration of CO2. While these assertions may be true, it is also true that land in the lower latitudes are expected to become less productive or non-productive (estimated loss of land 110 million hectares, the biggest loser being Africa-see link below). Also consider that many plants (cereals and forage crops), while growing bushier, show lower protein concentrations under elevated CO2 conditions – see link. This is a complex issue…more details are to be found at this link:   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2148361/

What to do about global climate change?

As a start, how about:

  • Transition from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
  • Upgrade the energy infrastructure to be able to make use of solar and wind power
  • Protect forest land…stop the destruction of the world’s rain forests
  • Conserve limited energy resources such as electricity and fossil fuels
  • Conserve water

What about the cost/benefit of mitigating GCC?   Is it ‘worth it’ to try to mitigate the impacts of human activity on the environment? Some in the discussion that followed Sebastian’s presentation suggested this as a metric to consider when weighing the pros and cons of taking ameliorative action against GCC.

Some members argued for taking no action until there is a definitive answer to whether or not GCC is real and is proven to be a threat. Others expressed the opinion that we have plenty of good reasons to limit our future use of fossil fuels even without the worry of global climate change. I confess that I am sympathetic with the latter view.

So what is the cost/benefit calculation? It’s so overwhelmingly complex that I don’t know that it is even possible to make such a calculation. But here is one educated guess made about ten years ago:

cost of climate change vs no action

Sources:  http://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.43084.de/diw_wr_2005-12.pdf

And    http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc29337/m1/1/

Finally a few closing quotes from institutions and organizations who do have standing to comment about global climate change:

American Association for the Advancement of Science  “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” (2006)3

American Chemical Society  “Comprehensive scientific assessments of our current and potential future climates clearly indicate that climate change is real, largely attributable to emissions from human activities, and potentially a very serious problem.” (2004)4

American Geophysical Union  “Human‐induced climate change requires urgent action. Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years. Rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes.” (Adopted 2003, revised and reaffirmed 2007, 2012, 2013)5

American Medical Association  “Our AMA … supports the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report and concurs with the scientific consensus that the Earth is undergoing adverse global climate change and that anthropogenic contributions are significant.” (2013)6

American Meteorological Society  “It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide.” (2012)7

American Physical Society  “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.” (2007)

The Geological Society of America  “The Geological Society of America (GSA) concurs with assessments by the National Academies of Science (2005), the National Research Council (2006), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that global climate has warmed and that human activities (mainly greenhouse‐gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s.” (2006; revised 2010)

International Science Academies Joint statement:

“Climate change is real. There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring. The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems. It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities (IPCC 2001).” (2005, 11 international science academies)

U.S. National Academy of Sciences

“The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify taking steps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” (2005)

U.S. GOVERNMENT AGENCIES –  U.S. Global Change Research Program

“The global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Human ‘fingerprints’ also have been identified in many other aspects of the climate system, including changes in ocean heat content, precipitation, atmospheric moisture, and Arctic sea ice.” (2009, 13 U.S. government departments and agencies)

INTERGOVERNMENTAL BODIES – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”

“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely* due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

*IPCC defines ‘very likely’ as greater than 90 percent probability of occurrence.

Source citations for the above quotes are available here:  http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

climate-change-of-course

We’ve debated this issue for the last two decades and more…today, the Science appears to favor the view that global climate change is something that we urgently need to address. It’s one thing to be skeptical and it’s another thing to refuse to believe the best evidence science can provide us today.

I hope that this additional information is helpful to you when you ponder the issues surrounding global climate change.

Larry Bollinger, 8/28/2015

DURANGO SKEPTICS AND ATHEISTS NEWSLETTER JULY 2015

“Where is it written that if you don’t like religion you are somehow disqualified from being a legitimate American? What was Mark Twain, a Russian? If it is American to believe that God ordered Tribe X to abjure pork or that he caused Leader Y to be born to a virgin, why is it suddenly un-American to doubt the prime mover of this unimaginably vast universe of quintillions of solar systems would likely be obsessed with questions involving the dietary and biosexual behavior of a few thousand bipeds inhabiting a small part of a speck of dust orbiting a third-rate star in an obscure spiral arm of one of millions of more or less identical galaxies?”

― Hendrik Hertzberg, political commentator and former speech writer for Jimmy Carter (1943 –    )

 Next general meeting,  Wednesday  JULY 15, 2015

Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.  Meeting starts at 6:30.

The topic for this month: Chosen by popular vote at the last meeting, the discussion topics is “Souls: Do We Have Them”? Presenting opposite views of the subject will be members Tabitha Nickerson and Ben Humphrey.

Durango Skeptics and Atheists JUNE 2015 Newsletter

“For the first time ever, everything is in place for the Battle of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ.”― Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) 

“I would be unelectable.  I’m an Atheist. As we all know, that is something that people will not accept.” Ronald Reagan Jr. (1958 –     ) 


Next general meeting,  Wednesday  June 17, 

Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 9TH & Main ST.  DInner from 5:30PM.  DISCUSSION starts at 6:30.

The topic for this month: Kathleen O’Conner will lead a discussion about the format of our monthly meetings.


NEW FEATURE IN THE NEWSLETTER:                                              What Is Your Favorite Scenic Drive/Destination?

Share your photos of your favorite scenic drive with your fellow Skeptics.  For June, see the back-country by following a proposed new Colorado Scenic Byway… See map and photos below!


Special Tom the Dancing Bug

The Tom the Dancing Bug comic below is inspired by the real-life story of an Iranian political cartoonist who was arrested, beaten and jailed with a 12 year sentence for drawing a cartoon depicting Iran’s leaders as cows and monkeys…see Ruben Bolling’s comments following the cartoon…

Tom the Dancing Bug 1242 je suis atena

Tom the Dancing Bug is reproduced in our newsletter with the permission of the cartoonist, Ruben Bolling

Ruben Bolling says: Here is Atena Farghadani, who is reportedly in a precarious medical condition due to a prison hunger strike.

TtDB for June #2 Iranian artist

Since creating her cartoon about the Iranian parliament, she’s been arrested, jailed, beaten, and has suffered a heart attack.

There was a time, from the late 19th century to mid-20th century, when cartoonists were among the most influential artists and commentators in the world.  It seems odd that at a time when cartoonists’ influence has so greatly diminished that they seem make global headlines only by being conspicuously targeted by violent despots and fanatics.

Here is more information about this brave woman.  And here is more.

Iran cows and monkeys

BONUS! If you manage to scroll through the entire newsletter, you’ll be rewarded with the very first ever Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon, re-published this month in honor of the 25th anniversary of TtDB!  It’s called ‘Bad Fetus’ and is as timely today as it was ‘way back in 1990!


NEXT BOOK FOR OUR BOOK CLUB:

_wsb_183x276_Paperback

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor                                  (recommended by Betsy Norton)                                                  Sunday, June 28 5:30PM                                                                                at Betsy’s home, 448 E 11th Street Durango

Limited seating!  PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM

On December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. As she observed her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours … For Taylor, her stroke was a blessing and a revelation. It taught her that by “stepping to the right” of our left brains, we can uncover feelings of well-being that are often sidelined by “brain chatter.” Reaching wide audiences through her talk at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference and her appearance on Oprah’s online Soul Series, Taylor provides a valuable recovery guide for those touched by brain injury and an inspiring testimony that inner peace is accessible to anyone.

NEXT UP:

lemontree

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan                                                            Friday, August 14                                                                                          at Carolyn and Larry’s Home

Limited seating!  PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM

 In 1967, Bashir Al-Khayri, a Palestinian twenty-five-year-old, journeyed to Israel, with the goal of seeing the beloved old stone house, with the lemon tree behind it, that he and his family had fled nineteen years earlier. To his surprise, when he found the house he was greeted by Dalia Ashkenazi Landau, a nineteen-year-old Israeli college student, whose family fled Europe for Israel following the Holocaust. On the stoop of their shared home, Dalia and Bashir began a rare friendship, forged in the aftermath of war and tested over the next thirty-five
years in ways that neither could imagine on that summer day in 1967. Based on extensive research, and springing from his enormously resonant documentary that aired on NPR’s Fresh Air in 1998, Sandy Tolan brings the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to its most human level, suggesting that even amid the bleakest political realities there exist stories of hope and reconciliation.

Support our local booksellers! THESE BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT MARIA’S!  ASK FOR THE BOOKCLUB DISCOUNT BY MENTIONING THE DURANGO SKEPTICS AND ATHEISTS!


More on (Moron?) Political Cartoons

How Some Americans Are Using Their Right of Free Speech   Some months ago, you may remember that our group had a spirited discussion about the unfettered ‘Right of Free Speech’ in reference to the horrific attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Some of us maintained that, while legal, some speech might be better off unspoken while others championed the right to say anything, any time, without regard to the consequences – Let the Listener Beware. This issue has come to the fore again as a result of an exercise of Free Speech by Pamela Geller who sponsored a national “Draw the Prophet” cartoon contest which was aimed at provoking Muslim ire by mocking the Prophet Mohammed.

CARTOON CONTEST

Geller is the founder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an anti-Muslim group that has been identified as a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  As a result of this particular exercise of speech rights, two heavily armed Islamists attempted another mass-murder at a community center in Garland, TX where the AFDI was awarding prizes in the contest.  Happily, the would-be killers were thwarted by security guards and the only two deaths were those of the Islamic terrorists themselves. The end of the issue?  No.

The issue has recently metastasized into yet another confrontation, this time in front of a Phoenix AZ  mosque where the two would-be gunmen once worshipped. Despite the fact that the leaders of the mosque have denounced violence (as well as rejecting groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS), armed demonstrators swarmed outside the mosque.

mosque protest 00007

mosque protest 006 topright news mosque protest 005 mosque protest 004 business insider

Demonstrators shout during a "Freedom of Speech Rally Round II" outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2015. More than 200 protesters, some armed, berated Islam and its Prophet Mohammed outside an Arizona mosque on Friday in a provocative protest that was denounced by counterprotesters shouting "Go home, Nazis," weeks after an anti-Muslim event in Texas came under attack by two gunmen.    REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec - RTR4Y3N8

Demonstrators shout during a “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II” outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2015. More than 200 protesters, some armed, berated Islam and its Prophet Mohammed outside an Arizona mosque on Friday in a provocative protest that was denounced by counterprotesters shouting “Go home, Nazis,” weeks after an anti-Muslim event in Texas came under attack by two gunmen. REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec – RTR4Y3N8

mosque protest 002 alJazeera

mosque protest 001NBC

Many anti-Muslim demonstrators wore T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘F*** Islam’.  Counter-demonstrators chanted ‘Love your neighbor’.  Free Speech’s finest hour?

For more on anti-Islamic activist groups see the SPLC article: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2011/summer/the-anti-muslim-inner-circle.

To see an interactive map of US hate groups, go here: http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map . The state of Colorado is home to 15 hate groups, 14 of which are located east of the Rockies.  The one exception is the ‘Brother Nathanael Foundation’, located in Frisco, which is categorized as a ‘general hate group’. At least it’s all-inclusive!

hate group cartoon


So, Where Are the ‘Good’ Imams and Why Don’t They Speak Out?

They are here and they do!     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/27/imam-isis-haqiqah-magazine_n_6956028.html

Leading Imams and scholars from Britain and Europe, from the  third left, Imam Asim Hussain, Sarah Warrick, Dr Qari Muhammad Asim and Shaykh Ahmad Babikir hold up various versions, online and printed of the new magazine 'Haqiqah' which translates as 'The Reality' and is aimed young people and to counter extremist views from groups such as Islamic State, at its official launch in London, Thursday, March, 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Leading Imams and scholars from Britain and Europe, from the third left, Imam Asim Hussain, Sarah Warrick, Dr Qari Muhammad Asim and Shaykh Ahmad Babikir hold up various versions, online and printed of the new magazine ‘Haqiqah’ which translates as ‘The Reality’ and is aimed young people and to counter extremist views from groups such as Islamic State, at its official launch in London, Thursday, March, 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)


The Line Betweeen ‘Religion’ and ‘Science is Becoming Blurry

(Contributed by Mike Berry) 

SCINECE EXPERIMENTThe concept of ‘falsifiability’ has been used as a way to separate scientific truths from religious and philosophical musings for centuries. Until now, it was a means to draw a bright line between Religion/pseudo-science and actual Science. Generally, a scientific theory is accepted as correct if it is possible that it can be falsified, or proven false, by means of observations, testing and experimentation.  If a concept cannot be tested to produce either a true/false conclusion, that concept cannot be considered to be in the scientific realm…it is something that must be accepted on faith alone.

This differentiation has become important to atheists today because of theist claims that ‘science’ relies on ‘faith’ and is, therefore, just another ‘religion’. Atheists respond that scientific theories are not accepted on mere faith, but instead are testable (falsifiable) to determine whether they are, in fact, True or False. A scientific theory which is tested and found to be false is discarded, unlike religious dogma that cannot be tested and therefore cannot be objectively determined to be True or False.  Dogma is distinct from Science for this reason. Thus, non-falsifiable concepts such as ‘Creationism’ or ‘Intelligent Design’ must be considered to be pseudo-science…theyhave no place in science classrooms.

evolution10

In recent decades, however, the definition of Science as that which is ‘falsifiable’ has become muddled. In this era of mathematical constructs such as ‘string theory’ or theories of the ‘multiverse’ (which attempt to describe the origins of the universe or the mechanisms of the quantum world) falsifiable experiments are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to conduct. physics in crisisTechnology may never exist that can conduct the necessary experiments and observations. Although these theories are elegant descriptions and predictors of what we can observe, they may not ultimately be falsifiable.  Read more about this ‘Crisis at the Edge of Physics’ here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinion/a-crisis-at-the-edge-of-physics.html?_r=0


Carl Sagan’s ‘Baloney Detector’

(Contributed by Kathleen O’Conner)   http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/03/baloney-detection-kit-carl-sagan/

carlsagan1It can be tough to distinguish between BS and Truth these days. But don’t despair, there’s help from beyond the grave!  Carl Sagan provided, in his book “Demon Haunted World”, a lesson in the ‘fine art of Baloney Detection’. This is a must-read for anyone who engages in discussions with zealots, family members who buy into pseudo-science or the missionaries at your front door.  Sagan “…reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.”  Brush up on Occam’s Razor, learn to identify ad hominem attacks and common fallacies such as the ‘argument from authority’, ‘special pleadings’ and ‘straw man arguments’ … it’s a treasure chest of useful tools that may save you from frustration at your next family reunion!    We miss you, Carl!

sin against mankind


Know Yourself: Recognize Any of These Cognitive Biases in Your Own Thinking?

(Contributed by Marc Masor)               In order to debate effectively, it would be useful to recognize biases that exist in our own thinking. Here is a list https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases  of cognitive biases that infect all of us! Depressingly, there are dozens and dozens of them!

confirmation bias


Franklin Graham, Wrapped in American Flag and Carrying the Cross

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/21/franklin-graham-ruth-bader-ginsburg_n_7364038.html

From HuffingtonPost: ‘Prominent evangelist Franklin Graham wants Ruth Bader Ginsburg to finally “see the truth of Scripture” and vote against same-sex marriage as the Supreme Court gears up to rule on the matter this month.’ In Graham’s own words, “I appreciate all of you who have joined me in praying for our Supreme Court Justices individually over the past five days. Today, let’s focus our prayers on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has served on the Court for over two decades. Those who support same-sex marriage consider her an ally in their fight to toss God’s Holy Word aside. As the Supreme Court continues to deliberate over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, let’s pray that Justice Ginsburg’s eyes would be opened to the truth of Scripture and that she would not be deceived by the arguments of those who seek to impose their “new morality” on our nation”.

n-FRANKLIN-GRAHAM-large570


One Small Step for a God, a Giant Leap For Mankind

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32960507     Is God a ‘He’, ‘She’ or ‘It’?  Churches are slowly coming around to address the ‘gender’ question…now what about God’s color….?

I met god and she's black

 


PARANOIA ABOUT Shariah Law in Idaho Jeopardizes Child Support agreement

http://bigstory.ap.org/urn:publicid:ap.org:cdd224f465b1406399a3def13677cf12

Dozens of nations have spent years in negotiations to make it easier for single parents to collect child-support payments across international borders.  But the entire international treaty may be scrapped because lawmakers in Idaho worry that the agreement would ‘open the doors’ to Shariah Law being enforced in the US.  Why can one state derail years of careful negotiations?  Good question…read the article and find out!

shariah law


 Silly Televangelist Tricks, Part 1

Ask And You Shall Receive: Rev. Creflo Dollar Will Get His $68,000,000 Gulfstream Jet After All!         http://www.christianpost.com/news/creflo-dollar-will-get-70-million-gulfstream-g650-jet-says-church-world-changers-board-says-it-is-necessary-for-ministry-139858/           World Changers Church International will buy the aptly named Rev. Dollar his multi-million dollar jet after shutting down their controversial crowd-funding campaign which aimed to raise the money from the believing public.  The Jet is necessary, says WCCI, because the ministry ‘is called to serve people globally’ and the Gulfstream ‘reflects the worldwide nature of the Great Commission’. Just exactly what Jesus Would Do.

creflo-dollar-airplane

A man and his jet.


Silly Televangelist Tricks, Part 2

Pat Robertson: “God Killed Three Year Old to Prevent ‘Next Hitler’.   Yes, he really said that.  Rev. Pat, answering a woman’s question about how to comfort a co-worker upon the death of her three year old, said, “As far as God’s concerned, He knows the end from the beginning, and He sees a little baby, and that little baby could grow up to be Adolf Hitler, he could grow up to be Joseph Stalin, he could grow up to be some serial killer, or he could grow up to die of a hideous disease. God sees all of that, and for that life to be terminated while he’s a baby, he’s going to be with God forever in Heaven so it isn’t a bad thing.”  It begs the question: Why didn’t God snuff the REAL Adolph Hitler when he was a baby? Read more at http://wonkette.com/587943/this-is-the-worst-thing-pat-robertson-has-ever-said#x4ZglRKXXAaQQVWZ.99

Pat Robertson Plague

Pat Robertson Plague


Just Because It’s Funny!

From tickld.com http://diary.tickld.com/x/cat-dog-diary

A Dog’s Diary vs. A Cat’s Diary.


Hair Salon Makes Unambiguous Statement

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/11/gay-hair-salon-sign_n_7561994.html

After a customer refused to allow a gay hair stylist to cut his son’s hair, the (gay) owner of the shop posted the sign, reproduced below, on the front door of his business.

hair salon sign


Seeing the Sights in the Great South West

Do you have a favorite ‘scenic drive’ or destination within an hour or two of Durango?  Please share it with the rest of the group!  To kick things off, here is a drive that was recently recommended in a column appearing in the Durango Herald. It is a proposed new ‘Scenic Byway’ being considered by the Colorado Department of Transportation.  It follows the route of a former RR right-of-way through some very pretty and untouched back country.

Scenic Byway map and pix


As promised, here is the original Tom the Dancing Bug comic as it was published 25 years ago this month!

Tom the Dancing Bug 001 bad fetus

Tom the Dancing Bug is reproduced in our monthly newsletter with permission of the artist, Ruben Bolling.  Visit the archive to see more TtDB cartoons at: http://gocomics.typepad.com/tomthedancingbugblog/

Thanks to Mike Berry, Marc Masor and Kathleen O’Conner for contributing to this month’s newsletter!

Are there any announcements, activities, opinions or other news items you’d like your fellow Skeptics and Atheists to know about? Drop an email to larrybollinger@comcast.net with your information so that it can be included in the next newsletter!

POST-MEETING: PRESENTER’S NOTES WITH LINKS TO SOURCES

Dear Members:  As promised/threatened last night, here are the notes with links to sources that were used to conduct last night’s discussion.

 DISCUSSION TOPIC:  COMPASSION, INCOME INEQUALITY AND GOVERNMENT AID

  • What, IF ANY is our responsibility, as a nation, regarding helping those in our country raised and living in poverty?
    • What is the Social Safety Net? Where did it come from?
    • Who Qualifies?
    • Does governmental support help or hinder individual initiative/well-being?
    • Does it help or hinder entrepreneurship and job creation?
    • What can be done to make the ‘safety net’ better, MORE EFFECTIVE?
  • BOTTOM LINE: Is government aid a ‘hand up’ or is it an impediment to personal responsibility? 

RELEVANT NEWS ITEMS

  • DNA DAMAGE IN URBAN POOR (See MAY NEWSLETTER located elsewhere on this site)
  • EPIGENETIC CHANGES AS A RESULT OF TRAUMA (See MAY NEWSLETTER located elsewhere on this site)
  • 5/20/15 DURANGO HERALD (Page B-8): STUDIES PUBLISHED IN NATURE NEUROSCINECE AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE OF 1,100 CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS (3-20) SHOW A MARKED DIFFERENCE IN THE SIZE AND THICKNESS OF THE NEO CORTEX BETWEEN THOSE WITH LOW INCOMES (LESS THAN $25,000) AND THOSE WITH HIGHER INCOMES. SURFACE AREA OF POOR CHILDREN WAS 6% SMALLER….THEY PERFORMED POORLY ON COGNITIVE TESTS.  NEO CORTEX = LANGUAGE, SPATIAL SKILLS, MEMORY AND REASONING.
    1. ONE OF THE LEAD RESEARCHERS: “ WE’VE KNOWN FOR SO LONG THAT POVERTY AND LACK OF ACCESS TO RESOURCES TO ENRICH THE DEVELOPMENTAL ENVIRONMENT ARE RELATED TO POOR SCHOOL PERFORMANCE, POOR TEST SCORES AND FEWER EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES…BUT NOW WE CAN REALLY TIE IT TO A PHYSICAL THING IN THE BRAIN”
    2. ANOTHER SAID: “SOME PEOPLE FEEL IF YOU SHOW THESE BRAIN DIFFERENCES, YOU’RE POLITCALLY CONDEMNING THE POOR. WHICH IS THE OPPOSITE, I THINK OF WHAT WE NEED TO DO.  I THINK WE WANT TO UNDERSTAND ADVERSITY AND MINIMIZE ADVERSITY

WHY THIS TOPIC?   The topic springs from a discussion on the Politics and Religion FB site.  Is it compassion or foolishness to try to address poverty via governmental programs?

  1. As it often does online, the discussion rapidly devolved into name calling along these lines: ‘Conservatives’ are heartless meanies who despise “The Poor” and begrudge every penny spent on ‘welfare programs’ ‘Liberals’ who are empty headed, do-gooders who are profligate spenders wasting the hard-earned money of Real Americans.
  1. Put another way, there are two armed camps: those who believe in CUT-THROAT CAPITALISM  vs.   those who believe in CUDDLY GOVERNMENT.
  1. THINGS WE CAN AGREE UPON:
    1. EXCESS TAXATION = BAD
    2. WASTE IN GOVERNMENT = BAD
    3. FRAUD IN GOVERNENT WELFARE PGMS = BAD
    4. HAVING PEOPLE MIRED IN POVERTY IN THE RICHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORSD = BAD
    5. ISSUE IS COMPLEX AND WEEDING OUT THE WEASLES = EXPENSIVE AND CONFUSING

CUT-THROAT CAMP’S MOTTO:

  • GIVE A MAN A FISH, YOU FEED HIM FOR A DAY. TEACH A MAN TO FISH AND YOU FEED HIM FOR A LIFETIME.
    • ONUS TO IMPROVE IS TOTALLY ON THE INDIVIDUAL
  • ALTERNATE MOTTO: A RISING TIDE FLOATS ALL BOATS
    • IMPROVING THE ECONOMY AND PROVIDING MORE MONEY TO THE WEALTHY
  • GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS THAT AID ECONOMICALLY STRUGGLING INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES MAKE THE RECIPIENTS LAX AND COMPLACENT, DEPENDING ON THE GOVERNMENT TO SUSTAIN THEM.
  1. LETTER TO HERALD REFERENCING WELFARE RECIPIENTS BREEDING ‘LITTERS’ GENERATION AFTER GENERATION THAT DEPEND ON THE GOVERNMENT
  2. REFERENCE THE ARTICLE IN TODAY’S HERALD RE: EFFECT OF POVERTY ON BRAIN DEVELOPMENT.
  3. REFERENCE DETROIT STUDY OF DNA DEGREDATION
  • THE CUT-THROATS BELIEVE THAT ONLY THE THREAT OF THE YAWNING ABYSS WILL GALVANIZE THE LAZY POOR TO GET OFF THEIR ASSES AND GET TO WORK.
    • PAUL RYAN: “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives”

ON THE CUDDLY SIDE OF THE LEDGER

  • MOTTO: A CHAIN IS ONLY AS STRONG AS ITS WEAKEST LINK
  • SAFETY NET PROGRAMS ALLOW PEOPLE TO TAKE MORE RISKS AND ALLOWS THEM TO RISE ABOVE CIRCUMSTANCES BEYOND THEIR CONTROL
    • OBAMA: “…[the government’s role] is to give people the tools to make something of themselves.”
    • The sense of ‘the community has your back’ empowers people to ‘go for the gold’.
  • FROM THE HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL IS THE FLIP-SIDE OF THE MIT ARGUMENT ABOUT GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE EFFECTS ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP
    1. FOOD STAMP ASSISTANCE RESULTS IN SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER ENTREPRENEURSHIP.
    2. HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL: 13% MORE ATTEMPTS WITH AN 8% SURVIVAL RATE AMONG HOUSEHOLDS RECEIVING SCHIP BENEFITS (State Children’s Health Insurance Program)
      1. http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7589.html THIS STUDY  SUGGESTS THAT INCENTIVE FROM WELFARE RECIPIENTS MAY BE INCREASED, NOT DIMINISHED
  • PROGRAMS TO SPUR BUSINESS CREATION BY PROVIDING A SAFETY NET MAKES PEOPLE MORE WILLING TO WALK THE WIRE.
    • U.C. BERKLEY STUDY OF FRENCH EXPERIMENT IN 2002. Granted extended unemployment benefits to those who started their own businesses…if business failed, benefits were extended further. http://www.oecd.org/sti/ind/Hombert_Schoar_Sraer_Thesmar_2013.pdf
    • Rate of entrepreneurship increased 10% across all industries. New businesses were of equal quality to other new businesses in terms of job production, growth and survival rates.

HISTORY OF GOVERNEMTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS 

100 YEARS AGO MANY, IF NOT MOST, SENIORS LIVED IN POVERTY

  • SAVINGS FROM LIFETIME OF WORK WAS NOT SUFFICIENT TO PROVIDE FOR A SECURE RETIREMENT
  • MANY MORE WERE FORCED INTO POVERTY BY THE GREAT RECESSION OF THE 1930’S
  • SOCIAL SECURITY, PART OF FDR’S NEW DEAL SOUGHT TO AMELIORATE THIS CONDITION
    • AFTER SOCIAL SECURITY, POVERTY RATES AMONG SENIORS DECLINED FROM WELL OVER 50% TO 10% – 15%
  • LBJ’S  1964 ‘WAR ON POVERTY’ REDUCED POVERTY RATES FROM  19% TO 11% WITHIN 10 YEARS.
    • SINCE THEN, POVERTY RATES HAVE VARIED FROM 11% – 15%.
    • HIGHER POVERTY RATES IN RECESSIONS. (See Charts, below)
    • LOWER POVERTY RATES IN BOOM TIMES (See Charts, below)
    • WHY IS POVERTY STILL WITH US? LAZY PEOPLE?  CHRONIC CONDITIONS OF SOME SORT?  MEDICAL/BIOLOGICAL REASONS?
  • REFERENCE GRAPHS (BELOW) THAT SHOW STAGNENT WAGES FOR THE BOTTOM 60% OVER TIME

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:   SOCIAL SECURITY KEEPS 22 MILLION AMERICANS OUT OF POVERTY. Although most of those saved from poverty are elderly, over 33% of SS recipients are under age 65.

  • Children under 18: 1,021,000
  • Adults 18-64:             5,886,000
  • Adults 65+                15,281,000
  • Women 65+              9,005,000
  • Total all ages:             22,188,000

A state-by-state analysis can be found here (no surprise that states with the largest populations have the most people accepting benefits from Social Security): http://www.cbpp.org/research/social-security-keeps-22-million-americans-out-of-poverty-a-state-by-state-analysis

13 programs comprise Social Safety Net, administered by 8 Agencies.

  • Negative Income Tax (aka Earned Income Tax Credit): Cash paid to families who pay no income tax
  • SNAP – Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Pgm (aka ‘Food Stamps’) Debit cards provided to buy food
  • Housing Assistance: HUD rent vouchers, public housing and community development programs
  • Supplemental Security Income: Cash to disabled, blind, seniors/kids http://www.ssa.gov/sf/FactSheets/aianssavsssifinalrev.pdf
  • Pell Grants: Grants to students for tuition, room & board
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Cash to needy families for support and to move them from welfare to work
  • Child Nutrition: School lunches, breakfast and after-school food programs
  • Head Start: Preschool program
  • Job Training: Various employment and support programs
  • WIC – Women Infants and Children: Provides high-protein food for pregnant women and children up to 5-years old
  • Child Care: includes after-school programs
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Aid for heating or cooling residential dwellings
  • Lifeline (aka, ‘The Obama Phone’): subsidy for phones including cell service

TOTAL COST OF (13) ‘WELFARE’ PROGRAMS (2013):    $365B

MEDICAID (2013):   $265B

TOTAL FEDERAL EXPENDITURE ON SOCIAL SAFETY NET:    $630B

MINIMUM WAGE ANNUAL INCOMES:

$  7.50/hr. = $14,400

$  9.00/hr. = $17,280

$10.00/hr. = $19,200

$15.00/hr. = $28,800

HOW IS POVERTY MEASURED?

Poverty Thresholds: 

2012                     2013

Single person household – $11,720             $11,888

Two person Household –    $14,937             $15,142

Three person household –  $18,284            $18,552

Four person household –    $23,492             $23,834

Five person household-    NA                       $28,265

Six person household-      NA                       $31,925

INCOME QUALIFICATIONS BY PROGRAM:

EITC – $13,460 for individual, $35,535 for a family with one child.
SNAP – 130% of poverty threshold.
Housing Assistance – 50% of median income in a local area (50% of median income totaled $24,888 for the U.S. as a whole).
SSI – $17,196 for an individual and $25,284 for a couple.
Pell Grants – $50,000+ in family or student income, most awards under $30,000
TANF – Unique by state but generally 50% – 100% of poverty threshold.
Child Nutrition – 130% of poverty threshold, partial benefit below 185% of threshold
Head Start, Child Care, Job Training – Unique by state and program.
WIC – 185% of poverty threshold.
LIHEAP – 150% of poverty threshold or 60% of state median income.
Lifeline (Obama Phone) –  135% of poverty threshold or participation in numerous other programs.

SELECTED PUBLIC OPINIONS AND PERCEPTIONS (See background notes for discussion elsewhere on this site)

  • 43% OF AMERICANS FEEL THAT WE SHOULD DO MORE TO HELP NEEDY EVEN IF IT INCREASE THE DEBT…51% SAY WE CAN’T AFFORD TO DO MORE (Pew Poll graph)
    • Lower income says ‘more’, Higher incomes says ‘less’
  • 47% SAY POOR PEOPLE HAVE HARD LIVES BECAUSE GOV’T WON’T HELP. 44% SAY POOR HAVE IT EASY BECAUSE THEY CAN GET HELP WITHOUT ANY EFFORT (Rassmussen Reports)
    • Lower income say poor have harder lives…wealthy say opposite
  • POOR PEOPLE HAVE IT EASY 37% POOR PEOPLE NEED MORE 62% (Pew)
  • 83% THERE SHOULD BE A WORK REQUIREMENT. 7% SAY NO  (Rassmussen Reports)
  • RAISE MINIMUM WAGE TO $9.00 HOUR ($17,280/YR) 71% YES   21% NO  (Gallup)

WHAT ARE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS?

HERITAGE FOUNDATION         The antipoverty programs of the Federal government are very expensive when calibrated against the numbers of people in poverty.  By coordinating the entire system and focusing on those most in need we could lower our costs by at least a third and save over $100 billion annually.

STREAMLINE EXISTING PROCESS:        Some people start out in a poverty status but combined benefits from multiple programs move them to well above the poverty threshold.  This is because benefits from one program are not considered in qualification for another program.  There are no cap on total benefits people can receive nor is there a limit to the number of programs in which people can participate.  With no coordination of program benefits some people get very few benefits while others participate in several programs.  The result is that we are inconsistent with the support we give to the poor.

Put a cap on total benefits.  This cap could be set based on a percentage of the poverty threshold.  Once an individual or family had been raised to a set percentage of the poverty threshold, for example 100%, or 125%, of the threshold, they have hit their maximum benefit.  This would require coordination of all the programs which today operate in an independent fashion.

The 13 antipoverty programs are administered by 8 large Federal Agencies.  Each agency has its own databases, procedures, forms and policies which makes the overall system very expensive to manage.

REFORM THE SYSTEM:    Rollup the 13 welfare programs into a single program that pays cash to the poor and lifts them out of poverty.  This would cost us $178 billion a year and would end poverty in America.  We currently spend $357 billion on 13 welfare programs so take the savings, $179 billion, and pay down the deficit by $100 billion a year. Then take the remaining savings, combine them with state and local welfare spending and subsidize low paying jobs to the tune of a $3.00 an hour subsidy.  That is a big raise for low-income Americans and will encourage work, independence and job creation.

  • At the same time change the philosophy of welfare to add a quid pro quo before benefits are paid – work, education or community service.  No more pure handouts; low-income Americans of sound mind and body have much to offer and the nation has many needs.
    • HOW DOES A PERSON WORK 40 HOURS, TEND A FAMILY AND DO SERVICE VOLUNTEER WORK? IS THIS PUNITIVE?
    • IS DEFICIT REDUCTION AS IMPORTANT AS, SAY, INFRASTRUCTURE?
    • PAY TO INDIVIDUALS? HOUSEHOLDS?

LIBERAL/LIBERTARIAN REFORM : ‘MINCOME’:   From 1974 through 1978, about 30 per cent of the population of Dauphin, Manitoba was provided with a “mincome,” as the guaranteed level of income came to be called.

The goal of the program, which cost $17 million, was to find out whether a guaranteed income would improve health and community life. If a household’s income dropped below a certain amount, the program would top it up to an income equivalent to the welfare rates at the time.

3 years of research suggests that people appear to live healthier lives when they don’t have to worry about poverty.

“Hospitalizations for mental health issues were down significantly,” she said, adding that teenagers stayed in school longer as a result of the initiative.

The initiative, which started in 1974, was terminated in 1978 as political support for the experiment faded. www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0BlCveuMDI

In 2014 dollars, individuals would receive a ‘top off’ to raise them to $16, 094….families of two persons would be topped off to $20,443.

Heritage Foundation and some conservative economists also back a version of direct cash payments to raise ‘the poor’ above the official poverty level.

04 household-income-real-decline-from-peak-table 01 household-incomes-mean-real (1)

03 household-incomes-growth-real-annotated 02 household-income-real-growth-by-quintile-since-1967-table

 Note on the graphs: Gray bars indicated periods of recession.  All income levels have seen reductions since the 2008 Great Recession, but the lower quintiles have suffered losses at or more than twice the rate of the top quintile.  What is your opinion of the following statement: Losses for the poorest Americans strikes at essentials such as food and shelter while losses at the top are more easily absorbed.

Not shown is that the wealth of the top .01% is equal in value to the cumulative wealth of the bottom 90% of the population.

 

 

MAY 20, 2015 MEETING AGENDA AND DISCUSSION BACKGROUND NOTES

Dear Members:  Here is what is in store for the meeting tomorrow night!

Kathleen will probably not be attending, so you are stuck with me (Larry) and Dan.

Here is the planned agenda for the meeting followed by some notes that I hope will be helpful for our discussion: “Compassion, Wealth Inequality and Government Assistance”.

MEETING AGENDA, MAY 20 2015

  • 6:15PM Greetings and Welcome
  • Who is new to the group?
  • Description of group activities for benefit of newcomers
  • Newcomers introduce themselves
  • Book Club upcoming books and dates
  • News briefs from May Newsletter
  • 6:25PM Discussion/vote regarding rules of conduct during discussion session
    • Due to the size of the group and the noisy venue, we will conduct a show-of-hands vote on the following motion: Speakers will be recognized by the moderator. Speakers may take the floor only after being recognized by the moderator. Shouting out-of-turn will not be tolerated.
  • 6:30PM – 8-ishPM Group discussion regarding issues of Compassion and Poverty (See background information notes, below!)
    • What is the Social Safety Net?
    • Who Qualifies?
    • Does governmental support help or hinder individual initiative?
    • Does it help or hinder entrepreneurship and job creation?
    • What can be done to make the ‘safety net’ better?
  • Social hour discussions in small groups

 DISCUSSION OVERVIEW:

What is our responsibility, as a nation, regarding helping those in our country raised and living in poverty? Is government aid to ‘the poor’ a compassionate gesture or does it enable indolence and stifle initiative?  Is it a ‘hand up’ or is it an impediment to personal responsibility?

POSSIBLE DISCUSSION POINTS:

  • Should we require work or social volunteering in exchange for government aid?
    • What about mothers with dependent children?
    • What about disabled, mentally challenged?
    • Can a recipient improve their economic circumstances (by going to school, job training, etc.) if they have to ‘work off’ their government benefits by volunteering or working a minimum wage job?
    • Is this simply ‘punishing the poor?
  • Should we simplify the process of applying for aid to make it more accessible to those who have poor education, mental illness, addiction issues, etc.?
    • What, specifically could be done?
  • Should the government provide minimum wage jobs instead of handing out cash and vouchers?
    • What about mothers with dependent children?
    • What about disabled, mentally challenged?
  • If those who technically live in poverty (as defined by the government…see notes below) have amenities such as microwave ovens, refrigerators, TV, washer/dryers, computers, etc. should they be ‘kicked off’ safety net programs?
    • Is it possible to have the above amenities and still be ‘poor’?
  • What material items are necessary to access ‘the good life’…what is necessary for people to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps?
    • What are bootstraps, anyway? Do the poor have them?
  • Can a person at the bottom of the economic ladder improve their lot in life on a minimum or near-minimum wage?
  • Is the Social Safety Net effective, given that we have a chronic poverty rate of 11% -15%?
    • 1964 War on Poverty lowered the rate of poverty from approximately 19% to 11% in ten years.
      • Since then, the poverty rate has varied up to 15%….lower rate in boom times, higher rate in recessions.
  • What aid programs would you cut? See list, below.

BACKGROUND NOTES

First, an overview of incomes in the US 1965 – 2013

01 household-incomes-mean-real (1) 04 household-income-real-decline-from-peak-table

Note on the graphs: Gray bars indicated periods of recession.  All income levels have seen reductions since the 2008 Great Recession, but the lower quintiles have suffered losses at or more than twice the rate of the top quintile.  What is your opinion of the following statement: Losses for the poorest Americans strikes at essentials such as food and shelter while losses at the top are more easily absorbed.

Not shown is that the wealth of the top .01% is equal in value to the cumulative wealth of the bottom 90% of the population.

03 household-incomes-growth-real-annotated

02 household-income-real-growth-by-quintile-since-1967-table

There are currently 13 ‘welfare’ programs (excluding Medicare) that comprise the ‘social safety net’, administered by 8 federal agencies: 

  • Negative Income Tax (aka Earned Income Tax Credit): Cash paid to families who pay no income tax
  • SNAP – Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (aka ‘Food Stamps’). These are debit cards provided to buy food
  • Housing Assistance: HUD rent vouchers, public housing and community development programs
  • Supplemental Security Income: Cash to disabled, blind, seniors over age 65
  • Pell Grants: Grants to students for tuition, room & board
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Cash to needy families for support and to move them from welfare to work
  • Child Nutrition: School lunches, breakfast and after-school food programs
  • Head Start: Preschool program
  • Job Training: Various employment and support programs
  • WIC – Women Infants and Children: Provides high-protein food for pregnant women and children up to 5-years old
  • Child Care: includes after-school programs
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Aid for heating or cooling residential dwellings
  • Lifeline (aka, ‘The Obama Phone’): subsidy for phones including cell service

TOTAL COST OF (13) ‘WELFARE’ PROGRAMS (2013):     $365B

MEDICAID (2013):                                                                                         $265B

TOTAL FEDERAL EXPENDITURE :                                                    $630B 

HOW IS POVERTY MEASURED?

Poverty Thresholds:    2012                    2013

Single person household – $11,720                $11,888
Two person Household –    $14,937                $15,142
Three person household –  $18,284                $18,552
Four person household –    $23,492                $23,834

Five person household-          NA                       $28,265

Six person household-             NA                       $31,925

Minimum Wage Annual Incomes:

$15.00/hr. = $28,800

$10.00/hr. = $19,200

$  9.00/hr. = $17,280

$  7.50/hr. = $14,400

 

Income Qualifications by Program

EITC – $13,460 for individual, $35,535 for a family with one child.
SNAP – 130% of poverty threshold.
Housing Assistance – 50% of median income in a local area (50% of median income totaled $24,888 for the U.S. as a whole).
SSI – $17,196 for an individual and $25,284 for a couple.
Pell Grants – $50,000+ in family or student income, most awards under $30,000
TANF – Unique by state but generally 50% – 100% of poverty threshold.
Child Nutrition – 130% of poverty threshold, partial benefit below 185% of threshold
Head Start, Child Care, Job Training – Unique by state and program.
WIC – 185% of poverty threshold.
LIHEAP – 150% of poverty threshold or 60% of state median income.
Lifeline (Obama Phone)135% of poverty threshold or participation in numerous other programs.

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:  SOCIAL SECURITY KEEPS 22 MILLION AMERICANS OUT OF POVERTY.

  • Although most of those saved from poverty are elderly, over 33% of SS recipients are under age 65.

Pew polls on poverty

Partisan Split:

Total who agree “Can’t/Shouldn’t do more to help the poor”:    R 73%      D 32%

High Income Households who sympathize with poor:  R 30%      D 73%

There is an interesting blip, in that low income Republicans favor more benefits for the poor by a 5% margin (low income Democrats overwhelmingly favor more aid for the poor:

Low Income Republicans who sympathize with poor:   50%

Low Income Republicans ‘Poor have it too easy’:   45%

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/09/16/public-is-sharply-divided-in-views-of-americans-in-poverty/

MORE PUBLIC OPINIONS:

  1. Work should be a requirement for receiving government benefits:  83% YES                   7%NO                  10% UNDECIDED          http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/business/jobs_employment/july_2012/83_favor_work_requirement_for_welfare_recipients
  1. Government Should Shift $$ Spent on Welfare Benefits to Jobs Programs for Poor:  80%YES         9%NO   11%UNDECIDED   http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/business/general_business/march_2013/americans_favor_work_over_welfare_as_response_to_poverty
  1. States Should Give Out Jobs, Not Welfare. That is, states should offer minimum wage jobs to persons who have lost their jobs and have been unsuccessfully looking for work for a year. 61%YES        21%NO          18%UNDECIDED                http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/business/jobs_employment/february_2013/61_think_state_governments_should_give_out_jobs_not_welfare
  1. Support for Raising the Minimum Wage to $9.00/hour ($17,280/year)

ALL AMERICANS:        71%YES                     27%NO

DEMOCRATS:               90%YES

INDEPENDENTS:         66%YES

REPUBLICANS:             50% YES                    http://www.gallup.com/poll/160913/back-raising-minimum-wage.aspx

  1. Rasmussen Reports also shows the following:

67% think too many are dependent on government aid (2013 survey)

49% think that government programs INCREASE the level of poverty in US (2012)

52% think it’s ‘too easy’ to get food stamps (2012)

81% think aid recipients should prove legal US residency

  1. Pew Research reports the following:

37% say poor people have it easy, getting benefits without doing anything in return

62% say poor people don’t get enough government aid to allow them to live decently

27% would increase government spending on programs for the poor

24% would decrease government spending on programs for the poor

44% say that government spending on programs for the poor is ‘about right’

Should US cut aid to the poor to cut the federal budget deficit?

38% would reduce spending on programs for the poor to reduce the budget deficit

58% disapprove of reducing the budget deficit by reducing spending on the poor

Americans are not satisfied with the way the government deals with poverty:

gallup poll various issues and poverty

NBC poll on poor

I hope you find these background notes helpful and that they ignite a thoughtful conversation about poverty in America.  See you Wednesday night!

larryb

Durango Skeptics and Atheists MAY 2015 NEWSLETTER

“Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them–or worse, who credibly rebut them–they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.”
― Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature

Next general meeting:                          Wednesday  May20, 2015

Meeting at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.

Meeting starts at 6:30.

The topic for this month:  Compassion, wealth inequality and the roles of government and private enterprise.  This topic to be moderated by Larry Bollinger.  QUESTIONS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Are government programs (aka the Social Safety Net), examples of ‘compassion’ for the underprivileged?  Has the War on Poverty which has been waged for some 50+ years a failure?  Is an unfettered ‘free market’ the answer to societal problems?  What is the role of Government? Bring your thoughts and opinions to the next general meeting and wade into the discussion!

News items in this Newsletter relevant to the discussion topic:  See the first item below regarding the physical damage done to the DNA of the urban poor as a result of stress caused by economic hardship, domestic violence and marginalization from mainstream society! 

Speaking of discussion topics, it would be wonderful if each member gave some thought to what topics you would like to see discussed by the group in future monthly meetings.  Perhaps you’d be willing to lead a future discussion?  It is unfair to look to Kathleen and Dan, the group’s organizers, to carry the load by themselves month after month, wouldn’t you agree?  So add your suggestions to the mix by contacting Kathleen via the MeetUp website! 

Also Be Sure to See Tom the Dancing Bug by Reuben Bolling at the very end of this month’s newsletter! Background: ‘Lucky Ducky’ and ‘Hollinsworth Hound’ are recurring TtDB characters.  Reuben Bolling’s target this time is the yawing wealth gap that separates the 1%ers from the rest of America.  As Bolling explains,  “… the Hollingsworth Hound / Lucky Ducky relationship is not a wild, satirical exaggeration, but is based on absolute truth … Alert readers know that Lucky Ducky got his start when an actual, honest-to-goodness Wall Street Journal op-ed piece called those too poor to pay taxes “lucky duckies.”   

Equal Time: For any who disbelieve the fact that the ‘top’ 1% of Americans hold wealth that is the equivalent of the combined wealth of the lowest 90% of Americans, Bolling offers this screen shot:

Bill O'Reilly on income inequality

Something for every political taste, that’s the Skeptic and Atheist Newsletter motto! 

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NEXT BOOK FOR OUR BOOK CLUB:   My Stroke of Insight                          by Jill Bolte Tayor               (recommended by Betsy Norton)

Sunday, June 28 5:30PM at Betsy’s home,                         448 E 11th Street Durango

_wsb_183x276_PaperbackOn December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. As she observed her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours … For Taylor, her stroke was a blessing and a revelation. It taught her that by “stepping to the right” of our left brains, we can uncover feelings of well-being that are often sidelined by “brain chatter.” Reaching wide audiences through her talk at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference and her appearance on Oprah’s online Soul Series, Taylor provides a valuable recovery guide for those touched by brain injury and an inspiring testimony that inner peace is accessible to anyone.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT MARIA’S!  ASK FOR THE BOOKCLUB DISCOUNT BY MENTIONING THE DURANGO SKEPTICS AND ATHEISTS!

NEXT UP FOR THE BOOK CLUB:  The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

Friday, August 14 at Carolyn and Larry’s Home

lemontreeIn 1967, Bashir Al-Khayri, a Palestinian twenty-five-year-old, journeyed to Israel, with the goal of seeing the beloved old stone house, with the lemon tree behind it, that he and his family had fled nineteen years earlier. To his surprise, when he found the house he was greeted by Dalia Ashkenazi Landau, a nineteen-year-old Israeli college student, whose family fled Europe for Israel following the Holocaust. On the stoop of their shared home, Dalia and Bashir began a rare friendship, forged in the aftermath of war and tested over the next thirty-five 

years in ways that neither could imagine on that summer day in 1967. Based on extensive research, and springing from his enormously resonant documentary that aired on NPR’s Fresh Air in 1998, Sandy Tolan brings the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to its most human level, suggesting that even amid the bleakest political realities there exist stories of hope and reconciliation.

FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING FOR ATHEISTS INTERESTED IN POLITICS AND RELIGION:

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America 

oNE NATION UNDER GOD COVER http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-new-book-chronicles-invention-of.html#more     Just released, hardback only.    Kruse argues the belief that America is fundamentally and formally a Christian nation originated in the 1930s when businessmen enlisted religious activists in their fight against FDR’s New Deal. Corporations from General Motors to Hilton Hotels bankrolled conservative clergymen, encouraging them to attack the New Deal as a program of “pagan state-ism” that perverted the central principle of Christianity: the sanctity and salvation of the individual. Their campaign for “freedom under God” culminated in the election of their close ally Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

All meetings have limited seating!      

PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM

Want to suggest a title for the Book Club?  Start by attending the next book club meeting!

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New Study Finds Alarming Deterioration of DNA in Urban Poor

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3077314/Poor-people-s-DNA-declining-quality-say-scientists-Study-reveals-stressful-upbringings-damage-genes.html    It turns out that the combination of being poor AND being in a marginalized ethnic group causes stress and damage to a person’s DNA which can significantly shorten life.  Telomeres are shorter in people who are disadvantaged economically and who do not have strong cultural support groups.

DNA

ADDITIONALLY: Research in the past decade suggests that it may be possible for parents to pass down the effects of trauma in their lives (‘trauma’ such as poor diet, poor education, PTSD from various experiences, effects of environmental toxins, etc.) to their offspring.  Such inheritance of traits is called ‘epigenetics’.  Live Science defines epigenetics this way: Epigenetics literally means “above” or “on top of” genetics. It refers to external modifications to DNA that turn genes “on” or “off.” These modifications do not change the DNA sequence, but instead, they affect how cells “read” genes”.  If true, it means that the ‘sins of the father’ may, indeed, be visited on the children!  The research is on-going and researchers are still undecided about the extent or the exact mechanisms that are involved.  But if stress and trauma in the parent is reflected in the way genes express themselves in offspring it might help explain the generational persistence of poverty and poor socialization.  For more information Google: ‘Epigenetics’.

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Creationism in the Classroom – The Fight Goes On…and On and On 

This item comes from The Friendly Atheist.  “There are plenty of ways to teach evolution in a high school science class. And Brandon Pettenger of Arroyo Grande High School in California doesn’t seem to know any of them.  He thought it would be appropriate to watch the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate in the classroom… and then have his students summarize blog posts on Creationist websites.”

Nye vs Ham This doesn’t belong in a science class

In his Life Sciences class, Mr. Pettenger posed the following questions to his students in a slide presentation entitled Evolution or Creation – The Debate : “How did we get here?”, “Is God real?” “Is there evidence that God does exist?” and “Did God create the universe? If so, how?”  The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science teamed up to write a letter to the District objecting to the teaching of “nonsense”… http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/04/24/california-educator-showed-the-bill-nyeken-ham-debate-in-class-to-teach-students-both-sides-of-the-argument/    Upon being notified that Mr. Pettenger was ‘teaching to the (non) controversy’ in his science class, Director of Secondary Education for the school district promised to look into the matter, noting: “creationism isn’t a part of California’s state science standards”, adding that the school district has an additional board policy that forbids discussion of “philosophical and religious theories” in science classes.  Follow this link for the updated details: http://www.newtimesslo.com/breaking-news/12296/arroyo-grande-instructor-accused-of-teaching-creationism/

Nye vs Fred Flintstone

Atheists United San Luis Obispo weighed in with a newspaper editorial pointing out that, in fact, there IS NO CONTROVERSY and that religious doctrine such as Creationism has no place in any science classroom, noting  “this is not a secular position, it’s a scientific position”. 

This reasonable statement was immediately challenged by a parent of one of Pettenger’s students who wrote a letter of complaint claiming, “It is indeed ironic that Atheists United SLO, which promotes itself as a “freethought” organization would lead a campaign to stifle classroom debate and limit academic inquiry…threatening schools with legal action and good teachers with dismissal amounts to intimidation and bullying. It’s downright intolerant … they want to silence anyone else who might have the audacity to question their evolutionary dogma…their strategy is censorship by intimidation.”   Read both the atheist’s editorial and the parent’s letter here: http://www.newtimesslo.com/commentary/12324/the-debate-evolution-vs-creationism/    In summary, although there is no scientific ‘controversy’, believers still conjure up arguments to rationalize the insertion of religious philosophy into the nation’s science classrooms.  By doing so, they perpetuate the myth that religious faith is equivalent to theories which are derived via the scientific method.

science_vs_creationism-2

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Multi – Media Time!

Remember the Days When Scientists Used to Burn Religious ‘Science Heritics’ at the Stake? 

Neither does anyone else.  But for one state legislator in Louisiana, the ‘memory’ of those dark days burns brightly.  He recently cited this faux-history in defense of teaching Creationism in Louisiana public schools.  Watch this brief clip on YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHHnvPWLgi8

heretics burn w titles

For the fifth straight year, the LA legislature declined to repeal a law which makes the teaching of Creationism acceptable in science classrooms throughout the state.  In past years the attempts to repeal this loophole, which allows superstition to replace science in public schools at the discretion of individual school districts, has attracted the endorsement of 78 Nobel laureate scientists and countless science organizations.  However, State Senator Julie Quinn dismissed these laureates as being just people with ‘little letters’ after their names from whom she has no interest in hearing on the matter. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/06/louisiana_creationism_video_state_sen_elbert_guillory_defends_faith_healing.html

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FUN WITH THE HOLY BIBLE!

Bible Contradiction Quiz Show 

Check out this funny, short video!    https://youtu.be/RB3g6mXLEKk

Interactive chart of Bible contradictions.

Interactive Bible contradictions

The image above is from:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/08/19/an-incredible-interactive-chart-of-biblical-contradictions/   an interactive project which attempts to link any given Bible quote to other quotes which stand in direct contradiction to it.  Go to the site and click on any of the arcs and brush up on your Bible ‘facts’.  Below is an example of what you’ll find:

example of bible contradiction REV

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“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  — Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist     (Contributed by Marc Masor)

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Revisiting Old Discussion Topics 

Bill Nye Explains Why He Changed His Mind in Favor of GMOs

Nye points to the increased yields made possible by GMO technology which helps to feed a hungry world, but he is still cautious about ‘unintended consequences’ to the environment.  Listen to his recent interview on HuffingtonPost Live here: http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/bill-nye-the-science-guy-interview/552d62e72b8c2a77bf0000e7

On Vaccines: Measles Vaccine Protects Against More Diseases Than Just Measles     Contributed by Marc Masor    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/07/us-health-measles-idUSKBN0NS23N20150507   By blocking the measles infection, the vaccine prevents measles-induced immune system damage that makes children much more vulnerable to numerous other infectious diseases for two to three years, a recently published study found.

Yet Another Study Shows NO LINK between MMR Vaccine and Autism    Contributed by Marc Masor    http://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/autism-news-51/another-study-finds-no-vaccine-autism-link-698635.html?lexp=true&utm_expid=38353063-4.pIV1hUrQR8K_MJ1_OqjLag.1     Even among children who have siblings with autism, study shows no link between vaccines and autism.  How many studies will it take to un-do the damage done by the discredited ‘study’ from the 1990s? 

What is the Durango School District 9-R Vaccine Exemption Rate?vaccine exemptions in 9-R re-build

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California  Senate Approves Bill to Eliminate Vaccine Opt Out

http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-california-senate-approves-vaccine-mandate-bill-20150513-story.html   (May 14, 2015) THIS JUST IN: The controversial bill which was just passed in the CA Senate would end vaccination exemptions which are based on parents’ purely personal reasons.  The only exemptions that would still be permitted are for medical problems such as a weakened immune system.  Republicans were unsuccessful in their attempts to maintain an exemption for religious reasons.

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Pew Research Shows Christian Share of US Population is in decline

http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

Pew poll re declining Christians in U S

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Some Churches Take a Tolerant Stand…god doesn't want religious nuts god prefers atheists over hateful christians  separation of church and hate church sign 'get over' gays

While Others…Not So Much!

o-DEATH-WORTHY-2-570Pastor Robert Lee of the Ten Commandments Church unveiled a new billboard earlier this week calling homosexuality a “death worthy crime.”    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/04/30/1381417/-Georgia-pastor-has-a-message-for-the-gay-community-Homosexuality-is-a-death-worthy-crime#

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And finally…here it is, your moment of Dancing Bug:

Tom the Dancing Bug

Tom the Dancing Bug is reproduced in our monthly Newsletter courtesy of the artist, Ruben Bolling.     Visit the archive of years of TtDB cartoons at http://gocomics.typepad.com/tomthedancingbugblog/

Are there any announcements, activities, opinions or other news items you’d like your fellow Skeptics and Atheists to know about? Drop an email to larrybollinger@comcast.net with your information so that it can be included in the next newsletter! 

Thanks to Marc Masor for contributing to this month’s newsletter!

Durango Skeptics and Atheists NEWSLETTER April 2015

“I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs”.

 (Fredrick Douglas, African-American Abolitionist (1818-1895)

Next general meeting,  Wednesday  April 15

Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango                          Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.                               Meeting starts at 6:30.

The topic for this month:                                                               This may be one of our infamous ‘free-for-all’ meetings.  Do you want to discuss the death penalty, in light of the Boston Bomber’s conviction? Rights for LGBT citizens? Left brain vs. Right brain?  Love/Hate Same Harris? Or pick a topic from among this month’s news items detailed below. Bring your pet topics to the meeting and bounce your ideas off your fellow Skeptics!

Tom the Dancing Bug by Ruben Bolling: Your reward for scrolling through this entire document is Tom the D.B. at the very tail end.

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SKEPTICS AND ATHEISTS BOOK CLUB:

For descriptions and reviews of our book club selections, please visit:  MeetUp.com/Durango Skeptics and Atheists

 THIS MONTH’S SELECTION:                                                                 NYT Best-seller The Dove Keepers , by Alice Hoffman

dove keepers Friday April 24, 2015 (6:30PM)                      35 Cedar Drive (Durango West II)                                                                                           Hosted by Carolyn and Larry Bollinger                                                                      Vegetarian lasagna will be served                                                                                                 From Alicehoffman.com:  “Over five years in the writing, [this is an] ambitious and mesmerizing novel…a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel.”                                                                                                                           PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM  

Coming Up in the Book Club:  

  One Nation, Under God by Vincent M. Wales (recommended by Kylene)  Wednesday, May 13…time/location TBA

NYT Best-seller My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Tayor                             (recommended & hosted by Betsy Norton)                                                                                Sunday, June 28 (5:30PM)  448 E 11th St.  Durango

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A Retraction/Clarification  The March Newsletter included links to an article reporting on the New York Attorney General’s study of nutritional supplements.  The study purported that the ingredients listed on the labels did not accurately reflect the actual ingredients used in manufacture in 79% of supplements tested.  But, during our last general meeting, Marc Masor (a former nutrition research scientist for 16 years who holds a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry) told us that the NY AG’s study was flawed because it used inappropriate testing measures that yielded incorrect results. pills    Therefore, Marc urges that we not jump to hasty conclusions based on this single study. Don’t throw away those bottles of Ginkgo Biloba and St. John’s Wort just yet.  (Well, as we’ve learned from a member talk by Joyce and Lou Fontana on the subject, you probably should throw them away…but not because the ingredient labeling is wrong). This link, provided by Marc has all the details of where the testing process went awryhttp://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/NY-AG-takes-on-GNC-Walgreens-Walmart-Target-on-herbal-supplements 

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Is the Use of Fish Oil as a Supplement Just a Fish Story?                 Yes and No… (contributed by group co-founder, Kathleen O’Conner)                This article says that the third most widely used supplement in the US no better than a placebo.    http://doubtfulnews.com/2015/03/the-era-of-fish-oil-as-medication-is-over/

fish_oil_shutterstock_p   Marc Masor says, Not so fast.  I looked at the JAMA paper. Two of the studies I know, they’re focused on whether or not DHA affects infant development, that’s not about fish oil and cardiovascular disease. Some of the studies did indeed have specific outcomes, like ventricular arrhythmia, and relapse of Crone’s disease. I also found it interesting that there were absolutely no references from any nutrition journals.  I know from my experience that there is a massive amount of research in nutrition journals, and we’re talking about a nutrient, not a pharmaceutical. If I really wanted to dissect this paper completely I’d want to see all of their references, and given how they threw in studies on cognitive development in infants into the mix, I’m skeptical of their skepticism.”

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Follow-Up on California’s Sodomite Suppression Act  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/23/california-anti-gay-bill_n_6927464.html   The March Newsletter reported on this loathsome proposed California ballot measure…here is the latest development.  “It doesn’t matter that a California lawyer’s outrageous Sodomite Suppression Act ballot initiative proposes executing gays with “bullets to the head,” or that it’s unconstitutional and could never become law. California Attorney General Kamala Harris is forced to allow the measure to circulate for signatures, legal experts said.”

0-sodom-gomorrahBut Californians are striking back in some interesting ways!  Read about the ‘Shellfish Suppression Act’ and the ‘Jackass Act’ here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/07/california-sodomite-suppression-act-shellfish_n_7018286.html  Joe Decker of San Jose proposed the legislation against shellfish, writing: “Shellfish are a monstrous evil that Almighty God, giver of freedom and liberty, commands us in Leviticus to suppress. They also smell bad.”  Leviticus calls the consumption of ‘all that have not fins and scales in the seas’ an abomination. Those who consume or sell shellfish, Decker wrote, should be subject to a $666,000 fine or a prison term of six years, six months and six days. (Get it?)”

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Dr. Laura: If You Believe Some of Leviticus, Why Not All Of It?(Contributed by member, Marc Masor)  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/03/25/850561/-An-Open-Letter-to-Dr-Laura-Schlesinger?detail=emailclassic   If The Bible is God’s Word inerrant, how can a person pick and choose which verses are to be followed and which are to be disregarded? If a believer picks whatever passages are personally appealing and ignores the rest, isn’t that blasphemous?  Bart Ehrman, former evangelical and a professional scholar of the New Testament, says that such a practice is tantamount to ‘creating your own, new, personal version of The Bible.

leviticus-1  If you are curious, as I was, about how Christians respond to the challenges posed in the open letter, check out ‘Christian Voice’ http://www.repentuk.com/laura.html .  Get ready to slap your forehead.

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They LIKE Us!  They Really Like Us!  Or At Least Tolerate Us!(Contributed by member, Joyce Fontana)          “In what is believed to be a first in the United States, the Common Council of Madison, Wis., has voted to amend the city’s equal opportunities ordinance ‘to add non-religion as a protected class.’  The legislation adds atheists to the categories of people who could potentially face discrimination. It was co-sponsored by 14 of the council’s 20 members and approved without objection Tuesday night.”

militant_atheists

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Why the Fuss Over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act?http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/what-makes-indianas-religious-freedom-law-different/388997/          Supporters of Indiana’s RFRA claimed that their new law was ‘identical’ to a federal law of the same name which was signed by Bill Clinton in 1993.  But the difference is in the tiny details…read about it here.  And be sure to see Ruben Bolling’s take on this controversy in this month’s Tom the Dancing Bug, which is at the very end of this newsletter!

As of this writing, crowd funding has raised $842,000 for the pizza parlor that claimed it would not ‘cater’ a gay wedding and was forced to close up shop due to ‘threats of violence’.    Meanwhile, a counter-protest effort to raise money for homeless kids managed to raise only $42,000…compare that with $50,000 raised in just the first 11 hours of the pizza parlor support campaign!

pizza-4-equality                                                                                                                                                                       This is a link   http://www.bizpacreview.com/2015/04/06/liberals-launch-revenge-gofundme-to-counter-conservatives-pizza-love-forgot-one-big-thing-193130 to a right-leaning website gloating,  “…Conservative are great at donating when the cause is just; liberals are great at using tax dollars to support their own pet programs, whether it’s abortion clinics, global warming, or green energy. But they’re loathe to dig into their own pockets.”                    (They hate us.  They really hate us!)

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Utilities Wage War on Rooftop Solar   http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/utilities-sensing-threat-put-squeeze-on-booming-solar-roof-industry/2015/03/07/2d916f88-c1c9-11e4-ad5c-3b8ce89f1b89_story.html    All of us rely on the infrastructure that provides electric power.  But what happens when home owners ‘opt out’ of the system and begin to generate their own power using solar panels? Who pays for the maintenance of the traditional electrical infrastructure?  Utilities have begun a new tactic using a surcharge (usually around $50/month) to ensure that solar powered homes pay their fair share of the costs. Is this really ‘fair’?  Read all about it here.

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A Passover Sign From God Almighty?                http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-passover-sign-from-god/      Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews are abuzz about a ‘pure, red heifer’ born to a farmer in New Jersey. Why?  Because they claim that this particular cow is evidence, sent by The Almighty, of the End Times.

red-heifer

Evangelicals believe that the Rapture will occur when three conditions are met: The re-forming of the state of Israel (done), the return of all Jews to Israel (in process) and the re-construction of the Temple in Jerusalem (TBA). The appearance of the ‘Red Heifer Without Blemish’ is a sure sign that the temple is about to be re-built.  The heifer’s ashes, you see, are required to dedicate the new temple.                     Logical, yes?  No.

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More Bovine Prophecy  http://beforeitsnews.com/prophecy/2015/02/you-must-prepare-now-unbelievable-startling-prophecy-signs-point-to-the-coming-economic-collapse-and-the-end-of-the-world-2467230.html     Evangelicals love numerology.  Specifically Genesis 41:1-4, wherein Pharaoh dreams of 7 good years and 7 bad years.  Here is the Bible text (FYI, ‘kine’ refers to a group of cows): 1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. 3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. Genesis 41.  So when the cow, pictured below, showed up it was naturally taken as a ‘sign’ that The End is nigh…”7”, get it?

cow with 7

Evangelicals point to the past 7 years (Obama’s presidency) as the 7 ‘bad years’ so it only stands to ‘reason’ that the next 7 years will be ‘good’.  Understand?  Me either.

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Arizona Legislator Suggests Making Sunday Church Attendance MANDATORY (Contributed by member, Beth Jones) http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/03/26/arizona-tea-party-senator-require-every-american-to-attend-the-church-of-their-choice-to-return-morality-to-america-video/     “Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth…”                                                                                                                     The fact is that religion does nothing to make people ‘more moral’…a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago points to the fact that religious and/or political affiliation has little to do with dictating a person’s understanding of Right and Wrong :  http://www.livescience.com/47799-morality-religion-political-beliefs.html

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  CRUZ-PRESIDENT-1 He’s the first Republican to formally declare his presidential candidacy. Here is a smattering of comments from The Media.

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And Now For Something Completely Different…Musical Comic Relief!

“Jerry Falwell’s God” by Roy Zimmerman  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyE5wjc4XOw

roy zimmerman                                                                    This guy is pretty funny. Plays a mean acoustic guitar, too!                                             “Creation Science 101”, Roy Zimmerman  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIwiPsgRrOs

 NOTE: Roy is no relation to ‘that’ Zimmerman…speaking of whom….

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George Zimmerman: “Killing Trayvon Martin Was God’s Plan”.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/25/george-zimmerman-gods-plan_n_6938456.html     If you are wondering if George Zimmerman suffers from a guilty conscience or sleepless nights, the answer is a firm “NO”. “I believe God has his plans, and for me to second-guess them would be hypocritical, almost blasphemous,” he says in this video:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AB_iRe0f7Bk&feature=youtu.be

0130-george-zimmerman-boxing-1  However, some Christians rightly take exception to Mr. Zimmerman’s theology: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/george-zimmerman/ 

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News of the Somewhat Deranged:

 Duck Dynasty’s Phil Roberson Spews http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/phil-robertson-hypothesizes-about-atheist-family-getting-raped-and-killed 

duck dynasty douche            His thesis is that an atheist, being immoral and lawless, wouldn’t mind seeing his family raped and murdered.  This is a different sort of comic relief…the eye-rolling kind.  Listen to this genius, in his own words…then go kill some ducks.

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Pope Watch:  A Miracle?     http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/francesco-napoli-39932/       Pope Francis is being credited by Believers with a miracle, worked in public.  While kissing a relic alleged to contain the dried blood of St. Gennaro (aka, Januarius, thought to be the martyred Bishop of Naples in the 4th century CE), the ‘blood’ liquefied!  A Miracle!

Italy Pope   Read further into the incident and we find that the ‘blood’ liquefies on schedule on the saint’s ‘feast day’ and any time the ‘blood’ sample is taken out of storage for public veneration. Pope Francis is a conundrum; sometimes admirable, wise and worldly…sometimes steeped in superstition and voodoo.

If you crave more information about Gennaro/Januarius and the ‘miracle’ of his liquefied blood, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Januarius

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News of the Superstitious: No One is Immune!                    (Contributed by member, Marc Masor)   http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/the-science-of-superstition/384962/       Before laughing too much at the Pope and his alleged miracle, remember that all of us are susceptible to superstitions…and I don’t mean just recovering-Catholics!  “Even atheists seem to fear a higher power. A study published last year found that self-identified nonbelievers began to sweat when reading aloud sentences asking God to do terrible things (“I dare God to make my parents drown”). Not only that, they stressed out just as much as believers did.”

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News of the Particularly Gullible: Jesus ‘Appears’ in a Rockslide http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/25/jesus-rockslide-colombia_n_6942320.html       The Son of God has appeared on grilled cheese sandwiches, in oil slicks, on fried chicken, in smoke plumes and stains on dirty windows…now it’s a rockslide in Columbia.                                                                         The landowners are charging $0.79 (U.S.) to witness this latest ‘miracle’.Jesus in a rockslideROCKSLIDE JESUS

The human tendency to recognize faces and patterns in/on everyday items is called ‘pareidolia’ (PEAR-a-dolya).  This built-in predilection to see things that aren’t really there is why we see Mother Theresa, Jesus and other religious apparitions in burned cinnamon toast and bird poop (see below).  Read more about pareidolia here: http://www.skepdic.com/pareidol.html

HufPo is a good source of compilations of odd photos…here are 42 ‘miraculous’ images you can peruse:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/jesus-in-chicken_n_6172214.html  A sampling of these photos are reproduced below for your convenience and amusement…Bird shit JesusBIRD-POOP JESUS  (I see a dog’s head and face)

Breakfast Taco JesusBREAKFAST TACO JESUS  (Could be Rasputin)

Chicken JesusFRIED CHICKEN JESUS (Rasputin again?  The MGM lion?)

Crabby JesusCRABBY JESUS (or Osama bin Laden)

Peeling Pain JesusPEELING PAINT JESUS (OK, that IS Jesus…                                             with the crown of thorns no less!)

Pizza JesusPIZZA JESUS (or the Zig Zag rolling papers logo)

Sweatsock JesusSWEAT SOCK JESUS

Walmart JesusWALMART RECEIPT JESUS (or Che Guevara on a bad day)

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Follow-Up on HBO’s “Going Clear” Scientology Documentary  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/07/john-travolta-defends-scientology_n_7016632.html        John Travolta, who has been a pampered member of the Scientology cult for decades, condemns the documentary (for which he declined to be interviewed and which he has not seen) as being,              “…decidedly negative.”

john-travolta-going-clear-scientology-documentary    Travolta further says,           “…[Scientology has] been so beautiful for me, that I can’t imagine attacking it.”  The HBO documentary features interviews with former high-ranking Scientology officials who have left the cult and allege to have been physically abused by David Miscavige, Scientology’s heir to founder L. Ron Hubbard.

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And finally…here it is, your moment of Dancing Bug…

Tom the Dancing Bug

Tom the Dancing Bug is reproduced in our monthly Newsletter courtesy of the artist, Ruben Bolling.

Visit the archive for years of TtDB cartoons at  http://gocomics.typepad.com/tomthedancingbugblog/

Are there any announcements, activities, opinions or other news items you’d like your fellow Skeptics and Atheists to know about? Drop an email to larrybollinger@comcast.net with your information so that it can be included in the next newsletter!

Thanks to Wray, Beth, Marc, Joyce and Kathleen for contributing to this month’s newsletter!