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!

Durango Skeptics and Atheist NEWSLETTER MARCH 2015

Durango Skeptics and Atheists       March 2015

“Be born anywhere, little embryo novelist, but do not be born under the shadow of a great creed, not under the burden of original sin, not under the doom of Salvation”.

(Pearl S. Buck, 1892-1973) 

Next general meeting, Wednesday  March 18, 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 monthThe Believers at the Door.  The first days of spring time mean blooming crocuses, the resumption of Daylight Savings Time and the gentle tapping of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the front door.  It happened at our house just two days ago as Carolyn and I confronted two middle-aged JW women who sought to bring ‘Good News’ to our little corner of the world.  Carolyn is the more diplomatic and conciliatory one – she mentions that she’s an Atheist and is not interesting in ‘finding Jesus’.  She listens for a while and finally congratulates them on finding ‘something that works for you’.  Her goal is to leave them with a positive impression of their encounter with an actual Atheist.  I, on the other hand, am more aggressive in challenging their beliefs and dogma directly.  I want to push back against their self-righteous presumptiveness…I want to dent their self-confidence, to beat them at their own game.

So, WHAT IS the best way to deal with missionaries at your door?  What goals do you have for such a conversation?  What tactics do you employ?  How do you feel afterward?   Kathleen has invited a friend, a former Jehovah’s Witness door-to-door proselytizer, who may be able to shed some light on the mindset of The Believer at the Door.

Tom the Dancing Bug: Your reward for scrolling through this entire document is Tom the D.B. at the very tail end.  This month, enjoy the further adventures of God-Man.

Continue reading

American Narcissist

American Narcissist

We Americans have never been accused of being introspective…we just know in our gut that the United States of America is the Vanguard of Progress, ‘noble in reason and infinite in faculty’. We know, without a whisper of doubt, that we are the Good Guys. We are at the head of the class!. And that can’t be bad….can it?

“…from all that I can see of this president [Obama], all that I’ve heard of him, he apologizes for America, he criticizes America. … I don’t hear from him … about what a great country we are, what an exceptional country we are.”                                                                                                                        -Rudi Giuliani, Foxnews.com

These execrable comments by the former NYC Mayor, Rudi Giuliani, point to a deeper national problem than Republicans’ visceral and knee-jerk renunciation of President Barack Obama and all his works. In an era that has been rightly lampooned for being overly concerned about ‘self-esteem’, the USA has fallen madly in love with … itself. I submit that this self-admiration has skewed our perception of the rest of the world and has led directly to the present conflagration in the Middle East.

We are born believing, without question, that America is the cutting edge of social evolution. In our mental self-narrative, we are a people to be lauded and envied. ‘They envy our freedom/our ingenuity/our success’ are American truisms. We congratulate ourselves aloud – and in public – for being ‘exceptional’. As a result, we imagine that the deepest desire of those unfortunates who live in the ‘lesser’ countries is to become more like Americans. “Oh, if they only had the chance to be FREE!”, we tut-tut mournfully. Over time this perspective has led to our current, increasingly xenophobic, obsession with ‘protecting’ our borders. Republicans are nearly hysterical in their efforts to turn back the diseased, criminal, unworthy masses (known until only recently as ‘those yearning to breathe free’) who are imagined to be assaulting our borders. That’s today…but how did we get to this juncture?

To appreciate how much damage this obsession with ourselves has done, flashback to 2003, to the war the US originally titled “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL). In March of that year, our Narcissist-in-Chief, George W. Bush, decided to abandon the hunt for Osama bin Laden to declare war on a country which had nothing to do with the attack of 9/11. Fulfilling his own Make-A-Wish, George W. Bush made himself a ‘War President’ at last.
Remember that early in his presidency, Bush modestly related that God Almighty Himself urged him to run for President. This was not a metaphor … this was something that he deeply Believed and Christian America swooned. But his delusion of being sanctioned by God begs the question: Did the President of the United States rely on his gut understanding of God’s will and a storybook fantasy about American Exceptionalism when he chose to open the doors of Chaos in Iraq?  He certainly cannot be accused of any careful reflection or planning.  President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the other top US leaders were unconcerned about planning for a post-war Iraq because a full-fledged Democracy (“they want to be just like us!”) was sure to spring spontaneously from ‘The People’ of Iraq.

Americans allowed themselves to be mesmerized by our self-proclaimed ‘War President’ and to be goaded by our cheer leading national media. One of the fast-emerging memes of W’s war was that we were actually in Iraq attempting to bestow the ‘Gift’ of Western-style Democracy (albeit at gunpoint). We were assured that our armed invasion would ignite a democratic firestorm, ushering in a new era of Freedom, Human Rights and Justice in a benighted land.   By virtue of ‘Shock and Awe’, and green-lighted by the Creator of the Universe, we would give the Iraqi people their long-awaited opportunity to be just like us! The problem was that Iraq is in a part of the world that had little or no concept of the individual freedoms being proffered. The rolling disaster we now witness in the Middle-East is a direct result of American hubris and utter disdain planning.

Well, we got the ‘firestorm’ part right anyway.

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq, American leaders were shamefully (willfully?) unaware of the 1,400 year-old schism which divided Islam. As a direct result of this blissful ignorance, religious intolerance and sectarian hatred which had slumbered (more or less) for centuries suddenly burst back to savage life. Over eight years, 2003-2011, the civil war that America ignited cost the lives of several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians; in that same time period, conservative estimates are that over a million Iraqis lost their homes and were displaced.
To put that in perspective, had the action taken place in America instead of Iraq, it would have been the equivalent of the loss of 2.5 MILLION American lives and 12 MILLION American refugees displaced from their homes! Just imagine how the surviving Americans might have regarded the invaders! It’s a cinch we wouldn’t admire them!

Because of our actions (the war-of-choice, indefinite detentions, torture) America has squandered its moral high-ground and much of the influence it once enjoyed around the globe. Our actions expose us as hypocrites when we protest that Putin invaded Ukraine (which is on his border) when we waltzed into Iraq (halfway around the globe) in defense of what we called our national security. Yet, the Right Wing Echo Machine has mercilessly pummeled President Obama for adopting a slightly more humble posture on the world stage. He is constantly derided as ‘apologizing‘ for America … as though America has never made a mistake … as though a little humility would diminish us somehow.

The results of the recent national election will only serve to ramp up our bellicose public bluster. Witness the Republican attempt to derail the diplomatic efforts with Iran (and before anyone goes off on me, remember that conduct of foreign policy is the prerogative of the Executive, not Congress). Looking ahead to 2016, we see the Republicans assembling the same crew of ‘experts’ (do the names Shultz, Rice, Wolfowitz ring a bell? YES, they were the ones who promised that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk which would pay for itself!) to support Jeb Bush or whomever survives the gauntlet of the upcoming Tea Party Primaries.

We seem to have learned little from our decade of ill-considered war, immersed as we are in our self-congratulatory-flag-pins-on-our-lapels-God-is-with-us culture. It turns out that America isn’t so much ‘exceptional’, as it is infatuated…with our image in the mirror.

Durango Skeptics and Atheists NEWSLETTER, FEBRUARY 2015

Durango Skeptics and Atheists       February 2015

“The religion that is afraid of Science dishonors God and commits suicide”.      (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882) 

Next general meeting,  Wednesday  February 18, 2015  Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango.     Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.  Meeting starts at 6:30.

This month, Adrian Tillery leads a discussion on the topic of Unexplained Phenomena!          Adrian says: “Everyone has had an experience that they couldn’t wrap their head around.  An odd feeling, the hair on the back of their neck stand up, an icy chill come over them at an auspicious time.  Coincidence is a bad explanation for occurrences that are so intense.  This week we will be sharing our personal experiences, the ones that took a step outside the explainable and left us with as many questions as they did feelings… “

Be sure to bring your own flashlight to hold under your chin while your relate your spooky anecdote!

Tom the Dancing Bug: You may have gathered by now that I am an unabashed  Fan of Tom the Dancing Bug.  So much so that I am a proud member of The Inner Hive.   Ruben allows us to reproduce his work in our newsletter and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!  Scroll to the end of this newsletter to be entertained by, not one, but TWO cartoons this month.  Both are commentaries on hot current events topics…I couldn’t decide which one to use…good thing for me that ambivalence isn’t fatal…I hope.

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NEXT BOOK FOR OUR BOOK CLUB:

Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris*

Mon, Feb 23, 2015 hosted by Adrian,  110 Clear Creek Loop, Durango (6:30PM)          (This book was nominated by Morgan)       Waking Up is part seeker’s memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. No other book marries contemplative wisdom and modern science in this way, and no author other than Sam Harris—a scientist, philosopher, and famous skeptic—could write it.     Limited seating!  PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM  

UPCOMING BOOKS FOR THE BOOK CLUB include:

Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist,   March 13, 2015

The Dove Keepers , by Alice Hoffman   April, 2015   Date TBA

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Study Shows Meditation Could Protect the Brain from Signs of Aging     http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full               From today’s headlines comes validation for the thesis of this month’s Durango Skeptics and Atheist Book Club selection!  A recent study concludes:  “While overall life expectancy has been increasing, the human brain still begins deteriorating after the first two decades of life and continues degrading further with increasing age. Thus, techniques that diminish the negative impact of aging on the brain are desirable.  Existing research, although scarce, suggests meditation to be an attractive candidate in the quest for an accessible and inexpensive, efficacious remedy.”

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Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast: Alienating Left and Right  http://www.salon.com/2015/02/15/faith_fueled_forces_of_hatred_obamas_religion_speech_was_troubling_but_not_for_the_reasons_the_right_alleges/       Echoing the sentiments of Pope Francis, President Obama observed in a recent speech that Freedom of Speech should be exercised with ‘civility and restraint’.   Salon wasted no time in taking Obama on for attending the National Prayer Breakfast in the first place and for saying that individuals should not abuse their rights to insult others, particularly minorities.

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Horrific Punishment Update: Blogger Flogging Postponed for 5th Week           http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/saudi-blogger-spared-flogging-again-amnesty-international-says-1.2234894    Free Speech is far from free in Saudi Arabia.  In May 2014, the government of Saudi Arabia sentenced Raif Badawi, father of three, to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He was convicted of insulting Islam through his writings and on his website, which was set up to encourage public debate.  After enduring 50 strokes during the first flogging session (the 1st of 20 scheduled weekly beatings!), he was so badly injured that subsequent beatings have been repeatedly postponed.  Officially, no reason for the postponements were given.

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Move Over, Saudi Arabia…Egypt’s War on Free Speech and Atheism

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/opinion/mona-eltahawy-egypts-war-on-atheism.html?_r=1&assetType=opinion   A 21  year old student sentenced to 3 years in prison for saying, on FaceBook, that he is an Atheist.  Even worse…his own father testified against him!

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what the hell is it...kids looking at book

Submitted by Marc Masor

Science and the Scientific Method   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2649885/Has-big-bang-breakthrough-foiled-DUST-Researchers-claim-major-flaw-discovery-found.html        Although ‘belief’ in Science is often equated with the ‘belief’ of religious dogma, here is an example which clearly demonstrates the difference between the two.

Last March,  scientists using the BICEPT2 telescope breathlessly reported their discovery of a pattern in light waves that they attributed to gravitational waves.  This observation advanced their particular hypothesis about ‘cosmic inflation’ which deals with events thought to have occurred in the first billionth of a trillionth of a second after the ‘Big Bang’.  Their observations seemed to confirm their hypothesis…it was a thrilling and satisfying moment of triumph for the scientists, some of whom have devoted their careers to this research….but…

Their original excitement has now been tempered by the realization that galactic dust could have been the culprit that caused the appearance of the wave patterns.  And so the paper, published last spring, has now been revised and the scientists have gone back to their instruments to continue their hunt for the Truth about the origin of our universe.

This item is included in this month’s newsletter as an example of the Scientific Method, which looks something like this:

  • observations lead to an hypothesis which is capable of being falsified (e.g., the hypothesis can be tested- no taking things ‘on faith’);
  • experiments and observations are conducted to test the hypothesis (gut feelings do not count!);
  • in light of the results of the experiments and observations, the hypothesis is either advanced or disproved;
  • the original hypothesis is either revised to account for unexpected/new experimental results or it is abandoned altogether.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Science deals with verifiable/falsifiable concepts…’faith’ and ‘belief’ have nothing to do with it.  Religion, on the other hand, deals with concepts which cannot be falsified.  For example, there is no way to experimentally verify that Jesus came back to life after being crucified or that a Creator willed the Universe into existence in six days time.  The ‘faithful’ resolve conflicts between Science and religious dogma by going with their gut instead of their brains.  The religious answer to any challenge is ‘Just because’.  The scientists’ response to a challenge is ‘Let’s find out more’.

why science teachers don't get playground duty

Submitted by Marc Masor

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At the Intersection of Science, Religion, and Politics: ‘President’ Scott Walker on Evolution http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/12/scott-walker-evolution_n_6671786.html     As a front-runner in the Republican field of Presidential candidates, a reporter asked newly re-elected Wisconsin Governor for his views concerning ‘evolution’.  Conservatives cried ‘foul’ and cited the incident as another ‘gotcha’ moment by the liberal press.

But with the ‘theory’ of creationism being actively taught as an ‘alternative’ to evolution in the public schools of both Louisiana and Tennessee (and being subsidized in other states by US taxpayers in the form of charter schools and school payment vouchers), the scientific literacy of a potential US President is relevant.  Even the Pope says he believes in evolution and human-caused gobal climate change…gotcha!

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Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/science-doubters/achenbach-text      From National Geographic: “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change—faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts.”

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Atheist ‘Super Bowl Ad’ Was Awesome…Too Bad It Was a Fake    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORGyNo9H0GA     This link was passed around on FaceBook recently and it made Humanist hearts swell with pride at the depiction of Atheism that was alleged to have aired during this year’s Super Bowl.  And it IS a wonderful piece of work and it WOULD have been wonderful if it had been legit…but…

Turns out that the ‘commercial’ is really a re-edit of an ad for…wait for it…Scientology!   It aired in its original form during the 2013 Super Bowl.

Remember that It cost $8,000,000 dollars to place a :60 ad in the Super Bowl …this was the first clue that something didn’t add up!  It turns out that there is this guy named ‘Dusty’ who is responsible for the editing job…he changed the original Scientology ending to an ‘alternative’ Atheist ending, posting the fake on his YouTube channel…he expects it to be removed any day because it violates YouTube’s policies on copyright infringement…but as of now (Sunday Feb 15), the video is still available at the above link.  Dusty claims, correctly in my view, that no matter who produced the original TV spot, it was really an ad for Atheism all along  It IS a powerful statement…too bad it belongs to Scientology!  But wait…

…maybe now that we’ve paid for our Powerhouse Science Center brick, we should start collecting our nickels to place s genuine Atheist ad in next year’s Super Bowl…here’s an example:      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89E9tGCeLIY&feature=youtu.be&t=50s

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HBO’s Scientology Film “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”      http://crooksandliars.com/2015/01/scientology-cultists-will-hate-movie-so-be      Speaking of quack religions, here comes an offering from HBO which is based on the Lawrence Wright book of the same name.   I can personally vouch for and recommend the book.   It promises to be an entertaining and enlightening film.  Premiere Monday, March 16 on HBO. How will the ‘Church’ of Scientology react?  That’ll be Act II.

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Pope Watch:  Francis Slams ‘Narrow and Prejudiced’ Mindset of Religious Conservatives http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/15/pope-francis-homily_n_6687610.html       Pope Frank, takin’ names and kickin’ dogmatic ass!  From HufPo: “Since his election almost two years ago, Francis has pushed the church to focus less on denouncing the sins of others — especially on issues of sexual morality — and to instead to reach out more to the poor and social outcasts.  Throughout his 15-minute homily, Francis repeatedly slammed the “narrow and prejudiced mentality” of believers who cling to religious laws out of fear. They wind up rejecting the very people they should be ministering to, he said, which means anyone on the margins of society “who encounters discrimination.”

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News of the Cool … and Really HOT:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSVv40M2aks

Nothing short of SPECTACULAR!  Time-lapse footage of Sol, our very own sun, taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory over the past five years of its mission.  Wow.  For this Atheist, this is the sort of thing that inspires awe…revelations of the majesty and mystery of our Universe beat the fables and tales of a Bronze-Age, middle-eastern tribe of nomads any day.

ALSO:      https://vimeo.com/117815404       If you have 45 minutes to kill, take a ride on a photon as it explodes from the surface of the sun to travel to the inner solar system… in real time!  Even traveling at the speed of light, it takes a while to traverse the span of our solar neighborhood.  Swallow a Cheeba Chew and strap in for a cosmic adventure!

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News of the Stupid:  Child Author Recants His Story of Heavenly Tour         http://www.examiner.com/article/child-author-recants-story-of-heavenly-tour         A couple of years ago, six year old Alex Malarkey was severely injured in an auto accident.  He claimed to have ‘died’, gone to heaven and met Jesus (who was riding on a multi-colored horse).  His story was turned into a book which an un-skeptical American public gobbled up.  Well, guess what?  Young Master Malarkey made it all up!  Yes!  Who could have guessed?

News of the Silly:  19 Things that Haunt ex-Students of Catholic School    (Contributed by Maria Doucette)      http://www.buzzfeed.com/candacelowry/things-that-still-haunt-people-who-went-to-catholic-schoo#.hydGqydB3      It seems that a majority of our Durango Skeptics and Atheist group self-identify as ‘Recovering Catholics’…myself included.   Laugh along with this abbreviated list of scars that we all carry!  Really, between all of us, there must be enough material to make a list of at least 100 things that haunt us, but we’ll start with just 19!

News of the Odd:  Crystal Children        http://www.starchildren.info/crystal.html       Have you heard about the Crystal Children?  Neither had I before two days ago.  Apparently, these super-children have been appearing on Planet Earth since the early 1990’s.  They are said to be wise beyond their years, to be able to make prophecies, to heal the sick (still no word on whether they can restore an amputated limb, though) and to perform all manner of miracles.  They are here, adherents say, “…to lead [human beings] to the next level in our evolution….”   This sounds like one of my favorites SF books…without spoiling the plot, all I can add is my recommendation that you read Arthur C. Clarke’s excellent classic, “Childhood’s End”.

News of the Hilarious: Interviewer is Stunned by Atheist Stephen Fry’s Answer    (Contributed by Kathleen ’Conner)  http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/01/30/atheist-stephen-frys-response-to-what-he-would-say-if-he-met-god-levels-this-interviewer-video/       This TV interviewer certainly didn’t anticipate the candor with which noted Atheist Stephen Fry answers the innocuous question: When you die and discover that there really IS a God, what will you say to Him at the Pearly Gates?

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And here it is, your moment of Dancing Bug…

Tom the Dancing Bug

Tom the Dancing Bug

Visit Gocomics.com to see more of Tom the Dancing Bug and hundreds of other great comics!  I also encourage you to visit 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 Maria, Adrian, Marc and Kathleen for contributing to this month’s newsletter!

Alcohol as a social convention…

Alcohol and social conventions…

So many rules in society are unwritten. What we say, how we say it, who we talk to. In this particular case have you noticed how your ideas of normality, that is what is accepted, change when you have a drink in your hand? Not just for you but your view of others that have a drink in their hand as well. Sadly this first change happens before we even take a drink, just the actual possession of alcohol and we are instantly empowered, emboldened to step outside our normal boundaries. That is a very sad idea. It is truly a shame that we can’t just step outside our normal boundaries without having a justification for it. It is a step above worrying about the opinions of others, it almost borders on permission that we need to cross that boundary. We all have ideas that don’t fit the norm, that aren’t socially acceptable, that could be completely scandalous. Is it really wrong to share these ideas (Yes I realize it depends on the idea)? The force that restricts the sharing of these ideas often only serves to increase their frequency in our mind. By forcing these thoughts out of our sharable sphere they often only serve to slowly propagate the ideas in the unconscious mind; eventually they can overtake your conscious thoughts. Subconsciously our brain realizes this fact and as humans we will often seek out circumstances that allow us to share these thoughts without repercussions. I am sure we have all seen the normally shy, quiet person in a bar “light up” and seem to never stop talking after a few drinks. This isn’t the “alcohol talking” as we would often describe it but it is a change in the social circumstances that allows that person to share more of their mind. This “release” is fun to watch, there are so many pent up ideas in most of us, that when they finally get the chance to come out, it is as if a flood gate has been released. Days, weeks, sometimes years of pent up emotions, ideas, and dark corners of their mind are released, validated. In this release many find that allowing these thoughts out of their corners can free them from occupying their minds. Obviously there are limits on these thoughts and no matter how much liquid freedom is flowing there are things that should not be discussed (I will leave these to your own regional mental guidelines).

Does this idea bother you? Do you not believe in this social convention? Do you feel this is just a strange misconception that I am overthinking? It isn’t hard to test this hypothesis. Next time you go to a bar just order a few drinks that don’t have alcohol and stand back and watch, offer to be a designated driver and just sit back and listen. There isn’t much better than listening to a human mind on a stream of consciousness tirade. We all want to be closer; we all crave an environment where we can share our ideas freely without retribution. Hopefully we find this in our friends, our family and most especially our spouses. For others it gets restricted to a time when the environment is chemically altered to allow such expression. How wonderful would it be if we all found opportunities to express our deepest thoughts in a way that didn’t require such “encouragement”…

 

P.S. please don’t think i am advocating excessive alcohol use/abuse, I am only asking that we look at some of the underlying issues in it’s use.

Links For Monthly Meeting- January 2015

Thanks to all who made it out to our monthly meeting last Wednesday. What a lively discussion!

Here are some links I thought relevant to the discussions that night:

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

Here is a link discussing the Pew Research Center survey titled “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society 

I believe the above survey was mentioned during our Charlie Hebdo discussion.

If there are any other links you would like to share, please feel free to post them in comments section.

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“Knowing that one may be subject to bias is one thing; being able to correct it is another.”

Jon Elster— Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, p. 7, 2007

“You Will Never Change My Decision.”

Originally posted on Space Cadet Glow:

Those were the words I read from a “thinking MOM’s”  blog who has decided that she will not be vaccinating her five children. Ever.

novaccines

I always knew there was an “anti-vaccination” presence out there on the “Internets”. I honestly never bothered with them. That is, until a link showed up on my Facebook page, placed there by a friend. I was curious. I checked it out. I read from some of her links and several of her pages. I read some of the articles she recommended by other Moms that, like her, have decided not to vaccinate their children.

And then I got depressed.

The misinformation presented on these websites is voluminous. It would be somewhat humorous if it wasn’t also so dangerous. Statements are made as “fact” without any corroborating data to back them up.  Assertions are presented that are just plain false.

Here’s just one example from an anti-vaccine…

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