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!

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!