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October 2010



Speaking of Religion …

Written by , Posted in Feminism

4 October 2010 Last updated at 15:20 ET

Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer

The first test tube baby celebrated her 30th birthday with Prof Edwards in 2008

A Vatican official has said the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to British IVF pioneer Robert Edwards is “completely out of order”.

Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the award ignored the ethical questions raised by the fertility treatment.

He said IVF had led to the destruction of large numbers of human embryos.

Nearly four million babies have been born using IVF fertility treatment since 1978.

Mr Carrasco, the Vatican’s spokesman on bio-ethics, said in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) had been “a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction”.

But he said the Nobel prize committee’s choice of Prof Edwards had been “completely out of order” as without his treatment, there would be no market for human eggs “and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world”, he told Italy’s Ansa news agency.

“In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the new Nobel prize winner is responsible.”

In his statement, Mr Carrasco stressed that he was speaking in a personal capacity.

The Nobel medicine prize committee in Oslo said Prof Edwards’ work had brought “joy to infertile people all over the world”.

“His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10% of all couples worldwide,” it said.

Prof Edwards efforts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s led to the birth of the world’s first “test tube baby”, Louise Brown, in July 1978.

Ms Brown said the award was “fantastic news”.

“Me and mum are so glad that one of the pioneers of IVF has been given the recognition he deserves,” she said.

“We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations to him and his family at this time.”




October 2010



Does Religion Poison Everything? Thoughts From A Somewhat Reluctant Athiest

Written by , Posted in Reviews

If I ever jump into the world of online dating, I will be checking the box “athiest.” Not even the “spiritual but not religious” box describes me, because I think that generally refers to those who think there is some sort of god out there but they do not like organized religion. I neither think religion is a net positive in the world nor do I believe that there is a god who man has yet to accurately describe.

One of the most interesting books I’ve read lately is Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. You can read professional reviews of it online; my purpose here is not to necessarily break it down, or get into every point he raises. Instead it’s more of a jumping off point for discussing my view of reality, a view that has been evolving and solidifying over the the last twenty years of my life. While this post certainly will not begin to cover what I believe are all of the logical reasons for not believing in god (nor will I get into, at this time, why throwing the word “faith” out there does not provide any sort of support for god), I wanted to spend some time discussing what has led me to not believe in any sort of diety. I think it is important to get down onto paper (or LCD screens, if you prefer) these thoughts, because I have found over the past few years that when it comes to public policy – which is where my real interests in life lie – religion, and the type of thinking that it often promotes, is the root of so many problems in society.

My parents are not particularly religious – or at least are not the type of religious parents who would force their beliefs on their children. However, when I was in late middle school / early high school I became involved in a youth group at the local church, which in retrospect makes me quite uncomfortable. I do not believe that adolescents are stupid, but I also think that the idea of religion is a bit too complex for a thirteen-year-old. Honestly, I think it is too complex for most adults, especially when you think about the mental gymnastics one needs to rationalize and reconcile what is written in religious texts and promoted by religious leaders.

Additionally, the ability of a teen to fully grasp the nuances and ask critical questions with judgemental peers around is underdeveloped, to say the least. Who is going to question the idea of the holy trinity with the cute girl from biology staring at him? I spent two years involved in ‘the church;’ however, thanks to some careful parenting I realized that some of the church’s stances – such as the idea that evolution is a hoax – did not have much relation to reality.

I still considered myself a Christian, although I clearly did not understand exactly the implications and obligations such a statement conveyed. I removed myself from the youth group, but during my third year in college, I attended a Bible study group. I figured, sure, why not, and that became a turning point for me. Even when I was attending that unhealthy youth group, I still believed that while there was a god, and probably a heaven, Christians certainly weren’t the only ones going there. That struck my fifteen-year-old mind as obvious. Clearly if there was a god, humans couldn’t know all about him or her anyway, so the arrogance involved in most religions was certainly on my radar.

At the second Bible study meeting I asked a question about other religions and whether the believers in those went to heaven too. The leader of the group sort of nodded, and instead of answering the question, said it was a good one, and then ‘reminded me’ that Satan likes to plant seeds of doubt in our minds.

Say WHAT? First off, the idea of a devil has always sturck me as absurd. Grown adults thinking there’s this horned man who gets all up in our heads to get us to do bad things seems more like the rationalizations of the child who cannot begin to understand the world, or who would rather not be held accountable for her actions. “It wasn’t me, it was SATAN!” Disturbing. Second, the implication from her comment was that the religious beliefs of billions of people existed because of the devil, and thus all of those folks were going to hell. That was enough for me; I was done.

At least, I was done with Bible study. I was not yet ready to be done with religion. Monotheism is the common western religious category, but I started to wonder about other ideas, so I read about a variety of them, from paganism to buddhism.

(As an aside, I still am not clear why believing in multiple gods, or gods that manifest themselves through nature, is any more bizarre than believing in a god who exists in three different forms, kills his own son [who is also him, and so is really committing suicide], and then demands that some of his followers eat his body and drink his blood every week. If that isn’t entirely odd, it is at least stranger than people chanting in the woods and exploring the possible healing properties of different plants.)

None of the religions really made any logical sense. There seemed to be so much effort spent explaining away certain parts of different ‘holy texts’ to make them fit what we know now. Evolution exists? Okay then – Genesis is not really talking about six 24-hour days; the days are metaphorical. But everything else is totally true! 

In the past couple of years, I’ve come to the realization that I do not believe in any sort of god. I am an atheist, although I find it so strange that I need to declare my non-belief in someone for whom there is no proof of existence. I do not believe in unicorns, but I do not see why it should be assumed that I do, or why I should have to make it clear that I do not.

I recognize that the unicorn / god analogy is putting it indelicately, and that I need to be careful to not offend my religious friends, lest they think I see them as less intelligent than me, or that I condescend to them when discussing these issues. That is not my goal, nor do I think my religious friends are stupid. People disagree about many things, from how to reduce poverty to who should be given civil rights.

That is why I find philosophy so fascinating. I have had many interesting conversations with religious folks about what is the right thing to do in a particular situation; however I do admit that I am not open to reasoning that starts with “in the Bible” or “in the Koran” if the textual quotes that follow are meant to serve as evidence supporting a particular position. My own exploration of the world, the inconsistencies in the tenets of religions, what they practice, and how members present themselves, coupled with much of what I have been studying in the past year, have helped me to understand and support my beliefs. 

In answer to the question posed in the title, I am still not sure that I am in agreement with Hitchens’ central thesis, because to accept it would be to accept that religion has poisoned all of my friends who choose to believe in some version of god. I do not think that is the case – some of the coolest, most interesting, kind people I know are religious. However, I do think so much of what Hitchens says – the points he makes, the evidence he provides, the inconsistencies he reveals – is valid, and should be examined by anyone who has made the choice to believe in god.



September 2010



Koran Burning Cancelled

Written by , Posted in Politics and are both reporting that the Florida pastor has called off the Koran burning. Here is the full text of the story, from…


The Florida pastor who had planned to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday has called it off.

The Rev. Terry Jones of the Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center made the announcement Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, President Obama said Jones’ plan, which had triggered worldwide controversy, would be a “recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda.”

“You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan” as a result of the proposal by Jones, Obama said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “This could increase the recruitment of individuals who’d be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities.”

Jones had previously said he would proceed with the plan Saturday — the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — despite increased pressure to abandon the proposal and warnings that going ahead could endanger U.S. troops and Americans worldwide.

There were several developments prior to Jones’ cancellation announcement:

— Local governments said they were going to bill Jones for the extra cost of security for Saturday’s event.

— Interpol on Thursday issued a global alert to its 188 member countries, warning of a “strong likelihood” of violent attacks if the Quran burning proceeds.

— An armed Christian organization, which withdrew its support for the Quran-burning event last month, said the administration “needs to stay out of this” and pledged to defend the Dove Center’s right to hold the event, despite its disagreement.

— The FBI warned local law enforcement that the plan, along with other recent controversies involving the American Muslim community, could lead to hate crimes and could encourage extremist rhetoric, although a federal law enforcement official said there was no credible information that attacks were planned.

The FBI visited Jones at the Dove Center on Thursday, according to Jeffrey Westcott, special agent in charge of the Jacksonville, Florida, bureau. The FBI also visited him a few weeks ago, he said, but would not say what was discussed.

Discussions were taking place within the Obama administration about the possibility of intervening, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Thursday. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the possibility of calling Jones is under consideration, and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was participating in the discussions.

Earlier this week, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, warned that the plan “could cause significant problems” for American troops overseas.

Jones has rejected the pleas, saying his message targets radical Islamists. “The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them,” Jones said on CNN’s “AC360.” “We are burning the book. We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people.”

Meanwhile, Obama told ABC, “As commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We’re already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat … this is a destructive act that he’s engaging in.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group, announced an initiative called “Learn, Don’t Burn” on Thursday and will distribute Qurans to replace the burned copies.

Awad said the group is concerned that the plan may lead to hate crimes against Muslims. Cross burnings by the Ku Klux Klan were an indication of hate crimes to follow against African-Americans, he said, and Nazis started with burning books and “ended up burning people.”

CAIR has been working with attorneys, and no basis has been found to stop the burnings under the law, he said, but he added that if the plan is going to incite violence, the government should step in.

“I can assure you that on September 11, you will not see a bonfire of Qurans being burned at the Dove Church,” Imam Mahdi Bray, head of the Muslim-American Society, told reporters.

He said he has just returned from Gainesville, where city officials told him Jones will not receive a burn permit and any sort of incendiary material will violate the city code. A fire truck will be nearby to douse any flames, he said.

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe said Jones’ requests for burn permits have been denied, and city officials hope that he will comply. If he breaks the law, action can be taken against Jones, with the response based on whatever the infraction might be, he said. Lowe has declared Saturday “Interfaith Solidarity Day.”

City Communications Manager Bob Woods said the city will tally up costs related to the event and present Jones with the bill.

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Art Forgey said “we do plan to compile and send a bill to Mr. Jones.”

“I don’t know that we have the teeth to enforce it, though,” Forgey added. Instead, the bill may just end up being a statement to Jones about how much the event cost local citizens, the spokesman said.

Before Jones announced the cancellation, the Gainesville Students for a Democratic Society said Thursday it would bus in students from as far away as Chicago, Illinois, and would have about 600 on hand Saturday to protest at a nearby park, then march to the church to picket the event.

Meanwhile, two websites associated with Jones and his church were down Thursday.

Rackspace Hosting took down the two sites because the church “violated the hate speech provision of our acceptable use policy,” spokesman Dan Goodgame said.

The company investigated a complaint in the past couple days and made the determination after reviewing both sites, said Goodgame, adding that Rackspace was under no pressure to act.

“This is not a constitutional issue. This is a contract issue,” he said.

Rackspace gave Jones until midnight Wednesday to migrate content and find another host. Goodgame said he did not know how long Rackspace had hosted the websites, but he said it did not handle design or content.

“We have about 100,000 customers,” Goodgame said. “We don’t even know what all the sites are.”

Jones and Dove World had agreed to terms on the Rackspace Cloud service, Goodgame said. The policy dictates the suspension or termination of service for offensive content, including material that is “excessively violent, incites violence, threatens violence or contains harassing content or hate speech.”

“We would have taken the same position if it was hate speech against Christians or other groups,” he added.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the few public officials who defended Jones’ right to go ahead with the burning, even as he condemned the idea as “distasteful.”

“The First Amendment protects everybody, and you can’t say that we are going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement,” Bloomberg said, citing the section of the Constitution that promises freedom of speech.

The U.S. State Department issued a global travel alert because of the potential for anti-American demonstrations if the Quran burning were to have been carried out.




September 2010



Embarassed and disappointed

Written by , Posted in Politics

I am embarrassed. And disappointed. The last year and a half I’ve been watching much of what has been going on in this country from afar. I was mortified by the health care debate, and saddened by the woefully inadequate outcome. Health care is still attached to employment, and for some reason people are content judging those who do not have health care as deficient, as somehow unworthy of the benefit if they do not have a full-time job. I see people who have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have a job that provides health care actually believe that they alone deserve those benefits, and those without do not. Not having health care is a punishment for ‘not working hard enough.’ If you have health insurance, you are a good person in a worthy job. If you don’t, it is your fault. You are a bad person and thus not worthy of assistance from others.

I am not willing to accept that compassion for others no longer factors into how we interact with our fellow humans. I do not believe that most rich people got there solely by working hard and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps; they had help, whether they are willing to admit it or not. They had a connection through a parent or friend, or happened to be born into an environment that nurtured their growth. Even those salt of the earth folks who begrudge others access to health care because it is too much government assistance gladly take large farm subsidies, and are happy to have the police show up if they call 911. I do not subscribe to the idea that any one person can succeed all on his or her own, and I also do not believe that some deity rewards some people and punishes others based on some perceived work ethic. Many people work very hard and don’t succeed; others pick a good stock and end up rich. I do not believe life is fair, but I also do not accept the use of that platitude as a way to justify unfair and cruel actions. It may be true that life is not fair, but that does not mean we as a country should be actively engaged in acting in as unfair a way as possible.

The issue of health care hit close to home to me, as previous posts describe, but that is not what motivates me to write today. What spurrs me on is the disgusting Islamiphobia that is bubbling up throughout the country, as evidenced by the opposition to the Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan and the proposed Koran burning on September 11.

I posted Mayor Bloomberg’s response to the debate on the Islamic Center, and it is the most eloquent statement I have heard. In spite of all the severe problems with the US constitution and the inequalities present at the founding of the nation (slavery, lack of vote for women), there were some things the framers got right. They did not found the country on Christian principles, and they chose to specifically allow in the Bill of Rights for both freedom of speech and freedom of and from religion. Those who claim to so love the constitution and the framers seem to be unable to grasp this reality.

Some who have discussed the issue of the Manhattan Islamic Center have said that they think the builder has a right to develop it where it is proposed, but that he probably should not. I disagree. I think he has a right, and I think if that’s the real estate that is available within the group’s budget, then build it there. What is missing in this discussion is the fact, the reality that the people who flew the planes on September 11 2001 were not accurately representing the Muslim faith any more than Scott Roeder was accurately representing the Christian faith when he killed Dr. Tiller. Just because people claim they subscribe to a religion and are acting in support of that claim does not mean they are actually representing that religion.


The ‘faith’ of the September 11 terrorists may be what they used as their excuse to murder people, but it is not an accurate representation of the religion. Muslims did not kill nearly 3,000 people that day; assholes with no moral compasses did. That they happened to be Muslim, and believed they were acting in furtherance of their version of that religion does not mean they, the nineteen “men” who destroyed thousands of lives, somehow get the honor of being the poster boys of their religion. That’s not how it works, and it is not what they deserve. 

I am especially disgusted by the Republicans who suddenly care about NYC. I know that September 11 has always been exploited by the GOP, but I find it extraordinary that the same people who spend each day telling me I am not American because I live in a big city on one of the coasts and think gay people should be able to get married suddenly cares about what happens in that city. Either people from New York – including those who support the religious freedoms of all people – are Americans, or they aren’t. If you are not going to take their opinions seriously on other issues, then butt out of this local land use decision. Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, I’m talking to you. And Newt, as I believe Jon Stewart and others have pointed out better than I can, your statement about Saudi Arabia not allowing churches is beyond ironic. We used to be different from such nations because we allowed religious freedom – ostensibly, at least. Now there isn’t even a pretense; either you’re Christian or you apparently don’t deserve the same rights.

This leads me to the proposed Koran burning on September 11. Book burning is an action taken by people who are afraid that their own belief systems cannot stand up to scrutiny. They hide behind these acts of aggression, Burning books is disgusting and childish. It is the action of those who either know they cannot win an argument on facts, or are too lazy to attempt to do so. I certainly recognize their right to act in whatever manner they choose, but I remain gobsmacked that there are people who would choose to act in this way. As I write this I am trying to find some way to not be filled with such anger towards these people, but I am at a loss.

I am embarrassed. And disappointed.



September 2009




Written by , Posted in Random

JK Rowling

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter’s books have sold more than 400 million copies

Harry Potter author JK Rowling missed out on a top honour because some US politicians believed she “encouraged witchcraft”, it has been claimed.

Matt Latimer, former speech writer for President George W Bush, said that some members of his administration believed her books promoted sorcery.

As a result, she was never presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The claims appear in Latimer’s new book called Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor.

He wrote that “narrow thinking” led White House officials to object to giving Rowling the civilian honour.

The award acknowledges contributions to US national interest, world peace or cultural endeavours.

Past literary recipients of the award include John Steinbeck and Harper Lee.

Others denied the privilege under the Bush administration included Senator Edward Kennedy, who died in August this year.

Latimer claimed, in his book, that the veteran politician and health care activist was excluded because he was deemed to be too liberal.




June 2008



Sure I’ll be in heaven, but what will happen to my money?

Written by , Posted in Random

The popularity of the “Left Behind” series of books and straight to DVD movies (starring – sniff – Kirk Cameron) is evidence that some people do think that the Bible is the literal word of God, and they worry about the Rapture. I don’t quite understand how it all is supposed to work, but here is what I’ve learned today. Apparently, the rapture will happen, and all the believers will be whisked away to heaven, while the rest of us atheists / fornicators / gluttons will be sentenced to seven years under the rule of the Antichrist.

Now, in theory, all those folks who were right about God and are enjoying heaven shouldn’t have a care in the world, because they’ll all be together. But, someone recognized that hey, it might be possible that one of these true believes might know or (shudder) be related to a NON BELIEVER. And the NON BELIEVER might be worried about the believer’s whereabouts. Since the believer’s body will be gone, they won’t even be declared dead for seven years (which is just as long as the Antichrist will rule – eerie).

Enter the enterprising Christians at You’ve Been Left Behind dot com. For a mere $40 a year (hey, that’s less than $4 a month!), they will allow you to store important (and sensitive) information – financial and otherwise – that your heathen brethren would need to access should you be swept away.  

Here’s how it works: you (the believer) pay, and then you’re given access to their super-private, super secure system, where you can store all the keys to your kingdom – social security number, bank account numbers, etc. And you can select up to 62 (does that have some Biblical significance?) people to receive an email after you head to Heaven. How, you ask? Well, apparently five staffers at You’ve Been Left Behind dot com must log in every day. After three days of at least three of them not logging in, the system is “triggered.” After that, another three days pass, and if still no logging in occurs, then boom! Emails (and all of your personal and financial information) are off.

A million questions are swirling in my head. But the first is – why didn’t I think of that? Think of the money to be made. The second, of course, is what will happen when someone accidentally screws up and the trigger is set so that a bunch of your closest friends (well, not that close, since they are going to hell) are sent all of your personal information?

This is all so . . . interesting.



April 2008



Pope Time (like Hammer Time, but with a different costume)

Written by , Posted in Random

The Pope’s in town this weekend. He is staying just a few blocks from me, which I think is a bad idea, because that puts him in the Polygon of Destruction. What is the Polygon of Destruction? Let me explain.

Since I’ve lived in this area, a plane has flowing into a building, a crane has collapsed, a steam pipe has exploded, and there have been numerous bus accidents and building fires. I get pages about big jobs, so I do know that these things are happening more often in my neighborhood than, say, the other side of the island. But something tells me that didn’t factor into their planning for housing.  

Because of security, the police helicopter hovers over the “Papal Residence” when he’s leaving and coming home. So a few times a day I’m reminded that the Pope is on the move. Also? Work is sending mildly entertaining (in their superfluousness) emails every time the man arrives, leaves, or is en route to a location.

The emails did come in handy this afternoon. On my way to the park to enjoy the ridiculously wonderful weather, I saw the barricades along 5th avenue. I stopped and waited (for about an hour – yikes) and actually got to see, up close, the Pope, in the Pope Mobile. It was definitely a unique experience.

Fun fact! When the Pope came from JFK to Lower Manhattan via helicopter, there were two Marine Corps helicopters right behind. The first? Is to rescue the Pope if the helicopter goes down. The men and women on that helicopter are only allowed to go in and get the Pope out. The second is to come in after the Pope is rescued to try to rescue the rest of the crew. Huh. Didn’t know.

I do have a couple of issues with the visit. The first is the cost. I completely understand the need for security – this is a man who is an icon for many people, and who holds such importance for them. He is a target. I get it. But who pays for this? The City is facing a serious financial crisis, and is in the midst of a hiring freeze. If things don’t get better soon, people may actually end up being laid off. The overtime alone for the police for this event is easily enough to keep some people employed. I understand the need to weigh the positives and negatives, but it will be a shame for those who lose their jobs, possibly because money that would have been able to keep them employed was spent providing security for the Pope.

The other issue is that the man is treated like a rock star. People are selling tee shirts and all sorts of Pope items. Isn’t that a pretty severe form of idolatry? I’m not Catholic, so I’m not speaking from a place that really understands what the Pope means for these people, but as someone with more than a cursory understanding of Christianity in general, it seems like all of this pomp and circumstance is a bit ironic.