Paul Fidalgo's blog

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Robin Williams and Jombie Wanted for Questioning

A family in Saudi Arabia is tired of the harassment, tired of the violence, tired of the theft of property. They're not taking it lying down, and are going to bring the perp to justice. Who is this Menace 2 Saud-ciety?

Why, a genie of course.

Per the BBC:

A family in Saudi Arabia is taking a "genie" to court, accusing it of theft and harassment, reports say.

They accuse the spirit of threatening them, throwing stones and stealing mobile phones, Al Watan newspaper said.

Here's the best part:

A local court says it is trying to verify the truthfulness of the claims "despite the difficulty" of doing so.

I'm going to be really interested in what that final police report says. What happens if they have to take the genie to court? And what if it has to serve time? Do they make penitentiary lamps?


Originally posted at Bloc Raisonneur

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The Party of Sea Squirts

I am very much enjoying Natalie Angier's witty science primer, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. Little did I know that it would give me a brilliant insight into the decidedly nonscientific world of politics.

Witness page 173, where she describes the curious behavior of one particular creature:

. . . the tunicate, or sea squirt, is a mobile hunter in its larval stage and thus has a little brain to help it find prey. But on reaching maturity and attaching itself permanently to a safe niche from which it can filter-feed on whatever passes by, the sea squirt jettisons the brain it no longer requires. "Brains are great consumers of energy," writes Peter Atkins, a profssor of chemistry at Oxford University, "and it is a good idea to get rid of your brain when you discover you have no further need of it."

Now, am I crazy, or is this not the the perfect analogy for the modern Republican Party?

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Oh Noes! Pwned by the Pope's Preacher!

A couple of weeks ago, someone at the Vatican really stuck it to the atheists and their little bus campaign, and the wound still stings. Per Reuters, under the headline "Advertising Drive for Atheism Is Mocked":

“We should almost thank the people who promoted that advertising campaign. It has served God’s cause more than so many of our apologetic arguments,” said the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa . . . "It has demonstrated the poverty of their reasons and has helped stir so many sleeping consciences."

Gah! What a wound is this!

[*Performs melodramatic, gasping death scene*]

But seriously, this is a little bit sad when you consider that even this representative of the HQ of the Catholic Church has to admit that a bus ad about nonbelief does a better job of "serving God's purposes" than his own institution.

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Texas Crazy: Master's Degree in Stupid

The creep of creationism in Texas is not limited to the public school system, which is often held intellectual hostage by backward members its Board of Education, as was discussed in other posts of mine. No, it doesn't end there, for Texas State Rep. Leo Berman wishes to give full scientific legitimacy to biblical literalism at the graduate level. Berman has introduced House Bill 2800 (PDF), which would exempt purely private, nonprofit schools from the authority of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board when it comes to the certification of master's degrees. While the legislation is actually quite sweeping it its implications, Berman's purpose is to allow "schools" such as the Institute for Creation Research to offer Master of Science degrees in, yes, creation science.

Per Nora Zimmett of Fox News, I'm going to let Berman speak for himself here, for he does it better than I could paraphrase:

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Texas Crazy: Attack of the Evo-atheists!

Things are getting really scary in Texas. I'm not kidding. Something is bubbling in the Lone Star State, and it has the stink of 100 percent pure crazy.

First, science communicator Bill Nye was booed during a lecture in Waco for insisting that the Moon reflected light from the Sun. Then we have Chuck Norris advocating for secession and installing himself as president of Texas, presumably as part of Glenn Beck's lunatic "let's bring back the utter terror we all felt after 9/11" faux-movement ("We surround them" he assures his nitwit followers).

But you already knew about that, right?

Tonight I discovered a couple more things that scared the hell out of me. This post will cover the first, because I don't want to give anyone any ulcers.

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Liveblogging an Overreaction

Look, this is what I do these days. I scour the InterTubes with my Pipe Cleaners of Godless Justice, in search of oafish nimrods dissing nonbelievers. My feelers are very sensitive (the pipe cleaners are not capitalized for nothing), and in my quest I can sometimes be suddenly thrown off course, like blowing air horns at a cave of bats; the sonar goes berzerk.

So here's this piece from the Daily Texan. You're already offended, right? It gets better, because it's the newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin. Fantastic. This is going to be fresh meat: a young, intolerant oaf. Should be ripe for some UTI snark. The guy's name is Joshua Riehl, and I'm ready to take him apart.

Sorry, Grandma. I went to an atheist meeting last week.

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Local Wingnut Tells it Like it Is

I have a nominee for Most Stereotypically Ignorant Right Wing Op-ed! It's from Donna Greco writing in Louisiana's Daily Advertiser.

We open with the weirdly binary and George Will-esque, "we're a republic not a democracy" canard, and then strap yourselves in for some crazy!

The goodies are now being dispensed by the party with the "D" behind their names. They are in charge and will remain in charge because they have successfully corralled the media, the academy, entrenched federal bureaucrats, graduates of government schools, unions, welfare recipients, illegal aliens, the godless, the clueless, and the "America is a bad country" crowd into a herd ever ready to stampede those who would dare disagree.

Truly, cohesion and unity of message has always been a defining trait of liberals and Democrats. All these awful subgroups she mentions are always singing in unison, marching in lockstep. Never disagreeing on anything. Unlike those independent-minded Republicans. There's more!

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Those Dirty, Dirty Wingnuts

So here's me, your mild-mannered, pajama'd blogger, doing my usual scouring of the World Wide Intertubes for material and news, when I come upon yet another wingnut commentary about atheists ruining America.

Wait, you say, don't you already have a blog for this kind of thing?

For atheism and politics, yes. But this is not about that. This is about ads.

The article in question appears on Townhall.com, which competes with WorldNetDaily as the most evil website on the planet. Scanning the piece, I could not help but notice the ads on the page, and it made me think about the target audience and the motives for the companies paying for pixelated real estate.

So let's review the ads on this one page, shall we?

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That's Uncle Joe Driving That Bus

A little gem from the Russian news service Interfax:

Head of the Moscow Patriarchate Sourozh Diocese (Great Britain) Bishop Yelisey expressed his concerns with the London “No God” bus campaign.

“Atheistic propaganda in London is especially painful for us, members of the Russian Orthodox Church. We have a unique experience of life in atheistic state and we can prove that true atheism is not as joyful as they try to present it,” the Bishop told Interfax-Religion on Wednesday.

I love that he thinks he can "prove" how miserable atheism inherently is. I await the data on his report.

More to the point, this is a real overblowing of the atheism=Stalinism canard. He might begin to have a modicum of a case if the bus ads read something like:

"There's probably no God, so stop worrying and submit yourself and your labor to the State and our brave Party chairman."

But they don't.

[Cross-post at Bloc Raisonneur]

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Satan and the NSA

Our good friend Jake Jones the Evangelical Examiner, in a piece explaining what he calls the "Angry Atheist Syndrome" with his usual wit and depth of understanding, actually gives us a valuable insight into the bureaucratic workings of the next world:

Greedy prayers always go unanswered. If a greedy prayer is answered, then we must ask the tough question; "did the answered prayer come from God or Satan"? More than likely, Satan had something to do with it.

Holy crap! If Satan is answering a lot of prayers intended for God Himself, you know what that means, don't you?

Satan has wiretapping clearance.

So learn from Avon Barksdale's crew, folks, and use code next time you chat with the Almighty.

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Pew's Evolution Report: Implications for Atheists

A report from the Pew Forum on belief in evolution is remarkable not only for its parsing of the various faiths' perceptions of evolution, but for what it says about how many atheists/naturalists/brights we actually have in America, and indeed, what it says about its own methods of categorization.

Take a look at their handy little graph (h/t Andrew Sullivan) showing what percentage of each religious group thinks evolution is the best explanation for humanity's origins:

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Parade's PhDs

Via Friendly Atheist, Parade Magazine has a poll on its website asking readers:

Do you agree with Darwin’s theory of human evolution?

Agree?

Does Parade's readership consist entirely of biologists? Are those that frequent its website all taking graduate-level courses in genetics? Are they sporting lab coats as they click the little radio buttons on the poll, having just put down this week's edition of Science?

Ahem.

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Hurt Feelings

There has been a lot of interesting commentary on atheist activism from very disparate sources over the past couple days, and a theme is emerging: How atheists hurt the feelings of the religious.

First there has been a long series of entries on Andrew Sullivan's blog concerning the merits of faith mockery, mostly in the form of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This has directly seeded other discussions on the same topic at places like the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, where there are posts by various authors, and I have commented on a couple of them. Meanwhile, a book review by Jerry Coyne in the New Republic, which I can't recommend highly enough, has also spurred many a blog conversation at such places as the American Scene (home of Alan Jacobs, writer of one of my favorite--and now defunct--blogs, TextPatterns).

One of the more interesting pieces I've come across comes from the United Church Observer, a small church publication from Canada, which places one of its journalists reluctantly aboard a cruise for the Atheist Alliance International convention. There, Jocelyn Bell comes to some important realizations about hernonbelieving neighbors (sorry, it's Canada: neighbours).

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Does it Matter if Ted Kaufman is an Atheist?

I'm not sure what to make of the completely-unconfirmed-yet-fascinating possibility that arose today that Ted Kaufman, the newly appointed U.S. Senator from Delaware, might be an atheist. (Props to Trina at Examiner.com for beating me to the story...she is quick!) The germ of this idea comes from a New York Times article today in which Kaufman refers to his "way of thinking" as "humanistic."

Characteristically overblowing the word's implication, as is their wont, Gawker sounded the we-might-have-an-atheist-in-our-midst alarm. As has been noted, if Sen. Kaufman is an atheist, and he confirms it, he would be the highest-ranking avowed atheist in American political history. But I wonder if such a confirmation would really do anything to advance atheists in the political realm, rather than simply serve as a brief oddity.

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The 16.1 Percent Solution: Atheists and the Unaffiliated

Over the course of the last few days, many writers have congratulated or condemned President Obama for his inclusion of "nonbelievers" in his inaugural address. Though there is disagreement even within like-minded communities as to how important or meaningful the mention was, there seems to be from my anecdotal perspective a fairly universal acknowledgment that part of the reasoning for the shout-out was raw numbers. And that raw, magic number is 16.1 percent.

16.1 comes from the most recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which sampled over 35,000 adults to see how many people believe what in the United States. Atheists are included in that very sizable number, and according to Pew, it is the fasted growing segment of all! Hooray!

But 16.1 percent of the country are not atheists. This number actually signifies those who are "unaffiliated." That means exactly what it sounds like, and I'm just going to quote the Pew website here to clarify exactly how this breaks down:

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There Are No Atheists in Soup Kitchens?

Telegraph's Martin Beckford raises an important point about the charitableness of nonbelievers, but at the raising of said point, another I fear is missed.

[ . . . ] atheist groups [ . . . ] don't run soup kitchens or adoption agencies, and they don't own village halls in which they could hold jumble sales.

When they do act as a group, as letter writers have pointed out, they spend tens of thousands of pounds on an advertising campaign designed to reassure their fellow non-believers rather than helping the needy.

[ . . . ]

The Atheist Bus Campaign has undoubtedly been a success, not just for the money it raised but for the public debate it has sparked.

But if those behind it really want people to like them, and accept their views, I would suggest they find a way to show that atheism can benefit society and not just the individual.

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"Under God" and Compulsory Unity

Radley Balko at the Agitator and Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty wonder at the wisdom of Michael Newdow and other atheists' attempts to strike "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Their beef? Per Balko:

Seems to me that the real problem here—whether you’re atheist, agnostic, or devout—is the idea that we’re forcing school kids to take a loyalty oath to a swatch of cloth. If the argument is that they’re pledging allegiance to the country the cloth represents, that’s pretty creepy, too.

And from Kuznicki's response:

Maybe the most remarkable aspect of my fellow citizens’ pledge to exclude me is the sheer fact that they mostly wouldn’t do it of their own prompting. But pass a law, and look at the difference! They all line up to ostracize, even the ones who, ordinarily, are better than this. Stanley Milgram would be proud. Or ashamed. Or both, I guess. [ . . . ]

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New Hampshire Paper: Scrap the Inaugural Prayer

The Concord Monitor comes out against Rick Warren at Barack Obama's inauguration. . .but not only does the Monitor oppose Warren because of his anti-gay views, the paper (once named by Time Magazine as one of America's best newspapers) comes to the conclusion that inaugural prayers ought to be done away with entirely:

Do we need an inaugural prayer? Somehow, in a country that has become more and more diverse, a country that includes not only Protestants, but also Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and nonbelievers, the tradition seems an anachronism that future presidents would do well to scrap.

Formal prayers by Christian ministers have been associated with presidential inaugurations from the get-go, but they're surely no requirement. And while you might assume such prayers would be of the tepid, generic, non-denominational variety, a quick look back at recent overtly religious invocations will surely give many Americans, regardless of their personal religious affiliations, pause.

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A One-Two Punch of Anti-Atheist Ignorance

This morning brings with it two examples of really bad arguments against Michael Newdow's suit to un-God-ify the presidential inauguration. I'll deal with the weaker of the two first, by Dan McDowell who writes a Boston College Democrats column for Examiner.com. I consider it weaker because the piece is peppered with such phrases as "come on" and "what is this?", which I suppose are meant to be informal and familiar, but really only make the author seem, well, twelve.

McDowell doesn't seem to really know where he stands on the issue, as he insists:

I am a strong supporter of the separation of church and state. It is to the benefit of both that the institutions do not get mixed up with one another.

And then tells us (emphasis mine):

Going after the word God appearing anywhere in the public sphere, including our government, is ridiculous.

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The Empty Happy Medium

Ed Halliwell on the Guardian's blog makes what I can only assume is an attempt at a kind of charming, I'm-okay-you're-okay détente between believers and atheists in an otherwise benign post about the Buddha's unwillingness to delve into the question of the existence of a supreme being.

I suppose that's all well and good, but in his admiration for the Buddha's disinterest, he woefully mischaracterizes the atheist position:

Part of what makes the argument [over God's existence] so comical is how the concept of "God" onto which atheists project is rarely the same as the one defended by believers.

Whatever images of God some atheists might like to invoke in heated antitheistic rhetoric, the God whose existence is denied is not limited to one or another caricature, but all gods, all supernatural beings, all unknowable, mystical, cosmic consciousnesses. So not only is the concept of God that is refuted the same as the one defended by believers, but every concept of God (that is not merely a shorthand metaphor for what actually is).

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