Jim Downey's picture

Quick hits...

Things seem more or less back to what passes for normal here at home, so a couple of quickies this morning...

I bet it would pass here.  Polish lawmakers have introduced legislation to name Jesus as honorary king of their country.  Fortunately, only 10% of the lawmakers seem to be backing it.

Happy Solstice!  I'm cooking a turkey this afternoon.  How about you?

What's HP7?  Wanna know the name of the final Harry Potter book?  Go hang!

From PZ: The Jesus/Santa mashup

Or another take: Cow & Boy.

All for now.

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Real Virgin Mother

Rejoice! Christ is born of a virgin in Bethl...

Well, not "Jesus" Christ, exactly, but a Komodo Dragon Christ laid in eggs from virgin mother "Flora" (not Mary, unfortunately.) Oh, and not really in Bethlehem - and not really born either, but rather "hatched", in Chester Zoo in Britain. Just to clear things up a bit.

Merry Dragonmass, everybody!

[link] Genetic tests conducted at the University of Liverpool have proved that all four born to a female called Sungai were conceived by parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction that is known to take place in lizards but never documented in this species before.

Sungai, who has died since her eggs hatched, is also about to be joined as a virgin mother by a second Komodo dragon from Britain. Flora, at Chester Zoo, has laid eight viable eggs that are expected to hatch next month, even though she has never so much as met a male Komodo dragon.

Her status as a virgin mother-to-be has been confirmed by genetic fingerprinting of three eggs that collapsed. Though they are not clones, all their DNA came from Flora.

Parthenogenesis, which is derived from the Greek words for virgin birth, occurs when an egg spontaneously begins dividing as if it were an embryo, without being fertilised by sperm. It is known to have produced live young in about 70 vertebrate species, mostly reptiles and fish, and is thought to be encouraged when females are separated from males.


In humans, females have two X chromosomes and males one X and one Y chromosome. Komodo dragons and other species of the Varanus genus have W and Z chromosomes instead, and dissimilar chromosomes always produce a female.

When parthenogenesis takes place, the egg originally carries just one chromosome, either W or Z, which is duplicated. This means that all offspring are male, and able then to breed with their mothers.

This is a perfect example of how evolution works. The species within the genus Varanus have stumbled upon a unique survival strategy that can get around the age-old problem of "it takes two to tango" and actually continue producing offspring in very extreme situations by parthenogenesis.

Biology is so freakin' cool sometimes. And so much more interesting than fairy stories about magical god-men.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Yabba Dabba Do!

[link] Hollywood animator Joseph Barbera, who created the lovable characters Fred Flintston and Scooby Doo, died on Monday at the age of 95, the Warner Bross film studio said in a statement.

Barbera founded the Hanna-Barbera Studios with partner William Hanna nearly 50 years ago and went on to become one of Hollywood’s best known animation companies.

My favorite Flintstones line of all time is when Wilma said to Betty:

"How do they always manage to bollocks things up?"

Heheheh... Thanks for the wonderful Saturday mornings, Mr. Barbera.

Jim Downey's picture

Happy Holidays from FSM

The guys over at came up with a brilliant Flying Spaghetti Monster holiday display, to demonstrate the true reason for the season.  Complete with instruction photos, so you can make your own FSM lights!

Thanks, Jerry!

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Atheism on "All Things Considered".

This afternoon's "All Things Considered" had a longish piece on the 'new atheism'  Here's the lead from their website:

In response to the growing power of religious extremism, a small group of atheists has taken a new approach. Going on the offensive, they target the tolerant, with both reason - and ridicule. Brooke Gladstone, host of NPR's On the Media, reports.

It wasn't bad at all.  Lots of comments from Sam Harris, some good perspective on how atheists are stereotyped.  If you didn't get a chance to hear it when broadcast, the full audio should be available this evening, 7:30 EST.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Putting your money where your mouth is.

Fascinating. Would you bet $50,000 that you were smarter than a fundamentalist Christian? David Sklansky does.

His proposal?

This is an open challenge to any American citizen who passes a lie detector test that I will specify in a moment.

We will both take the math SAT or GRE (aptidude test). Your choice. We will both have only half the normally allotted time to lessen the chances of a perfect score. Lower score pays higher score $50,000.

To qualify you must take a reputable polygraph that proclaims you are truthful when you state that:

1. You are at least 95% sure that Jesus Christ came back from the dead.


2. You are at least 95% sure that adults who die with the specific belief that Jesus probably wasn't resurrected will not go to heaven.

Interesting discussion ensues, particularly if you're into betting strategies. Via this dKos diary.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Man fired over camel sacrifice in Turkey

Ah, yes.  Just in case you think we have a monopoly on Stupid Religious Tricks, here's a little item from AP:

Turkish Airlines authorities launched an investigation and later fired chief mechanic Sukru Can for approving the camel sacrifice. The crew of mechanics had been celebrating the return of the last of 11 four-engine Avro RJ 100 jets that were leased from Britain 13 years ago.

Turks traditionally sacrifice animals as an offering to God for when their wishes come true.

"We are happy to be rid of planes which frequently broke down without causing major headaches to Turkish Airlines," the daily Cumhuriyet quoted Can as saying after the ceremony.

Not that I am particularly fond of camels, mind...

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Ho! Ho! Ho!

[link] PHOENIX -- A group of Valley teens said they plan to stage a protest against one Valley store selling adult novelty Christmas ornaments.

Spencer's at Metrocenter Mall is selling "pornaments" that the teens said goes against everything they believe in.

They don't believe in little naked toys? Painted-on toy nipples? Snow people having sex? That reindeer procreate?

"They've really taken it to a new low," one Valley teen told CBS 5 News. "They've taken the gag too far."

They've really bent over backwards, stripped themselves of their dignity, and taken us from behind in surprise. They have shoved their naughty products down our throats, and forced us to submit to their degrading perversions over and over and over again!

Whew! Anyone have a cigarette?

The product is mixed in with other edgy, novelty items. The teens claim the sign warning customers about the explicit material is too small to be effective.

One store manager told CBS 5 News they've taken the word "pornament" off the ornament. But that's not enough to keep the teens from staging a protest next Saturday.

"We're gonna stand up and say we've had enough is enough," one Valley teen told CBS 5 News.

Well, good golly gee! A store that sells adult-themed items, clearly marks them as adult-themed items, is being protested by a group of teenagers who's parents should be doing their jobs and keeping them out of a den of iniquity like Spencer's Gifts.

Please. These kids are going to have a tough life if toy snow people fucking get them in a big tizzy.

Won't someone please think of the snow people?

Brent Rasmussen's picture

I Believe!

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Look honestly at Spiderman, and you'll have to believe


DEAR DR. GRAHAM: I read a book attacking religion recently written by an a-superheroist, and it convinced me to believe in a-superheroism as the only logical way to live. Spiderman doesn't exist, and the sooner we admit it, the better off we'll be. I respect your sincerity, but sincerity isn't enough. -- A.G.

DEAR A.G.: I'm interested that you say you have decided to "believe in a-superheroism" -- because that's what a-superheroism is: a belief or faith. In other words, you can't prove scientifically that Spiderman doesn't exist; you can only accept it by faith.

Just because you don't find any evidence for the existence of Spiderman doesn't prove that He doesn't exist. After all, there may be a great deal of evidence for Spiderman's existence that you are simply ignoring, or have misjudged or misunderstood. You may even be driven to disbelieve in Spiderman because you want to run your own life, and you know you can't live any way you want to if Spiderman really exists.

That is why I challenge you to look at Peter Parker. The "Amazing Spider-Man" comic book series makes a startling claim about Peter Parker -- one that will change your life if you find it is true. The "Amazing Spider-Man" comic book series says Peter Parker was Spiderman, who was bitten by a radioactive spider and took upon Himself the proportional strength and abilities of the spider (which is what we celebrate at ComicCon). The "Amazing Spider-Man" TV show says, "Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can, spins a web, any size, Catches thieves, just like flies, Look out! Here comes the Spider-man!" (Episode 1:18).

Do you want to know if Spiderman exists -- and not only that He exists, but that He cares about you and wants you to be with Him in New York City? Then look honestly at Peter Parker as He is presented in the pages of the "Amazing Spider-Man" comic book series. Your life will never be the same.

Contact the Rev. Graham Cracker c/o Graham Cracker Comic Association, 1 Graham Cracker Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28201, phone 877-555-2426, or see the Web site

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Dennis Prager And The Dominionists

Dennis Prager, the right-wing radio talk show host, has started some spirited discussion across the nation. In a recent column, "America, not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," he suggested that even though it's not a law, and even though the U.S. Constitution specifically forbids religious tests for office, and even though the tradition of taking the oath of office by "swearing on" a holy text from the individual's own faith tradition is not a requirement - that newly elected Congressman Keith Ellison, who is a Muslim, should bring not only the Koran to his ceremonial swearing-in, but also a Christian Bible - a religious text he does not believe in and does not follow.


Well, apparently because Dennis Prager doesn't want to piss off the schoolyard bully, the Christian Dominionists.

Prager responds to the critics of his original column in a new column entitled "A response to my critics – and a solution".

His "response" is laughable. A weird mish-mash of wishful thinking, stuttering indignation that anyone would dare question his opinions on the matter, paranoid claims of "hate filled attacks" from left-wing bloggers, backed up by smoke and mirrors and assertions as to how things "ought to be". No evidence, no law, no statistics, nothing to confirm that it would be the end of American Civilization, as Prager claims, if - *gasp!* - the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitutional guarantees of Freedom from a religious test for office and freedom of religious expression were extended to a newly-elected American Congressman who doesn't happen to be - *double gasp!!* - Christian.

His "solution" is to bow to the bullying and to have Ellison voluntarily give up his own civil rights because if he doesn't, the Christians will be really mad at him. That's it. Nothing else.


[Dennis Prager] I am for no law to be passed to prevent Keith Ellison or anyone else from bringing any book he wants to his swearing-in, whether actual or ceremonial. But neither I nor tens of millions of other Americans will watch in silence as the Bible is replaced with another religious text for the first time since George Washington brought a Bible to his swearing-in. It is not I, but Keith Ellison, who has engaged in disuniting the country. He can still help reunite it by simply bringing both books to his ceremonial swearing-in. Had he originally announced that he would do that, I would have written a different column – filled with praise of him. And there would be a lot less cursing and anger in America.

Yes, yes. I am fully aware that Dennis Prager is not a Christian either, but he insists on asserting the moral superiority of Christians and seems to be advocating for nothing less than a Christian Theocracy to be installed in this country.

In short, he's a very strange, very confused individual.

Dennis Prager - I am speaking directly to you. The Constitution applies to everyone - not just to Christians. That means that you, me, and Keith Ellison can confidently practice our religion, or choose not to practice any religion at all, without fear of reprisals or punishment by our government. Christianity has held a privileged place in American society for so long that it's adherents - and deluded folks such as yourself - seem to think that it's traditions and ceremonies are akin to law. And that to go contrary to them is "disuniting America".

This is an abysmally ignorant position to hold, Dennis. You have made the classic blunder of considering the traditions and superstitions of your tribe to be laws of nature. They're not.

Our strength as a country comes from our fierce desire to protect our fellow citizen's civil rights. This desire forms the basis of, and is codified into the Constitution. In other words, we all have to watch each other's backs.

What you're doing is throwing a brave fellow American to the wolves to kowtow to the strongest bully in the tribe, the Christian Dominionists.

It makes me sick.

Grow a spine, for goodness' sake, and stand up for what's right for a change.

Jim Downey's picture

How many times?

OK, how many times do you think you've been told that you're "Damned to Hell" or some variation on that theme? Well, now it can be true.

Cool, now we can all take turns damning each other...

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

An Atheist Candidate For President?

[link] Consequently I would like to see an atheist emerge as a national candidate in 2008. Who that could be I have no idea. Nor do I expect such a candidate to prevail. It is my hope that an eminently respectable citizen with stature would illustrate that non-religious people have values and can be entrusted with power. A vital contribution would be made to our society if such a candidate emerged.

I disagree. I believe that a candidate who made an issue of their atheism would become a laughingstock gimmick who would do even more damage and further the stereotypical public perception of atheists as dangerous demagogues focused on taking away their right to religious freedom because they "hate religion" or "hate God".

Larry Darby has already equated himself in the public mind as "that weirdo atheist guy" who ran for office and lost to a True Christian™ (Praise The Lord, Hallelujah).

Please allow me to reiterate; If any candidate's atheism becomes known, it will become an issue. If it becomes an issue, they will lose whatever election they happen to be in.

The only way I can see for this fact to change is if existing elected officials who happen to be atheists come out of the closet and prove once and for all that you can be a good and faithful public servant or elected official without being religious. Ideally, this person or persons would have been in elected office for a number of years and have done good things for their districts or constituents - and no one would have known that they were atheists, just that they were considered to be "good people".

Then, this would need to be repeated over and over again until the public just became bored with atheist politicians and elected officials coming out of the closet.

Do you see this happening any time soon? Heck, the gays have been working on this same plan for a lot longer than the atheists have, and look how far they have gotten. Sure, they have one openly gay Congressman, and now most Americans consider gay people - to be human. Wow. Great strides to be sure, but it took a very long time.

An openly atheist Presidential candidate in 2008?

You're dreaming. It'll never happen in our lifetime. In fact, if the country swings back towards the conservative end of the spectrum again in a few years, which it probably will - I wouldn't be surprised if atheists were rounded up and placed into detention camps - just for being atheists.

Jim Downey's picture

Yeah, I'm a masochist...

Every now and again, I like to go poke around on one of the less mainstream religious sites, just to see how far the pathology can go. This morning somewhere (sorry, I don't recall where I came across it...) I saw a reference to one of my old favorites: Rapture Ready. If you've heard of the Left Behind books, or know about the whole idea of the "Rapture", then you'll not be too surprised by what you'll find on this site. But still, go. It's worth a visit, if not to check the current Rapture Index (now at a fairly-high 162 - above 145 we're advised to 'fasten your seat belts'), then just to read things like this:

Mockers And Detractors

Whenever an unbeliever sends me an email message that attacks or mocks the pre-trib rapture, I always think of the irony they are imposing upon themselves. Someday, the rapture will take place, and these folks will be dumbfounded.

Even when I get some rather nasty letters that condemn me to the fires of hell or that label me as a raving lunatic, it doesn't bother me because I know it would be punishment enough for anyone to miss the rapture. I see no need to take the attacks personally. I think after the event, these folks will be blaming me for not trying hard enough to convince them of their folly.

Jim Downey's picture

Jesus lived, moved to Japan, died at 106...

No, really. See, his younger brother swapped places with him on the Cross, allowing Jesus to slip away, move to Japan and become a rice farmer who lived to age 106. It's all here.

Actually, that site is pretty good because the first part is all the BS, the last part is debunking the nonsense. And it has some pretty pictures of Japan. Pretty clearly, the whole thing was cooked up back in the '30s in order to draw tourists.

But of course the THIAOOUBA kooks actually believe this crap. Reading their page about it is an exercise in just how blind people can wilfully be when it suits their purpose.

(Via MeFi)

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

There are times when I almost wished I believed... magic, just so I could cheer on things like this:

An Indonesian man claiming magic powers drank freshly slaughtered animal and snake blood yesterday as part of a ritual he said would jinx the upcoming visit of US President George W. Bush.

from The Taipei Times via this diary from dKos. Because, c'mon, admit it - you really would love to see it work, wouldn't you?

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Welcome To America, You Hellbound Spawn Of Satan

This whole story just makes me shudder uncontrollably. I mean, wow.

[Raw Story] When Polish student Michael Gromek, 19, went to America on a student exchange, he found himself trapped in a host family of Christian fundamentalists. What followed was a six-month hell of dawn church visits and sex education talks as his new family tried to banish the devil from his soul. Here's his story.

"When I got out of the plane in Greensboro in the US state of North Carolina, I would never have expected my host family to welcome me at the airport, wielding a Bible, and saying, 'Child, our Lord sent you half-way around the world to bring you to us.' At that moment I just wanted to turn round and run back to the plane."

I can imagine my own 19 year old atheist daughter just flipping out in this situation. Kudos to Michael Gromek for handling a really awful set of circumstances in a mature fashion.

(Tip of the ballcap to UTI reader Meara Bilozir. Thanks for the heads up, Meara!)

Jim Downey's picture

Some quickies...

...just in case you missed them in the news. And besides, everyone needs a quickie now and again.

First off, from CNN comes news that the Marines in charge of the annual "Toys for Tots" campaign have resolved what to do with an offer for 4,000 verse-spouting Jesus Dolls. The company which makes the dolls just couldn't understand why the dolls wouldn't be suitable for everyone. *sigh* Show the Toys for Tots folks a little love, if you can.

Next up, Dan Savage has a great column in The Onion about why the whole Ted Haggard thing should be cause for rejoicing. I'm not gay, but I've seen what my GLBT friends have suffered at the hands of the ravin' fundies, and it is all due to the bullshit of "Give your heart to Jesus, and he will change you" mindset they have. The money quote from Dan:

If giving his heart to Jesus couldn't cure Haggard, what hope is there for the likes of me? If Jesus can't be bothered to work a miracle for the most powerful evangelical minister in the country, what "hope" is there for the average dyke?

Jim Downey's picture

Science, Personified.

Today's Dinosaur Comic is a hoot. If you don't know this strange and wonderful little strip, you need to allocate some time to check it out.

(Hat tip, Mr. Kasper)

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Eleventh Hour

Good science, in fiction, on TV???

Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I've just watched the first two episodes (of four made so far) of a show called Eleventh Hour. And it has been surprisingly good, treating science intelligently and with respect.

It's British, of course, and stars Patrick Stewart (whom I've enjoyed ever since his appearance in I, Claudius about 30 years ago). Here's what The Guardian had to say about it earlier this year:

Eleventh Hour will have Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame) starring as a tough-but-fair physics professor serving as a special adviser to a government joint science committee. His character, Professor Hood, is described as a "roving trouble-shooter", who lives out of a suitcase and is followed around by Rachel Young, his Special Branch bodyguard.

Together, the Mulder and Scully-like pair go about defending the integrity of science from "ruthless businessmen, quacks, charlatans, bought politicians, technology thieves, food hygiene scammers, data-fiddlers, hazard-concealers, patent-suppressors, and plane-parts counterfeiters".

Jim Downey's picture

"Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple."

This afternoon, I had the good fortune to catch part of "Bob Edwards Weekend" on my local NPR affiliate, and a large part of the second hour of the show was devoted to an interview with the director Stanley Nelson about his recent documentary "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple." That link takes you to the IMDb entry for the movie, there's also a lot more information available on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now, I haven't seen the movie. But I remember well when Jim Jones killed over 900 people in his little cult compound in Guyana in 1978. I was in college at the time, and remember the full coverage the incident caused. If you're not familiar with it, I would recommend you just do a simple Google search, though a very good synopsis of what happened can be found here. This is, it might be noted, where the phrase "drink the Kool-Aide" comes from, since the primary image of the event was the mass suicide through Kool-Aide laced with cyanide. It seems that most of the adults in the compound willingly stepped up, took a cup of the poisoned Kool-Aide, and downed it (many after first giving it to their own children).

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