Friday, June 27, 2008

Va. Pagans Advertise Through Falwell-Secured School 'Backpack Mail'

A Pagan group in Albemarle County, Va., was recently given permission to advertise its multi-cultural holiday program to public school children - and they have the Rev. Jerry Falwell to thank for it.

The dispute started last summer when Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski, twins who attend Hollymead Elementary School, sought permission to distribute fliers about their church's Vacation Bible School to their peers via "backpack mail." Many public schools use special folders placed in student backpacks to distribute notices about school events, and sometimes extra-curricular activities, to parents.

School officials originally denied the request from the twins' father, Ray Rakoski, citing a school policy barring "distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes."

A Charlottesville weekly newspaper, The Hook, reported that Rakoski "sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county," and the policy was soon revised to allow religious groups to use the backpack mail system. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal group founded by Mathew Staver and now affiliated with Falwell.

It wasn't long before other religious groups decided to take advantage of the newly opened forum. A group of Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, created a onepage flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist. They submitted it to the public school and had it distributed through the backpack system.

"Have you ever wondered what 'Holidays' refers to?" read the flier. "Everyone knows about Christmas - but what else are people celebrating in December? Why do we celebrate the way we do?"

The flier invited people to "an educational program for children of all ages (and their adults), where we'll explore the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule."

It concluded, "Come for one or both parts and bring your curiosity."

A local parent who was involved in the effort later explained to Americans United that it was done partly to educate the community about the principle of fair play. Many members of the congregation are strong supporters of church-state separation who don't believe public schools should promote any religion. But they were also unwilling to cede the field to Falwell and his fundamentalist allies. Falwell opened the backpack forum, and the Pagans were determined to secure equal time.

The reaction from Christian conservatives in the area was predictable. They wanted access to the schools for their religion but not others.

Jeff Riddle, pastor of Jefferson Park Baptist Church in Charlottesville, wrote on his personal blog, "This kind of note adds weight to the argument that it is high time for Christians to leave public schools for reasonable alternatives (homeschooling and private Christian schools)."

Another conservative Christian blogger in the county complained about finding the Pagan flier in her child's folder. Apparently unaware of Falwell's role in bringing it about, the blogger who goes by the name Cathy, noted disclaimer language at the bottom of the flier stating that the event is not connected to the school and wrote, "They [the school officials] aren't endorsing or sponsoring this? Then it shouldn't have been included in the Friday folders. The Friday folders have never been used for any thing other than school work and school board and/or County sanctioned/sponsored programs."

She then fumed that a "pagan ritual" is "an educational experience my children don't need."

Parents in the county have asked Americans United to help the school system draft a new policy governing distribution of religious fliers. That task may be complicated by an opinion from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ruling in a case from Montgomery County, Md., the appellate court struck down a policy giving school officials unilateral ability to exclude certain private groups from the backpack system.

Copyright Americans United for Separation of Church and State Feb 2007
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Apes (not monkeys dumbass, they have tails)



This is a wonderful series and goes along with a post from a few days ago.


This is the video clip I will be using for the Intro to my Vlogs on Youtube. I made it in Adobe After Effects.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pastor arrested on child sex charge

FORT WORTH, Texas — A pastor has been arrested on accusations that he sexually assaulted a teen girl who attends his church.

James "Jay" Virtue Robinson IV, pastor of Southwood Baptist Church, surrendered at the Tarrant County Jail on Wednesday evening in response to an arrest warrant accusing him of sexual assault of a child, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. He was released after posting $20,000 bail.

Robinson has denied having a relationship with the girl. A phone listing for him was disconnected. His attorney, Cheyenne Minick, didn't immediately return a phone call Thursday from The Associated Press.

The girl, now 18, was 16 when she and Robinson, then the youth minister, struck up more than just a friendship, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The relationship escalated to sexual touching, occurring about 10 times at the church, the affidavit states.

By the time she was 17, the relationship progressed to sexual intercourse. Robinson would pick her up from school and take her to his home, where they would have sex, the affidavit states.

The Fort Worth Police Department's crimes against children unit began investigating the case in March after the girl's father called police.

Police and church members say that after one Sunday evening service, the pastor addressed the congregation, saying that the girl and her parents were being manipulated by former church members whom he described as "wolves in sheep's clothing"

"We now have reason to believe that the preacher may actually be himself a wolf using the pulpit to prey on the sheep he's been charged to protect," said Lt. Paul Henderson, a police spokesman.

Story Link

Study: Chimps calm each other with hugs, kisses

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer Mon Jun 16, 9:16 PM ET

WASHINGTON - For most folks, a nice hug and some sympathy can help a bit after we get pushed around. Turns out, chimpanzees use hugs and kisses the same way. And it works. Researchers studying people's closest genetic relatives found that stress was reduced in chimps that were victims of aggression if a third chimp stepped in to offer consolation.
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"Consolation usually took the form of a kiss or embrace," said Dr. Orlaith N. Fraser of the Research Center in Evolutionary Anthropology and Paleoecology at Liverpool John Moores University in England.

"This is particularly interesting," she said, because this behavior is rarely seen other than after a conflict.

"If a kiss was used, the consoler would press his or her open mouth against the recipient's body, usually on the top of the head or their back. An embrace consisted of the consoler wrapping one or both arms around the recipient."

The result was a reduction of stress behavior such as scratching or self-grooming by the victim of aggression, Fraser and colleagues report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Frans de Waal of the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta said the study is important because it shows the relationship between consolation and stress reduction. Previous researchers have claimed that consolation had no effect on stress, said de Waal, who was not part of Fraser's research team.

"This study removes doubt that consolation really does what the term suggests: provide relief to distressed parties after conflict. The evidence is compelling and makes it likely that consolation behavior is an expression of empathy," de Waal said.

De Waal suggested that this evidence of empathy in apes is "perhaps equivalent to what in human children is called 'sympathetic concern.'"

That behavior in children includes touching and hugging of distressed family members and "is in fact identical to that of apes, and so the comparison is not far-fetched," he said.

While chimps show this empathy, monkeys do not, he added.

There is also suggestive evidence of such behavior in large-brained birds and dogs, said Fraser, but it has not yet been shown that it reduces stress levels in those animals.

Previous research on conflict among chimps concentrated on cases where there is reconciliation between victim and aggressor, with little attention to intervention by a third party.

Fraser and colleagues studied a group of chimps at the Chester Zoo in England from January 2005 to September 2006, recording instances of aggression such as a bite, hit, rush, trample, chase or threat.

The results show that "chimpanzees calm distressed recipients of aggression by consoling them with a friendly gesture," Fraser said.

Consolation was most likely to occur between chimpanzees who already had valuable relationships, she added.

The research was supported by the Leakey Trust.

The Mystery of Mass Extinctions Is No Longer Murky

The Mystery of Mass Extinctions Is No Longer Murky
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 :: infoZine Staff
Science & TechnologyEbb and flow of the sea is the primary cause of the world's mass extinctions over the past 500 million years


Washington, D.C. - infoZine - If you are curious about Earth's periodic mass extinction events such as the sudden demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, you might consider crashing asteroids and sky-darkening super volcanoes as culprits.

But a new study, published June 15, 2008, in the journal Nature, suggests that it is the ocean, and in particular the epic ebbs and flows of sea level and sediment over the course of geologic time, that is the primary cause of the world's periodic mass extinctions over the past 500 million years.

"The expansions and contractions of those environments have pretty profound effects on life on Earth," says Shanan Peters, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of geology and geophysics and the author of the new Nature report. In short, according to Peters, changes in ocean environments related to sea level exert a driving influence on rates of extinction, which animals and plants survive or vanish, and generally determine the composition of life in the oceans.

Since the advent of life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago, scientists think there may have been as many as 23 mass extinction events, many involving simple forms of life such as single-celled microorganisms. Over the past 540 million years, there have been five well-documented mass extinctions, primarily of marine plants and animals, with as many as 75-95 percent of species lost. For the most part, scientists have been unable to pin down the causes of such dramatic events. In the case of the demise of the dinosaurs, scientists have a smoking gun, an impact crater that suggests dinosaurs were wiped out as the result of a large asteroid crashing into the planet. But the causes of other mass extinction events have been murky, at best.

"No matter what the ultimate driving extinction mechanisms might be at any one time, Professor Peters brings the repeated and resultant extinction on oceanic shelves front and forward where it belongs," says National Science Foundation (NSF) Program Manager Rich Lane. "This breakthrough speaks loudly to the future impending modern shelf extinction due to climate change on Earth."

Paleontologists have been chipping away at the causes of mass extinctions for almost 60 years, according to Peters, whose work was supported by NSF. "Impacts, for the most part, aren't associated with most extinctions. There have also been studies of volcanism, and some eruptions correspond to extinction, but many do not."

Arnold I. Miller, a paleobiologist and professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati, says the new study is striking because it establishes a clear relationship between the tempo of mass extinction events and changes in sea level and sediment: "Over the years, researchers have become fairly dismissive of the idea that marine mass extinctions like the great extinction of the Late Permian might be linked to sea-level declines, even though these declines are known to have occurred many times throughout the history of life. The clear relationship this study documents will motivate many to rethink their previous views."

Peters measured two principal types of marine shelf environments preserved in the rock record, one where sediments are derived from erosion of land and the other composed primarily of calcium carbonate, which is produced in-place by shelled organisms and by chemical processes. "The physical differences between these two types of marine environments have important biological consequences," Peters explains noting differences in sediment stability, temperature and the availability of nutrients and sunlight.

In the course of hundreds of millions of years the world's oceans have expanded and contracted in response to the shifting of the Earth's tectonic plates and to changes in climate. There were periods of the planet's history when vast areas of the continents were flooded by shallow seas such as the shark and mosasaur infested seaway that neatly split North America during the age of the dinosaurs.

As those epicontinental seas drained, animals like mosasaurs and giant sharks went extinct, and conditions on the marine shelves where life exhibited its greatest diversity in the form of things like clams and snails changed as well. The new Wisconsin study, Peters says, does not preclude other influences on extinction such as physical events like volcanic eruptions or killer asteroids, or biological influences such as disease and competition among species. But what it does do, he argues, is provide a common link to mass extinction events over a significant stretch of Earth history.

"The major mass extinctions tend to be treated in isolation by scientists," Peters says. "This work links them and smaller events in terms of a forcing mechanism, and it also tells us something about who survives and who doesn't across these boundaries. These results argue for a substantial fraction of change in extinction rates being controlled by just one environmental parameter."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Law Sanctifies Child Homicide in Name of Faith
Memorialize 11-Year-Old Madeline by Removing Faith Exemption

March 28, 2008
As a memorial to the painful, frightening and needless death of Madeline Kara Neumann, the Wisconsin Legislature needs to finally show some gumption, and remove from the statutes its exemption sanctifying child homicide in the name of faith.

Statement by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-Presidents

The death of an 11-year-old child from illness is always tragic, but what puts Madeline Kara Neumann's death last Sunday in a different class is that it is unforgiveable. Madeleine's long descent into diabetic ketoacidosis was unnecessary, preventable and the result of willful negligence on the part of her bible-believing parents.

It's one thing for an adult to choose prayer over medicine. But it is sheer child sacrifice to permit parents to eschew medical diagnosis and treatment of ill offspring. Parents do not own their children, much less have the right to endanger their children's lives by callously disregarding medical needs in the name of religion.

What's even more appalling is the ambivalent reaction: "Ethicists say case unclear," reports the Wausau Daily Herald. The Herald quoted bioethicist Dr. Norman Fost of the University of Wisconsin Medical school warning that it's important not to be moralistic or pass judgment on parents who think they can heal a child through prayer: "They believe they're helping their child; they love their child, and they believe prayer has an effect."

However deluded the parents may be, the rest of us need not countenance or indulge that dangerous delusion.

Dean Zuleger, the administrator of the Village of Weston, was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying, "There is a general sense of grief and sadness. Because I know the family a bit, there is a great deal of concern for their well-being." The parents' well-being?

"Death draws out difficult issues" read a headline in the Journal Sentinel. While Madeline's drawn-out death, involving nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, weight loss and weakness, is very difficult to read about, there is nothing difficult at all about deciding where the blame lies. "The prayer of faith will heal the sick," according to James 5:15. The fault lies in society's laudatory attitude toward a "holy book" which teaches superstition and faith-healing, whose passages are latched onto by bible literalists, and whose obedience to such injunctions has been given a pass in the criminal statutes of many states.

The mother, Leilani Neumann, of Weston, Wis., publicly announced: "We need healing. We are going through the healing process." What about the healing process her daughter required? This helpless dependent of a middle-class family had last seen a doctor at the age of three, and recently had been pulled out of public schools for religious home-schooling, possibly to cover up symptoms of her illness, which, according to medical experts, would have surfaced at least six months ago.

Legally, the question will revolve over whether the family recognized the seriousness of the illness. A chronology has emerged which belies the family's claim that they did not realize how sick Madeline was, including logs of their calls around the country to relatives (who notified authorities just before her death that Madeline was seriously ill) and to David Eels, whose Unleavened Bread Ministries operates AmericasLastDays.com. Eels, of Pensacola, Fla., admitted he prayed for Madeline the day before she died, and that the family phoned him Sunday, as they followed an ambulance with their dead daughter to the hospital, asking him "if I would pray that the Lord would spare her and raise her up, which I did."

Leilani Neumann told reporters she and her husband are not worried about an investigation because "our lives are in God's hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do."

Their "best" was not good enough. Nor is the religious exemption provided for by Wisconsin statutes, similar to what many states have adopted under pressure of the Christian Science lobby. What they don't realize is that doing nothing to help their daughter is parental negligence, which is criminal. The parents can still be charged, at least with some form of negligence or child abuse. But more action is required.

As a memorial to the painful, frightening and needless death of Madeline Kara Neumann, the Wisconsin Legislature needs to finally show some gumption, and remove from the statutes its callous exemption sanctifying child homicide in the name of faith.
Freedom From Religion Foundation • PO Box 750 • Madison, WI 53701 • (608) 256-8900 • contact us
© Freedom From Religion Foundation.






Six 'uniquely' human traits now found in animals


* 17:11 22 May 2008
* NewScientist.com news service
* Kate Douglas

To accompany the article So you think humans are unique? we have selected six articles from the New Scientist archive that tell a similar story. We have also asked the researchers involved to update us on their latest findings. Plus, we have rounded up six videos of animals displaying 'human' abilities.


1. Culture

Art, theatre, literature, music, religion, architecture and cuisine – these are the things we generally associate with culture. Clearly no other animal has anything approaching this level of cultural sophistication. But culture at its core is simply the sum of a particular group's characteristic ways of living, learned from one another and passed down the generations, and other primate species undoubtedly have practices that are unique to groups, such as a certain way of greeting each other or obtaining food.

Even more convincing examples of animal cultures are found in cetaceans. Killer whales, for example, fall into two distinct groups, residents and transients. Although both live in the same waters and interbreed, they have very different social structures and lifestyles, distinct ways of communicating, different tastes in food and characteristic hunting techniques – all of which parents teach to offspring.

Read the original article: Culture shock (24 March 2001)

Hal Whitehead, Dalhousie University writes:

"Since our 2001 review, people have often considered culture as a potential explanation of the behavioural patterns that have turned up in their studies of whales and dolphins.

"Our own work has concentrated on the non-vocal forms of sperm-whale culture. The different cultural clans of sperm whales, although in basically the same areas, use these waters very differently, and are affected very differently by El Niño events. They also have different reproductive rates.

"In sperm whales, and likely other whales and dolphins, culture has the potential to affect population biology, and so issues as diverse as genetic evolution and the impacts of global warming on the species."

2. Mind reading

Perhaps the surest sign that an individual has insight into the mind of another is the ability to deceive. To outwit someone you must understand their desires, intentions and motives – exactly the same ability that underpins the "theory of mind". This ability to attribute mental states to others was once thought unique to humans, emerging suddenly around the fifth year of life. But the discovery that babies are capable of deception led experts to conclude that "mind-reading" skills develop gradually, and fueled debate about whether they might be present in other primates.

Experiments in the 1990s indicated that great apes and some monkeys do understand deception, but that their understanding of the minds of others is probably implicit rather than explicit as it is in adult humans.

Read the original article: Liar! Liar! (14 February 1998)

Marc Hauser, Harvard University, writes:

"The tamarin work didn't pan out, but there are now several studies that show evidence of theory of mind in primates, including work by Brian Hare, Josep Call, Mike Tomasello, Felix Warneken, Laurie Santos, Justin Wood, and myself on chimps, rhesus monkeys and tamarins. There is nothing quite like a successful Sally-Anne test, but studies point to abilities such as seeing as a form of knowing, reading intentions and goals."

3. Tool use

Some chimps use rocks to crack nuts, others fish for termites with blades of grass and a gorilla has been seen gauging the depth of water with the equivalent of a dipstick, but no animal wields tools with quite the alacrity of the New Caledonian crow. To extract tasty insects from crevices, they craft a selection of hooks and long, barbed tapers called stepped-cut tools, made by intricately cutting a pandanus leaf with their beaks. What's more, experiments in the lab suggest that they understand the function of tools and deploy creativity and planning to construct them.

Nobody is suggesting that toolmaking has common origins in humans and crows, but there is a remarkable similarity in the ways in which their respective brains work. Both are highly lateralised, revealed in the observation that most crows are right-beaked – cutting pandanus leaves using the right side of their beaks. New Caledonian crows may force us to reassess the mental abilities of our first toolmaking ancestors.

Read the original article: Look, no hands (17 August 2002)

Gavin Hunt at the University of Aukland, writes:

"The general aim of our research on New Caledonian crows is to determine how a 'bird brain' can produce such complex tools and tool behaviour. Since the New Scientist article appeared in 2002, our team has focused on continuing to document tool manufacture and use in the wild (New Zealand Journal of Zoology, vol 35 p 115), the development of tool skills in free-living juveniles, the social behaviour and ecology of NC crows on the island of Maré, experimental work investigating NC crows' physical cognition and general intelligence, and neurological work.

"Some of this work is being undertaken collaboratively with laboratories in Germany (neurology) and New Zealand (genotyping). A very similar study is also being carried out independently at the University of Oxford. This parallel research has produced findings that are both confirmatory and conflicting."

Alex Kacelnik, University of Oxford, adds:

"We now know for sure that genetics is involved in the tool-making abilities of new Caledonian crows. We raised nestlings by hand and found that chicks that had never seen anybody handle objects of any kind started to use tools to extract food from crevices at a similar age to those who were exposed to human tutors using tools (Animal Behaviour, vol 72, p 1329). Clearly, observing others is not necessary for the tool use. However chicks exposed to tutoring exhibit a greater intensity of tool-related activity. Not surprisingly, genes and experience show a complex interaction.

"We have also developed a new technique, consisting of loading tiny video cameras on free-ranging birds, so as to see what they see and document the precise use of tools in nature. We have discovered that they use tools in loose soil, that they use a kind of tool not previously described (grass stems), and that they hunt for vertebrates (lizards). All of this, together with laboratory analysis of their cognitive abilities is forming a richer picture of what the species can do."

4. Morality

A classic study in 1964 found that hungry rhesus monkeys would not take food they had been offered if doing so meant that another monkey received an electric shock. The same is true of rats. Does this indicate nascent morality? For decades, we have preferred to find alternative explanations, but recently ethologist Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado at Boulder has championed the view that humans are not the only moral species. He argues that morality is common in social mammals, and that during play they learn the rights and wrongs of social interaction, the "moral norms that can then be extended to other situations such as sharing food, defending resources, grooming and giving care".

Read the original article: Virtuous nature (13 July 2002)

Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, writes:

"Work published this year showed that animals are able to make social evaluations and these assessments are foundational for moral behaviour in animals other than humans. Francys Subiaul of the George Washington University and his colleagues showed that captive chimpanzees are able to make judgments about the reputation of unfamiliar humans by observing their behaviour - whether they were generous or stingy in giving food to other humans. The ability to make character judgments is just what we would expect to find in a species in which fairness and cooperation are important in interactions among group members (Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-008-0151-6)."

5. Emotions

Emotions allow us to bond with others, regulate our social interactions and make it possible to behave flexibly in different situations. We are not the only animals that need to do these things, so why should we be the only ones with emotions? There are many examples of apparent emotional behavior in other animals.

Elephants caring for a crippled herd member seem to show empathy. A funeral ritual performed by magpies suggests grief. Was it spite that led a male baboon called Nick to take revenge on a rival by urinating on her? Divers who freed a humpback whale caught in a crab line describe its reaction as one of gratitude. Then there's the excited dance chimps perform when faced with a waterfall – it looks distinctly awe-inspired. These days, few doubt that animals have emotions, but whether they feel these consciously, as we do, is open to debate.

Read the original article: Do animals have emotions? (23 May 2007)


6. Personality

It's no surprise that animals that live under constant threat from predators are extra-cautious, while those that face fewer risks appear to be more reckless. After all, such successful survival strategies would evolve by natural selection. But the discovery that individuals of the same species, living under the same conditions, vary in their degree of boldness or caution is more remarkable. In humans we would refer to such differences as personality traits.

From cowardly spiders and reckless salamanders to aggressive songbirds and fearless fish, we are finding that many animals are not as characterless as we might expect. What's more, work with animals has led to the idea that personality traits evolve to help individuals survive in a wider variety of ecological niches, and this is influencing the way psychologists think about human personality.

Read the original article: Critters with attitude (3 June 2001)

For an update on animal personalities and how research in this area is throwing light on human behaviour read The personality factor.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Galileo Galilei

95% of people are imitators and only 5% are initiators...

Robert Cialdini

“They must find it difficult... Those who have taken authority as the truth, rather than truth as the authority.”

Gerald Massey

"Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe."

Henry David Thoreau