Friday, December 28, 2007

Santa Denial

The Russian government has banned a television ad for Eto electrical stores that denies the existence of Father Frost, Russia's version of Santa. By implying that parents are lying to their children, the government claims the ad undermines the bond of trust between adults and their offspring. Apparently truth isn't such a hot commodity in Russia these days, as it's also illegal to deny that President Putin did not, in fact, murder any journalist critical of his administration, imprison political opposition leaders, and chop down an entire Siberian forest with only the meaty edge of his muscular, masculine left hand. More details here.

Robots vs. Pirates

No, it's not the heartwarming team-up of Johnny Depp and Johnny 5 we've all been waiting for. The U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard are developing a robotic gunship to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia and abroad. Pirate activity has risen significantly in recent years, and these robot drones would be a safe and effective way of dealing with pesky pirates who would send out a distress signal to a hapless vessel they intend to de-booty. The next time a potential mark appears over the horizon, those scalawags may find themselves staring down the barrel of a floating terminator. Of course, it's only a matter of time before the robot gunships learn to resent their harsh treatment and turn on us. More details here.

Ron Paul: Idiot

Republican (Libertarian, really) presidential candidate Ron Paul, who has the support of the nation's 9/11 conspiracy theorists, white supremacy groups, tin foil hat wearers, hyper-capitalists, and (for some godforsaken reason) the entire Internet, says in the below video that he doesn't accept the theory of evolution. Can we please stop putting this guy's signs along my Interstate frontage roads now? Please?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sagan Remembered

Today marks the 11th anniversary of Carl Sagan's death. While many scientists are doing admirable work in bringing critical thinking to the public, no one has been as successful as Sagan. Jon Blumenfeld of the Rogues Gallery blog has an excellent essay on Sagan's legacy, including a lengthy excerpt from Sagan's classic of skeptical literature, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Read it here.

Japanese UFOs

In what UFO nuts will most assuredly count as a win in their column, Japan's chief government spokesman said in a press conference that he definitely believes they exist. However, when examined in context, it's clear that the tinfoil hats shouldn't be unfurled quite yet. Nobutaka Machimura was responding to an opposition party member's request for an official government policy in regards to UFOs. While explaining that the Japanese Air Force would scramble fighters to encounter any such object, Machimura said that such a scenario has never occurred and that the government has no evidence of UFOs on record. He then went on to add that despite that, he still believes they exist. Then the assembled press laughed and laughed because this was, in fact, a joke. Read more about the Japanese sense of humor and the BBC's use of misleading headlines here.

Silver Makes Man Blue

Paul Karason has recently moved from Oregon to California in an effort to find a community that will be more accepting of his skin color. Which is blue. No, he wasn't born blue. His skin began changing color after Karason used colloidal silver, a pseudoscientific cure-all that has no proven medical benefits and can, when ingested, turn your skin blue. However, Karason still swears by colloidal silver and blames himself for rubbing it on his face to treat a skin condition. In a telling detail, he also says he hasn't sought medical attention for his condition. The real irony here is that there may be a useless vial of snake oil on the shelf at your local natural medicine store that, in addition to making fantastical claims on its label, can actually transform you into a creature of fantasy. More details (including video) here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Murderous Galaxy

Scientists have observed the black hole at the center of a galaxy in the 3C321 system shooting a lethal beam of X-rays, gamma rays, and electrons at a neighboring galaxy in a clearly unprovoked attack. The beam could destroy the atmospheres of the neighboring galaxy's planets, killing all surface-dwelling life that may have thrived upon them. While pretty cool to watch, this tragedy is on a scale of several trillion Hurricane Katrinas, yet where are our celebrity beg-a-thons now? Perhaps the fact that these galaxies are roughly 1.4 billion light years away from Earth places the victims off Angelina Jolie's charity radar? Disgusting. More details here.

Nature's Terrifying Truths: Giant Rat Discovered

Shucking all probability and good taste, scientists scouring about Indonesia's remote jungles have stumbled upon a new species of giant rat previously unknown to science or nightmares. The discovery of a new mammal species is quite rare, and so is the discovery of such a disgusting, cringe-inducing creature. According to the Smithsonian's Kristofer Helgen, the rat has "no fear of humans" and came into the scientists' camp several times during their expedition. Unless it's somehow a master gourmet chef, I say we roll the stone back atop its hellish lair and leave undisturbed those things that weren't meant for human eyes. By the way, the researchers also discovered a new species of miniature opossum, but that's a truth of nature that isn't so much terrifying as it is adorable. More details here.

Pilfered Pentacle

Last Sunday, I told you about the Green Bay City Hall's open door policy on religious displays. In addition to the standard nativity scene, a local Wiccan installed a pentacle on the property--with more displays from other religions planning to go up. But it seems someone took offense to the pesky pentacle and removed in the dead of night, leaving only a ladder behind. Now, the mayor has closed off City Hall to all religious displays, which would seem like a good idea if only the nativity scene had also been taken down. It hasn't. So we're back to square one. That baby Jesus sure does work in mysterious ways. More details here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

No Lashings for Rape Victim

The Saudi Arabian woman who was sentenced to 200 lashes for being alone with a man when they were both abducted and raped has been pardoned by King Abdullah. This would normally be a time to praise the victory of level heads in Saudi Arabia except for the fact that the pardon is not a denunciation of the original sentence's claim of guilt, and Saudi Arabia is the country that sentenced her in the first place. So, a little bit of kudos and a lot of fuck you. More details here. And thanks to Skephick for the heads up.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pentacle Over Wisconsin

After hearing complaints from non-Christian residents of Green Bay, Wisconsin who were concerned over a manger scene set up at City Hall, Mayor Jim Schmitt has opened the public space to all kinds of religious displays. A Wiccan pentacle enclosed in a festive evergreen wreath now stands next to the tacky plastic baby Jesus scene. The city has also granted permission for the display of Hindu, Buddhist, and Unitarian symbols, among others. Simply in the interest of Green Bay's scenic beauty, wouldn't it be better to ban any kind of religious display from public property instead of allowing the seat of city government to be overrun with blinking, flashing, hand-carved tchotchkes? More details here.

When Witchcraft is Outlawed...

Normally I'm all for allowing people to believe whatever stupid things they want. If they weren't, what would I have to make fun of? But I can see the reasoning behind Tajikistan's recent banning of witchcraft, sorcery, and fortune-telling. It's one of the poorest nations in Asia, and it's downtrodden people have lately turned to woo-woo merchants over real doctors. Not only are these frauds robbing Tajikistan's people of their precious financial resources, they aren't offering anything in return. So this legislation, while it may seem like an oppressive anti-free speech measure, is really just a case of the government cracking down on what is essentially spiritual robbery. More details here.

Mars Fever

Mars is all the rage these days. There's the Mars Rising miniseries burning up The Science Channel's ratings, there's President Bush's promise to send astronauts to the red planet, and there's the extraordinary popularity of the band 30 Seconds to Mars. Well, maybe not the last one. But it seems the Telegraph has come down with quite a virulent case of the Mars Fever. Their recent headline, "Mars rover finds signs of microbial life", may sound like an amazing announcement, but it's really kind of false. NASA's Spirit rover has discovered a patch of silica-rich soil on the Martian plateau known as "Home Plate", but there aren't any signs of life--microbial or not. Still, the soil is a good indicator that the area was once home to a life-friendly hot spring environment, which makes Spirit's discovery one of the more compelling signs that life once teemed on the Martian surface. Of course, if there's one thing the Telegraph loves more than hip new Mars news, it's hyperbole. Read their article here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holy Missing Leg

In some parts of the world, you can be dubbed a holy man if you can convince enough people you have healing powers. It's a good gig, and 80-year-old Indian holy man Yanadi Kondaiah led a pretty good life after the locals started to believe his claims of possessing a magical right leg. Of course, when you're attached to such a hot commodity as a magic healing leg, you're inevitably going to become the target of jealous criminals. So when Kondaiah allowed two strangers to get him drunk to the point of unconsciousness and woke up with his magic leg missing, he really shouldn't have been too surprised. I can't condone forcible amputation as a means of scientific experimentation, but it'll be interesting to know whether the leg still works once it's on its own. More details here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ask an Amateur Scientist: The Bermuda Triangle

In this week's edition of my PinkRaygun.com column Ask an Amateur Scientist, I ask the hard questions about the Bermuda Triangle. Where is it? How big is it? Why do things disappear inside it? Has anything ever really disappeared inside it? Nothing? Why do I find that hard to believe? Because I haven't done any research? Where did you put my tinfoil hat?

Read all about it here.

Mighty Mouse

Genetic engineers at Japan's Tokyo University have successfully switch off the genes in a mouse that cause it to fear the smell or presence of cats. This would seem to suggest that fear in mammals is more of a genetic trait than a learned one, though I'm not sure how wise it would be to go creating a generation of fearless creatures. While it might do wonders for those who would love to go skydiving but are just too chicken, the fact remains that if that mouse doesn't run, he's going to end up as Meow Mix. More details here.

The Sexorcist

Rev. Frank Lawrence, leader of Toronto's Mount Zion Revival Church of the Apostles, has been charged with sexual assault stemming from two exorcism rituals. In one instance, one of Lawrence's followers claims he attempted to spiritually cleanse her by raping her atop a fresh grave. Another woman says he raped her during a ritual bath of alcohol, onions, and oils. Both women ended up pregnant. In an unrelated but interesting detail, the Mount Zion Revival Church of the Apostles is run out of a strip mall. More info here.

More Acupuncture Nonsense

Many aging women unhappy with the natural wrinkling of their face skin have turned to outrageously expensive Botox injection procedures to puff themselves up. It may seem ridiculous to pay a dermatologist upward of $1250 to inject your face with toxins that only smooth out your age lines for a relatively short time, but it's even more ridiculous that penny-pinching wrinkle-fighters have started to seek out acupuncture alternatives for a cheaper and supposedly more long-term solution. The only problem here is that acupuncture won't get rid of wrinkles. Or do much of anything else. And it never has. Read this depressing New York Times article on how lies, desperation, and an ignorance of scientific research can result in a booming needles-in-the-face industry.

Terry Pratchett = The Greatest

Terry Pratchett, noted skeptic and author of the insanely great Discworld series of novels, has been sadly diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's. In a typically classy nod to rational thought, he had this to say about his condition: "I know it's a very human thing to say 'Is there anything I can do,' but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry." Read this essay on Pratchett's genius by Jon Blumenfeld, and take heart in knowing that Terry's still got a few books in him yet.

Astrology Markets Down

The new Fox Business Channel (like CNBC, but Foxier) recently aired a program where they invited astrologer Constance Stellas to discuss her predictions for the latest Federal Reserve Board meeting and to draw up a chart for Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. It's a sad but true fact that several corporations employ business astrologers to advise them on financial matters. On his UK show Psychic Investigator, James Randi put these astrologers to the test, comparing their success in the stock market to that of an actual financial analyst. Venus must have been in the wrong house, because the astrologers were soundly defeated. And, by the way, Stellas predicted a half-point rate cut. The actual rate cut was 0.25%. But I'm sure there's some rational explanation for her failure. More details here.

Republicans Love Black Gold

I'm not really a "no blood for oil" kind of guy, but this crap is ridiculous. Today, Senate Republicans blocked a new energy bill that would mandate new fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and increase production of ethanol-based fuel. The rub? Big tax increases on the oil companies, with the revenue going toward research into alternative fuels. The Republicans would rather let the oil companies enjoy their obscene profits and work toward eliminating their revenue source on their own. Oddly, this bill has already passed the House of Representatives, which is run with about the same level of efficiency as the sanitarium in 12 Monkeys. What's up with the Senate these days? More details here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

War on Christmas

Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa (pictured here wearing his Ed Harris Halloween costume) is upset that nine Democrats voted against his bill to recognize the importance of Christians and Christmas. He says there's a secular assault on Christianity in the U.S., and he hopes an official acknowledgment of its importance might ease the attacks. Now, it might be tempting to ridicule this bill as just another ineffectual waste of time from a congress that refuses to even consider granting Americans the basic human right of health insurance, but Rep. King has a point. Especially at this time of year, don't you find yourself wading through piles and piles of unsolicited circulars advertising countless stores' Hanukkah sales? And isn't the radio clogged with tinkling, cloying Eid carols? If only Christmas could get some attention! More details here.

Whose Beliefs are Crazier?

Mitt Romney, a Mormon, has condemned what he calls an attack on his religion by Mike Huckabee, a Baptist, in an article to be published in Sunday's New York Times. During his interview, Huckabee said he doesn't know much about the Mormon religion, adding, "Don't Mormons believe Jesus and the devil are brothers?" The implication here is that Huckabee made an underhanded stab at the wackiness of Mormon beliefs, even though they don't officially acknowledge any relation of the sort between Jesus and Satan. After all, it would be ridiculous to think that the half-human, half-divine tri-being born of a virgin who rose from the dead was actually a sibling of the serpentine deceiver paradoxically created by a loving God to tempt humanity into an eternal hellfire. Obviously the dragon prince of lies was simply a fallen soldier in God's superhuman angel army. More details here. And learn more about the Mormon faith by watching this informative cartoon:

Muslim Teen Murdered

Aqsa Parvez, a 16-year-old Toronto girl, was strangled to death by her Muslim father because she refused to wear a hijab.

Not much more to say about this.

Read the full story here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Employer of the Dead

Fake psychic (redundant term?) Jim Callahan (pictured here auditioning for the Days of Our Lives opening credits), the self-proclaimed medium who was given a rounding shakedown by both Criss Angel and the voting public on NBC's Phenomenon, now has an exciting employment opportunity for the recently deceased via his website. Those wishing to work with him once they've kicked the bucket may submit an application. The first deceased person who can manifest himself on stage with Callahan as a three dimensional ghost will receive a million dollars in compensation, with future compensation arrangements available. All others will receive $25 per show. Of course, the obvious question here is what does a dead person need with a million dollars, though I hear heaven is expensive as hell. I suppose the money could be given to the dead person's family, but really how much is too much to ask for allowing Jim Callahan to use your loved one's name and life details to pretend he can communicate with the deceased? Thanks to the JREF's Swift newsletter for pointing this story out. Read all about it here.

See-through Jesus

A patient x-rayed at a Homestead, Florida hospital claims the silhouette of Jesus Christ can be seen in this image of his chest cavity. Look closely. Can you see it? Think about what Jesus looked like. Can you see it? Look again. Can you see it? Clap your hands and believe. See it now? It's obvious, isn't it? More details here.

Fuck You, FoxNews.com

Yes, I read FoxNews.com. Most of their stories are just reprints off the AP wire, and they pack a lot of content into a single front page. So it's a convenient news source for a daily news blogger like me. (I just chose to call myself a blogger. There goes my dignity.) But even though there's not a lot of the typical Fox News attitude in FoxNews.com's stories themselves, you can often count on the site to deliver an offensively reactionary or insensitive headline. Case in point: today's labeling of a story on scientists' successful attempts to turn on and off the homosexual gene in fruit flies as "Gay 'Cure' is All the Buzz". No, I'm not offended by the onomatopoeic pun (though that's pretty terrible). Nowhere in the story does anyone reference this research as pointing to a "cure" for homosexuality, so FoxNews.com took it upon themselves to imply that homosexuality is a disease. Again, FoxNews.com, fuck you. Read the story in question here.

Hindu Gods Get Served

To settle a property dispute, Indian judge Sunil Kumar Singh has issued summons to the Hindu gods Ram and Hanuman (pictured) to appear in court. Manmohan Pathak, a Hindu priest, claims the land upon which two temples devoted to the gods are built belongs to him, but the local villagers insist it actually belongs to the gods themselves. Judge Singh decided the only way to settle the dispute is to have the gods speak for themselves in court, but they did not respond to a summons sent in the mail. The summons have since been printed in the local newspapers, though no one knows whether Ram or Hanuman are any kind of newshounds. More details here.

Creationist Fired

Nathaniel Abraham, a former researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has filed a lawsuit against the WHOI, which he claims fired him because he doesn't believe in evolution. This is kind of the reversal of the recent case of the Texas state science curriculum manager who was fired because she doesn't believe in teaching creationism in the classroom. Except, in that case, her convictions didn't interfere with the basic operation of her job. Abraham, on the other hand, was hired to work on a National Institutes of Health grant that required him to acknowledge the basic biological fact of evolution. He flatly refused to do the work, thus the firing. In other words, Abraham isn't so much a victim of ideological intolerance as he is a willfully ignorant douche. More details here.

Lawrence O'Donnell on Mormonism

I was amused today to read an outraged response to journalist Lawrence O'Donnell's assessment of Mitt Romney's Mormonism by The Huffington Post's Jason Linkins. As a left-winger myself, it's embarrassing to see Linkins' brand of blind kowtowing disguised as tolerance. Yes, we should be open minded about other people's beliefs, but O'Donnell's indignation at the fact that Romney calls for understanding when he willingly belonged to an openly racist religion well into his adult years is insulting to decency and intelligence--two virtues left-wingers such as myself and Mr. Linkins should attempt to uphold. Watch the clip in question here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Germans Move to Ban Scientology

The Church of Scientology has long been under surveillance by the German government, which believes the cult encourages its members to cut off ties to non-Scientologist friends and family (it does) and otherwise infringes on its members' freedom (ditto). Now, Germany's interior ministers are pushing the government intelligence agency to compile the evidence that would allow them to declare Scientology unconstitutional and ban the cult country-wide. The spokeswoman for the German Church of Scientology says this is clearly a reaction against the increasing acceptance of "the true picture of what Scientology is about" in Europe, though all evidence shows that the Internet and television have proven a deadly blow to Scientology recruitment efforts. It's just too easy to find out about the whole evil alien warlord/blowing up Hawaiian volcanoes thing. Still, as idiotic as Scientology is, even Germans should have the right to blindly follow it if they want. That's what freedom is all about. More details here.

Costa Rican UFO

Malvin Badilla, a Costa Rican construction worker, has apparently recorded video of a small, hovering, disc-shaped object with his cell phone camera. After watching the local news report below, I don't really have a theory as to what the thing actually is. The video is pretty low-res, and there isn't much in the way of reference points. Badilla says it was about the size of a tractor tire. While it's possible the thing is a craft full of adorably tiny extraterrestrials, I'm thinking it's probably something spinning on a string. More details here.

Televangelist Update

Republican senator Charles Grassley of Iowa (pictured) is meeting some resistance to his request of financial records from six televangelists investigated by Ole Anthony's Trinity Foundation. As Ole mentioned when he was a guest on our most recent podcast, Sen. Grassley has so far only sent letters of inquiry to the six televangelists in question in order to determine whether their opulent spending practices have violated the terms of their ministries' tax-exempt status. Now, most of the televangelists in question, including Creflo Dollar and Benny Hinn, are refusing to turn over their financial records citing constitutional protection. This may end up becoming a full-scale Senate inquiry, which might lead to needed reforms when it comes to how the IRS deals with churches. More details here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Holy Diddling

The Archdiocese of New York has issued a coloring book warning kids about the dangers of sexual abuse by adults. A Betty & Veronica-esque angel floats about black and white line drawings and warns kids not to keep secrets from their parents, not to meet Internet chat buddies in public, and to only allow a doctor or parent to see their "bathing suit" areas. All sound advice, but it's curious that the book doesn't warn kids about potential sexual abuse from their family members, as is most often the case. And, of course, it never warns them that they may be sexually abused by the guy in the black outfit who gave them the coloring book. Load your printer with some fresh ink and bust out the Crayolas, because you can download the book for free here.

The Big O in Zero G

According to a new book, The Final Mission: Mir, The Human Adventure by French science writer Pierre Kohler, both NASA and the Russian space program have conducted experiments to discover the best sexual positions to use in a zero gravity environment. Kohler says the research is important in order to guarantee a healthy, happy sexual relationship between couples assigned to prolonged missions on the International Space Station and beyond. Apparently there's video footage of astronauts trying out a variety of positions, however it's all kept tightly under wraps. Of course, in this day of information overload, it's bound to end up on the Internet sooner or later. Interestingly, the old fashioned missionary position is impossible in space, and Kohler claims only four positions were discovered that didn't require "mechanical assistance". No word yet on whether any astronauts tried a weightless Cleveland steamer. More details here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jehovah's Witness Without a Face

When Jose Maestre was 14, a tumor began growing on his face. The tumor could have been treated with a simple blood transfusion, but since Maestre was raised a Jehovah's Witness, such a procedure was against his religion. Now the tumor has grown to a horrible, disfiguring 15 inches long, and it weighs 12 pounds. However, a charitable doctor at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London thinks he can perform a surgical procedure using ultrasound waves to remove the tumor. In all the heartwarming magnanimity on display here, is anyone else wondering how Maestre's mother ("from whom he took his religious beliefs", to quote the Telegraph's article) was allowed to refuse him a blood transfusion when he was a child? Isn't that child abuse? This is a rather graphic example of the stupidity of allowing people to use their unwitting children as ideological playthings. If that woman weren't dead, she should be in jail. And if hell existed, I'd wish that upon her, too. More details here.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Pope vs. Atheism

Benedict XVI, the pope formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger, has issued an encyclical chastising atheism for leading to the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history. He cites the terrible Lenin regime as proof. However, he fails to mention the fact that cruelty and oppression are hallmarks of every totalitarian regime, whether its leaders are atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, or tribal warlords who worship tree spirits. To claim Lenin's atheism influenced him more than any other dictator's religion is ignorant and dishonest. Of course, the forces of reason may have driven Ratzo up against a wall. According to a recent poll, 43% of Catholics believe in Darwin's theory of evolution and 57% do not believe in the Biblical creation myth.

Gibbons Freed

It's nice to start off this week with a story that bucks last week's trend of Islamic law gone out of control. The Sudanese government has pardoned and released Gillian Gibbons, the British schoolteacher who was convicted of insulting Islam by allowing her students to name the class teddy bear "Mohammed". She will be taken to the British embassy and flown back to her home country. This comes after Muslim members of the British parliament assured the president of Sudan that releasing Gibbons would garner goodwill from the international community. Of course, that goodwill is tainted after the world witnessed a flood of bloodthirsty Sudanese protesters flowing out of their mosques and into the streets of Khartoum, demanding Gibbons be executed. I suppose you win some, and you lose some. More details here.

And for those of you who read the headline to this story and expected a heartwarming tale of cuddly apes breaking the bonds of their oppressors, I apologize. Maybe next time.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Nature's Terrifying Truths: Zombie Cockroaches

In the first of what I'm sure will be an infinitely long series, I present you the true story of a cockroach and the jewel wasp who loves him. And by "loves", I mean "injects him with zombie venom, leads him back to her lair, lays eggs inside his gut, and watches with glee as he's slowly eaten from the inside out". A group of Israeli scientists has discovered how to stop these zombie attacks, but they aren't choosing to use that knowledge for good. Here's the video from New Scientist:

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