February 11 - 17, 2007

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because theinfidels.org is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

This week's collection of news starts with an op ed piece, written by Mel Lipman, President of the American Humanist Association. Mel's opinion piece appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, and concerns mistaken notions about church/state separation:

In her letter of Jan. 30, Ruth Williams erroneously quotes from the Constitution and implies that "separation of church and state" is not a constitutional requirement because those specific words do not appear in the Constitution.
The phrase was originated by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to aptly describe his view of the principal stated in the establishment clause of the First Amendment. There are many constitutional rights and standards (e.g. right of privacy, innocent until proven guilty) that are not specifically stated in the Constitution. In the 1947 Supreme Court decision in Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Black wrote, "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state."

There is no doubt that Jefferson believed that such separation is essential to protect both church and state.//

Read Mel's Complete Article Here...

I received in an email this week a link to a blog site that analyzed a segment on CNN, regarding atheism. Uh, well, the blogger didn't exactly seem enthusiastic about CNN's coverage:

OK, here's the latest word on tonight's show on atheists with Paula Zahn: there will be a different version of the previous report on ostracized atheists. Dawkins' interview will be four minutes long. There will also be a panel with Niger Innis (a conservative Republican), Roland Martin (a religious commentator), and Christopher Hitchens (atheist pain-in-the-ass). Apparently, they searched the entire United States of America and couldn't find a single atheist, so they had to import a couple from one of those godless foreign countries. You know, if they'd called me this morning I could have rushed off to the airport; when one is the only atheist in America, as I seem to be, one has to get used to making these emergency runs to meet demands to appear on a freakshow.

Read the full blog here...

Recently, the NY Times published an interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has made a great deal of news as an "infidel" of Islam, especially regarding bias towards women:

As a 22-year-old Somali Muslim, Ayaan Hirsi Ali disappeared en route from Nairobi, Kenya, to an arranged marriage in Canada, and fled to the Netherlands. A decade later, she won a seat in the Dutch Parliament, where she became known as an advocate for women and a critic of Islam. She collaborated with Theo van Gogh on a movie that depicted abused women with passages from the Koran written on their skin. In 2004, Mr. van Gogh was shot dead in Amsterdam by a Moroccan immigrant, who then staked a letter threatening Ms. Hirsi Ali onto Mr. van Gogh’s chest, sending her into hiding for a while. Three months ago she landed in Washington as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Her autobiography, “Infidel,” will be published in English on Tuesday. Recently she spoke to Laurie Goodstein, a reporter for The New York Times.

Q. What do you think it was about you that made you grab the reins of your own life?

A. In my upbringing I had watched my mother and I had watched other women go through the whole process. And I didn’t want to be that. I didn’t want to be a victim of the circumstances, and other people’s decisions. And education contributed to my leaving this man and my clan, in the sense that it gave me the self-confidence to think I can leave.

Read the complete Times story here...

For everyone interested in new discoveries about the brain, here is another article from the NY Times, regarding the "insula":

The recent news about smoking was sensational: some people with damage to a prune-size slab of brain tissue called the insula were able to give up cigarettes instantly.

Suppose scientists could figure out how to tweak the insula without damaging it. They might be able to create that famed and elusive free lunch — an effortless way to kick the cigarette habit.

That dream, which may not be too far off, puts the insula in the spotlight. What is the insula and how could it possibly exert such profound effects on human behavior?

According to neuroscientists who study it, the insula is a long-neglected brain region that has emerged as crucial to understanding what it feels like to be human.

Read the full article here...

A story about crackdowns on illegal immigrants in Texas. How should humanists respond to the shattering of lives and the devastation of a once-thriving town? From the Washington Post:

On Dec. 12, hundreds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents clad in riot gear and armed with assault rifles descended on the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in a coordinated raid of six of the company's facilities nationwide. The operation was the government's largest single work-site enforcement operation ever. The plant in little Cactus -- a town better known in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, and in the department of Quiché, Guatemala, where workers came from, than in Texas -- was the largest one raided. Almost a quarter of the 1,282 suspected illegal immigrants arrested in the raids were removed from the Cactus plant. [...]

Except for the Nguyens, Asian immigrants moved out of Cactus, which is now 99.5 percent Hispanic. Some local officials recently said that 75 percent of the city's estimated 5,000 residents before the raid were illegal immigrants. Aguilar disputes that, saying it was only 15 percent.

To Ben Nguyen, that number is not important. His father usually offered a few weeks of free rent to immigrants until they got a job at the meat plant and their first paycheck and provided thrift store mattresses and clothes, if necessary, Nguyen said. Now only eight of his father's 60 rental units are occupied. Some were vacated the day of the raid, but the majority were abandoned within weeks, when frightened immigrants moved away. Since then, vandals have been kicking in the doors of the empty apartments, looking for any items of value that might have been left behind.

"I do believe in punishment for the crime, but this is too much," Ben Nguyen said. "You scare kids; you push people so far away that you destroy the economy of the town. . . . This town is built by immigrants. They were just like me when they come over here. They didn't have anything. They came over here just to work and start their lives."

Read the full Post article here...

Another human rights story, concerning one more instance of the expulsion of gay clergy, this time by Lutherans, also from the Washington Post:

A disciplinary committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ruled yesterday that a gay pastor in Atlanta must give up his pulpit, saying it was reluctantly enforcing a "bad policy."

Following a five-day church trial last month, seven of the committee's 12 members voted to remove the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling, 44, from the clergy as of Aug. 15. [...]

The 4.9 million-member ELCA allows gay men and lesbians to serve as ordained clergy as long as they remain sexually inactive. Schmeling formally notified his bishop last year that he was in a committed, monogamous relationship with Darin Easler, a former ELCA pastor who has since joined the United Church of Christ, which welcomes gay clergy. The bishop brought charges, leading to the trial.

Read the story in the Post here...

For laughs (and don't we need them), this opinion piece, about a story you've likely heard: Tom Cruise is Scientology's "Jesus." Mark Morford, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, puts this revelation into perspective:

It can give you pause. It can make you stop for a split second amid your fit of choking sighs and say, Oh holy hell, what if I've been wrong this entire time and God really isn't a deep all-pervasive nonjudgmental ambisexual pulse of white-hot love running like a cosmic electrical current through everything at all times in all places everywhere and is, instead, manifest in a nice but increasingly insufferable American gazillionaire actor with a fading career and a strangely brainwashed wife? Verily, hell hath not room enough for all of us who have yet to see the light. The light of Cruise.

It's not as far-fetched as you might think. After all, our top celebrities have already become more than mere American royalty. Many are often infused, by way of the devout glassy stares of millions of rabid fans, with the qualities of deity. They are worshipped and revered and their actions are followed like gospel and I myself have been known to kneel in humble reverence at the altar of Cate Blanchett. And Eva Green. And Jenna Haze. Hell, do you not look at Daniel Craig emerging from the ocean in "Casino Royale" and see the very light of heaven? This is what I'm saying. Well, sort of.

Read Morford's article here...

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