May 20 - 26, 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 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.

The death of Jerry Falwell this week brought out a strain of freethinking in journalists, as they considered his career in mixing religion with politics. Here are two assessments of Falwell, one from Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter and the other from Mark Morford with the San Francisco Chronicle (and by the way, the title of Morford's column deserves mention, "The Sad, Quotable Jerry Falwell"):

May 15, 2007 - I mean no disrespect to the dead, but I take the British view of obituaries, which is to try to capture the true public significance of the person who died, not just his good qualities. The truth about the Rev. Jerry Falwell is that he was a character assassin and hype artist who left little positive impact on the United States—and little negative impact either, for that matter. Besides founding Liberty University, he won’t be remembered as nearly as influential as he’s made out to be.

Read the rest of Alter's column here...

You can eulogize. You can mourn and ponder and do a lengthy retrospective, a political analysis, a sociocultural examination of a career and a legacy and a rather remarkable life. When remembering the dead, the journalistic options are legion.

But in the case of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the grandfather of the fundamentalist religious right and the foremost champion of the creation of a brutally homophobic, mysogynistic Christian theocracy in America, perhaps it's better to let the man's most insidiously famous quotes speak for themselves, and let time and karma be the judge of whether Falwell left the world a better place than when he found it. (All citations are available at and elsewhere.)

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for [the attacks of Sept. 11] because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."

Read the balance of Morford's column here...

The newsman as deacon: Tim Russert has a way of getting on my nerves, as he's become too much of a media personality for my taste, but now he's venturing into publishing personal introspection regarding his Catholic faith. From the Washington Post:

Am I Doing God's Work? by Tim Russert, "Meet the Press."

“Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

--John F. Kennedy
January 20, 1961

I was ten years old when I heard those words. They still resonate with me nearly a half century later. Am I doing God’s work? Is being a journalist my vocation? How does my faith influence my judgment as a reporter? Should it? Are the demands of my chosen profession leaving enough time for my responsibilities as a son, brother, husband, father and friend?

St. Luke teaches us “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Am I hearing that admonition—and responding to it in a generous way? Do I have a true appreciation of the uniqueness and goodness of others? More questions than answers, I’m afraid.

Read the rest of Russert here...

As always, there was a great deal of science news in the nation's papers, and here are some of the more interesting reports, beginning with another round of Kansas vs. Science Education, as reported in the New York Times:

The National Association of State Boards of Education will elect officers in July, and for one office, president-elect, there is only one candidate: a member of the Kansas school board who supported its efforts against the teaching of evolution.
Scientists who have been active in the nation’s evolution debate say they want to thwart his candidacy, but it is not clear that they can.

The candidate is Kenneth R. Willard, a Kansas Republican who voted with the conservative majority in 2005 when the school board changed the state’s science standards to allow inclusion of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. Voters later replaced that majority, but Mr. Willard, an insurance executive from Hutchinson, retained his seat. If he becomes president-elect of the national group, he will take office in January 2009.

Read the rest of the Times article here...

Here is an upbeat report about a new, massive science web site that is in progress, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor:

It will be called the "Encyclopedia of Life." And it is, as they say in Boston, wicked cool.

Imagine a website where you can research, or just read about, every living thing on earth, from a microbe that lives next to an underwater volcano to a California redwood tree. A website where you can even add your knowledge of some life form or species.

Over the next 10 years, researchers vow to gather every scrap of information available about the planet's 1.8 million known species of animals, plants, and other organisms. And once the information is gathered, it will be available on the Internet entirely for free.

This project has been initiated by five top US universities and institutions of higher learning: Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.; The Field Museum in Chicago; the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Other scientific institutes, like The Natural History Museum and Royal Botanic Garden in England, will make their vast collections of historic records available through the encyclopedia.

Read the rest of the Monitoe story here...

The Boston Globe covered news about a ring and ripples of "dark matter" detected by the Hubble Telescope:

Nothingness became a bit clearer yesterday as scientists released images of an eerie ring of "dark matter" detected by the international Hubble Space Telescope.

The ring lies 5 billion light-years from Earth in a cluster of galaxies known only as ZwCL004+1652, the coordinates used to identify that region of the universe. The circular entity, essentially a gravitational ripple thrown by invisible dark matter, spans thousands of millions of miles of space and embraces incalculable numbers of star systems.

Dark matter, substance so ethereal it might be nothing except for its gravitational field, represents one of the great mysteries of astrophysics. Many astronomers and physicists are convinced of its existence -- the universe would have long since flung itself to tatters without its gravitational bonds, they contend -- but so far they cannot prove it.

Discovery of the ghostly ring in a distant cluster of galaxies, announced by NASA and the European Space Agency, which jointly operate the Hubble telescope, offers tantalizing new evidence that the intangible stuff not only exists, but pervades the cosmos.

Click here for the rest of the Globe article...

As my husband's a statistician, I was intrigued by a new statistical study, reported in the Washington Post, that may reopen debate about John Kennedy's assassination in Dallas in 1963:

In a collision of 21st-century science and decades-old conspiracy theories, a research team that includes a former top FBI scientist is challenging the bullet analysis used by the government to conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot the two bullets that struck and killed President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The "evidence used to rule out a second assassin is fundamentally flawed," concludes a new article in the Annals of Applied Statistics written by former FBI lab metallurgist William A. Tobin and Texas A&M University researchers Cliff Spiegelman and William D. James.

Read the rest of the Post story here...

Breaking news about a religious controversy, from The Onion, regarding the doctrines of Catholicism:

The Catholic Church has ruled that, contrary to previous church doctrine, unbaptized children do not spend time in limbo until the End of Days. Here are other doctrine decisions the church has made recently.

Lifted ban on having sex with the lights on and your eyes open.

Swiffer® officially validated as a miracle.

Get the rest of the Onion chuckle here...

This is what this would look like on this backbround.
The Talk of Lawrence