July 2007


Funny song about Ted Haggard:

From Herald-Tribune:

SARASOTA COUNTY — In a clash of church and state, the county and Suncoast Community Church appear headed for court over plans to house a 300-student charter school at the place of worship.

County commissioners nixed those plans in late 2005, denying the church’s request to operate Suncoast Academy on its property east of Interstate 75 on Clark Road. Construction proceeded, though, at the so-called mega-church, on 210,000 square feet of space, including a large section for Sunday school classrooms.

From Washingtonpost.com:

“[They] beheaded two Muslims to avenge the government executions of three Christians in Indonesia.” “The revenge killings were the bloodiest incident in several days of protests.”

Grooving to Greydon Square’s beats:

From ScientificAmerican.com:

Individual expectations of rewards may explain why some people feel better after receiving fake drug treatments—a phenomenon known as “the placebo effect.”

A new study using different brain imaging techniques linked the intensity of an individual’s placebo effect to the amount of dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in the pleasure and reward pathway) released in a midbrain region called the nucleus accumbens. Researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor specifically demonstrated that those who were more responsive to phony pills were also more likely to expect to win big in a gambling game.

“If you have the capacity to respond to reward, then you have the placebo effect,” says neuroscientist and radiologist Jon-Kar Zubieta, senior author of the new study published this week in Neuron.

Zubieta and colleagues initially worked with 14 healthy volunteers who were told they would receive painful injections of a saline (benign saltwater) solution in their jawbones. That shot would be followed by a second one, which subjects were led to believe would either be a painkiller or a placebo. In actuality, everyone received a placebo. Participants continually self-reported (using a numerical scale) the degree of pain, and researchers monitored their brains with positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

The scans showed that half of the participants who believed they were receiving painkillers reported feeling significantly less pain than did other volunteers. Their dopamine levels were noticeably higher (than that of the others) from the moment they were told they were receiving authentic painkillers.

On a different day (so the original participants would think they were involved in two distinct studies), researchers had the 14 subjects, along with 16 new volunteers, play a game of chance; they scanned participants’ brains via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they played. Participants were told they could win or lose a certain amount of money each round; they would then push a button to determine the real take. Several of the participants showed a flurry of activity involving dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens while awaiting the outcome, indicating that they were expecting a reward.

The people whose nucleus accumbens lit up during the game also reported greater relief from the sham painkillers. “What surprised me the most was the strong link between this element of reward processing and the fact that you can predict the placebo response,” Zubieta says. “The placebo effect is a resiliency mechanism in the brain. … You don’t [really] need the medication, you simply need to be convinced that something is going to work.”

Tor Wager, a psychologist at Columbia University, says this work could be helpful in developing new therapies that manage the expectations of patients. “This study opens up a new avenue of studies for brain-based interventions,” he says, “such as targeting the dopamine system” to increase the placebo effect.

From Newsvine.com:

Statistically, atheists have a higher intelligence than people with a strong religious faith. The difference is 5.8 points, according to a new study by the Danish professor of developmental psychology, Helmuth Nyborg.

The study was conducted at Aarhus University using American date from more than 7000 subjects.

Local author and Humanist, Barbara Walker was recently on the Freethought Radio Podcast.

From the FFRF:

June 23, 2007Special Guest: Author Barbara G. Walker
Barbara WalkerBarbara G. Walker, author of “The Skeptical Feminist” and the landmark “Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets”, talks about what turned her into a skeptic and nonbeliever. The show includes updates on the Foundation’s newest faith-based challenges, including a federal lawsuit filed this week, and a “Pagan Pulpit” freethought sermon on the trinity by Dan Barker, a former minister. The show is hosted by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the Freeom From Religion Foundation, which produces the weekly broadcast. (MP3, 48 min, 22 MB)

From Wired.com:

An anti-evolutionary Christian extremist suspected of sending threatening letters to biology professors at the University of Colorado has gone on the lam, according to a staff member familiar with a police investigation into the matter.

Police at the University of Colorado say they know the identity of the individual who sent threatening letters to several biology professors who taught evolution. However, the police won’t name the individual until they make an arrest, said detective lieutenant commander John Kish.

Staff at the biology department have been issued a picture of Michael Korn, a messianic Jew, who has said he is the “messenger of God” and runs a website called JesusOverIsrael.

….

Korn was seen distributing flyers suggesting the instructors were “child molesters” for teaching evolution to students.

In the last year, a series of threatening letters and e-mails — the most recent referring to “killing the enemies of Christian society” — were sent to several professors at the biology department in Boulder.

What a nut job.

Wow. Just wow.

From MSNBC:

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will settle its clergy abuse cases for at least $600 million, by far the largest payout in the church’s sexual abuse scandal, The Associated Press learned Saturday.

Attorneys for the archdiocese and alleged victims are expected to announce the deal Monday, the day the first of more than 500 clergy abuse cases was scheduled for jury selection, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement had not been made public.

The archdiocese and its insurers will pay between $600 million and $650 million to about 500 plaintiffs—an average of $1.2 to $1.3 million per person. The settlement also calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files after review by a judge assigned to oversee the litigation, the sources said.

This is one of those stories where you think, “How could they actually do a news story on something so stupid.”

Seeing faces in the clouds. Wow. I didn’t realize such extraordinary proof was above my head all this time.

From local6.com:

A couple from South Carolina vacationing in Florida said family photos of the sky show angels in the clouds.

Rev. Glenn Fulton and his wife Linda were celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary in Amelia Island, Fla. during the Fourth of July weekend when they went for a walk to pray.

As the couple asked God for guidance, they said they snapped some photographs of the sunrise.

When the Fulton’s left the beach, they noticed the images.

“While we were in the elevator, I began to look at my pictures, and I told my wife, I said, ‘Look at these pictures and tell me what you see,'” Glenn Fulton said. “She said, ‘Oh my God, I see a face.”

The Fulton’s said angels are everywhere in the photo, just like God’s grace.

“They are proof God exists,” Fulton said. “Yes, Hallelujah. So, we bless God for the pictures and I hope to have them for years to come.”

paredolia in clouds

Angels in the clouds? Proof of God? Nope. Just another case of pareidolia seen by a couple credophiles.

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