More Atheists out in the open than ever before

CHARLESTON, S.C – Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.

“Is everyone in favor of sponsoring a picnic for humanists with families?” asked the board president, Jonathan Lamb, a 27-year-old meteorologist, eliciting a chorus of “ayes.”

More than ever, America’s atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University, blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words “I Believe” (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial)…

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

RTFA. Well done enough that I thought at first it came from the Guardian [sorry, NYT].

So – disclaimer: I was an atheist by age 13. Proper philosophical materialist by 18. Science hasn’t bumped into any information changing either of those conclusions in the ensuing years.

Most Americans switch religions for reasons of convenience

Why show this? When I was that young, the Pledge didn’t include “under God”

Catholics who leave the fold largely do so because they disagree with church teachings, while Protestants who leave their particular denominations tend to do so because of life changes, such as marriage or moving.

Those are some of the key findings in a demographic survey just released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which sought to explain the reasons why there is so much fluidity among Americans about religious identity.

What they found was that Americans move between and among religions even more than previously known – and for myriad reasons.

In a survey released in 2006, the Pew Forum found that 28 percent of Americans have left their childhood religion, through conversion or abandonment of institutional religion altogether. They also found that an additional 16 percent had switched between Christian denominations.

Now, the Pew Forum has found that an additional 9 percent of Americans have left the faith of their childhood at some point during their lives for a different religion only to return. That means that a majority of the nation – 53 percent – has identified with a religion different than their own at some point during their lives.

“It really puts an exclamation point on the degree of churn that characterizes religion in the United States,” said Gregory Smith, senior fellow at the Pew Forum.

The numbers for atheists don’t include my favorite shame-faced materialists – the agnostics. Those numbers have grown a tad; but nothing in North America matches the ferment and change that followed WW2 in Europe.

Americans like to think you can’t find an atheist in a foxhole. I’ve known several, actually. You’re just not likely to find atheists in a society that rarely studies science, eschews questions defining the material world or – perish the thought – deeply challenges the political status quo.

Official White House photographer – early days


I try to photograph everything. Every meeting that the president does,” Pete Souza told CNN’s John King on “State of the Union.”

On leave of absence from his normal post as an assistant professor of photojournalism at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication, Souza is the chief official White House photographer for President Obama, meaning he has an all-access pass to the president’s most intimate and private moments.

“I look at my job as a visual historian,” Souza said on Sunday. “The most important thing is to create a good visual archive for history, so 50 or a hundred years from now, people can go back and look at all these pictures.”

Photography was and is an important love of my life…from my own early days.

Swine flu not kosher enough for Israel

Swine flu? Not in the Jewish state.

“We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

Under Jewish dietary laws, pigs are considered unclean and pork is forbidden food — although the non-kosher meat is available in some stores in Israel.

One [Bronx] cheer for theocracy!

Small cameras and fake tourists!

Re-created scene from the movie

How do you film a movie set largely in the Vatican when the Holy See itself has banned you from shooting within its walls? If you are the producers of Angels and Demons, the prequel to the church-baiting worldwide blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, you send in cameramen posing as tourists to take more than 250,000 photographs and shoot hours of video footage…

Special effects supervisor Ryan Cook told Italian film magazine Ciak: “The ban on filming put us in serious difficulty because we were not able to carry out the photographic surveys necessary to reconstruct the setting. So for weeks we sent a team of people who mixed with tourists and took thousands of photos and video footage.”

The move was necessary because leaders of the Catholic church, still smarting from The Da Vinci Code’s assertion that Christ married and fathered children with Mary Magdalene, had banned the film-makers from filming in or around any of Rome’s churches. Father Marco Fibbi, spokesman for the diocese of Rome, said at the time: “Normally we read the script, but this time it was not necessary. The name Dan Brown was enough.”

Angels and Demons director Ron Howard hinted in an interview in December on US TV show Shootout that his team had been forced into unusual measures by the ban. “We didn’t shoot at the Vatican officially. But cameras can be made really small,” he said.


Brits rule out database of emails, phones – they’ll subcontract!

Her other favorite program
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, today ruled out building a single state “super-database” to track everybody’s use of email, internet, text messages and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter…

Instead the Home Office is looking at a £2bn solution that would involve requiring communications companies such as BT, Virgin Media, O2 and others to retain such personal data for up to 12 months.

Isn’t that a halfway George W. Bush kind of solution? Pay your Telco buds to do the spying?

Instead communications companies are to be required by legislation to ensure that all traffic data – who sent a text to whom at what time and from where – is collected and kept in Britain. They will also be asked to store additional third-party data crossing their networks including phone calls and internet use from outside Europe.

This goes far beyond the current data collected for billing purposes. The companies will also be asked to organise the data – for example, matching it where it relates to the same person so that the authorities can access it in a form that is immediately usable.

The British government doesn’t plan to be less creepy. Just outsource tasks to private contractors.

Jaffa Sweetie oranges causing flap in Iran = Chinese counterfeits


A twist has emerged in the story of Israeli citrus fruit reportedly sold in Iran in defiance of a ban on commercial dealings between the two enemy states. It has now been revealed the fruit, a type of orange-grapefruit hybrid marketed as Jaffa Sweetie, were not Israeli in the first place.

The Sweeties were brought to Iran from China, where faking the origin of goods is a common practice.

The discovery of apparent Israeli origin caused a stir in Iran. Outrage followed, distribution centres stocking the fruit were sealed and accusations were traded. Such is the infamy of dealing with Israel that an Iranian official went so far as to accuse the opposition of a “citrus plot”.

However, Tal Amit, the general manager of Israel’s Citrus Marketing Board, told the BBC the fruit had not originated in his country.

“First of all, it’s a bit annoying that somebody is using our brand name and registered trademark without our permission,” he said.

Principled boycotts are a time-honored political activity, of course. Grape boycotts supporting farmworkers, boycotts of South African fruit during the Apartheid era, come to mind.

Nothing more than hilarity comes from this event. Too many avenues of hypocrisy to spin.

First Android netbook to sell for about $250 according to designer

The first netbook computer running the Google-backed Android mobile operating system on a low-cost ARM chip could become available to customers within three months, the maker’s co-founder said this week.

The Alpha 680, designed by Guangzhou Skytone Transmission Technologies Co. Ltd., is going through final testing now, Nixon Wu, Skytone’s co-founder, told Computerworld exclusively…

Prototypes actually made their public debut at an electronics trade show in Hong Kong the week before…

Used in billions of cellphones today, ARM processors are less expensive and more energy-efficient than even Intel Corp.’s power-sipping Atom CPU.

Android, meanwhile, is fast-emerging as a popular flavor of Linux for smartphones such as Google’s G1, attracting interest from software developers as quickly as Apple’s iPhone did.

Market experts predict that the combination of ARM and Android could help usher in an era of sub-$200 netbooks with 12-hour battery life and creative designs highly-tailored for different consumers.

It could also allow ARM/Android netbooks to wrest the netbook market from Intel’s Atom chips and Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, which could weaken or break Microsoft and Intel’s grip on the PC market…

Barebones specs are what will enable the Alpha 680 to hit a $250 price, said Wu.

Not a category which excites me – except as a viable access point for folks wanting portable affordable computing in the West. Wu makes it pretty clear his prime focus remains coming up with barebones computing for rural Asia.

EU is so busy keeping everything tidy, now, they need to help out vultures!

Farmers are to be allowed to leave dead livestock in their fields in parts of Europe – to help starving vultures.

MEPs voted for a change in the law after the hungry birds, most often found in Spain, had been spotted as far away as Brussels, scavenging for food.

The move allows farmers to leave dead livestock in their fields – providing it is deemed safe and hygienic.

Vultures are capable of stripping a dead cow or sheep carcass in a matter of hours. Environmentalists describe the birds as “nature’s cleaners”. But many vultures have been starving to death since European rules aimed at tackling mad cow disease forced all dead livestock to be cleared away.

This forced the birds to embark on some rather long-haul trips – one was even spotted recently perched on top of a bus shelter in Brussels.

The EU works so hard at keeping every European’s house, land and life so fracking tidy it’s a wonder an ant can find work hauling grains of bread away from a picnic!