Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Integration of Church and State

Copyright © 2014, Inc.

Michael LaMasa 09/12/14 01:55 PM ET

Once upon a time, a bunch of guys got on a boat and left England and its crazy religious leadership and decided to start a new country, free of all that nonsense. When our founding fathers started drafting and amending our constitution, they included something to make sure that our government would make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, and also allow people to practice whatever religion they wanted. It was the First Amendmentand it was a separation of church of state, allowing people to do what they wanted for themselves and their religion and allowed the government to exist separate of that. Time went on, the country changed, and the founding fathers' words were completely forgotten and abandoned. What was left of their words were completely mutilated and reassembled to mean something completely different, and solely, the religious communities of America lived happily ever after under the misconception that the United States of America was founded as a religious nation. The end.

This is the story of religion in this country. It is true that once we were led by brilliant men who understood that religion and politics should be separate. Anyone that tells you that our founding fathers intended this country to be a Christian nation, frankly, has no idea what they are talking about. In fact, many of our founding fathers couldn't get far enough away from Christianity. Thomas Jefferson said that Christianity was "the most perverted system that ever shone on man." If Thomas Jefferson could only see us now.

States across the country are proving themselves to be truly religious states. In March of 2014, in what may be one of the most hypocritical religious moves I've ever heard of, the state of Tennessee took the side of the religious community and passed a billlegalizing the bullying of LGBT students in the name of "religious freedom." Yes. You read correctly. The protection of one's religious freedom now includes legal bullying. If you feel that a gay student is imposing upon your religious freedoms, you're allowed to call them names, harass them, you name it. When I heard this, my head spun so dramatically, Linda Blair could have asked me for pointers. The part that breaks my heart is that these poor LGBT children, that already exist with minimal protection from these monsters in their schools, now have no protection from their state whatsoever. If, for example, a gay student happens to kill himself as a result of bullying, the parents of that student wouldn't be able to prosecute those students that bullied their child because they can claim that they were protecting their religious freedoms and their actions are then protected under the law.

Does anyone else feel as if they're living in the Twilight Zone?

To me, this law makes about as much sense as being able to break the nose of anyone that doesn't believe in Santa Clause, but to Tennessee, it makes total sense. It also makes sense to those people that view homosexuality as the single greatest threat to God and His people. To some law makers, protecting religious freedom from people like the homosexuals is the single most important thing to do in political office. However, to some lawmakers in this country, the true definition of the First Amendment is unclear. To some, the First Amendment only allows people the freedom to practice their religion. Period. That part where there can be no laws respecting an establishment of religion? Well, we can just blur that part a little until people don't remember that it's there.

Let me start by saying that I have never been more proud to be an atheist. I've never been so relieved to live a life not only free from any type of god, but free from any ties to a religious institution. I can feel such a burden being lifted from my shoulders and feel such relief knowing that my children will be raised far, far away from that school of thought. What kind of world do we live in where as long as you name your god as the driving force behind your actions, any action is then acceptable? Are we terrorists?

To me, this law feels like Pandora's Box. What will come next in Tennessee? Will it soon be legal to attack Muslim people? Jewish people? If LGBT students in Tennessee schools, purely by existing, threaten the religious freedom of other students, surely people actually practicing other religions must be doing the same thing as well, right? And if violence is ok for one, is it not ok for others? What is Tennessee saying by allowing not only this type of law, but this type of thought into the minds of the people of this state? I'll tell you. They're saying discrimination is ok. They are saying that violent acts against people who are different from you are totally fine. Why? Because the word freedom isn't a word for a gay person to use in Tennessee or states like Tennessee. And what freedom is more important than religious freedom anyway, right? It's the First Amendment.

If only more leaders would allow themselves to exist as religious people just for themselves and not for me. Yes. You believe that that the earth is only a few thousand years old. That's fine -- for you! You believe that and let me believe what science has taught me. I won't make any laws saying that you have to believe what I believe and you don't make any laws saying that I have to believe in what you believe in. Deal? But sadly, no. Everyone is a threat and somehow, there is always a war on Christmas.

It pains me to know that the driving force behind so many horrible things is religion. It pains me because I know that there are some truly wonderful people that have nothing to do with this kind of religion at all, but purely because they call themselves Christians, they will forever be associated with it. I wish religion didn't have such a bad reputation. I know very well that even though I'm an atheist and don't believe in the things religious people believe in, I still know and respect that religion is both incredibly important and incredibly positive to some people. I have been witness to religion inspiring great change in communities and deep love within people's hearts. I know what power it has for good in the world. But sadly, it's not all good. The Holy Wars? The Holocaust? September 11th? The last decade in the Middle East? I truly believe the worst thing that ever happened to religion was man, and, subsequently, the worst thing that ever happened to man was religion.

Another founding father, Benjamin Franklin, said that "lighthouses were more useful than churches," and I believe that fully. All lighthouses exist to guide you out of the darkness and into safe waters. The same can not be said for all churches. And the churches that slither their way up our political ladders and into the offices of those men and women that seek to shape this country, who's to say where they will guide us? It could be to safe waters or it could be straight into the rocks -- they've been known to do both. A lighthouse doesn't care what the ship is carrying, or who's commanding it. A lighthouse is built strong and earns its reputation as a reliable, consistent, and true beacon that doesn't discriminate. Don't you wish all churches could have that reputation as well?

The dream I have for this country involves consistency, reliability, truth and the acceptance of all people -- no matter what. I feel lucky to live a life free of religion because I feel that I am able to see what a government can be without it as well. That isn't to say that religion shouldn't exist at all. It should most certainly exist -- in the hearts of honest and accepting people -- far away from government.

Our founding fathers knew that you could consistently rely on a lighthouse and not a church, hence the reason that church was separated from the government. What does the integration of church and state do for us? Well, take a look at Tennessee. They're heading straight for the rocks without a lighthouse in sight.

Today's rant- Will I ever become what I should be?

Time comes in one's life when they say, "what have I done to unlock my potential?" The train keeps moving each day, but has one gotten off at the right stop?

I am at such a time, stuck in a dead-end job, too comfortable, and scared to give it up for possible improvement. Constantly, My focus wanes over to my dreams of becoming a famous artist. This goal may be attainable, but I cannot count on it at the moment to put food on the table.

One answer for me is a move, specifically to Florida. The main reason for this location is for my daughter to be closer to her mother. I want to provide this opportunity for her so she can be happy. As for me, I am hoping that this will give me a chance to better myself, working on my business and becoming successful enough to pay the bills and call the shots. However, after 2 1/2 years of trying, I am starting to have feelings of dread. That brass ring is just not attainable.

Most days I let the depression and anger get to me, forgetting my goals because there is no use, the dream is gone. But with each day of frustration, fuel is thrown into the machine that is my artistic fervour! I am creating more than I ever have, and entering as many contests to gain exposure. If I keep this up, there is no stopping me. Maybe. I really don't know.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Are We Doing Enough to Learn the Truth about UFOs?

by Brother Elias on September 10, 2014 in MysteryNews

The moment of so called “explosion” of the unknown craft in Rendlesham forest area. Software used: Google SketchUp, Kerkythea, TwistedBrush, Photoscape (CC) wikimedia

Well are we? Would you join a civilian unit to quickly investigate UFO sightings?

via UFO Casebook

A LEADING Australian researcher has called for the launch of a quick response team to investigate UFO sightings across Australia within hours of them being reported. The civilian unit would take on a role similar to air crash investigators, interviewing witnesses and taking samples from the scene to be tested, with findings documented and released publicly.

The concept was among a raft of proposals tabled by experts at a Victorian UFO action conference.Researcher Keith Basterfield also called for a three-day symposium to help explain one of Melbourne’s most baffling cases.

The 1966 sighting over Westall High School in Clayton South could be solved by bringing together witnesses and experts under the one roof, he said.

“I know of at least one Australian researcher who is sitting on some very detailed information about this case supplied by an informant and I would like to see them invited to share the knowledge with us all,” Mr. Basterfield said.

Questions were also raised about the validity of claims that a high-altitude weather balloon was to blame for the mystery. Interviews from witnesses on the day the UFO was spotted were played. Each described seeing three objects hovering over trees.

“I know what we saw that day could not be explained by anyone of this earth,” one said in a recorded interview.

“I would really like some answers, verification of what we saw.’’

A schoolgirl, who is believed to have come closest to one of the objects that day, was “debriefed’’ but never returned to the school, the conference was told. A teacher’s camera was also confiscated.The audience of more than 100 also heard there was mounting evidence to suggest the federal government kept tabs on current sightings even though it had officially closed its books.

Mr. Basterfield said it was time a national network of researchers started sharing details of all ”incoming raw reports.”

”At the moment we have no idea of what UFO reports are being made around Australia,” he said. ”I would like to see somebody take that up again.’’

He said the national response unit would operate the same way as The Mutual UFO Network in the US and the French government’s official UFO investigation agency.

”The role of the team would be to receive a case, fly there, interview the witnesses, take samples, document their findings, analyses it and publish it for us all to look at. It is possible for us to do that.’”

Read the original post.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Should Humanism Extend to Animal Rights?



There’s a wonderful scene in the beginning of the film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in which a large group of apes ambushes a herd of elk. The result is enough food for the whole community. The rest of the elk run free. The balance of nature is maintained.

Photo by bizoon / 123RF

In his 1992 novel Ishmael, author Daniel Quinn describes a world where balance is key. As food supply increases so does the population. As food becomes scarce the population decreases, maintaining a delicate balance: “The creatures who act as though they belong to the world follow the peace-keeping law, and because they follow that law, they give the creatures around them a chance to grow toward whatever it’s possible for them to become.”

When humans first arrived on the scene, by all accounts this was pretty much how things worked. Just like the apes, hunting parties would go out and find food for their tribes. Animals would eat other animals, still others would graze the abundant vegetation. There was enough balance for most; some died out while others thrived.

But then things changed. As we humans continued to grow in both numbers and intelligence, we started to take over. We began to own other animals. We had ranches that bred cattle and other livestock. We started to change the balance. We needed more food and we were ready to get it any way we could. Not only did we breed an abundance of livestock but we discovered ways to make that livestock meatier. We have given them growth hormones and kept them in horrible conditions so that we could thrive and ultimately threaten the world with our overpopulation.

How did humans rationalize this treatment of other species? We maintained that they had no sentience. We preached that animals were put on Earth for the use of humans. And, as this attitude took hold, we started using animals for more than food. We stuck them in laboratories and experimented on them in all sorts of ways for the benefit of humans. We would cure our sick by using them to find cures for diseases. We used them to test cosmetics. Before long our treatment of nonhuman animals became so devastatingly inhumane that one could argue we’ve had to simply stop seeing them as living creatures. Equally despicable is the practice of using animals solely for entertainment purposes. People flock to SeaWorld where simply in the name of “good fun” we torture highly sentient and intelligent creatures such as orcas and separate them from their loved ones abruptly and inconsolably.

Let’s get back to food production. We have entered a vicious cycle of factory farming animals that has resulted in a world food shortage along with other devastating environmental effects. Not only do we raise animals in the worst conditions possible but then we have to feed those animals as well. As our population grows to untenable numbers, not only have we created a food shortage for us but for animals as well. Examining a 2013 study released by the University of Minnesota, the Daily Kos reports, “An additional 4 billion people in the world could be fed if land currently used to grow crops for livestock were given over to crops for human consumption.”

Species are going extinct so that we can survive in greater and greater numbers. The food that we feed animals could be used to feed our human population if we simply stopped breeding such huge numbers of livestock.

Humanists must see this as an important part of our worldview. There is no mention of vegetarianism or animal rights in Humanist Manifesto III, “Humanism and its Aspirations,” but I hope this will not be true for the next one, whenever that will be issued. Not only is it important for us as moral activists, but it is important for our survival as well. If we don’t get a handle on our food supply soon, we’ll wipe out even more species and create a world so stripped of diversity and beauty that it will no longer resemble the world we currently live in.

We need to look at three areas going forward. The most important of these is food production. Once we can put forth legislation that protects animals from being abused for our food supply we need to look for alternative food supplies. I am told that our need for protein is not nearly as large as people think. In a 2012 article on the Huffington Post dietician Jessica Jones claimed:

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the average American male consumes 102 grams of protein per day, while the average female eats about 70 grams. That’s almost twice the daily recommended intake established by the Food and Nutrition Board. For    most healthy individuals,  it’s recommended that 10-15 percent of our daily calories come from protein (about 56 grams for men and 46 for women). This may sound like a lot, but it’s easier to meet those needs than you think. Consider this: One cup of milk (8 grams), a 3-ounce piece of meat (21 grams), 1 cup of dry beans (16 grams) and an 8-ounce container of yogurt (11 grams) provide 56 grams of protein, according to the CDC. That didn’t take much.

Once we figure out what we really need to live, we should be focused on growing food rather than killing it. Farmers are paid huge subsidies to not grow produce and a huge amount of corn is grown to feed the livestock. We should be pushing for research and legislation that addresses these issues and figuring out how to find a better balance.

According to Quinn, “In the natural community, whenever a population’s food supply increases, that population increases. As that population increases, its food supply decreases, and as its food supply decreases, that population decreases. This interaction between food populations and feeder populations is what keeps everything in balance.”

As soon as we are able to find a better balance and a moral attitude towards livestock and food production the way will be clear to examine our other animal abuses. We will no longer need to excuse our abominations in the name of survival. At that point it will be an easier sell to create legislation to protect animals in the other two areas: laboratories and entertainment. If we believe that our treatment of animals in food production has improved the lives of animals and humans, it will no longer be so easy to rationalize the use of animals in other areas.

I’m an Ethical Culturist, and I’ve met others who will not call themselves humanists, arguing that humanism is too Homo sapiens-centered. To live an ethical life is to respect and honor all life. To rid ourselves of feelings of superiority to the rest of the natural world and rather to see our intellect and ability to manipulate our environment as a responsibility to respect and protect those that do not have our particular gifts—that is my idea of humanism.

Tags: Animal RightsFactory FarmingBeth Zucker is the communications manager for the New York Society for Ethical Culture, founder of the Feminist Freethinkers of New York, and current chair of Reasonable New York. She recently graduated from Class 18 of The Humanist Institute.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

3,000-Year-Old Golden Bowl Hides a Grisly Archaeological Tale

by Megan Gannon, News Editor 4 hours ago

In 1958, archaeologists were digging through the ruins of a burned Iron Age citadel called Hasanlu in northwestern Iran when they pulled a spectacular, albeit crushed, golden bowl from the layers of destruction.

The 3,000-year-old bowl became an object of fascination once word got to the press. The next year, it graced the pages of Life magazine in a full-color spread alongside an article about the discoveries at Hasanlu.

But the story behind the prized find is less glossy. The bowl was uncovered just beyond the fingertips of a dead soldier and two of his comrades, who were crushed under bricks and burned building material around 800 B.C. Scholars have debated whether these three men were defenders of the citadel or enemy invaders running off with looted treasures. A new interpretation suggests the soldiers were no heroes.

Hasanlu is sometimes described as thePompeii of the ancient Near East, because of its so-called "burn layer," which contains more than 200 bodies preserved in ash and rubble, explained Michael Danti, an archaeologist at Boston University. The archaeological evidence provides a rather disturbing snapshot of the closing hours of the siege of the citadel. [Preserved Pompeii: See Images of a City in Ash]

Located on the shores of Lake Urmia, Hasanlu seems to have been first occupied about 8,000 years ago. But by the ninth or 10th century B.C., there was a bustling, fortified town at the site. 

Within the town's walls were houses, treasuries, horse stables, military arsenals and temples, many of which had towers or multiple stories. The mudbrick architecture likely resembled the adobe buildings of the American Southwest, but many roofs, floors and structural supports at Hasanlu consisted of timber and reed matting — all of which would have been tinder in a blaze, Danti said.

Other central details about life at Hasanlu are less clear. Archaeologists don't know the ethnicity of the people who lived there or what language they spoke.

"Despite the really rich material record, they didn't really find any indigenous writing at all," Danti said.

The burn layer at Hasanlu suggests a surprise attack destroyed the citadel. Archaeologists who excavated the site in the 1950s, '60s and '70s found corpses that were beheaded and others that were missing hands. Danti said he has seen a fairly clear example of a person who was cut in half. [8 Other Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

"The students that were working there would have nightmares at night, because they were spending hours and hours out thereexcavating murder victims," Danti told Live Science. Many of the victims were women and children. And in mass graves on top of the burned layer, excavators found the remains of people who tended to be very young or old and seemed to have suffered fatal, blunt-force trauma head wounds. These victims likely survived the initial attack only to be killed when their captors realized they would be of little use as slaves, Danti said.

"This was warfare that was designed to wipe out people's identity and terrify people into submission," Danti said.

Danti, who has been piecing together a history of the site from excavation archives as part of a larger, more daunting project, published a study on Hasanlu in the September 2014 issue of the journal Antiquity. The site was primarily excavated between 1956 and 1977 under the direction of Robert H. Dyson, who led a team from the University of Pennsylvania, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Archaeological Service of Iran. Because of security pressures and the overwhelming amount of material found at the site, the pace of their work was often hurried, and their record-keeping methods were not always meticulous. Some artifacts were pulled from the ground before they were documented or photographed in situ. There are no photographs of the gold bowl before it was taken out of the ground, for example.

In revisiting Hasanlu, Danti has taken a closer look at the three warriors. He said it seems likely they were climbing up a wooden staircase inside of a home when the building collapsed. The men fell through what was probably a waste-disposal chute and were buried by debris. Besides the gold bowl, there are other treasures scattered around their bodies, including textiles, fancy armored belts, metal vessels and delicately carved cylinder seals.

The outfits and weapons of the warriors look like standardized military equipment, Danti said. The men wore crested helmets with earflaps, and they carried spiked maces. They appear to have been well-prepared for battle.

"I doubt these men were rescuing a valued bowl and many other fine objects with little hope of egress as the citadel burned and its remaining occupants were slaughtered or taken captive," Danti wrote in his conclusion.

Danti's interpretation supports a hypothesis that the warriors hailed from the Urartu kingdom that grew out of an area in modern-day Turkey. Historical texts indicate the ancient Urartu kingdom was expanding into the region around Hasanlu during the Iron Age through a brutal military campaign. Sometime after the citadel was abandoned, an Urartian fortification wall was built on top of the ruins of Hasanlu.

Still, Danti said he hopes other researchers will test his hypothesis and perform bioarchaeological analyses on the skeletons of both the warriors and the slain people who lived at Hasanlu. Diet and drinking water leave telltale biomarkers in a person's skeleton, and a bone analysis could help confirm where the warriors came from, and whether they died trying to protect or steal the town's riches.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us@livescienceFacebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Almond Milk Vs. Soy Milk: Which Is Better?

Lizbeth ScordoSeptember 5, 2014

Photo credit: Dana Hoff, StockFood

The same week that Angelenos lined up for hours to sample the goods at the first-ever Los Angeles–based Dunkin’ Donuts, the belovedcoffee chain has announced it will start offering something sure to please the health-conscious set: almond milk.

"You’ve Asked and We’ve Heard!" trumpets the headline of a blog post on the Dunkin’ Donuts website. The company is now offering Almond Breeze vanilla almond milk in select stores nationwide, both to “accommodate guests looking for a non-dairy alternative” and because almond milk “is one of the country’s most popular non-dairy alternatives.”

Makes sense considering that thenut has surpassed the bean when it comes to plant-based milk sales in America, right?

Well, the execs at another “little” chain of coffee shops might quibble. Rival Starbucks currently only offers soy milk (also vanilla-flavored) despite the fact that lots of customers have been begging for the almond-derived stuff. According to BusinessWeek, Starbucks cites the fact that almond milk is a potential allergen as the reason it doesn’t offer it.

So which is the better non-dairy alternative? Here’s a head-to-head breakdown of the two, from taste to nutrition, with a cameo by registered dietician Patricia Bannan, MS, RD, and author of “Eat Right When Time Is Tight.”

Almond Breeze Vanilla Almond Milk Served at Dunkin’ Donuts

Taste and Texture: Even without the vanilla, almond milk often tastes sweeter than soy milk, or, as one food blogger describes it, like “the milk at the bottom of your cereal bowl after eating Grape Nuts.” It has a consistency similar to low-fat or skim milk, and a nutty flavor. (Lots of folks use it for milkshakes or smoothies because of that silky texture.)

What the Expert Says: In addition to being lower in calories than soy milk, something that’s unique to almond milk is that “one serving provides 50 percent of your daily value of Vitamin E, an antioxidant important for a strong immune system and healthy skin and eyes,” according to Bannan. Unlike soy milk, however, “almond milk is naturally low in protein.” And as is true of soy milk, it’s got more calcium than cow’s milk. 

Nutritional Stats for One Cup: 80 calories; 25 calories from fat; 2.5 grams of fat; 14 grams of carbohydrates; 1 gram of protein; 13 grams of sugar; 45% of daily calcium value.

Organic Vanilla Soy Milk Served at Starbucks

Taste and Texture: Soy milk typically doesn’t have as sweet a flavor as almond milk, but tends to have a creamier consistency, making it a good coffee creamer. Many find the texture of some soy milks to be unpleasantly chalky, and others describe the taste as “beany.” (It is made from soybeans, after all). 

What the Expert says: “It’s a good source of heart-healthy soy protein, providing 6 to 8 grams per serving,” says Bannan. “Soy milk will provide more B vitamins like folate, more magnesium and potassium as compared to almond milk, and has slightly less sodium.”

Nutritional Stats for One Cup: 130 calories; 25 calories from fat; 4 grams of fat; 35 calories from fat 16 grams of carbohydrates; 7 grams of protein; 13 grams of sugar; 30% of calcium daily value.

We’re Inclined to Sip: Almond Milk.

Overall, a lot of people just seem to prefer the taste and texture of almond milk over soy these days (probably part of the reason it’s surpassed its rival in sales recently) and despite the fact the term “soy latte” is a lot more familiar than “almond latte,” the stuff does work well in coffee.

Add all that to the lower-calorie and higher-calcium factors, and Dunkin’, here we come.

Also See:The Healthy Stuff