However I must remind anyone reading this that the iERA is headed by one Hamza Tzortzis who PZ and I met when he crashed the World Atheist Convention in Dublin Ireland. Hamza tried to convince PZ to get into an iERA car where they intended to take him to an undisclosed location for a private discussion. Sensing the insanity of that invitation, I altered the challenge to invite Hamza onto the Magic Sandwich Show instead.
While on our show, DPR Jones asked Hamza what would be the appropriate and reasonable response to apostates, and Hamza Tsortzis, head of the iERA said non-believers should be decapitated. He said it was the only humane thing to do, as he belives sawing someone’s head off to be a merciful and painless way to correct opposing opinions.
Aron did not have to try very hard. When a group of indignant Muslims who have just spent 20 minutes telling me that every word of their holy book is literally true ask me to take a ride with them, I am not at all tempted. The same would be true if they were a gang of clean-shaven Christian fanatics.
Can you imagine anything more boring and infuriating than being trapped in the company of loquacious Abrahamic zealots? Even without considering the neck-chopping thing, it would be an awful experience.
But you know what? So do humans. We air-breathing terrestrial bipeds are able to enter strange alien worlds and return with a digital record of the events that even the lubbers among us can appreciate.
Ah, Glenn Beck: bizarre as always. He’s now claiming that Wolf Blitzer Was Set Up, that “forces of spiritual darkness” maneuvered him into asking an atheist on air about whether she wanted to thank the Lord, just so she could denounce God publicly. Now everything is a conspiracy theory to these guys.
But what I also found interesting in his long ramble is his challenge to Christians to prove themselves worthy by getting out there and doing something that atheists can’t. This sounds like the inverse of Christopher Hitchens’ challenge: “Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.” There is an assumption that somehow, Beck’s Christian followers have some mysterious capability that atheists don’t, although he never specifies what it is. I’d love to hear it, though.
Perhaps…standing by and doing nothing in the face of tragedy other than praying, and somehow feeling self-righteous about it? They do seem to have an almost magical lock on sanctimony.
Desert kit fox camera trap image from the Genesis Solar site
Desert kit foxes are in trouble. They’re shy, they’re faced with competition even when things are good from other carnivores such as coyotes, and they’re increasingly being displaced by human industry. One recent distressing example of that last: builders of the Genesis Solar Project were trying to evict a population of desert kit foxes from the construction site in the Mojave-Sonoran transition zone. The foxes suddenly started dying of distemper, which disease hadn’t been known in desert kit foxes before.
Here’s a quote from that piece of mine in the last link from Ileene Anderson, a desert biologist working with the Center for Biological Diversity, that pretty much sums up the kit fox’s situation:
At present, more than 114,000 acres of desert kit fox habitat are approved for largescale industrial solar and wind development and close to 1 million acres of desert kit fox habitat are currently under environmental review or application for large-scale industrial solar and wind development as of January 2013. Key threats from large-scale industrial energy development to the desert kit fox include habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation, and loss of connectivity, as well as direct and indirect impacts resulting from reduced ability for movement, increased competition and depredation, increased in non-native cover, mortality from roads, and displacement of foxes from den sites. In addition, a recent outbreak of canine distemper centered at a large-scale solar project site in the southern California desert highlights growing anthropogenic disease risks for the desert kit fox associated with habitat loss and development. Unfortunately, industrial-scale energy development projects approved to date have not properly considered the impacts and risks to the desert kit fox and the need to avoid, minimize and mitigate those impacts and risks to protect the species’ long-term survival.
One of the problems is that there just hasn’t been a lot of baseline science done on desert kit foxes. We know a few things. They’re nocturnal. They like to eat kangaroo rats. The will grudgingly eat other prey, including jackrabbits that can weigh more than they do, but without kangaroo rats they suffer population declines. They don’t like people much, though they seem not to be bothered by low-flying aircraft. We know a few other things about their behavior and sociality, but not so much about their choices of habitat. What distinguishes a stretch of alluvial fan covered in cresosote bush that the kit foxes like enough to move into, from a seemingly identical one across the valley that they don’t bother with?
It would be good to know that kind of thing as we develop the desert. That way, we can know where the really prime kit fox habitat is, and have a better idea of how our projects are likely to affect its viability.
Duke University grad student Dipika Kadaba wants to do the fieldwork to start developing that base of knowledge about desert kit fox habitat. I’ll let her explain:
For the tl;dw folks: Kadaba and her colleagues are trying to raise funds via her Indiegogo campaign to support four biologists in the field for a summer not far from here. They’ll use small drones to survey about 200 square miles of desert for kit fox dens. They’ll then conduct ecological surveys of plots both with and without kit fox dens to see what the differences are between kit fox habitat and not-fox habitat.
So tonight I went to dinner with various bigwigs of the IHEU at a place that I think was called “La Mama”, and tried some of that authentic Romanian food. I had something called a Transylvanian bulz, which I chose just because I liked the name, and something that in the English version of the menu was called “mindblowing spicy pan as at mom’s house”. They were both very good. I have discovered that at least these Romanian dishes expressed a distinct fondness for paprika — I think I’ve sweated most of it out now.
I’ve only got a few days here. Somebody make recommendations for must-have true Romanian food before I leave.
(Also, it’s quite late here and my brain is beginning to drip out my ears. I might just pass out for a few hours and with any luck, wake up with my circadian rhythms reset to Eastern European time.)
Some people are upset that Rupert Sheldrake is a pseudoscientific kook whose nonsense has been purged from the official collection of TED talks. To my surprise, I just learned that it is all my fault.
Talks from Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock given at the TEDx Whitechapel event titled “Visions for Transition: Challenging Existing Paradigms and Redefining Values” were both banned following recommendations from a faceless “Science Board,” which turned out to be heavily influenced by the most unsavory of militant atheists. The most active in the controversy appears to be PZ Myers, who is accustomed to being publicly denounced by even atheist organizations and figures for inflammatory writings and such tone-deaf stunts as ripping out pages of the Qur’an, piercing them with a nail, throwing them in the trash with coffee grounds and a banana peel, and proceeding to photograph the scene for his blog.
I found the logical progression interesting: from “Science Board” to “the most unsavory of militant atheists” to inflammatory me to desecrating the Qur’an.
I’m happy to be called an unsavory atheist, but let’s be clear here: I am not an any board associated with TED, I do not consider myself particularly influential in that way, the fact that my writing is regarded as inflammatory and that some atheists detest me does not make me “militant”, and my acts of desecration have nothing to do with the issue at hand anyway (by the way, it’s weird to say I just tore up the Qur’an — I got two letters from Muslims afterwards, one approving and another saying it was irrelevant because I defamed a translation, which doesn’t count; I also desecrated a copy of The God Delusion, with no objections and even approval from its author; and I destroyed a communion wafer, which prompted uncounted masses of letters and emails and public denunciations from the Catholic League).
How can anyone trust the logic of someone like the author of that cranky blog post who gets everything wrong?
How much do I appreciate it? With my dollars. My wife is going to sign us up for a lifetime membership in American Atheists while I’m away. It’s not a casual investment, so not everyone can do that, but you could send them a donation to let the organization know that you like a leader with a spine.
I’ll be boarding a plane very shortly and going totally incommunicado until I land in Bucharest sometime tomorrow morning…so I’ll leave you something pretty to look at. This is Rosa canina, the dog rose, and the national flower of Romania.
And just because I like it, here’s Salvia transsylvanica, or the Transylvanian sage.