Debate: Is Christianity Good For American Politics?

CFI Michigan is hosting a debate between two prominent authors and political commentators, Dinesh D’Souza and Susan Jacoby. The topic for the debate is going to be “Is Christiantity Good for American Politics?”

When: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Where: Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain NE, Grand Rapids, MI

Cost: TBD

Join us for a debate featuring two prominent authors and political commentators, Dinesh D’Souza and Susan Jacoby on the topic “Is Christiantity Good for American Politics?” This event is co-sponsored by ISI, Center for Inquiry–Michigan and the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University.

About the Debaters

Dinesh D’Souza

Dinesh D’Souza has a distinguished 25 year career as a writer, scholar and intellectual. A former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, D’Souza also served as an Olin Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute as well as a Rishwain Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

Called one of the “top young public-policy makers in the country” by Investor’s Business Daily , D’Souza quickly became a major influence on public policy through his writings.Illiberal Education , his first book publicized the phenomenon of political correctness in America’s colleges and universities and was on the best seller list for 15 weeks. Subsequent best sellers, include Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader , The Virtue of Prosperity, Finding Values in an Age of Techno Affluence, What’s So Great About America, Letters to a Young Conservative, What’s So Great About Christianity, and The Roots of Obama’s Rage . His latest work, Godforsaken , responds to the problem of evil.

A prolific, writer, persuasive debater, D’Souza has been named one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers by the New York Times. In the fall of 2010 Dinesh D’Souza was named the President of The King’s College, a Christian College located in the Empire State Building in New York City. The mission of The King’s College is to transform society by preparing students for careers in which they help to shape and eventually to lead strategic public and private institutions.

Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby is the author of ten books, a frequent contributor to national magazines and newspapers, and the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2001 appointment as a fellow of the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers.

An outspoken advocate of reason, she writes “The Spirited Atheist” column for On Faith at The Washington Post. Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age is Susan Jacoby’s tenth nonfiction book. Her most recent books include the New York Times bestseller, The Age of American Unreason (2008) and Alger Hiss and The Battle for History (2009).

Susan Jacoby has been the recipient of many grants and awards, from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Ford Foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2001-2002, she was named a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She is also a member of the advisory boards of the Secular Coalition for America and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Susan Jacoby lives in New York City.

Contact: Jennifer Beahan, [email protected], 616-698-2342

The Facts Behind The Kony 2012 Video

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Last week Invisible Children, a non-profit organization founded and head by film maker Jason Russell, released a 30 minute documentary video called “Kony 2012“. The documentary details a Ugandan warlord/rebel named Joseph Kony and the crimes he has committed against civilians and children.  The documentary video went viral in a few days with over 37 million views.

Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) a militant group that is an offshoot of an armed resistance in Northern Uganda called the Holy Spirit Movement. The Holy Spirit Movement was formed by Alice Auma in 1987 as a resistance army protected by the holy spirit.

The Holy Spirit Movement fought as a regular army – taking and controlling territory, as well as holding pitched battles with NRA forces – but had a number of practices that outsiders found bizarre. Spiritual “controllers” were integrated into each unit. Along with duties such as tending to Alice Auma while she was possessed, they smeared blessed oil on combatants that was supposed to stop bullets if the combatant’s soul was pure. [via Wikipedia]

Continue reading The Facts Behind The Kony 2012 Video →

Announcing: Cafe Inquiry (sponsored by Center for Inquiry)

Beginning on Sunday, March 25th, and regularly occuring on the fourth Sunday of each month, there will be a Cafe Inquiry (sponsored by Center For Inquiry).  It will be held at CJ’s Brewing Company, 14900 Beck Rd., Plymouth, MI, from 1:00 – 3:00pm.

A Cafe Inquiry get-together consists of everyone participating in a discussion about several predetermined topics in a casual, thought-provoking way.  You can find out more about the event over at CFI’s website.  Jennifer Keller Baker is the organizer.  Hope to see some of you there!

Are Computers Better Than People At Detecting When People Lie?

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Lie to Me on FOX

Can computer software detect lies at a better rate than people? Scientific American reports that researchers at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York claim that their software, which analyzes eye movement can determine a lie with 82.5% accuracy. Their work, which is as of yet unpublished, consisted of 40 interviews with subjects that were given a punishment/reward scenario. If they were to successfully lie and get away with it, they would be given a cash reward plus a group they support will be given a donation. If they were caught lying, a group they oppose were given money.

Obviously, a 40 subject study is hardly a thorough  study but they have bigger plans for their research.

The researchers, who first presented their (still unpublished) results at the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition a year ago, believe they have laid the foundation for a more extensive study that will include a larger sample and take into account body language in addition to eye movement to determine whether new technologies can help interrogators in their search for the truth.

The study is based off of work of Paul Ekman, a Professor Emeritus psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. Ekman studied emotions and their relation to facial expressions. The study’s co-author, Mark Frank, worked for Ekman U.C. San Francisco’s psychiatry department previously.

Continue reading Are Computers Better Than People At Detecting When People Lie? →

Is Thorium a Suitable Alternative Nuclear Fuel?

Map of Thorium Concentrations (most of USA and some of Canada) from USGS

Map of Thorium Concentrations (most of USA and some of Canada) from USGS

Our Get Together this Saturday, March 10th will feature Dr. Ron Fleming, Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Fleming will be talking to us about Nuclear Science. The current technology involved in nuclear power generation along with new and different ideas. One of the ideas he will be speaking about is Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR). Many of you probably have heard about them, there has been a small buzz on the Internet about them. We brought The good doctor in to educate us about LFTR technology and to counter the rumors going around.

What is a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR)?

A LFTR reactor is a type of a breeder reactor that uses Thorium as the fuel source. The fuel is in a fluoride-based molten salt mixture to power the reaction. Breeder reactors are much more efficient than the light-water reactors in use today, extracting as much as 100% of  a fuel’s energy versus 1%. Also since they operate at atmospheric pressures there is no chance of the reactor vessel exploding.

Wikipedia has a large list of advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few of the advantages:

  • LFTRs can be designed to be inherently safe: They can have passive nuclear safety, strong negative temperature coefficient of reactivity and operate at atmospheric pressures. (i.e., since the core is not pressurized, it cannot explode)
  • MSFRs can include a freeze plug at the bottom that has to be actively cooled, usually by a small electric fan. If the cooling fails, say because of a power failure, the fan stops, the plug melts, and the fuel drains to a subcritical easily cooled storage facility. This not only stops the reactor, also the storage tank can more easily shed the decay heat from the short-lived radioactive decay of irradiated nuclear fuels.
  • Since the LFTR fuel is liquid, relatively small, simple equipment can continuously remove transmutation products. This immensely simplifies the reactor’s behavior, i.e. it is more predictable, thus more easily controlled and safer than a conventional LWR (light-water reactor).

There have been several TED talks on the subject. Here is one:


Prepare your questions for Dr. Fleming. I expect this to be a very informative Get Together!

The Sad State of NASA’s Information and Cyber Security

 NASA Office of the Inspector General Badge

NASA Office of the Inspector General Agent's Badge

Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Investigations and OversightHouse Committee on Science, Space, and Technology by Paul K. Martin, Inspector General for NASA revealed the ongoing issues with NASA’s Security efforts. He highlighted five issues of main concern:

• Lack of full awareness of Agency-wide IT security posture;
• Shortcomings in implementing a continuous monitoring approach to IT security;
• Slow pace of encryption for NASA laptop computers and other mobile devices;
• Ability to combat sophisticated cyber attacks; and
• Transition to cloud computing.

 NASA’s Office of Inspector General reported 5,408 computer security incidents for 2010 and 2011, an average of 7.4 a day. These are the intrusions that made it in, and either implanted malware or extracted data. They range from script kiddies testing if they can do it to foreign entities attempting to steal sensitive data. Continue reading The Sad State of NASA’s Information and Cyber Security →

Melting Arctic Ice Linked to Bad Winter Weather in Europe, Northern Hemisphere

The harsh winter in Europe caused a rare event of Venice freezing over.

The harsh winter in Europe caused a rare event of Venice freezing over.

As global temperatures have risen, the area of Arctic Ocean covered by ice in summer and autumn has been falling.

Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a US/China-based team show this affects the jet stream and brings cold, snowy weather. From 2007 to 2011, large parts of the U.S., northwestern Europe, and northern and central China experienced early or abnormally heavy snowfall. A climate model created by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research pinpointed two mechanisms for how a decline in sea ice could lead to more snowfall.

The paper, published on February 27th, demonstrates a link between the decline of arctic ice and Winter weather. While still early in research, and this is not the only factor affecting winter weather, it is the only one showing a consistent downward trend. You can find the supplemental data for the paper here.

BBC News Describes how the link works:

If less of the ocean is ice-covered in autumn, it releases more heat, warming the atmosphere.

This reduces the air temperature difference between the Arctic and latitudes further south, over the Atlantic Ocean.

n turn, this reduces the strength of the northern jet stream, which usually brings milder, wetter weather to Europe from the west.

It is these “blocking” conditions that keep the UK and the other affected regions supplied with cold air.

The researchers also found that the extra evaporation from the Arctic Ocean makes the air more humid, with some of the additional water content falling out as snow.

According to David Rind, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City told National Geographic:

The atmospheric dynamic is so variable, and the basic equations of motion on the time scale that we’re discussing have so much inherent variability in them that you can have the same situations next time but everything is different. This year also has very little Arctic sea ice, but it’s going to be one of the warmest winters on record in the United States. The snowfall totals have been abysmal. … And in Europe the cold air did not come in the beginning of winter, but later

The challenge is to determine how much of these anomalies are caused by global warming.

I think the only thing that will ultimately answer that is the durability of the effect. If, year after year, we’re getting the same type of effect, that then looks like it’s not a variability issue but a climate change issue.


U.S. Court Rules Part of DOMA Unconstitutional

Gay Marriage

What do you think the relirious right finds scarier. That they're gay or that they're interracial?

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, a Bush appointee judge, has rules a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The ruling came down Wednesday in San Francisco in the case Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management. Karen Golinski, the Plaintiff in the case is a staff attorney for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Karen had tried to enroll her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, in her health insurance plan but was refused. Karen and Amy had married during the 5 month window in 2008 when gay marriage was allowed in California. That window was closed with the passing of Proposition 8.

The Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It also bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages for all purposes, including social security, inheritance, and health benefits. The law passed the House and Senate by a wide margin in 1996 and was signed into law by Bill Clinton on September 21st that same year.

The legal suit, filed on January 20th, 2010 (it was re-filed on April 14th 2011 as a direct challenge to the constitutionality of DOMA) received national notoriety last year when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barak Obama declared DOMA unconstitutional and while they would continue to enforce it, they would no longer defend it.

Continue reading U.S. Court Rules Part of DOMA Unconstitutional →

The March Get Together will be Nuclear Powered

Dr. Ronald Fleming

Dr. Ronald Fleming

Our March Get Together will have a special guest.

Dr. Ron Fleming is a Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences.

He will be speaking with us about nuclear energy. Not only will he be speaking about current nuclear technology, he will also tell us about Molten Salt (Thorium) Reactors which have been buzzing around the Internet lately.

We will be be recording this for the podcast so bring your best questions!

Come and join us for lively discussion, drinks, dinner and debate! This is a good event for Skeptics of Michigan to come together and discuss local, national, worldwide items affecting skeptics. All are welcome to listen and participate.

We also have special guests and speakers that contribute to the conversation and/or debate.

Please be sure to RSVP so I know how many are coming. That way I can modify the reservation if necessary.

I hope to see you all there!

Evidence Found for Alan Turing’s 1950s Tiger Stripe Theory


Photo of Alan Mathison Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society. Photograph was taken at the Elliott & Fry studio on 29 March 1951. There is another photograph taken at the same session where he is not looking directly at the camera.

Alan Mathison Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society. Copyright National Portrait Gallery is reporting on an online posting in the Nature Genetics journal that Alan Turing’s 1952 theory of Morphogenesis.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council and to be published online in , not only demonstrates a mechanism which is likely to be widely relevant in vertebrate development, but also provides confidence that chemicals called morphogens, which control these patterns, can be used in regenerative medicine to differentiate stem cells into tissue.

The findings provide evidence to support a theory first suggested in the 1950s by famous code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing, whose centenary falls this year. He put forward the idea that regular  in biological are generated by a pair of morphogens that work together as an ‘activator’ and ‘inhibitor’.

The tests involved identifying the morphogens used during the formation of ridges found on the roof of the mouths of lab mice. The morphogens were identified as  FGF (Fibroblast Growth Factor) and Shh (Sonic Hedgehog – given that name because apparently laboratory fruit flies lacking the fly version have extra bristles on their bodies).

They showed that when these morphogens’ activity is increased or decreased, the pattern of the ridges in the mouth palate are affected in ways predicted by Turing’s equations. For the first time the actual morphogens involved in this process have been identified and the team were able to see exactly the effects predicted by Turing’s 60-year-old speculative theory.

While the ridges in the roof of the mouth are not very important to biology, the finding does give significant evidence to Turning’s theory.

‘Not only does this show us how patterns such as stripes are formed, but it provides confidence that these morphogens (chemicals) can be used in future regenerative medicine to regenerate structure and pattern when differentiating  into other tissues.

‘As this year marks Turing’s centenary, it is a fitting tribute to this great mathematician and computer scientist that we should now be able to prove that his theory was right all along!’

Continue reading Evidence Found for Alan Turing’s 1950s Tiger Stripe Theory →