New on the Guardian: Atheists Fighting for Choice


You may detect a theme this week. My latest column on the Guardian is up: "Abortion opposition is a religious stance. Atheists must help fight for choice".Under an onslaught of anti-choice legislation, abortion rights in the U.S. are threatened as never before. But an ally is beckoning from an unexpected quarter: in spite of our image as a male-dominated and sometimes obliviously sexist community, atheists are by far the most pro-choice demographic in the nation, and some large secular … [Read more...]

The Stingless Sting: The Absurd Attack on Planned Parenthood


The latest religious-right attack on abortion rights is a set of undercover videos made by an anti-choice group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress. Posing as potential buyers for a medical research firm, they tried to get Planned Parenthood officials to accept illegal payments in exchange for tissue samples from aborted fetuses. (Profiting from fetal tissue or organ sales is against the law, but accepting payments to cover the costs of storage and transportation is legal.) But they … [Read more...]

I Get Religious Mail: Bibles, Not Peace


The flow of religious junk mail in my mailbox seems to be accelerating. Here's the latest, a begging letter from the American Bible Society. (Click for larger.)The thrust of this solicitation is that American soldiers deployed abroad desperately want to read Bibles, but somehow can't get any - a near-certain falsehood to begin with, given the extreme saturation of fundamentalist religion in the military.Included in the envelope was a … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Motive Power


Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter IIFrancisco's copper mine in Galt's Gulch, even though it has super-advanced mining robots to replace human laborers, still depends on mule carts to carry his ore. It's not because his inventive genius petered out at the entrance to the mine; it's because Rand's characters, following the invisible law of capitalist demarcation, stick strictly to their own fields and don't try to compete with each other. This gives Dagny a chance to show off her specialty, as … [Read more...]

Blood Moon Lunacy, or the Virtue of Vagueness


On Sunday night, I went out to see the "super blood moon" eclipse. It was a clear autumn night, and I got a good view of the Earth's shadow spreading across the Moon, like a dark slice taken out of a white sea. When the eclipse reached totality, the Moon's face dimmed to a ruddy polished-copper color, glimmering with, as Phil Plait puts it, the reflected light of every sunset on Earth.This was the fourth and final in a series of total lunar eclipses last year and this year. It was also a … [Read more...]

Book Review: 1491


Summary: Like a watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken.It's a common belief that, when Europeans first encountered them, the Native Americans were living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle scarcely changed from that of the earliest humans. This idea spans the political spectrum: from those on the left, who idealize indigenous people as living a purer, simpler life in harmony with nature, to those on the right, like Ayn Rand, who called them "savages" and cheered colonial settlers … [Read more...]

Friday Night Music: Sidelined

Shelley Segal is on tour in the U.S., and I got to see her perform at Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan earlier this month. Here's one of the songs she played, a feminist folk anthem from her latest EP, Strange Feeling: … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Rise of the Machines


Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter IIFor all its fixation on economic theory, Atlas Shrugged shows a dismal, incurious ignorance of how the economy actually works. When Ayn Rand's capitalists gather in sufficient numbers, consumer goods just spontaneously materialize around them. By all rights, the inhabitants of Galt's Gulch ought to be living like primitive pioneers - wearing furs, dwelling in shacks, subsisting on a diet of salted meat and hardtack. Instead, they inexplicably have a fully … [Read more...]

Pay Attention to the News You Don’t See


Last week, there was a powerful magnitude 8.3 earthquake in Chile near the city of Illapel. The tremors were felt as far as São Paulo, 1,600 miles away, and triggered tsunami warnings throughout the Pacific, from Hawaii to Japan to New Zealand.If you didn't hear about this quake, there's a reason for that: in spite of the widespread damage and massive evacuations, it had a tiny death toll. Just 11 people died, compared to the 525 people who died in a similar quake five years ago. That … [Read more...]

The Graying of the Priesthood, Continued

Pope Francis's visit to the U.S. this week is generating reams of breathless, anticipatory coverage. But all the media excitement can't change that there are severe, long-run problems for the church that are already having an impact, and that a papal red-carpet tour isn't going to fix.One of those big problems is the aging and dwindling of the priesthood. Simply stated, priests and nuns are growing old and dying, and there's nowhere near enough new recruits to replace them. I've written … [Read more...]