Archives for August 2013

Weekend Coffee: The Promise of In Vitro Meat

Earlier this month, the first ever lab-grown hamburger was eaten at a taste test in London. The tasters' reports were guardedly positive:Upon tasting the burger, Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: "I was expecting the texture to be more soft... there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, but it's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper."This is meat to me. It's not falling apart."Food writer Mr Schonwald said: "The mouthfeel is like … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Trust-Busting

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VIAs Hank finishes dressing and goes downstairs to the party he's dreading (which is being thrown, remember, to celebrate his wedding anniversary), his mind is elsewhere. He's dwelling on a newspaper editorial he read earlier, about a proposed "Equalization of Opportunity" bill:The editorial said that at a time of dwindling production, shrinking markets and vanishing opportunities to make a living, it was unfair to let one man hoard several business … [Read more...]

The Political Pull of New York’s Ultra-Orthodox

New York City's mayoral election is approaching, and as the race heats up, more attention is being paid to the increasing political influence of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish sects of Brooklyn.Like their counterparts in Israel, New York's Hasidim have rebounded from the decimation of World War II. They were nearly wiped out by the Nazi genocide, but their numbers have swelled in the generations since, due to religious and cultural teachings that make it a duty for Hasidic families to … [Read more...]

American Fundamentalists Applaud Russian Eliminationism

I've been writing about Russia's brutally violent crackdown on LGBT people and whether the international community ought to respond by boycotting the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. Incredibly, that situation got even worse last week with the news that Vladimir Putin has decreed a "forbidden zone" around the Olympics where all forms of public demonstration and protest are banned. (Meanwhile, even Adolf Hitler granted a temporary exemption from Nazi Germany's anti-gay laws to foreign athletes … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Sleep Deprivation

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VIThe next chapter brings us back to Hank Rearden, who's putting on his tuxedo to attend the party thrown by his wife that he's been dreading:This was his wedding anniversary and he had known for three months that the party would take place tonight, as Lillian wished... Then, during three months of eighteen-hour workdays, he had forgotten it happily - until half an hour ago, when, long past dinner time, his secretary had entered his office and said … [Read more...]

If I Were an Unethical Atheist

More times than I can count, I've heard the argument that atheists can't be trusted to act ethically, that human beings need to believe in a supernatural source of morality to coerce us to behave. (The most recent time I remember hearing this was in my debate with Peter Hitchens last year.) The argument usually goes that even if we nonbelievers have a self-chosen moral code derived from philosophy and personal reflection, that isn't good enough, because it lacks any means of enforcement. If … [Read more...]

Moral Relativism in the Catholic Church

Back in March, I wrote a post about how the Catholic church isn't a democracy and therefore has no obligation to change its teachings in line with popular opinion. One theist commenter enthusiastically chimed in to agree and to insist that this was exactly the point:From my own perspective, the constancy (and internal consistency) of Church teaching is an enormously reassuring thing. How am I supposed to trust a religious tradition which claims to teach about right and wrong but is willing … [Read more...]

Ingersoll Sunday: On Divorce

In 1889, a literary magazine called the North American Review solicited essays on the question of whether divorce was ever morally justifiable. Although all the other answers were from clergy (who, for no apparent reason, are always deemed to be the experts on these kinds of questions), they also printed a response by the great American freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll.As in many other things, Ingersoll's progressive, humanistic views were decades ahead of his time. He argued that … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Marge vs. the Monorail

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VThe last section of this chapter skims over a few years in flashback. We're told that Dagny was twenty-four the last time she saw Francisco, in New York. That night, while they're in bed together, he seems wracked by some inner struggle and makes a strange request - "Help me to remain. To refuse. Even though he's right!" - but then won't explain what he meant by it or what's troubling him. The next morning, before he leaves, he says that he's going to do … [Read more...]

Building a Better Secular Movement

This post will have to be my last word on this for the time being, because all this ugliness and nastiness takes an emotional toll, and I really want to get back to writing about happier things. But the events of the last few days have convinced me that our secular community, the one I love and want to see thrive, has some serious problems that need to be confronted and resolved.When I see a problem, my instinct is to fix it. So, what can we do to fix this one? I have three … [Read more...]