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The Weekend Journal: December 29-31, 2006

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L’Infâme: Australia
Fundamentalism Gone Bonkers

Richard Ackland in the Sydney Morning Herald: "The political clout of holy-roller fundamentalist evangelicals has gone off the boil in the US. The mid-term elections put a stake, along with a couple of cloves of garlic, through the heart of that awe-inspiring alliance of capitalism and God-bothering. Maybe the gifted work of Pastor Ted Haggard from the National Association of Evangelicals, who also liked a bit of rent boy hanky-panky on the side, didn't help the clean lines of the message. Hallelujah to Jimmy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, too. Nor did the text messaging of Republican congressman Mark "Protecting Our Children" Foley do much for the cause. But down here business is booming - that's the business of cutting-edge fundamentalists bending the ear of politicians and judges to see if they can skew things their screwy way. Over the past few days the Herald has carried reports of the special pleading by the Exclusive Brethren to the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, and to the former chief justice of the Family Court, Alastair Nicholson. The brethren want the law to reflect their customary beliefs. It's a debate we've been having in this country in relation to customary Aboriginal law and the extent, if any, it can be accommodated by whitefella law. The Federal Government says there is no place for the recognition of minority customary law by the one true law. And it has a point, especially when it comes to special pleading by elderly male Aborigines who claim a "right" to take young girls as their wives and rape them." The full column...

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Give Atheism a Chance

Susan Jacoby in the Washington Post: "In nearly every interview about my book, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism,I am asked whether I am an atheist or an agnostic. The bias--a profoundly American bias--implicit in this question is that only an "unbeliever" would want to write a historical work about the secular influences on the founding and development of our nation. This question reflects the 25-year ascendancy of right-wing religiosity, which has fostered a general ignorance about and lack of respect for the Enlightenment rationalist side of the nation's heritage. Although I do not believe that atheism is in vogue at the moment, there is indeed more open discussion of the subject than there was when Freethinkers was published three years ago. This debate has been stimulated by three books--Sam Harris's The End of Faithand Letter to a Christian Nation and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.Both Harris and Dawkins have made the invaluable point--one that has yet to be absorbed by most Americans--that religion does not deserve any special exemption from criticism. Moreover, speaking openly about atheism works to dispel the notion that atheists have horns. However, both atheism and secularism are still largely excluded from public dialogue about the proper role of religion in American politics--an omission that I consider much more important than pointless debates between believers and nonbelievers about the existence of God." The full column...

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Hello Dolly
Cloned Meat, Anyone?

Eat me

From the Christian Science Monitor: "Thursday, the US government released a draft report concluding that food from cloned cattle, pigs, and other livestock is as safe to eat as food products from conventionally bred animals. The safety assessment paves the way for ranchers to use clones for their breeding stock, using cloning techniques similar to those that created Dolly the sheep in 1996. The decision is not likely to create a flood of cloned livestock in the short term, several analysts say. The assessment, from the US Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, must still endure 60 days of public comment. And the FDA still must weigh issues, such as whether to label meat products from the offspring of cloned animals or track the clones themselves if they move into the food system after their usefulness as breeding stock ends. It may take a year or two after the comment period ends for breeders to start using clones. Still, the assessment represents a significant step toward approving a technology that several specialists say will lead to more consistent, and higher quality meat and dairy products. And it is galvanizing opposition from consumer and food-safety groups. They hold that the health-risk studies fall short of what's needed to ensure that such products are safe. [...] For years, breeders increased the number of their prized animals by dividing early embryos, then implanting them into a mother to produce artificial twins. But the results are still hit-and-miss, says Michael Pariza, director of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison." The full story...

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Bush Bomb
What the Stem-Cell Ressearch Ban Wrought

From The Guardian: "A bridge next to Kevin Eggan's laboratory overlooks one of the most concentrated square miles of scientific fire power in the world: North Yard, the science hub of Harvard. The bridge, a recent construction in glass and steel, was intended to facilitate collaboration between two research teams. On one side is the lab run by Dr Eggan, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology who specialises in human embryonic stem cell research; on the other is the Bauer Centre for Genome Research, which focuses on genes. Working together, the teams started devising projects to analyse the genetics of human embryonic stem cells, with Dr Eggan's team generating the cells on one side of the bridge and their DNA being analysed on the other side. But on August 9 2001 a metaphorical shutter came down that closed the bridge as effectively as if it had been bricked up. George Bush issued a presidential decree banning the use of federal funds for research on new human embryonic stem cell lines. He delighted anti-abortionists and the Christian right, who oppose what they see as scientists making life and death decisions. This is despite the fact that most stem cell lines derive from surplus fertilised eggs from IVF treatment that would be destroyed in any case. Dr Eggan and his team were able to carry on their work only because Harvard was committed to it and wealthy enough to fund it privately. But overnight, the ban turned them into the equivalent of dogs suspected of carrying rabies. Everything they did or touched, from high-tech equipment down to paperclips and the electricity used in the building, had to be quarantined from federally funded labs around them." The full story...

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Jacques W. Chirac
A Totally Disastrous Presidency?

From the UK Independent: " On New Year's Eve, Jacques Chirac will almost certainly address the nation as president for the last time. Barring some national calamity or crisis before the elections in April and May, this will be the final chance for M. Chirac to speak to his "chers compatriotes" on live television and try to make some sense of the muddle of his 40 years in politics and the calamities of his nearly 12 years in the Elysée Palace. Will he finally admit that, at 74 years old, and with absurdly low poll ratings, he has no chance of winning another term in office? Will he finally endorse the candidacy of his detested, former protégé Nicolas Sarkozy? Probably not. Not yet, anyway. President Chirac is said to cling to a desperate belief that the French bourgeoisie might still turn to him to save France from Ségolène Royal, who is not only a socialist but (choc, horreur) a woman. In truth, if President Chirac decides to run again, it will mostly be to spite Sarkozy. A Chirac-Sarkozy civil war on the moderate right would turn the possibility of a President(e) Royal into a near certainty. Chirac was elected, at his third attempt, in 1995. France was then a fractiously divided nation, with high unemployment and no consensus on how to adapt to the new global economy, while preserving what was most successful, and most French, about France. There was an alarming contempt for mainstream politicians and institutions and a drift to the demagogic and blindly nationalist extremes of right and left. Chirac promised to heal the "social fracture" of the nation. Eleven years and seven months later, France is exactly where it was in 1995." The full story...

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MLA Convention
Is the Rectum a Text?

It's a satirist's paradise. From Ohdave's Into My Own: "This is why everyone loves the MLA Convention. Even people who don't attend it. There are always some great titles to papers that make you say, "huh"? This year's head scratcher is "Is the Rectum a Text?" and, frankly I'm not sure I want to know. I just hope mine isn't. The "after-colon", no pun intended, the obligatory part II of any title worthy of being considered at the MLA, of this title ought to be, "and if so, will anyone read it?" Sounds like a shitty paper to... oh, that's too easy a joke. Never mind. Apparently one of the topics at the convention this year IS titles, what's in and what's out. At one time all good titles were colonnated, and true to my excellent training in the field of English literature, you'll notice that the title of this post has been appropriately colonnated. Or colonned. Whatever. (See, Mom, those two years at Michigan State were good for something.) But apparently now the gerund clause (or phrase? Hell, after five years in management I can't remember anymore. I think I mean "phrase".) is all the rage now." Read the rest at Into My Own...

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Photographer of the Day
Ian Baguskas
From his "Search for the American Landscape" series. See Ian Baguskas' work at his web site. As always, thanks to Jörg Colberg at Conscientious


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Video du Jour
Bon Vieux Coluche: L'Autostoppeur


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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

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