Daily Archives: December 20, 2012

American Atheists to IRS: Stop giving churches preferential treatment

American Atheists and two co-plaintiffs today filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Kentucky a lawsuit demanding that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stop giving preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations via the process of receiving non-profit tax-exempt status under the Internal Revue Code (IRC) procedures and definitions.

“American Atheists receives tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3),” said American Atheists President David Silverman, “but because the organization is not classified as religious it costs American Atheists, along with all other secular non-profits, significantly more money each year to keep that status. In this lawsuit, American Atheists and the other plaintiffs are demanding that all tax-exempt organizations, including those characterized as religious by the IRS, have the same requirements to achieve tax-exempt status.”

For example, in order to qualify for nonprofit tax-exempt status, any religious or secular organization must demonstrate it exists to benefit the public. After that basic element is established, religious non- profits are almost always declared automatically tax-exempt under the current IRC rules and definitions. However, secular non-profits face a lengthy application and a fee, which can be as high as $850.

Read the rest here.

Five items of interest to all of you

1) The number of people who care more about gun control than about the 2nd amendment has been greater for some time now, and it has shifted even further. This is according to a new poll by Pew Research Center: After Newtown, Modest Change in Opinion about Gun Control
Most Say Assault Weapons Make Nation More Dangerous

2) NASA has a new design for their next generation space suit, and it looks familiar. Have a look. NASA’s is the one on the left:

To Infinity and Beyond!

3) Facebook is going to start charging one dollar per message for certain messages. They say it is for your own good.

In a statement posted online, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social site cited research showing that “imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful.”

Facebook already lets members send messages to those outside their network of contacts, but those messages are routed to an often-overlooked “Other” folder. This new feature would let users send messages directly to a user’s main “Inbox”—for a small fee.

Each message sent will initially cost $1, though Facebook plans to continue tinkering with prices.

That article is from a source that is regarded at least in the science community, as highly unreliable so if you need to know more about it you may want to check out other sources.

4) Matt Ridley, the author of a handful of pretty good but uninspired science books, also famous for being in charge of a bank or something that he ran into the ground due to utter incompetence, tuns out to be a Climate Science denier. Here’s an article about that.

5) Hey, I have an idea, let’s make sure, instead of limiting the number of guns out there, that there are numerous highly well armed and trained professionals around to stop shooters safely in their tracks without anyone getting injured. Like this.

Power, Sex, Suicide

Mitochondria are cool, important, and fascinating. You know the basic story. Mitochondria are the result of endosymbiosis. A bacterim or bacteria-like organism insinuated itself into another bacterium or bacteria-like organism. The former was small, the latter large. A relationship started up whereby the smaller one became an organelle in the larger one, and Eukaryotic life was formed. You probably also know that in multi-celled organisms mitochondria may be passed on by one sex (female) so paleogenetic research can sort out female lineages by looking only at the DNA found in the mitochondria (mtDNA). But there are things that perhaps you did not know, like the relationship between the whole mitochondria thing and why sex exists, various diseases including cancer, and aging (of cells and of organisms). Also, mitochondria related to organismic complexity, warm bloodedness, and a range of other basic biological facts of life.

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane is a bold and largely successful attempt at tying this all together in an engaging and informative way.

I know some teachers who read the book and have found much useful current, integrative material for use in their advanced biology classes. That’s a hint: If you know a life science teacher, this is a great stocking stuffer!

The Adventure of the Missing Cat

Sometimes you just know something is going to happen, and then it happens. And if that doesn’t happen to you enough, try some confirmation bias, that always works! I have a friend who just got a new cat and at the same time moved into a new house, and one of the first things that happened was that the cat disappeared. The Cable Guy had been in and out and it was assumed the cat had escaped that way. At this point, I don’t think anyone is 100% clear on what happened, but about a day after the cat vanished it re-materialized. Personally, I think it was in the Cosmic Sock Drawer.

This reminded me of a story. One day many years ago in a galaxy far far away (The is a euphemism for “before Amanda”) we got this cat named George. Everything was just like that … as in we had this cat named George … for months, then I went away for a few months, to Africa, to search for ancient fossils and stuff. My Significant Other would occasionally send an email, and we would even chat on the phone now and then, and initially I would hear a story about the cat, and a story about the dog each time. Then one day the stories about the cat stopped.

A couple of weeks went by without any stories about the cat and then one day we were on the phone and there was a story about the cat again. So, Sherlock Holmes like, I said, “George was in the garage for the last 10 days, wasn’t he?”

Silence. More silence. Then, “How did you know?”

I had noticed that every time the garage door was opened, which was rare (we never put the car in there), George would run in and in order for me to close the door again I had to get him out. This had been discussed but I was pretty sure I was the only person in the household who was fully tuned into the fact that George did this. When mentions of George the Cat stopped in the irregular updates, I inferred he had gone missing. That could have been for a lot of reasons. But when he reappeared a while later, I realized the most likely scenario was temporary incarceration. The actual period of entrapment was about a week, during which time George would have eaten all the mice in the garage then gotten hungry for a few days. Confirmation bias: In a post hoc world, it makes for a great story!

My friend’s cat might have a secret place she hides. I wonder if it will ever be discovered? Quite likely not.