The Humanist Association of Toronto provides a focus of activities and discussion for Humanists in the Toronto area. Please note: HAT events are open to the public, and views expressed do not necessarily represent the official views of the Humanist Association of Toronto. For all public statements, educational events, media enquiries, please contact the webeditor, who will forward your enquiry to our Spokesperson.
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The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm
The Monthly Meeting the 2nd or 3rd Saturday at 1:30pm (TBD)
The Steering Committee meets 1st Wednesday, 7pm
The Book Group meets monthly.
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HAT EVENTS | GTA EVENTS | GTA NEWS | HUMANIST NEWS | HAT NEWSLETTER | ETHICAL ACTIONS | UNIV of TORONTO EVENTS

Happy Human Light, Dec. 23

Here is the HumanLight website. The first celebration began in New Jersey, and is starting to spread. You can send E-cards to friends from this website (look under COMMUNITY), which say:

"In this season, we celebrate the light of hope and reason
That emanates from everyone of us!
A positive vision of a peaceful and happy world.
Happy HumanLight!"

Pro-life Nativity on City Property

From the Torontoist

'...Displayed on city property in front of Old City Hall sits a nativity scene donated to the people of Toronto by the Lay Catholic movement Gethsemane Ministries. While Gethsemane takes responsibility for erecting the crèche itself, the statues are 'Donated by Campaign Life Catholic in honour of the efforts of Pro-life hero Fr. Ted Colleton.'... The Campaign Life Coalition — Campaign Life Catholic’s umbrella organization — works at all levels of Canadian government to 'restore the right to life.' The CLC defines itself as the political wing of Canada’s pro-life movement...and their scope includes municipal government.

The nativity scene in front of Old City Hall is not only displayed on city property, but also runs an extension cord into a City-owned building, powering the continuously lit display with taxpayers' money. (sic) Whether the City simply neglected to trace the origin of the donation and was unaware of the pro-life message that the crèche came weighted with or whether they believe that the scene's place on city property is justified remains unknown: no one that Torontoist spoke with from the City was able to comment. Sure, it’s the season of giving, but should our local government accept and display politically inspired gifts?..."

Encyclopedia of Life

Encyclopedia of Life
You can contribute your own data. Watch the Nova special on E.O.Wilson, who invented the term biodiversity on Youtube.

Happy Darwinaversary! Origin of Species is 150

Today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the scientific landmark that reshaped the way we see the natural world. Don't forget to raise your glass tonight to wish Origin a very happy birthday.

While a lot of Canadian creationism happens via homeschooling (particularly in Saskatchewan), here is a picture of the little Creationism Museum in Alberta

However, the Lethbridge Herald comes to the rescue with a nice little piece on new fossil discoveries and evolution, as did the Morden Times in Manitoba.

But who knew "fossil rustling" was such an increasing problem? Professor Philip Currie of the University of Alberta, an eminent Canadian scientist who is chairman of the ethics committee of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology, said: "This is a huge international problem that affects most of us who do research in the field. I do a lot of work in China and Mongolia, where highly significant fossils, including new species of animals, feathered dinosaurs and birds, are regularly smuggled out illegally and sold at big international fossil shows and over the web."

The US civil rights watchdog People for the American Way has an interesting Creationism Timeline about the spread of Creationism and attempts to keep Darwin out of the public schools in the US. Here is another article on the rise of Creationism in Turkey, funded by creationism organizations in Seattle and Texas.

There is always work to be done - let's keep the fires of science burning bright, and celebrate Darwin's publication anniversary. Here is the Beagle Blog - a daily text from Darwin's Journal - for your final reading enjoyment today:

We wish you a happy Darwinaversary, and of course look forward to seeing you at our forums, events, and our next monthly meeting, on Saturday, Dec 12, 1:30-3pm, OISE, 252 Bloor St. west, in room 2-295, to hear Speaker Rick Phillips talk about the Symphonies of Beethoven.

ARTICLE: NASA disproving 2012 conspiracies

AFP: The world is not coming to an end on December 21, 2012, the US space agency insisted Monday in a rare campaign to dispel widespread rumors fueled by the Internet and a new Hollywood movie.

Sony Pictures's latest big screen offering "2012" arrives in theaters on Friday, with a 200-million-dollar production about the end of the world supposedly based on myths backed by the Mayan calendar.

The doomsday scenario revolves claims that the end of time will come as an obscure Planet X -- or Nibiru -- heads toward or collides into Earth.The mysterious planet was supposedly discovered by the Sumerians, according to claims by pseudo-scientists, paranormal activity enthusiasts and Internet theorists.

Some websites accuse NASA of concealing the truth on the wayward planet's existence, but the US space agency denounced such stories as an "Internet hoax." "There is no factual basis for these claims," NASA said in a question-and-answer posting on its website.

If such a collision were real "astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye," it added. "Obviously, it does not exist." "Credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012," NASA insisted.

Initial theories set the disaster for May 2003, but when nothing happened the date was moved forward to the winter solstice in 2012 to coincide with the end of a cycle of the ancient Mayan calendar.

But NASA insisted the Mayan calendar in fact does not end on December 21, 2012, as another period begins immediately afterward. And it said there are no planetary alignments o

EVENT: Watts Lecture on Evolution, Nov 19

Watts Lecture featuring Professor Evelyn Fox Keller
Nov 19, 2009 7:00pm
Location: AC223, ARC Lecture Theatre, University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail
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"In this 150th year since the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" the debate continues...

One of the most striking features of the nature-nature debate is the frequency with which in invites two apparently contradictory claims: first, that it has finally been resolved, and second, that it refuses to die. What is it about this topic that causes so much trouble? What is it that so stubbornly resists resolution?

In this talk, Professor Fox Keller will explore the many ways in which we become enmeshed by the tangle of meanings that make up the nature-nuture debate.
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Professor Evelyn Fox Keller received her PhD. in theoretical physics at Harvard University, and worked for several years at the interface of physics and biology before turning to the history and philosophy of science. Professor Emerita of History and Philosophy of Science in the Program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT, Fox Keller is the author of more than 10 books (e.g., The Century of the Gene; and Making Sense of Life), and the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees. Her latest book, The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture, is forthcoming.}
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Past Watts Lecturers

Rt. Hon. Lester B. Pearson~Lord Annan~ Gerhard Herzberg~Raymond Moriyama~Hon. David Lewis~Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker~Mordecai Richler~ J.M.S. Careless~Hon. Flora MacDonald ~ Alfonso Garcia Robles~ Hans Kung ~ David Suzuki ~ Hon. Stephen Lewis ~ Bob White ~ Hon. Thomas R. Berger ~ Edwin Mirvish ~ Georges Erasmus ~ Judy Rebick ~ Major-General Lewis MacKenzie ~ Itzak Shelef and Abdullah Abdullah ~ Dr. Roberta Bondard ~ David Phillips ~ Roberta Jamieson ~ Mark Tewksbury ~ Bob Rae ~ Preston Manning ~ Joe Schlesinger ~ James Orbinski ~ Dr. Sheela Basrur ~ Dr. Vandana Shiva ~ Professor Jean Clottes ~ Hon. Louise Arbour

EVENT: "War Child" at Hart House

CONSCIOUS ACTIVISM DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL FREE SCREENING: WAR CHILD
Tuesday, November 3, 2009: 6.30 pm
Where: Library, Cost: FREE

Emmanuel Jal's remarkable story from child soldier to hip-hop messenger of peace. “Left home at the age of seven/one year later I'm carryin' an Ak-47." For hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier in Sudan's brutal civil war, these lyrics are hardly empty posturing. They are the bitter reality of a young man who was "forced to sin" but determined to "never give up and never give in." Today, wounded but still hopeful, he fights a new battle: bringing peace to his beloved Sudan and building schools in Africa. This time, his weapon is a microphone. See why audiences from New York to Berlin to London rave about the award-winning film, War Child, and have embraced the hip-hop artist with a terrifying past and a gentle soul. Interspersing original interviews, live concerts, and rare footage of Jal as a seven year-old boy, War Child will make viewers cry, laugh, dance, and celebrate the power of hope.

BROADCAST: Discovering Ardipithecus Program

The Atheist Media Blog (see link in the right column) has posted the Discovery Channel program"Discovering Adripithecus" on their media blog. You can watch the whole thing in 9 minute segments (and it's available in Canada, not blocked)

EVENT: HAT monthly meeting with Gar Mahood

Date: Saturday Nov. 14, 1:30-3pm
Gar Mahood, Non-Smokers' Rights
OISE, OISE, 252 Bloor St. West, Room 8-214

Gar Mahood is the Executive Director of the Non-Smokers Rights Association. The NSRA has as its mission to promote public health by eliminating illness and death caused by tobacco, including second-hand smoke. The NSRA is known in Canada and worldwide for its effective health advocacy. It has been the force behind several world initiatives involving both environmental tobacco smoke and preventing Canadian kids from becoming future statistics of the tobacco epidemic. Gar will look at current issues and health care cost recovery. As always, these events are FREE and open to all.

Contest: 6 days left for Darwin Now Competition

Don't forget to enter the Darwin Now competition at New Scientist. All you have to do is tell us in no more than 50 words what selection pressure imposed by humans will produce in the animals of the future. The prize is attendance at the "Origin Day" celebrations in London on 24 November, with travel from anywhere in the world plus luxury hotel accommodation. The competition closes on 19 October.

Events: Quirks and Quarks: Free program Oct 15

The 10 Biggest Unanswered Questions in the Universe: a Quirks Public Event

In conjunction with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Bob McDonald will be hosting a panel with 10 of the world's most prominent physicists. They'll each be presenting their nomination for the 10 Biggest Unanswered Questions in the Universe. Then we'll ask the members of the studio audience to vote on which one they think is the most important for physicists to solve.

If you want to be part of that audience, we'll be at Glenn Gould Studio, here at the CBC Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, Thursday morning, Oct. 15, at 11am. No tickets are required, but come early if you want to get a seat. And if you can't be there, don't worry - we'll be broadcasting the event later in the season on Quirks & Quarks.

EVENT: Dr. Callum Brown at HAT and Knox

NOTE: Dr. Callum Brown will be speaking at the Monthly Meeting of HAT on Oct 17.

Saturday, October 17, 1:30pm - 3:30pm
Location: OISE, 252 Bloor St. West ROOM 8-214
Speaker: Callum Brown, FRSE "The Origins of Modern Humanists"

Professor Callum Brown is conducting research on the history of modern humanism in the English-speaking North Atlantic world since the end of the Second World War. The project explores the rise of modern Humanist sentiment and movements in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Ireland, USA and Canada, set in the context of rapid religious change. The aim is to explore through oral history the ways in which humanist/ sceptic/ freethinking ideas and outlooks have developed since the middle of the 20th century, and the impact on the lives of individuals - in terms of careers, family formation and moral issues.

He is also giving a free Special Lecture on "Gender and Christianity in Britain since the 1960s at Knox college
Thursday, Oct 15.Thursday, 4:10 p.m.
Classroom 4 - Knox College 59 St. George St.

Dr. Callum Brown is professor of religious and cultural history at the University of Dundee, UK, and author of 10 books, including The Death of Christian Britain (2001, 2009). He is currently researching for two books, based on UK, Ireland, Canada and USA, on the history of modern humanism, and the demographic revolution of the late 20th century.

Event: Richard Dawkins @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Sep 29, 2009 at 7:00 PM EDT (6:15 PM DOORS) Indigo Books Meet & Greet : Featuring Richard Dawkins at Isabel Bader Theatre - Toronto, ON Tickets $10 at TICKETWEB

Meet Richard Dawkins, bestselling author of The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene, as he talks about his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.


Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned evolutionary biologist and author. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and, until recently, held the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His first book, The Selfish Gene, was an instant international bestseller, and has become an established classic work of modern evolutionary biology. He is also the author of The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, A Devil's Chaplain, The Ancestor's Tale, and most recently, The God Delusion.

For more information on Richard Dawkins, please visit richarddawkins.net.

Event: CFI October Conference: TAREK FATAH

TAREK FATAH TO GIVE KEYNOTE PUBLIC ADDRESS AT CFI CANADA'S UPCOMING OCTOBER CONFERENCE

OTHER NEWLY CONFIRMED PARTICIPANTS: MATHEMATICIAN JEFFREY ROSENTHAL, SASKATOON FREETHINKER LEADER KENDRA GETTY, AND CFI CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTOR PRESIDENT DR. CAROL PARLOW

Full details and registration: Conference webpage

Tarek Fatah is a secular Muslim Canadian political activist, writer and TV host. He is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State which suggests that the idea of an Islamic state is merely a mirage that Muslims have been made to chase for over a millennium. The book was short listed for the prestigious Donner Book Prize. Tarek Fatah has joined CFRB 1010 as a co-host of the radio station's 3PM daily show. Fatah is the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

Fatah's advocacy for a separation of religion and state, opposition to Sharia law, and advocacy for a liberal, progressive form of Islam have been met with considerable criticism from various Canadian Muslim groups. The Muslim Canadian Congress has been a longtime supporter and ally of the Centre for Inquiry.

News: Afghanistan passes barbaric law against women's rights

Rehashed legislation allows husbands to deny wives food if they fail to obey sexual demands. Guardian

Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation which President Hamid Karzai had promised to review.

The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.

"It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying 'blood money' to a girl who was injured when he raped her," the US charity Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown joined an international chorus of condemnation when the Guardian revealed that the earlier version of the law legalised rape within marriage, according to the UN. Although Karzai appeared to back down, activists say the revised version of the law still contains repressive measures and contradicts the Afghan constitution and international treaties signed by the country.

Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women's rights groups remain, including this one: "Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband's permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient."

The law has been backed by the hardline Shia cleric Ayatollah Mohseni, who is thought to have influence over the voting intentions of some of the country's Shias, which make up around 20% of the population. Karzai has assiduously courted such minority leaders in the run up to next Thursday's election, which is likely to be a close run thing, according to a poll released yesterday.

Human Rights Watch, which has obtained a copy of the final law, called on all candidates to pledge to repeal the law, which it says contradicts Afghanistan's own constitution. The group said that Karzai had "made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in the support of fundamentalists in the August 20 election".

Brad Adams, the organisation's Asia director, said: "The rights of Afghan women are being ripped up by powerful men who are using women as pawns in manoeuvres to gain power. "These kinds of barbaric laws were supposed to have been relegated to the past with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, yet Karzai has revived them and given them his official stamp of approval."

EVENT: Darwin Film, 'Creation' to open Toronto Film Festival

"Real-life couple Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany will kick off the Toronto International Film Festival with the life story of Charles Darwin.
HuffingtonPost, TIFF

Bettany stars as the theory-of-evolution pioneer and Connelly plays his wife in "Creation," which opens the festival Sept. 10. The film is directed by Jon Amiel, whose credits include "The Core" and "Entrapment."

"Creation" premieres in the year marking the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Adapted from the book "Annie's Box," the movie centers on Darwin's struggle between science and God as he refines his theories amid his wife's deep religious conviction and grief over the death of his young daughter.

"The tension between faith and reason is prominent in contemporary culture, and this intimate look at Darwin puts a human face on a man whose theory remains controversial to this day," said festival director Piers Handling.

...Along with "Creation," the Toronto lineup will feature Jane Campion's "Bright Star," a drama about another 19th-century Brit, John Keats. "Bright Star," which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, traces the love story of doomed poet Keats (Ben Whishaw) and a passionate neighbor (Abbie Cornish).

Other films announced by festival organizers include Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh's whistle-blower saga "The Informant"; Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner and Tina Fey's fantasy comedy "The Invention of Lying"; Clive Owen's widower drama "The Boys Are Back"; Michael Douglas' womanizer tale "Solitary Man"; Neil Jordan and Colin Farrell's Irish fairy tale "Ondine"; Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek's Depression-era drama "Get Low"; and Tim Blake Nelson's comic story "Leaves of Grass," with Edward Norton in dual roles as twin brothers.

EVENT: Dr. Gail McCabe on Secular Rituals

Saturday July 11, 1:30pm - 3:30pm
Location: OISE, 252 Bloor St. West ROOM 4-422
Dr. Gail McCabe: "Secular Rituals, Society, and Humanism"

Dr. McCabe is a scholar with interests in Ritual Studies, Social Psychology and a Sociology of the Body informed by Critical Cultural Analysis.

Her dissertation, "Morphing the Crone: An Ethnography of Crone Culture, Consciousness and Communities" expands a theory of how ritual and dramas are implicated in social life on earth and in cyberspace. She takes the position that humans and humanists, no matter where they locate themselves philosophically, physically or spiritually, are certainly not 'beyond belief.' On that account, humanists have everything to gain from an understanding about how these different aspects of culture give structure to social order and human communities.

Dr. McCabe holds appointments as an officiant from Humanist Canada. She is also a member of the University of Toronto Campus Chaplain's Association serving the secular community at the University of Toronto. She taught in the Sociology Department at Glendon College and more recently, was the Academic Advisor, Calumet College, York University. She currently teaches the Community Services Worker program at a private college in Mississauga. This event is free and open to the public.

NEWS: German Fossil Find

German Fossil link

German Fossil Found to Be Early Primate
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

Fossil remains of a 47-million-year-old animal, found years ago in Germany, have been analyzed more thoroughly and determined to be an extremely early primate close to the emergence of the evolutionary branch leading to monkeys, apes and humans, scientists said in interviews this week.

Described as the "most complete fossil primate ever discovered," the specimen is a juvenile female the size of a small monkey. Only the left lower limb is missing, and the preservation is so remarkable that impressions of fur and the soft body outline are still clear. The animal's last meal, of fruit and leaves, remained in the stomach cavity.

In an article to be published on Tuesday in PLoS One, an online scientific journal, an international team of scientists will report that this extraordinary fossil could be a "stem group" from which higher primates evolved,"but we are not advocating this."

The researchers said the specimen, designated Darwinius masillae, "is important in being exceptionally well preserved and providing a much more complete understanding of the paleobiology" of a primate from the Eocene period, a time when primitive primates were starting to branch into two lineages, the prosimians and the anthropoids.

As part of a heavily promoted publicity campaign, the skeleton will be displayed at a news conference on Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; the History Channel plans a documentary on the primate at 9 p.m. on May 25; and Little Brown is bringing out a book. The Wall Street Journal published an article on Friday giving some scientific details of the discovery.

The specimen was excavated by private collectors in 1983 from the Messel Shale Pit, a shale quarry near Darmstadt, Germany, that has yielded many fossils of Eocene life, including other primitive primates. Jörn H. Hurum, a paleontologist at the University of Oslo and a leader of the research, said the site was "one of the real treasure troves of paleontology, like the Gobi Desert for dinosaurs."

The skeleton was divided and sold in two parts, one of which had dropped out of sight. When Dr. Hurum learned that the missing part was for sale, he arranged for its purchase by the Natural History Museum in Oslo and two years ago rounded up a team of German and American scientists to study the bones with CT imaging and other advanced technologies.

Speaking by telephone from Norway, Dr. Hurum recalled: "I realized at first it's a primate. It just screams primate: opposable big toes and thumbs, no evidence of claws. This is like the Archaeopteryx of primate evolution."

The scientists estimated that the primate was about 9 months old, the equivalent of a 6-year-old human. At maturity they suggest that it would have weighed two pounds and been two feet long, most of it tail. It had a broken left wrist, healing at the time of death, and may have drowned in the volcanic lake at Messel. It was, the researchers said, something like a combination "lemur monkey."

Philip D. Gingerich, a member of the team who is a paleontologist of Eocene life at the University of Michigan, said in an e-mail message that in the context of other fossil finds and DNA studies the primate should be considered for a place in the ancestral line leading to living higher primates, including apes and humans.

NEWS: Gore Vidal is Honorary President of the AHA

Gore Vidal Accepts Title of American Humanist Association Honorary President

(Washington, D.C., April 20, 2009) Humanist leaders are pleased to announce that Gore Vidal -- preeminent novelist, essayist, and playwright who is frequently described as America's best-known public intellectual -- has accepted the honorary presidency of the American Humanist Association.

"We're delighted and privileged to have Gore Vidal as our honorary president," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "Vidal is a sharply intelligent advocate for individual liberty, separation of church and state, and reason and rationality. He has a reverence for earthly inquiry--as opposed to doctrine or dogma -- that embodies the mission of the AHA. We're very excited about working with him."

Vidal has had a long literary and intellectual career that has inspired and never shied away from controversy. A lifelong advocate for progressive values, he has time and again challenged conventional wisdom. He is an outspoken critic of the radical religious right's influence over public policy, and in recent years has spoken out against civil liberty abuses perpetrated by the Bush administration.

"With his great literary work and vocal positions on important issues, Vidal has in fact been advancing humanism for decades," said AHA president David Niose. "Now, as the AHA's honorary president, he will surely draw even more public attention to the humanist life stance."

Vidal succeeds the late Kurt Vonnegut as AHA honorary president. Vonnegut held the post from 1992, when he took the reins from Isaac Asimov, until his death in 2007. Vonnegut wrote a chapter about humanism in his last book A Man Without a Country, where, in his characteristically sarcastic style, he showed how he didn't take much stock in divinely revealed "truth."

In a letter addressed to the AHA executive director, Vidal wrote:
"Of course, I have been very much aware of the AHA for some years. I knew and admired Issac Asimov and his work. As for Kurt, I would be most honored to succeed my old friend as honorary President of the Association: Although he himself is hardly easy to replace, I will do my best to fill the great gap. I think my "religion" is the same as his and yours and does not derive from cloudy divinity, but from a man in Athens called Socrates who once observed: "The unexamined life is not worth living." So, I would like to help the AHA to encourage others to realize that life, no matter how shadowed by superstition, is worth living, and the AHA is always in a position to encourage much needed "examiners."

EVENT: John Robert Columbo, May 10

HAT Humanist of the Year
John Robert Colombo
“St. Socrates: Some Thoughts on Humanism”
Sunday, May 10, 1 – 3 pm
OISE, 252 Bloor St. west, Room 4-422

"St. Socrates: Some Thoughts on Humanism from John Robert Colombo." This will be a far-ranging discussion with the recommendation of some specific applications. Colombo is the author/compiler/translator of over 200 books. His current title is "A Far Cry," a collection of poems, and coming this fall is "The Big Book of Canadian Hauntings." The Toronto-based author and anthologist is best known for "Colombo's Canadian Quotations." For this he is known as the Master Gatherer and the Canadian Bartlett. He hosted Space Television's "Unexplained Canada" TV series. He holds an honorary doctorate from York University, is a recipient of the Harbourfront Literary Prize, and is a Member of the Order of Canada.

At this meeting, John will be awarded the HAT Humanist of the Year Award.

Article: The Science of Religion

(It's not an article, it's a broadcast, but please accept the anachronism)
CBC Quirks & Quarks April 11, 2009.

The Science of Religion.

Over the next week or so, Christians around the world will be celebrating Easter, while some Buddhists will celebrate the New Year and Jews will mark Passover. And while these religious festivals are happening, a few curious scientists will be asking, why? Is there something about human psychology or evolution that has made religious worship a nearly universal part of human culture? Science can't say whether gods are real, but it might be able to suggest why people believe in them.
(note: Quirks & Quarks is heard on Saturdays on CBC Radio One from 12:06 - 1:00pm with a rebroadcast Monday evenings at 11:06pm, and also on Sirius satellite radio. You can also listen to the MP3 audio files or subscribe to the podcast, HERE

(thanks to Maria for the tipoff!)

Humour: Twittering the Crucifixion

WWJT - zomg-y-hv-u-4skn-me

Trinity Church on Wall Street is twittering the Crucifixion. La Figa at Firedoglake.com has the post:

"What would Jesus tweet? Trinity Church on Wall Street is delivering a three hour twitter feed of the Passion Play, plus online Stations of the Cross--it's a contemporary recreation of Christ's last hours on earth. w00t!

via @_Peter_of_: is waiting in the courtyard of the High Priest Caiaphas. I ran scared when the officers came but I need to see how this ends

SPOILER ALERT: He rolls away the stone and there are 2,000 more years of war.
(as our Voltaire Quotation says today: "God is always on the side of the big battalions")

HAT: Letter re G. Goodyear to PM Harper

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

The Humanist Association of Toronto would like to express our dismay at the remarks last month made by the Hon. Gary Goodyear concerning the theory of evolution. When asked about his belief in regard to the biological theory, he at first declined to answer on the ground that he considered it a matter of religion. His subsequent statement that he did believe in evolution does not reassure us for two reasons. First, his clarification "that people are always evolving" leaves much doubt that he was referring to the biological theory explaining the diversity of life forms. Second, and most importantly, he has never to our knowledge retracted his implication that evolution is a matter of religion.

In his role as Minister of Science and Technology, Mr. Goodyear is responsible for funding scientific research in Canada. At the very least, a minister in that position ought to respect the ability of the scientific community to answer questions of a scientific nature. That he should regard one of science's greatest accomplishments as a religious matter, rather than a scientific one, is troubling. While the theory of evolution remains controversial in some circles, it has been the consensus of the scientific community for over a century, and has become the foundational paradigm of the biological sciences.

We therefore urge you to demonstrate your government's commitment to science by either firing Mr. Goodyear or transferring him to another portfolio where his inability to distinguish a scientific paradigm from a religious doctrine will be less relevant. Canada's science research programs ought to be overseen by a cabinet minister who fully appreciates the achievements of science.

Sincerely,


Moses Klein
for the Humanist Association of Toronto

cc:
Marc Garneau, Liberal Party critic for Industry, Science and Technology
Jim Maloway, NDP critic for Science and Technology
Robert Vincent, Bloc Quebecois critic for Science and Technology
Humanist Association of Canada
Centre for Inquiry - Canada
Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Royal Ontario Museum
Dr. Brian Alters, Director, Evolution Education Research Centre

Event: Christopher Hitchens at the ROM

The Three New Commandments: Christopher Hitchens
Tuesday, June 2, 7:00 - 8:00 pm

Christopher Hitchens is perhaps the most brilliant and controversial political commentarist and essayist in America today. A prolific writer, he is the author of more than 10 books including the New York Times bestselling book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. He is currently a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and writes regularly on various topics for Harper's, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Slate, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

Location: Royal Ontario Museum, Level
Cost: Public $26.00, Member $23.00
Tel.: 416.586.5797 programs@rom.on.ca

Article: Goodyear, Lunney, and Lunatarianism

Humour from Dan Gardner
"I believe the earth has existed for precisely 3,213 years, five months, seven days, and four hours. Of course the reader will have to adjust these figures somewhat as I am writing this column a day before it will be published.

I further believe that scientific evidence to the contrary -- geology, biology, and a couple of other "-ogies" -- is uncertain, inconclusive, hypothetical, epistemological, scatological, or phantasmagorical. As these polysyllabic words plainly demonstrate, I am an expert. Plus, I'm a trained chiropractor. And I'm really big on natural health products. So I'm a physician, a scientist, and a guy who uses very long words. I believe I have earned your respect.You may call me "Dr. Gardner."

Another critical fact you won't hear in the mainstream media is that much of the evidence allegedly establishing that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and life has evolved from common origins over the last 2.5 billion years is fraudulent. Yes, fraudulent. Those responsible are dwarves who dwell in vaults dug deep beneath the Swiss Alps.

Indeed, Mr. Charles Darwin was not the bearded Englishman people believe he was. He was, in fact, a Swiss dwarf. He did have a beard, though. All dwarves have beards.

Yes, I am a Lunatarian. I worship the moon, which I believe to be a living creature. A cat, to be precise. A really big, very round cat. In space. In my faith, we believe it was 3,213 years ago -- plus several months, days, etc. -- that the moon coughed up the most awesome hair ball in the history of the universe. And thus was the earth created. The dwarves don't want people to know any of this. They prefer dogs.

Generally, I avoid speaking so frankly about my fundamental beliefs. It's not that I'm embarrassed I believe things belied by five centuries of scientific observation. Heavens, no. It's the bigotry I can't stomach.

So many people are intolerant and hateful toward people whose views are not their own. Just look at what Gary Goodyear went through. Goodyear is the minister of state for science and technology. He's also a chiropractor, so he's practically a scientist himself.

But that wasn't good enough for the reporter who asked him if he accepted that evolution is true... Naturally, Goodyear refused to answer the question on the grounds that basic science is a matter of personal faith and thus out of bounds for reporters. But the media wouldn't let it go. Pundits ridiculed the man. Some even suggested a cabinet minister who doesn't accept basic science shouldn't be the minister of science.

Clearly, this was a witch hunt.

Goodyear defended himself in an interview the next day. He accepts evolution, he said. "We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact. Whether it's to the intensity of the sun, whether it's to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it's running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that's not relevant. And that's why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong."

So the minister very clearly accepted that evolution -- defined as some sort of bizarre Lamarckian witchcraft involving high heels and the sun -- is a scientific fact.

Naturally, this settled the matter for most reporters. Evolution is pretty trivial stuff, after all. They were keen to get back to serious news, like the prime minister going to the loo and missing a photo-op.

But the fanatics wouldn't give up. You know the type. They're the Torquemadas with a not-so-hidden agenda of encouraging everyone to learn about and accept basic science. The arrogance and intolerance of these people is breathtaking.

Fortunately, one man -- one brave man -- wouldn't back down.

"Recently, we saw an attempt to ridicule the beliefs of a member of this house and the belief of millions of Canadians in a creator," said chiropractor and Conservative MP James Lunney in the House of Commons this week. "Certain individuals and in the scientific community have exposed their own arrogance and intolerance of beliefs contrary to their own."

Now, I don't actually recall anyone ridiculing Goodyear's religious beliefs. I don't even know what those beliefs are. But let us not get distracted by details. What matters is that Lunney has articulated a magnificent rule for dealing with knowledge and belief in a pluralistic society: If someone believes something, you have to respect that belief.

Even if the belief is untrue. Even if it is ludicrous. Even if it is as patently false as the lies spread by those nasty little dwarves in Switzerland...
And so now -- finally! -- I can state my Lunatarian beliefs openly, knowing that James Lunney, Gary Goodyear, and all the other sensitive conservatives would never, ever dare say I'm wrong."

Article: Computerized synthethic prayers - for a price

LiveScience News notes Information Age Prayer - a site that charges you a monthly fee to say prayers for you. A typical charge is $4.95 per month to say three prayers specified by you each day.

"We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying," the company states. "Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen."

Prices, however, are dictated by the length of the prayer. As noted in the Information Age Prayer FAQ, "A discounted prayer will cost less than other prayers of similar length."

The Yahoo article also mentions other literary precedents: such as Robert Silverberg's Robot Pope, Roger Zelazny's prayer automat, and of course, Douglas Adam's Electric Monk from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:

"The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder... Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe."

Event: HAT AGM April 4

A reminder to members of HAT: The 2009 Annual General Meeting of the Humanist Association of Toronto will be held Saturday April 4, 2009 1:30 pm at OISE
All Members of HAT are Welcome to attend. Please ensure your membership is up-to-date.

More information is available on the HAT website.

Event: Humanist Forum, April 4

Here is the topic for this Saturday’s HAT Forum in OISE Room 8-192
Topic: BUILDING THE CASE FOR HUMANISM AS A FAITH

Since faith is, in one of its many meanings, a firm belief in something for which there is no proof, and since the non-existence of God is unprovable, why don’t Humanists just get over their atheism? In what sense are all Faiths forms of Humanism?

Facilitator: Bill Kennedy

EVENT: Reminder, Innis Lecture, April 18

"Join Humanist Canada (HAC) on Saturday April 18 at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto campus for a lively and thought-provoking symposium on the evolution of ethics. Five prominent speakers, from both the Christian and Humanist communities, will discuss and debate some of the hottest issues today including: abortion; gender; homosexuality; animal rights; and biotechnology. Our panel of award-winning speakers includes: Christopher diCarlo (critical-thinking activist, professor of Philosophy of Science and Bioethics); Michael Coren (Christian writer, radio and TV host); George Dvorsky (futurist, transhumanist, animal rights activist); Tony Costa (public speaker, Campus for Christ); and Jean Saindon (professor of Natural Science and Technology).

Tickets are $15 for HC members, $25 for non-members, and $10 for students. Delicious appetizers, desserts, and drinks are included. Speaker profiles and registration details are on the Humanist Canada website at: HumanistCanada.com. Please register by April 15.

Article: FAC transit ads on TTC

Doug Thomas of SOFREE comments on the FAC ads.

A while ago the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) began to display ads placed by the Freethought Association of Canada (FAC) repeating those on the London, England transit system – “There Probably Is No God. Stop worrying and enjoy your Life.”

The TTC did not insist on the word probably, but FAC chose to include it because FAC felt a better debate would result. At the same time Humanist Canada (HC), aka the Humanist Association of Canada ran an ad saying, "We Can be Good Without God," in a high-traffic Toronto subway station.

Local fundamentalists reacted predictably. Apparently attacking non-believers is fine, but any glimmer of a positive presence from those same non-believers is not. According to Kathy Meidell, Executive Director of HC, they have received dozens of negative phone calls and emails mixed in with new inquiries about HC and applications for membership.

A panel discussion, regarding the ads, on TV Ontario’s (TVO) "The Agenda" was revealing. The pro participants included Justin Trottier, president of FAC, Dr. Robert Buckman, author of We Can Be Good Without God, and Greta Vosper, chairperson of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity.

Kathy Shaidle, conservative Catholic blogger (fivefeetoffury), and Dr. Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, responded on the con side. The pro side emphasized the notion of promoting dialogue and of moving nonbelievers more into the mainstream of ethical debates. The con side seemed to emphasize the fears of chaos threatened by such ads...

...So, the ads sparked debate. Religious fundamentalists have responded in predictable ways – fear and loathing. However, Trottier, Buckman and Vosper are correct; positive dialogue is occurring. One United Church responded with an ad of its own: "There probably is a God. Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life."

News: Anti-Gay Evangelist appointed to Immigration Board

Doug Cryer, former director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, has been appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

Cryer's appointment has many people worried because of statements that he made publicly in 2006 on CanadianChristianity.com, where he said that the church has a right to say that homosexual behaviour is sinful, just as it can say that adultery is sinful. "It is part of God's teaching," he said, though he was also critical of a church that mass-mailed a homophobic pamphlet which included an article titled The Plague of this 21st Century: The Consequences of the Sin of Homosexuality (AIDS). "This kind of brochure helps to reinforce the negative stereotype of Christians," Cryer said at the time.

During his time at the Evangelical Fellowship, Cryer actively campaigned against same-sex marriage, arguing that it could have a "negative impact on children."...

(When) NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow submitted Access to Information (ATI) requests for the selection criteria, she was given pages of blacked-out notes that were unusable.

"He does not have any in-depth experience on any immigration and refugee issues," Chow says. "From his CV, he has no experience serving on the tribunal or connected with administrating the law, so I can't see how he would qualify to be an Immigration and Refugee Board member." Chow also suggests that Cryer's appointment is likely because he was a failed Conservative candidate, having run in the 2004 general election as the candidate for Wascana in Saskatchewan, and that he previously served as the legislative assistant to a Conservative MP.

NEWS: Red Cross makes it official - US Tortured at Guantanamo

US interrogators attached detainees to collars like dogs and used their leashes to slam them against walls, forced them to stand for days wearing only diapers, and tied detainees necks with towels and threw them against plywood walls, according to accounts in a secret 2007 report issued by the Red Cross to be printed in a New York magazine and leaked on Monday.

The report -- issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross and kept secret for the last two years -- is the first first-hand document to legally say the Bush Administration's harsh interrogation techniques "constituted torture." They strongly imply that CIA interrogators violated international law.

The Red Cross was the only organization to get access to high-value detainees that were transferred to Guantanamo Bay from secret prisons US in 2006. It contains accounts from the prisoners, who were held in different locations but offered remarkably uniform tales of abuse at the hands of US agents.

Techniques amounted to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the report states. Such treatment is explicitly barred by the Geneva Conventions.

NEWS: CofHE reports Turkish Journal editor sacked for Darwin article

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports The editor of a scientific journal published by Turkey’s state-run Scientific and Technological Research Council has reportedly been removed from her post for commissioning a March cover story on Charles Darwin to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the naturalist’s birth. The council’s vice president, who is also a member of the magazine’s editorial board, “removed the story from the journal and put an article about climate change on the cover instead,” the Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet reported.

Dozens of university students and professors protested the council’s action outside its Ankara headquarters today, the Associated Press reported. The country’s secularists suspect the governing party, which has its roots in political Islam, is seeking to raise the role of religion and promote the Muslim version of creationism.

Turkey occupies a “central position in the creationist movement” outside the United States, Hürriyet noted in an earlier article.

Turkey’s main, secular opposition party has filed a parliamentary motion over the apparent censorship, but Hürriyet reported that the research council’s president had “left the media’s questions largely unanswered.” —Aisha Labi

News: Non-religious population rises in US

The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million "Nones." Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent "Nones," leading all other states by a full 9 points.

"Many people thought our 2001 finding was an anomaly," Keysar said. We now know it wasn't. The 'Nones' are the only group to have grown in every state of the Union."

The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, and those who do are increasingly identifying themselves without traditional denomination labels, according to a major study of U.S. religion being released today. The "American Religious Identification Survey" is conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Conducted in 1990, 2001 and last year, it is one of the nation's largest major surveys of religion.

The survey of more than 54,000 people conducted between February and November of 2008 showed that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christians has dropped to 76 percent of the population, down from 86 percent in 1990. People calling themselves mainline Protestants, including Methodists and Lutherans, have dropped to 13 percent of the population, down from 19 percent in 1990.

Northern New England has surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country; 34 percent of Vermont residents say they have "no religion." The report said that the country has a "growing non-religious or irreligious minority." Twenty-seven percent of those interviewed said they did not expect to have a religious funeral or service when they died, and 30 percent of people who had married said their service was not religious. Those questions weren't asked in previous surveys.

Interesting graphs via USA today

Findings:
- So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

- Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.

- Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.

- Jewish numbers showed a steady decline, from 1.8% in 1990 to 1.2% today. The percentage of Muslims, while still slim, has doubled, from 0.3% to 0.6%. Analysts within both groups suggest those numbers understate the groups' populations, though 'Cultural Jews' (non-religious) are included in the general Jewish numbers.

- nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.

Article: Chimp evidence animals can plan events

BBC: A male chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo planned hundreds of stone-throwing attacks on zoo visitors, according to researchers. Keepers at Furuvik Zoo found that the chimp collected and stored stones that he would later use as missiles.

Further, the chimp learned to recognise how and when parts of his concrete enclosure could be pulled apart to fashion further projectiles. The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

There has been scant evidence in previous research that animals can plan for future events. Crucial to the current study is the fact that Santino, a chimpanzee at the zoo in the city north of Stockholm, collected the stones in a calm state, prior to the zoo opening in the morning. The launching of the stones occurred hours later - during dominance displays to zoo visitors - with Santino in an "agitated" state.

...Dr Osvath embarked on the study after zoo staff discovered caches of stones in the section of the enclosure facing the public viewing area. Since the initial discovery in 1997, hundreds of the caches have been removed to protect visitors, to whom the caching and the aggressive displays seem strictly related; in the off season, Santino neither hoards the projectiles nor hurls them. Most interestingly, Santino seems to have learned how to spot weak parts of the concrete "boulders" in the centre of the enclosure... Santino was observed gently knocking on the "boulders", hitting harder to detach bits that were loosened and adding those to his stashes of ammunition.

There are a number of examples of complex behaviour in apes that suggest forms of consciousness...This suggests that Santino was anticipating a future mental state - an ability that has been difficult to definitively prove in animals, according to Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist from Lund University in Sweden and author of the new research.

News: Oxfam: Iraqi women lack basic services

Iraqi women 'lack basic services'; spiral of violence and poverty. BBC

This survey was released for International Women's Day

Women in Iraq still lack security and basic services, despite an overall drop in violence six years after the US-led invasion, aid agency Oxfam says. Reporting on a survey of about 1,700 women in five provinces taken last year, Oxfam described their plight as a "silent emergency". It suggested more than half the women had suffered from violence.

A quarter did not have daily access to water supplies, and more than three-quarters were not getting pensions. Last month, Iraq's minister for women resigned, saying the government was not taking the plight of women seriously.

Oxfam said: "Iraqi women are suffering a silent emergency', trapped in a downward spiral of poverty, desperation and personal insecurity despite an overall decrease in violence in the country." More than 20% of widows had been victims of domestic violence.

A third of all women surveyed said members of their families had died violently. Across the country, security improved in 2008, but most women still said that personal safety was their biggest concern. Almost half said health care provision was worse in 2008 than the two previous years, and almost half of respondents said they were getting poorer.

One widow, Nadia Hussein, told the BBC she found work as a housekeeper after her husband was killed, but the men tried to have sex with her. Her nephew also beat her regularly.

Women's rights campaigner Hana Adwar said the hardest thing was getting the widows to think that they deserve better. "The majority feel that this is the will of God, they have to obey the right of their families."

News: Vatican upholds 9-year old rape victim excommunication

Vatican defends Brazil excommunication
March 8, 2009, 6:40 am AAUPNews

[Happy International Women's Day - SNARK]

A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil after being raped by her stepfather

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Catholic church's Congregation for Bishops, told the daily La Stampa on Saturday that the twins the girl had been carrying had a right to live. "It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

Re, who also heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, added: "Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified."

The row was triggered by the termination on Wednesday of twin foetuses carried by a nine-year-old allegedly raped by her stepfather in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

The regional archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, pronounced excommunication for the mother for authorising the operation and doctors who carried it out for fear that the slim girl would not survive carrying the foetuses to term. "God's law is above any human law. So when a human law ... is contrary to God's law, this human law has no value," Cardoso had said.

He also said the accused stepfather would not be expelled from the church. Although the man allegedly committed "a heinous crime ... the abortion - the elimination of an innocent life - was more serious".

News: TorontoSun cover the HAC Subway Campaign

Humanists See light at the end of tunnel" - Toronto Sun

Nice to have a little even-handed publicity - and to be called a philosophy rather than something subversive

"First atheist bus ads, now humanist subway posters.
Transportation advertising in Toronto is getting another dose of philosophy for riders to chew on with Humanist Canada's new poster at the Queen's Park subway station.

The poster states, "You can be good without God," and directs people to the organization's website.

"Our slogan does not support or oppose any religion or theology," said Humanist Canada president Pat O'Brien in a press release. "Humanism is neither a religion nor a theology and the fact that a person can live a moral life, without deferring to any deity, has been recognized and accepted by religious and secular communities."

Since it was put up last week, the poster has drawn both positive and negative reaction, he said. "We're all about free speech and I think all the ideas out there should be available for people to look at so they can make an informed decision," O'Brien said, adding the same posters were rejected in Halifax and Vancouver last month.

Event: Humanist Film Series, April - May

Sunday March 22, 3:00-6:00: monthly film screening and discussion.
Film: Contact
Location: Center for Inquiry Ontario, 216 Beverley St.
Jody Foster plays an astronomer who has been a lifelong atheist finds signals sent by intelligent life from another planet. The resulting events bring her into conflict with influential religious figures.

Sunday April 19, 3:00-6:00: monthly film screening and discussion
Film: The Milagro Beanfield War
Location: Center for Inquiry Ontario, 216 Beverley St.
A conflict over water between local people and a big developer blows up in a small New Mexico town.

Film series sponsored by HAT. Free admission, open to all.

Article: Christian Salt (not Lot's wife)

RESAPTOWN, Md. - You've heard of kosher salt? Now there's a Christian variety.

Retired barber Joe Godlewski says he was inspired by television chefs who repeatedly recommended kosher salt in recipes.

"I said, 'What the heck's the matter with Christian salt?'" Godlewski said, sipping a beer in the living room of his home in unincorporated Cresaptown, a western Maryland mountain community. By next week, his trademarked Blessed Christians Salt will be available at Ingredients Corporation of America.

It's sea salt that's been blessed by an Episcopal priest, ICA President Damon S. Arney said Wednesday. He said the company also hopes to market the salt through Christian bookstores and as a fundraising tool for religious groups.

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, kosher administrator for the Chicago Rabbinical Council, said marketing Christian salt as an alternative to kosher salt reflects, at best, ignorance about Jewish dietary laws. He said all salt is inherently kosher because it occurs naturally and requires little or no processing...Chefs often favor kosher salt because it's crunchy and easy to pinch.

Godlewski said his salt, packaged in containers bearing bright red crosses, has at least as much flavor and beneficial minerals as kosher salt - and it's for a good cause. "The fact is, it helps Christians and Christian charities," he said. "This is about keeping Christianity in front of the public so that it doesn't die. I want to keep Christianity on the table, in the household, however I can do it."

If the salt takes off, Godlewski plans an entire line of Christian-branded foods, including rye bread, bagels and pickles. Food industry consultant Richard Hohman, of Tampa, Fla., said Christian branding is a clever idea that could do well in the Bible Belt.

But Christine Johnson, managing editor of the trade journal Christian Retailing in Lake Mary, Fla., said marketing channels are limited. Although Christian scripture candy and Christian fortune cookies have won shelf space in some Christian bookstores, "there's a very, very small market for Christian-type foods," she said

OPINION: Religion, Ponzi Schemes, and tribalism

Two recent US news events shed more light on the sociological role of religion as tribal identity in contemporary society.
1) We know that Madoff flogged his ponzi scheme to Jewish investors, in Florida and worldwide, who trusted him. We now learn that "Sir Allen" Stanford and James Davis not only sold his 8 billion security fraud to Southern Christian leaders, but "Mr. Davis was also known as a deeply religious man, opening many Stanford Financial meetings with a prayer that Stanford executives would make the right investment decisions, according to another former financial adviser". It is pointed out that this is probably linked to the "Prosperity Gospel" proponents, such as Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. (aka Lottery Ticket Christians - God wants you to drive a gold mercedes.)

2)But the god-fearing seem also spend quite a bit on ungodly things. A Harvard Business Study (analysing credit card receipts) determined more online porn is watched by conservative and religious states. "Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," Edelman says.

Humanists often have interesting and intelligent discussions about the history of religion, philosophy, ethics and the enlightenment, and other ways to look at religion as a liberal art. But sometimes it's important to note that religion less an intellectual, moral guide, than it is merely a class-based tribal identity, useful for selling insurance, finding a business partner, marrying your children inside the tribe, and selling pesticide; most of the pesticide companies, as well as the MLM home-marketing companies are run by Mormons in Utah - and most of your sushi comes from the Moonies, btw. The massive competing Korean churches in Queens NY are known for their business networking events - with entertainment by the Korean gospel choirs singing black spirituals... This isn't any different than my Irish catholic relatives antics as ward bosses in 1890, of course.

Considering the Christian States addiction to online porn, despite their railing against the decline in 'moral values' among their liberal neighbors, it's useful to examine the treatment of women when you analyse tribal identity among religions. We know that the more conservative religious communities forbid access to sex ed and family planning (but not to Viagra!). This is often a technique to keep women "barefoot, uneducated and poor" - and HOME, of course.

A Chinese muslim was asked on a BBC documentary why the tribe did not apply for electricity, like the city across the river. He answered: "if our women see these things, they will leave us". A secular muslim friend once told me that the utility of hijab is "to save your sister for your second cousin - before anyone on the outside gets a chance". It seems to have worked for few hundred years, and keeps the property in the family, and the women at home. Tidy, that.

However, there are rumbles, even in the cultural/religious tangle of FGM. See this disturbing article on the movement in Sierra Leone to free women from Female Genital Mutilation - and the tribal revenge enacted upon the brave reformers.

Speaking for myself only (SFMO), - the webeditor.

NEWS: AHA: Summum decision will allow new lawsuits

In Wake of Summum, Humanists Will Target Ten Commandments Monuments
www.americanhumanist.org

In the wake of today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Pleasant Grove City v.Summum, 07-665, the American Humanist Association announced it has been given just what it needs to pursue the removal of 10 Commandments monuments on public property all over America.

"The unanimous decision of the Court is clear," said Bob Ritter, legal coordinator for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the AHA. "A permanent monument owned by a government entity and located in a public park is a form of government speech. Given this, such a monument isn't permitted to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And we humanists are ready to argue that 10 Commandments monuments in U.S. public parks are unconstitutional government
endorsements of religion."

Justice Samuel Alito, in his opinion on behalf of the majority, wrote: "government speech must comport with the Establishment Clause. The involvement of public officials in advocacy may be limited by law, regulation, or practice."

NEWS: Obama reverses US position on LBGT rights at UN

UN DISPATCHby Marc Goldberg.
In late December the United Nations General Assembly held a symbolic vote on a statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. France spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." The statement received 60 votes in support, mostly from Europe and South America. Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. At the time, the Bush administration couched its objection to the measure in legal technicalities.

That was then, This is now: At the so-called "Durban Review Conference" on racism and xenophonia underway in Geneva, Europe again put forward language condemning “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.” According to UN Watch, "The Czech Republic on behalf of the E.U., with the support of New Zealand, the United States, Colombia, Chili on behalf of the South American states, the Netherlands, Argentina and a few others, took the floor in support."

The efforts to include language on discrimination based on sexual orientation ended up failing for lack of support from non-western countries. Still, it's relieving to see that the United States is now back on the side of the enlightened on this issue of basic human rights. (No information on Canada's vote).

EVENT: Humanist Canada lectures at Innis April 18

Humanist Canada is launching its first lecture series this spring in the form of an exciting bicentennial Darwin Day celebration! This special event will be in the form of a debate series with speakers discussing such hot topics such as ethics, sexuality, genetic engineering, and immortality, as they relate to science, humanity, faith, and morality. The event will take place at Innis Hall at the University of Toronto campus at 6:30 pm SATURDAY APRIL 18, 2009

The debaters are Dr Christopher diCarlo and Michael Coren and the speakers include: Dr Jean Saindon, Assistant Professor, Division of Natural Science & Philosophy and George Dvorsky, board director at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, who speaks on the scientific, political and social issues surrounding human biotechnology. Full details and registration information coming soon!

EVENT: Justin Trottier and the Bus Campaign

Saturday March 14, 2009 1:30 pm OISE Room 4 - 414 Monthly HAT Meeting presents
Justin Trottier - The Bus Campaign
We are pleased to welcome Justin Trottier, Executive Director for the Centre for Inquiry Canada, who will join us to talk about The Bus Campaign: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".

How and where did this campaign start? How did it come to Canada? What cities are involved? What kind of reactions, positive and negative, has the campaign generated? Is this in fact a form of "preaching?" Is this a good use of humanist money? Come and share your questions and comments.

ARTICLE: Kepler Mission launches Mar. 5

From Chris Bowers, at OPENLEFT. "At 10:48 p.m. eastern, on Thursday, March 5th. It is a new satellite called The Kepler mission, which is NASA's first major attempt to find Earth-like planets around stars other than our own. By continually monitoring the light produced by 100,000 stars in a distant area of the galaxy, and by utilizing the transit method of extrasolar planet detection, functionally it is a poll that will provide us with a statistically sound sampling of solar systems in our galaxy. Specifically, the Kepler mission aims to accomplish all of the following:

Determine how many terrestrial and larger planets there are in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of spectral types of stars

**Determine the range of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets
Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems
**Determine the range of orbit size, brightness, size, mass and density of short-period giant planets
**Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques
**Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems

While Kepler will not be monitoring stars within even 1,000 light years of our own, and thus won't be detecting any Earth-like planets with which we could ever hope to communicate, it will let us know what we can expect to find in all solar systems other than our own, including those systems closest to us...

After Kepler, the search for nearby exoplanets will really heat up with projects like The James Webb Space Telescope and the EU's Darwin Mission. It honestly seems possible that we will know, within the next twenty years, whether or not there are Earth-like planets in any neighboring solar systems. If there are intelligent civilizations on any of those planets, it is unlikely that any of us will be alive to take part in conversations with that civilization. Still, this is an amazing feat, and at least one reason to be excited about the future."

Happy Birthday, Charles!

Happy 200th Birthday!
(and happy birthday to my son-in-law Alan in Toronto - who is the same age as Darwin in the picture). Here is the YOUNG Darwin, of Beagle voyage age - we so often see the older Darwin in pictures. Let's offer encouragement and hope to young scientists and thinkers and rationalists and humanists of TODAY - that they have the curiousity, and courage, and support of all of us, on their own voyages to make the world a better place for all -- and that "social Darwinism" is not used as an excuse for abandoning the quest for a more humane and sustainable planet for all its habitants - bi-pedal, opposable thumbed - and otherwise endowed. (Mary, speaking for me only, or SFMO). Happy Birthday!

Manhattan Court recognizes Canadian Gay Marriage

"The potential impact of this first decision by an elected New York surrogate recognizing a same-sex marriage contracted out-of-state is huge". GayCityNews

New York County Surrogate Kristin Booth Glen issued a decision on January 26 recognizing the Canadian same-sex marriage of J. Craig Leiby and the late H. Kenneth Ranftle.

Contrary to a ruling issued last year by Queens County Surrogate Robert Nahman, who expressed doubt about whether a Canadian same-sex marriage would be recognized in a New York probate proceeding in the absence of a ruling on the question by the Appellate Division for the 2nd Department, in which Queens County is located, Surrogate Glen expressed no such reservation, even though the there is similarly no ruling yet by the Appellate Division for the 1st Department, which includes Manhattan.

Rather, applying established principles of New York marriage recognition law and citing the 4th Department's decision from last February 1 in Martinez v. County of Monroe, Glen concluded, "Mr. Leiby is decedent's surviving spouse and sole distributee," so there was no need for formal notification of Ranftle's surviving siblings about the pending probate proceeding regarding the will he left. Glen signed the probate decree, allowing Ranftle's last will and testament to go into effect.

In last year's Martinez case, an Appellate Division panel unanimously ruled that Monroe Community College must recognize the Canadian marriage of one of its employees and accord her lesbian spouse health benefits.

Under the state's Estates, Powers and Trusts Law, a surviving spouse of someone who dies without a will automatically inherits the entire estate, if the deceased had no children. If there are surviving children, they receive half of the estate, the spouse the other half.

DARWIN: 5 minute JOOST video


Joost is like Youtube. Here is a simple 5 minute video about Darwin from the "Need to Know" channel, that you can send to your friends on Darwin Day - or any time.

Also - check the blog Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary at the left - they publish a section of Darwin's diary each day on the same date as the diary.

EVENT: Oswego, NY New Darwin Oratorio Feb 6

World premiere of 'Origin' - a new oratorio on Darwin, by composer Richard Einhorn -- known to some Humanists as the blogger from the progressive American blog, Digby's Hullabaloo

The Origin, his new oratorio about the life and work of Charles Darwin, will have its world premiere at SUNY Oswego on Feb 6/7 in time for the 200th anniversary of the famed figure’s birth.

Texts for The Origin is drawn mostly from the published writings, notebooks and letters of Darwin, with a brief appearance by his wife, Emma. The words were compiled and arranged by poet Catherine Barnett and Einhorn.

You can read about the progress of the Oratorio, and see some musical clips on Digbysblog and Artswego As WCNY is involved, we may eventually be able to see the work on PBS.

Here is an excellent post by Einhorn on Darwin.

Conducted by Dr. Julie Pretzat, the multimedia production features Kitka, a Balkan vocal ensemble, soprano Jacqueline Horner of Anonymous 4, tenor Todd Graber, bass Eric Johnson and SUNY Oswego’s College Choir, College-Community Orchestra and Festival Chorus. Evocative video images by New York City filmmaker Bill Morrison will create the visual backdrop for the action.

EVENT: Writing Workshop with Don Cullen

Don Cullen is initiating a writing workshop, to begin in March (dates pending). If you are interested, please call Don at 416-533-6192. Participants will be asked to submit one page samples of poetry, short fiction, or essays with a Humanist perspective.

EVENT: Book Club Discussion "Things Fall Apart"

The next Humanist Book Discussion Group meets on March 1 from 11:00 to 12:30 at OISE (Room TBA - for info, email WebAdmin

We will be discussing the classic African novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: It is a short book and there are many copies available at the Toronto Public Library. "Achebe's masterpiece tells the story of Okonkwo, strongman of an Ibo village in Nigeria, as he witnesses the destruction of his culture and the loss of his own place within it."

News: Order to take off niqab pits law against religion

The Star
A judge has ordered a Toronto woman to testify without her niqab at a sexual assault trial – raising the thorny issue of whether Muslim women should be allowed to appear as witnesses wearing a veil that covers everything but the eyes. The issue is a collision of two rights, pitting religious freedom against the right of a defendant to face an accuser in open court.

The case could be precedent setting because it doesn't appear there is any Canadian case law addressing the question of Muslim women in the courtroom. In Canada, home to about 580,000 Muslims, the case will be closely watched, amid fears about Muslim women coming forward in criminal cases.

In October, Ontario Court Justice Norris Weisman reached his "admittedly difficult decision" to force the complainant to testify with her face bared after finding her "religious belief is not that strong ... and that it is, as she says, a matter of comfort," he wrote in his ruling.

EVENTS: CFI events for February

FEB BOOK CLUB: ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY CHARLES DARWIN. Monday (NOT Thursday), February 9th, at 7:00 - 9:00 pm. We will focus only on the first half (chpts 1-7)

FILM SCREENING, FEATURING INHERIT THE WIND (1960) Thursday, February 12th, 7:00 - 9:00 pm

PRE AND POST DARWINIAN SCIENCE, WITH LARRY MORAN
Friday, February 13th, 7:00 - 9:30 pm
THE PHILOSOPHY & SCIENCE OF THE MATRIX: PART 2, ON SCIENCE Saturday, February 14th, 5:00 - 7:00 pm
A Transhumanist Association Meetup. Everyone is welcome.

SCI FI MOVIE NIGHT, SOYLENT GREEN
Saturday, February 14th, 7:00 - 9:00 pm. Is this the future of life?

CFI'S FIRST ART SHOW: ART OF THE SACRILEGE
Sunday, February 15th 2009 at 11:00 am - 4:00pm
Location: Gladstone Hotel 1214 Queen St West, Toronto, In the main hall.
NOTE: The art will be on display at the Centre for Inquiry Monday, Feb 16 - Friday, Feb 20 (1-9pm) and Saturday (1-5pm). Please call ahead 416-971-5676.
An exhibition that engages and explores the fringes and outsider perspectives of those beyond and on the borders of spirituality and religion.

SKEPTICS SATURDAYS (SKEPTICS' FORUM, LAZY FILM SCREENING)
The third Saturday of each month, 1:00-5:00pm, continuing Feb 21 Forum: 1:00 - 2:30 pm. This is an informal event for discussion and socializing. Film begins at 3:00pm. Currently screening Penn & Teller's Bullsh!t and Myth Busters.

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These events are open to the public, and sponsored by the Center For Inquiry at 216 Beverly Street. Note: there are fees for some programs.

EVENT: HAT Monthly Film & Discussion Group

Sun. February 22, 3:00-6:00 pm

FILM: Clarence Darrow
LOCATION: 216 Beverley Street
Henry Fonda stars in this one man show about the famous freethinking civil rights lawyer who defended, among others, John Scopes.
FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, as well as HAT members.
Sponsored by the Humanist Association of Toronto (HAT).

Anniversary: Thomas Paine, b. Jan 29, 1737

Quotes:
"Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man".
"To establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations, would be to take from such Government the most lucrative of its branches".
"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good"
"My mind is my own church"
"One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests".

Event: Poetry at HAT monthly meeting

Saturday February 14, 2009 1:30 pm OISE Room 3-311
George Miller, Poet Laureate of the Bohemian Embassy
George will delight us with a poetry reading culled from his three publications, Ladders to High Places, 30 Some Odd Poems, and Sancho, as well as new works. George was the founder of the Poetry Workshop at the Bohemian Embassy. 34 years later, the workshop is still going strong, rising from the ashes as the Phoenix Poetry Workshop at Harbourfront.

Note: This event is free, and open to the public, as well as HAT members.

Article: Attenborough on Creationists

Guardian. 27 January 2009

Sir David Attenborough has revealed that he receives hate mail from viewers for failing to credit God in his documentaries. In an interview with this week's Radio Times about his latest documentary, on Charles Darwin and natural selection, the broadcaster said: "They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance."

Telling the magazine that he was asked why he did not give "credit" to God, Attenborough added: "They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."

Attenborough went further in his opposition to creationism, saying it was "terrible" when it was taught alongside evolution as an alternative perspective. "It's like saying that two and two equals four, but if you wish to believe it, it could also be five ... Evolution is not a theory; it is a fact, every bit as much as the historical fact that William the Conqueror landed in 1066."

News: Israel's Rabbinate Cuts Vatican over Holocaust-Deniers reinstated

JERUSALEM, Canadian Press — Israel's chief rabbinate has severed ties with the Vatican.
The move is to protest a papal decision to reinstate a bishop who publicly denied six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Richard Williamson of Britain and three other bishops had been excommunicated 20 years ago after the late ultraconservative archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated them without papal consent.
This story is developing rapidly. NY Times has more today.
And more about internal dissent at the Vatican.

Action: Atheist forums on the Richard Dawkins Site

If you have the urge to read and post about atheist topics or discuss philosophy, why not head over to the Forum at the Richard Dawkins site. There are thousands of posts. Also forums for philosophy, The God Delusion, and other topics. It's moderated, but still lively. Many posters from Canada. There's an "Atheists in Foxholes" forum, for those serving in the military, and dialogue from people in Kandahar, for instance.

News: Atheist Bus Campaign

Here's the CP story
Group wants to put atheist ads on Toronto transit buses, much like U.K. campaign.

TORONTO - A Toronto-based group hopes to raise enough money to put atheist advertisements on city transit buses. The Freethought Association of Canada wants to buy ads that say: "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." The idea is based on a similar campaign that started in Britain...

In Toronto, organizer Katie Kish says she hopes the message will spark discussion while countering the notion that atheists and agnostics are negative people.
The group has launched atheistbus.ca , a website through which they hope to collect between $6,000 and $7,000 to purchase the bus ads in the spring...

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Here's the statement by HAC (HumanistCanada) president Pat O'Brien from NatPost

Pat O'Brien, president of the Humanist Association, said his group considered working with atheistbus.cabut decided a pure atheist campaign would be too negative. "Joseph Stalin was an atheist," said Mr. O'Brien, who considers atheism an element of humanism. "He was not a humanist. We want to send a positive message. Atheism is what you're not; humanism is a positive world view."

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And now the Billboard Campaign, "Praise Darwin - Evolve Beyond Belief", from FFRF enters the fray. Dododreams says:

"The science-favoring blogosphere has been pretty critical of late of the New Scientist article that lent aid and comfort to creationists by asserting that "Darwin Was Wrong." A major thread of that criticism was that the author and editors should have realized the impact that the article and, particularly, the cover image, could have in giving creationists fodder to attack science education. But a major theme of that attack on science is that evolution is, itself, a religion. Now, sure, we know that the intent of the billboard is to advocate doing away with religion, just as the intent of New Scientist was to report on legitimate science. But, just as creationists, aided by the blinders many believers wear, can distort the message in the New Scientist article, they can certainly distort the message of "Praise Darwin."

Event: Forum on Science & Religion at Hart House

HOT TALKS – FACT OR FRICTION: THE CONTINUOUS TENSION BETWEEN SCIENCE & RELIGION

Date: January 21, 2009, Hart House: Free. Time: 6:30 PM
Join us for an evening of open discussion on the topic of the tension between science and religion. There will be a reception following the event at 8:30pm. Speakers for the evening include:

- Professor Jan Sapp, a professor of Biology and History at York University, with a focus on historical research on evolutionary biology.

- Professor Yiftach Fehige, assistant professor at St. Michael’s College and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. His focus is on Christianity and science, thought experiments, revelation, and research ethics.

- Professor Amanda Peet, a fellow of Trinity College teaching both within the college and across other disciplines including the Department of Physics. She focuses on understanding the fundamental dynamics of all forces and particles seen so far in Nature, especially gravity.

- Professor Michael Bourgeois, an associate theology professor at Emmanuel College. His particular interests include the relation of theology to the natural sciences, especially on questions of the origin and destiny of the universe and divine action; and expressions of religious ideas in popular culture.

Event: Conference on Religion/ Secularism at New School, NYC

[Note from Editor: the first time I've heard "polysemy" in a sentence this year..}

The upcoming conference from Social Research, an international quarterly journal at The New School
THE RELIGIOUS-SECULAR DIVIDE: THE U.S. CASE
March 5 and 6, 2009 in New York City

As tensions sharpen, join distinguished scholars and intellectuals to explore the nature and future of religion, spirituality, and secularism in the United States, looking at their changing relations both historically and through contemporary debates. This conference will look backward at the religious secular divide and forward to what the future may have in store. The keynote address will be delivered by Charles Taylor.

SPEAKERS:
Noah Feldman, George Kateb, Richard J. Bernstein, and José Casanova
on religious, political, philosophical origins of the secular
David Martin, Peter van der Veer, William E. Connolly, and Daniel C. Dennett
on religious selves and secular selves
Keynote Address by CHARLES TAYLOR on the polysemy of the secular
John T. Noonan, Jr., Winnifred Sullivan, James A. Morone, Janet Jakobsen, and Ann Pellegrini
on religion, politics, and the democratic state

David L. Chappell, Susan F. Harding, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, and James Davison Hunter
on moral crusades then and now
Sheila Davaney, Mark Lilla, Michael W. McConnell, and Charles Taylor
on the future of religion and the future of secularism

Tickets: $50, $12/session ($35 for AHA members, Free for all students)
Contact: socres@newschool.edu or 212-229-5776 x3121
Register: www.socres.org/religiousseculardivide

Quotation Vault

[Favourite quotations which appear on these posts. Send yours too]

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities". Voltaire
"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good". Thom Paine

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it" Voltaire, Darwin day


Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do". Voltaire

HAT EVENTS

HAT meetings are free and open to members and the public. Most events are at OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, unless indicated otherwise.
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The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm
The Monthly Meeting, is usually the Second or Third Saturday at 1:30pm
The Steering Committee meets First Wednesday of the month, 7pm
The Book Group meets monthly on Sundays.
The Film program is on hiatus at present.
HAT meetings are free and open to members and the public. Call (416) 966-1361 for location information. ___________________________________________________
The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm.
The Monthly Meeting, is usually the second Saturday at 1:30pm; specifics should be found on this blog.
The Steering Committee meets the first Wednesday of each month, at 7pm.
The Book Group usually meets on the first Saturday afternoon of the month.