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Newsletter: 1998: August 1998


Internet Infidels Newsletter

AUGUST 1998

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In this issue:

 

 


What's New on the Secular Web?

II is Proud to Announce that Richard Dawkins is an II supporter

If it is possible to judge an organization by the company it keeps, the Internet Infidels have much to be proud of. We are proud to announce that Richard Dawkins is now an Internet Infidel supporter. The list of supporters can be found at http://www.infidels.org/infidels/supporters.html. This list includes some of the most preeminent names in philosophy, science, and freethought.

Richard Dawkins, a zoologist at Oxford University, is one of the most important evolutionary biologists in the world. His best selling books include The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, The Extended Phenotype, River Out Of Eden and his most recent, Climbing Mount Improbable. For more information on the cutting edge ideas and writing of Richard Dawkins see the Secular Web's section on him at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_dawkins/ or John Catalano's excellent site at http://www.spacelab.net/~catalj/.

The Internet Infidels are extremely honored to have the support of Richard Dawkins, one of the most important thinkers of our day.

[Clark Adams prepared this report.]

Internet Infidels Receive Death Threat

Several Internet e-mail addresses received an e-mail message on 1 Jul, in which the author threatened to kill the recipient unless the recipient called the author at a designated telephone number within 24 hours. The author identified himself as "Andy" and sent messages from the address <(email address removed)>.

Because several of the addresses were owned by individuals who posted to the Usenet newsgroup alt.atheism.moderated, this prompted some atheists to wonder if the threats were intended specifically for atheists. However, at this time there is no evidence that atheists were specially selected as targets of the threat.

One recipient of the message, alt.atheism.moderated contributor G.R. Gaudreau, tried calling the phone number but "kept getting a busy signal." When he tried calling the Sheriff's Office in Clinton South Carolina, he was told by Detective Tim Hayes, of the County Sheriff's Office, that they had received similar phone calls from all over the world. The complete text of the message read as follows:

From: Yours 2 Be
Return-path: <(email address removed)
To: Yours 2 Be
Subject: Please Read
Date: Wed, 1 Jul 1998 00:13:20 EDT
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Content-transfer-encoding: 7bit

Hello, my name is Andy. I know where you live and I know where your kids sleep. If you dont call me within 24 hours im going to kill your kids. my phone number is 864-833-3403.

P.S. This is NOT a joke.

According to MSNBC, both America Online and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating. MSNBC reports that they were able to get through on the telephone number listed in the e-mail. A women answered the phone, saying that she had received phone calls from police departments around the country, that Andy is her 15-year old son, and that he did not send the e-mail.

MSNBC quoted John Ryan, AOL's assistant general counsel, as saying, "We're fairly confident that the account it passed through was not sent by actual account holder. It appeared compromised."

Portions of this article are based upon information obtained from http://www.msnbc.com/news/177372.asp.

[Jeffery Jay Lowder prepared this report.]

$cientologist "Clam-Nanny" Blocks Internet Infidels

In the latest round in the war between the Church of $cientology and the Internet, the Church of $cientology is giving web starter kits to members, in an attempt to encourage its members to create their own pro-$cientology web sites.

But web starter kit is much more than a piece of software to facilitate convenient construction of pro-$cientology web sites. The web starter kit also comes with web filtering software specially configured to block access to all web sites critical of $cientology.

$cientology's opponents note that their web starter kit is nothing more than a way of flooding the entire web with pro-$cientology spam. They accuse $cientologists of trying to flood search engines with thousands of redundant pro-$cientology web sites, effectively making it impossible for readers to find sites critical of $cientology. Fortunately, the search engines are relying upon anti-spam measures to prevent $cientology from ruining the integrity of their databases. Salon magazine quoted Alan Gross, a representative of http://www.lycos.com, as saying, "We heard about this major push to load up the search engines a couple months ago. We didn't get real worried about it. We're pretty protected from a major effort like that just from the way we catalogue." Gross added that this was not the first time $cientology contacted Lycos; he says that last year a representative from $cientology requested that 20,000 URLs be added to the search engine.

Moreover, critics of $cientology blast the web filtering software as "cult mind-control for the 21st century" and further evidence that the Church of $cientology is fundamentally opposed to the free expression of ideas.

Among the blocked sites are the following:

The filtering software is apparently also configured to block access to sites which contain certain words, including: Andreas Heldal-Lund, anti-Christian, anti-church, anti-God, FACTNet, James J. Lippard, Jim Lippard, and Operation Clambake.

One wonders why, if the doctrines of $cientology are true, the Church of $cientology feels the need to shield its members from critical or even hostile web sites. Of course, that presupposes that the leadership of the Church of $cientology is even concerned about the truth. In light of its actions, that seems like a rather dubious assumption.

[Information for this article was taken from http://www.salonmagazine.com/21st/feature/. A full list of the sites blocked by "Clam-Nanny" is available at http://www.salonmagazine.com/21st/feature/. Special thanks to Internet Infidel Doug Linder for bringing this to our attention.]

July 4th Celebration at Lake Hypatia

Every state should have a Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall. It is an oasis of reason in that sea of lunacy often referred to as Alabama. Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall, which is owned by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is the only Freethought Hall in the American Southeast. The surrounding property, which are owned by Roger Cleveland, Pat Cleveland, and Melody Cleveland, consist of 66 acres of piney Piedmont land. The property includes a 10 acre lake (Lake Hypatia) and borders the Talladega National Forest.

Every July 4th weekend, Lake Hypatia hosts the largest annual gathering of freethinkers in the South. Activities include speakers, discussions, poetry reading, boating, fishing, hiking, and the ever popular "Atheists vs. Agnostics Softball Game" (not really how the teams are divided). The speakers have included some of the most popular speakers in freethought: James "The Amazing" Randi, Edd Doerr, Internet Infidels' President Jeffery Jay Lowder, and Jim Lippard. This year was no exception. One "exception" to this year's festivities was that this was the first time national media covered the weekend.

The festivities began on Friday, July 3rd, with a welcoming to the gala by Alabama's premiere freethought activist, Pat Cleveland. Internet Infidels' Public Relations Director Clark Adams then gave a speech on current freethought trends, where he talked about the most important developments within freethought over the past few years. Shortly after his talk, a crew from the Public Broadcasting Service series arrived to film for their weekly "Religion and Ethics" program. They filmed most functions and interviewed dozens of freethinkers for the episode which aired on the weekend of July 25th.

Later that evening came the highlight of the weekend when Internet Infidel mathew lectured on mass communications and atheism. It was ironic that mathew gave this talk with network cameras present as his talk was often critical of network television. He talked about the "soundbite attitude" of current news media and how it is difficult to posit atheism and other positions in a soundbite. Following mathew, was the ever popular Dr. Delos McKown, philosophy professor emeritus at Auburn University and Internet Infidel supporter. Delos talked about his forthcoming book Kicking the Religious Habit - Guilt Free. Delos is currently working on four books, this one and a three part series on Jeremy Bentham. Delos' wit and attitude always make him interesting to read and hear.

Saturday, July 4th began with philosophy professor Heidi Malmquist's lecture on goddess worshipping cultures and how they differ from paternalistic ones. She talked about the different influence of goddess cultures of Crete and other civilizations, and how this compared with modern feminist authors. Following this was the poetry reading at the brand new lake front pavilion which is on Lake Hypatia.

The evening of Saturday brought forth a very sentimental moment. One of the benefactors of Lake Hypatia was a freethought activist names Edyth Rizzo of Florida. She passed away a few months ago. She had previously given the Hall a piano and many freethought books. Her daughter sent Hypatia a small plaque to be placed on the piano. Accompanying this was a check from her estate. This check was "seed money" for a fund drive to build an adjoining auditorium since the hall has gotten too small as attendance has grown.

Alabama is the state most under siege by the Religious Right. The Alabama Freethought Association presented Olivia Turner and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama with an award for tirelessly supporting the Jeffersonian wall of church-state separation in Alabama. After the award presentation, Martin McCaffrey, also of the Alabama ACLU, talked about current state-church legal battles in Alabama and how he achieved one of his life-long dreams, being negatively mentioned on both the Rush Limbaugh Show and the 700 Club in the same week.

The evening saw a freethought concert by musician and FFRF's Public Relations Director Dan Barker. "Nothing Fails Like Prayer" and the German freethought classic, "Die Gedanken Send Frie" were most popular, as much of the audience sang and laughed along. Always entertaining, Barker debuted three new freethought songs which will be featured on an upcoming CD release.

Sunday, the final day of the gala, began by Memphis activist Kevin Colquist's discussion about his micro-radio (also called "pirate radio") atheist radio show. He has a lot of fun with it, and encourages others to explore micro-radio in their cities as well. When wattage is below a certain level, FCC regulations do not apply. This makes having a micro-radio station within easy reach of many.

The gala closed, as it usually does, with an activists' victory forum. Led by Alabama freethought activists Adam Butler and Rachel Doughty, this allows freethinkers from all over to share their victory stories and discuss projects they are currently working on. Freethinkers from Kentucky to Alabama to Missouri talked about their current projects. The July Lake Hypatia Gala, sometimes called "The Lollapalooza of Freethought," has become one of the most popular freethought events in the U.S. It is the most affordable, as well as the most informal of all the national gatherings. Every freethinker in America should make the "non-pilgrimage" there. As they leave, the most common statement is "I can't believe this is in Alabama."

[Clark Adams prepared this report.]

WARNING, CAUTION, DANGER, AND BEWARE!
Gullibility Virus Spreading over the Internet!

[Note: In recent months, several virus hoaxes have been forwarded to II mailing lists. The following satirical message is intended to help people identify virus hoaxes instead of inadvertently perpetrating them.]

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Institute for the Investigation of Irregular Internet Phenomena announced today that many Internet users are becoming infected by a new virus that causes them to believe without question every groundless story, legend, and dire warning that shows up in their inbox or on their browser. The Gullibility Virus, as it is called, apparently makes people believe and forward copies of silly hoaxes relating to cookie recipes, email viruses, taxes on modems, and get-rich-quick schemes. "These are not just readers of tabloids or people who buy lottery tickets based on fortune cookie numbers," a spokesman said. "Most are otherwise normal people, who would laugh at the same stories if told to them by a stranger on a street corner." However, once these same people become infected with the Gullibility Virus, they believe anything they read on the Internet.

"My immunity to tall tales and bizarre claims is all gone," reported one weeping victim. "I believe every warning message and sick child story my friends forward to me, even though most of the messages are anonymous." Another victim, now in remission, added, "When I first heard about Good Times, I just accepted it without question. After all, there were dozens of other recipients on the mail header, so I thought the virus must be true." It was a long time, the victim said, before she could stand up at a Hoax's Anonymous meeting and state, "My name is Jane, and I've been hoaxed." Now, however, she is spreading the word. "Challenge and check whatever you read," she says.

Internet users are urged to examine themselves for symptoms of the virus, which include the following:

The willingness to believe improbable stories without thinking. The urge to forward multiple copies of such stories to others. A lack of desire to take three minutes to check to see if a story is true. T. C. is an example of someone recently infected. He told one reporter, "I read on the Net that the major ingredient in almost all shampoos makes your hair fall out, so I've stopped using shampoo." When told about the Gullibility Virus, T. C. said he would stop reading email, so that he would not become infected.

Anyone with symptoms like these is urged to seek help immediately. Experts recommend that at the first feelings of gullibility, Internet users rush to their favorite search engine and look up the item tempting them to thoughtless credence. Most hoaxes, legends, and tall tales have been widely discussed and exposed by the Internet community. Courses in critical thinking are also widely available, and there is online help from many sources, including Department of Energy Computer Incident Advisory Capability at http://ciac.llnl.gov/ciac/CIACHoaxes.html.

Symantec Anti Virus Research Center at:
http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html

McAfee Associates Virus Hoax List at:
http://www.mcafee.com/support/hoax/hoax.asp

Datafellows Hoax Warnings at:
http://www.Europe.Datafellows.com/news/hoax.htm

Those people who are still symptom free can help inoculate themselves against the Gullibility Virus by reading some good material on evaluating sources, such as:

Evaluating Internet Research Sources at:
http://www.sccu.edu/faculty/R_Harris/evalu8it.htm

Evaluation of Information Sources at:
http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~agsmith/evaln/evaln.htm

Bibliography on Evaluating Internet Resources at:
http://refserver.lib.vt.edu/libinst/critTHINK.HTM

Lastly, as a public service, Internet users can help stamp out the Gullibility Virus by sending copies of this message to anyone who forwards them a hoax.

AOL Censors SuraLikeIt

For over two years, moderate Christians and Muslims (frequently students) on America On-Line (AOL) discussed and debated the great differences between Islam and Christianity. The Arabic-speaking Christians even created a web page (formerly located at http://www.aol.com/suralikeit/) which contained several short verses (called suras) in the style and language of the Qur'an.

These suras had been on the net for some time. There was never any claim that these were real suras from the Qur'an, and moderate Muslims clearly understood their purpose and were happy to discuss their merits and the degree to which they attain the standards set by the Qur'an.

In mid-June, various Islamic groups organized a massive protest against AOL over the web page. The Islamic media carried the story, Muslim student groups got involved, and even the prestigious Al Azhar University of Cairo complained to AOL about the 'defamatory' site. Meanwhile, moderate Muslims advocated tolerance, arguing that closure of the site would reinforce stereotypical views of Muslims as intolerant.

On June 23, 1998 AOL decided to review the site. AOL subsequently decided that the site violated the terms of their service and  closed it down. The conservatives won. Yet, critics noted that there is only one way the SuraLikeIt web site might have violated the AOL terms of service. The AOL terms of service states that AOL has the right to terminate any web page which engages in "other activities that may impair the enjoyment of our members."

According to one critic, "It means that while you may be technically 'free to speak', they will not host your site if other people disagree with you and register their protest!" Moreover, he noted that "This is not something which is confined to the Christian-Muslim religious divide-- it could affect any web publishing which is likely to arouse the feelings of those who disagree . . . If other Internet Service Providers followed this approach, freedom of speech will only mean 'You are free to say what you like... as long as no one protests.'"

Critics also charged AOL with hypocrisy, citing both pornography and anti-Christian/pro-Muslim material on AOL web servers. "If they are going to censor anything which generates protests, they should at least be consistent with their own policy and censor all of it", said one opponent of AOL's decision.

Meanwhile, Muslim reaction was -- and still is -- mixed. Conservative Muslims hailed the move by AOL as a great victory over discrimination against Islam. Moderates, on the other hand, felt that such tactics could rebound against Muslims and urged caution in future.

[Jeffery Jay Lowder prepared this report from a variety of sources. For an excellent web page critical of AOL's decision, see http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/suralikeit/. For an excellent web page supportive of AOL's decision, see http://www.angelfire.com/al/islamfirst/]

Upcoming Events

Book of the Month

0060675322_m.gif (13991 bytes)Why Christianity Must Change or Die : A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile

By John Shelby Spong

In an explosive contemporary creed of Christian faith and life for the 21st century, controversial figure Bishop John Shelby Spong--American Christianity's premier liberal voice--offers his unified and brilliant new vision of an authentic Christian belief for our time.

Web Scan

Image
Helping you to sip from the information firehose

How did the Church of Scientology win so many awards for its home page? In this month's web.scan, mathew helps us to understand the fine art of Self-promotion for Beginners.

Editorial

How Not to Run a Freethought Organization

Imagine a church that has no (lay) Sunday services, no ceremonies of any kind (not even weddings or funerals), and no music. The church might sponsor a local chapter of the Christian Coalition, but not necessarily. The only guarantee this church makes is that it offers Sunday School. Moreover, imagine that the Sunday School offered by this church is so theologically advanced that you need at least the theological background of a college sophomore majoring in religion. Would you want to attend such a church? I doubt it. And even if you had the prerequisite knowledge of, and interest in, philosophical theology, would this "church" really satisfy all of your needs? And even if it did satisfy all of your needs, what about individuals who agree with the church's teachings, but want more than just a Sunday School?

I submit that the majority of atheist, agnostic, freethinker, and humanist groups are the secular equivalent of the "church" I just described. They are not a "church", but they do tend to dwell on issues in the philosophy of religion or First Amendment studies. Freethinkers tend to dwell on the intellectual issues so much that we actually drive people -- freethinker and non-freethinker alike -- away from our organizations. Freethought organizations generally fail to address other needs that many freethinkers have: raising children as nontheists, the need for community, and even the need for ceremonies (e.g., weddings, funerals), and music. As someone who just got married, I know from personal experience just how difficult it can be to create and arrange a meaningful secular ceremony.

I suspect the reason that so many freethought organizations neglect these "other needs" is that many freethinkers (at least those in leadership positions) unconsciously perceive this as an "either/or" type of issue. According to this reasoning, a freethought organization must be either intellectual/activist or a "social" organization that satisfies many of the needs my hypothetical church does not. Since intellectual pursuits and activism are far more important than building communities, freethought organizations must therefore be an association of philosophers or lobbyists, and not a community of like-minded friends. As long as this sort of thinking continues to dominate freethought organizations, I think it's pretty obvious that our numbers will stay small. (In fact, given the extent to which this thinking tends to dominate freethought organizations, it's amazing we have the numbers we do.) We've simply got to come up with ways to make our communities more accessible and more interesting to the average person.

In my opinion, there is at least one freethought organization which does exactly that: the North Texas Church of Freethought (NTCOF). (As an aside, if I had been responsible for naming that organization, I am not sure that I would have included the word "church" in its name; but I wholeheartedly agree with the concept and I consider the concept much more important than the name.) NTCOF recognizes that even nontheists have emotional needs which "traditional" freethought organizations have not adequately addressed, and I believe the NTCOF leadership deserves praise for its insight and vision.

For our part, Internet Infidels, Inc. has done a minimal job of addressing "other needs": we maintain a mailing list for single agnostics, atheists, freethinkers and humanists and (thanks to Robby Berry) our web site has a "Families Corner". But there is much more which remains to be done on our web site, and we intend to do everything we can to fill the gap. We would appreciate any suggestions our readers might have on how Internet Infidels, Inc. can better address these other, important needs I have described.

[Jeffery Jay Lowder wrote this editorial. He is President of Internet Infidels, Inc. Comments on this editorial are welcome at Contact.]

Newsletter has New Editor 

Beginning with the July issue, I took over as editor of the newsletter from Mark Vuletic, my predecessor, and former Secretary of the Internet Infidels. Mark has decided to devote all of his energy toward work on his dissertation for the Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. As most of you who are familiar with Mark's tenure as Secretary know, I have some mighty large shoes to fill. Mark juggled the many demanding tasks with such skill that he even made it look easy. We'll miss Mark around here as Secretary, but look forward to publishing Dr. Vuletic's research in the future!

[James Still took over as Secretary of the Internet Infidels in March 1998.]

§

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