A Gaggle of Grotesques

October 31, 2017


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.

Where am I? What year is it? Who let the dogs out?

CSICon 2017 came and went over the weekend, and it was quite an event, and I feel like the quality of presentations just keeps going up. I was blogging about presentations — furiously! with great fury! — over at CFI Live. So whether you couldn’t make it or just want to read my ever-so-quirky perspective on the whole shebang, go check it out.

There was no Heresy yesterday because the storms in Maine kept the airplanes away, so I have been slowly trudging my way back home since Sunday morning. And when I got home, I found that the internet was down, and still is. Now, lots of folks in Maine don’t have power at all, so I’m not trying to be all “poor me.” It does mean I need to hop around town to working WiFi hotspots today, and catch up on all of yesterday’s work. So, you know, #neverforget.

Okay, there’s a lot to catch up on! Here we go.

You remember of course that around all the CSICon action, Richard Dawkins is making some appearances across the country. On the 29th, he was in Los Angeles with the inimitable Michael Lewis, which I wish I could have seen, if only to get him to talk about Losers (aka Trail Fever), which is a brilliant and hilarious book about 1996 GOP primaries. Come on, Phil Graham, Bob Dole, Alan Keyes, and Steve Forbes? Those guys, I tell ya.

On November 4, Dawkins will be in Hartford, Connecticut with NYT science journalist Carl Zimmer, and as a preview, Dawkins was interviewed on WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show and in the Hartford Courant.

Dawkins also talks to Cosmos Magazine, in which he recommends the U.S. and U.K. “tweak our constitutions” so as to avoid Huge Mistakes™ like, well, some that we have made lately.

At The Daily Beast, Brandon Withrow has a fascinating piece on tech-as-religion, with things like the worship of A.I. gods and the like. He also talks to James Hughes of the transhumanist IEET, who will also feature prominently in the big article I’m writing, if I ever finish it.

Leigh Eric Schmidt at Aeon looks at the recent phenomenon of atheist monuments; museums, statues, and even the Satanic Temple.

Yale Law School’s Robert C. Post writes at Vox to argue that there is no First Amendment right to speak on college campuses. I suspect there will be strong feelings about this.

There are in fact many areas of our social life where we expect persons to act with competence, and where the law properly defers to accepted bodies of knowledge. We abuse the First Amendment by misapplying it to such areas. We risk diluting its essential meaning and force.

David Meade, who has really done his biblical research, turned out to have been wrong about his last couple of apocalyptic predictions, but now seems pretty damn sure that Earth’s nemesis planet, Nibiru, will appear in the sky as a harbinger of the End Times on November 19. Not, to be clear, on September 23, as previously predicted.

Nor on October 15, as also previously predicted.

It happened with Sandy Hook, so of course it’s happening with Las Vegas: Sam Levin at The Guardian reports on the survivors of the Las Vegas massacre and those who lost loved ones in the shooting, and how they face “a torrent of online abuse and harassment” by those who insist the shooting was a hoax.

Katherine Stewart writes at The American Prospect that charter schools are playing the role of “useful idiots” for people who want schools to be overtly religious and able to discriminate on that basis.

Heavily-Catholic Brazil is seeing prosperity gospel Protestantism take root in the midst of the country’s economic crisis.

Todd Standing is a “Bigfoot researcher” who is shouting “j’accuse! at the British Columbia government for “dereliction of duty pertaining to the interests of an indigenous wildlife species,” meaning sasquatch of course. The Vancouver Sun checks in with CFI’s Ben Radford for a skeptical perspective, who says, “If even one Bigfoot exists, it should be very easy to prove it, because we would have genetic and forensic evidence of an unknown hominid.”

A federal judge has put the brakes on Trump’s transgender military ban, saying that the policy “does not appear to be supported by any facts.” You don’t say.

Washington Post profiles Rod Dreher, framing him as a kind of principled religious conservative who is appalled by Trump. (We also know he’s one of the “cool conservatives” because he wears hipster glasses that I covet and Andrew Sullivan lovingly calls him “a mess.”) That’s fine, but let’s not forget he’s the same guy who wants “real Christians” to withdraw from society because the idea of having to be nice to gay people is just too much for
him to bear. Principled!

A gaggle of grotesques gathered in Tennessee for a “white lives matter” demonstration, because nothing makes sense anymore. The good news? The Nazis were outnumbered by counter-protesters 2 to 1.

Ed Yong at The Atlantic looks at how the March for Science and its eponymous organization are having trouble harnessing the passion of its base, with inexperience and disorganization leading to too little impact.

Chris Mooney reports on how the sea levels are rising faster than we thought, part a billion-and-four.

Facial cupping. WHY???

Mark Wahlberg wants God’s forgiveness for being in Boogie Nights. (But the Ted movies were okay?) Anyway, insert joke here about whatever Wahlberg movie you don’t like that he should really ask forgiveness for. Me, I think he needs to do some penance for the Funky Bunch and using Velvet Underground samples.

Oh right, it’s Halloween. I almost forgot, honestly. Been busy. Anyhow, where do the myths about things like vampires and zombies come from? Here’s an idea: rabies.

Ben Radford is among the experts cited by Gizmodo for a roundup of explanations for why people think they see ghosts:

When researching ghostly phenomena one of the first things you realize is that often “ghost” is simply a convenient (if sloppy) label for “an experience someone doesn’t understand.”

The Cape Cod Times reports on some local “ghost tours,” and notes that if you want to learn about the reality-based perspective, it’s CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry you’ll want to look to.

Jiayang Fan at The New Yorker reports on the crooks in Chinatown defrauding elderly immigrants about their claims to be able to ward of ghosts and crap like that.

Quote of the Day:

Michael Schulson at Religion & Politics reviews Eric Kurlander’s book on the pseudoscientific activities and supernatural beliefs of the Nazis (the O.G. Nazis, not the ones we have today), and looks at our current situation through that lens:

. . . if Kurlander’s history of that dark period can be a reminder of anything, it’s that a modernizing, industrializing, technologizing world doesn’t banish the supernatural imagination, or guarantee to bring us all in line with a common reality. The world, for many people—perhaps most of us—still feels enchanted, full of rules and forces and possibilities outside the strict empirical norm. Often, that supernatural imagination is wacky and wonderful. But in the wrong hands, it can quickly go to darker places. For better or for worse, ours is not a world free of ghosts.

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