Dolphins or the Dead

September 20, 2017


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

The Earth continues to writhe.  

More than 200 people are killed in the devastation of a 7.1-magnitude earthquake across central Mexico. Joshua Partlow at the Washington Post reports:

Marisela Avila Gomez, 58, was in her apartment in the capital’s central Narvarte neighborhood when the shaking began, toppling her furniture and shattering the windows. A piece of glass sliced deep into her right leg. “My whole house is full of blood,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria pounds Puerto Rico:

Michael Brennan, [a] Hurricane Center forecaster, tweeted late Tuesday that he was “starting to run out of adjectives for” Maria, the second huge hurricane to plow through the Caribbean this month. “Horrifying,” Brennan wrote. 

And even as unfeeling nature wreaks destruction, it takes President Donald J. Trump to casually threaten the deaths of tens of millions…while having the means to carry out that threat. At the United Nations, Trump said:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. 

ABC’s Terry Moran says this is “bordering on the threat of committing a war crime,” but I’d say the statement has fully crossed that border, moved its extended family in, and set up a small business while sending its kids to threat-of-committing-a-war-crime schools.

A cabal of conservative senators is trying to change existing law on disaster relief so that churches (or, “houses of worship”) can be eligible for federal funds.

Usha Lee McFarling at STAT reports that UC Irvine (where I really wanted to go for my master’s in acting, but they wouldn’t take me) is getting a $200,000,000 donation to start an “integrative health” program, which is a terrible idea. (So that’s two terrible ideas now, UCI.)  

Scary clown expert Ben Radford comments on the recent Juggalo March on Washington and examines the evidence as to whether this über-klaun army comprises a criminal organization, as law enforcement agencies have claimed.

The city council of Charlotte, NC pauses its practice of prayer before its meetings, opting instead (for now) for the Pledge of Allegiance. (How many times must one pledge for it to stick? Does the pledge expire after 24 hours?)

A debate inside the Air Force exemplifies the paradox of military chaplains. Capt. Sonny Hernandez, a chaplain, has said that Christians should not be supporting the religious rights of those with other faiths because all other faiths are wrong. But of course he believes that, it’s what his religion tells him is true. But the problem is the Department of Defense says that chaplains must be “willing to function in a pluralistic environment … and to support directly and indirectly the free exercise of religion by all members of the Military Services.” Abiding by one, the faith or the rules, one violates the other. 

Big Think looks at the use of sensory deprivation tanks, which has some roots in pseudoscience (such as “claims that it can cause the development of psychic powers, communication with dolphins or the dead, devolution into simian form,” etc.). But hell, to shut the world out entirely for a little while? I don’t care if it’s the placebo-est of placebos, it sounds good to me. Why yes, I do have two kids. 

Siobhan Hegarty at Australia’s ABC looks at the appeal of the occult and witchcraft to those who have “experienced trauma or hardship.” As well as, I might add, those who want to live every moment like they’re at a Ren faire. (No judgment here, I’d don a Starfleet uniform all the time if I could. Late-seasons TNG of course.) 

Gord Hotchkiss at MediaPost, insisting that artificial intelligence did not help him write his column, cites Richard Dawkins on intuition and imagination’s role in science to say that AI can only do so much without the human factor.

Thanks to the Crispr-Cas gene-editing technique, scientists are working on customizable butterfly wings. Obviously, they need to make wings with the picture of a bullet on it, and release it into the air while singing, “Despite all my raaage I’m stiilll just a rat in a caaaage!” Right? …. No?

Quote of the Day:

Ensaf Haidar at the UN Human Rights Council, speaking directly to the faces of the bad guys:

I wish to address my words to Saudi Arabia, which is sitting here as a member of this Council. … My husband did not commit any crime. He simply aspired for a better future for his country. As
you know, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for criticizing the excess of the religious establishment in the Saudi Kingdom. He created a liberal forum, wrote a blog, and for that he was imprisoned. Mr. Ambassador, Raif was expressing an opinion – exercising a universal human right to freedom of opinion.

Ironically, some of what he was demanding are already being implemented in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Saudi Arabia spoke of these reforms when it was elected as a member of this Council. And yet Raif is still in prison — five years in prison for an opinion? How just is that? 

I respectfully take this opportunity to ask: Will His Majesty King Salman please grant clemency to my husband? Mr. Ambassador, when will our three little children — 13-year-old Najwa, 12-year-old Terad, and 9-year-old Miriyam— get to see their father again? Mr. Ambassador, I am asking you as a wife and a mother, who did not choose this role. All I am doing is fighting for the release of my husband. 

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