Refrigerator Magnets and Bouncy Balls

September 28, 2017


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

To start, I have some personal news that affects this blog-thing. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be gone for two weeks as I head to California for a writer’s retreat-fellowship-thing at the Mesa Refuge. Long story short, Rob Boston of Americans United was the first person to go to the Refuge as part of a new Free Thought Fellowship, and afterward he got to nominate the next person to go. So, in what I assume was a some drug-induced, delusional, manic state that probably included some frothing at the mouth, Rob nominated me. The Refuge folks agreed, and well, off I go. 

While I’m there, I’ll be working on a longform article on a topic that is none of your business right now. Everyone at CFI is being really cool and generous about giving me the space and time to make this possible. I know my absence will be, to put it lightly, a pain in the ass.

And as you might guess, there will be no Morning Heresies while I’m away. I’m sorry. But worry not. I’ll be back doing this Important Work™ on October 16.


I have a brand-spanking-new, hot-off-the-servers episode of Point of Inquiry for you, and it’s a really good one. I talk to Lee Billings, space reporter and editor for Scientific American and author of Five Billion Years of Solitude, about the ongoing and remarkably frustrating search for life among the stars. Listen, share, and enjoy.

Ireland is going to hold a referendum on its blasphemy law, along with its ban on abortion. Seems to me both of those things could just be stricken by normal legislative procedures, because they’re both obvious garbage, but okay, fine. Ireland, don’t screw this up. Richard Dawkins, Hemant Mehta, former CFI-er Michael De Dora, and a whole bunch of other folks in the CFI orbit are signed on to a petition in support of the referendum. 

This is absolutely bananapants crazy: Mustafa Akyol tells of his experience of giving talks on religion in Malaysia, including on the topic of apostasy in Islam, and how they got him locked up.

At the end of my talk, a group of serious-looking men came into the lecture hall and showed me badges indicating that they were “religion enforcement officers.”

“We heard that you just gave an unauthorized talk on religion,” one of the men said. “And we got complaints about it.” They took me to another room, photographed me and asked questions about my speech. 

Our boss Robyn Blumner is just back from Geneva, where she addressed the UN Human Rights Council about the persecution of ex-Muslims in Malaysia.  

China tightens its grip on Internet access for its citizens, and Apple removes VPN apps from its app store at China’s insistence.  

So Hugh Hefner died at the age of 500 bazillion, and was mainly gonna shrug and move on, and then I saw this from The Advocate

When Esquire rejected a science-fiction short story by Charles Beaumont that depicted a world where heterosexuals were in the minority, Hefner accepted the piece and published it in a 1955 edition of Playboy, then still a relatively new publication. … “If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society,” he wrote in response [to angry readers], “then the reverse was wrong, too.”

You know who’s not leading on LGBTQ rights? The United States. Julie Moreau at NBC News reports:

While the U.S. had taken a leading role in the U.N. LGBTI Core Group during the Obama years, its participation this year was noticeably muted. … “We invited U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and she couldn’t come,” [Boris] Dittrich said. “Nobody from the U.S. took the floor. They could have done so if they wanted to. It highlights how they are viewing equal rights for LGBT people.”

Also, a federal judges have convened to outline their shared understanding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does indeed protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in the workplace, which is in line with a 2015 decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But guess who is fighting the EEOC in federal court: The Department of Justice. Mark Joseph Stern at Slate explains it. And hey, federal government: Stop hitting yourself.

Hey, you know who else is kind of freaked out that Roy Moore is probably going to be a U.S. senator? Republican senators. CNN reports:

“Obviously I’m not enamored with his politics,” said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who could face a tough primary and general election next year. “I don’t think that’s the future of the Republican Party. That’s for sure.”

Well, maybe, senator, but it sure is the present of the Republican Party.  

Researchers at Michigan State University report that among preschool science teachers, science literacy is woefully low, and that preschool education rarely includes science. 

Simon Davis, VICE’s death reporter, interviews Caleb Wilde, author of Confessions of a Funeral Director: How the Business of Death Saved My Life. Simon asks him why he doesn’t like it when people tell the grieving, “It’s all part of God’s plan”:

That cliché is.. .I want to say it’s an assault. Because you’re getting fed something that’s so—I’m being careful how I choose my words here—it’s so violent and dangerous. Often times against your will. The traumatic repercussions can have a similar effect as some type of physical or sexual assault. For the parents of the children who die and they’re told that “it’s part of God’s plan,” the entire worldview that the parents could have—whether believer or not—could really be fucked. 

The Word Health Organization says that almost half of all abortions performed every year worldwide, 25 million, are unsafe, and the problem is exacerbated by the “global gag rule” reinstated and worsened by the Trump administration.

Australian nonprofit Marie Stope Australia is looking for philanthropists to pay for a $3 million fund to help women who can’t afford abortion and contraception.

You should read more about this “Octopus City,” aka “Octlantis,” off the coast of Australia. It is really fascinating to see how a city-like living arrangement is not beneficial only to humans, and as with human cities, carries its own risks:

These octopuses only live for about three years, so each generation is relatively short. But they leave behind mounds of discarded shells from their prey, as well as junk they’ve scavenged, like beer bottles and lead fishing lures. Over the years, octopuses pushed these mounds against the rocks, burrowed inside, and created dens next to each other. … According to the researchers, Octlantis residents also regularly engage in social behavior that humans have never witnessed between octopuses before. All these activities require them to leave their shelters and expose themselves to predators far more often than solitary octopuses do. 

C. Moon Reed at Las Vegas Weekly explores the UFO culture embedded in Nevada’s small towns, and writes, “Here, decades of human ambition, fears and scientific discoveries have been distilled to a shelf of refrigerator magnets and bouncy balls.”

Quote of the Day:

As I get set to take my fortnight’s absence, I leave you with this sentiment, expressed at the Venice Film Festival by Paul Schraeder, director of a film confronting the changing climate and degrading environment called First Reformed. He said: 

If you’re hopeful about humanity and the planet, you’re not paying attention. I don’t see humanity outliving this century.

I have a new mantra. 

Be excellent to each other while I’m gone, and just maybe I’ll come back. 

* * * 

Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.

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News items that mention political​ candidates are for informational purposes only and under no circumstances are to be interpreted as statements of endorsement or opposition to any political candidate. CFI is a nonpartisan nonprofit.


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