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Cause an Enormous Shudder

July 6, 2020

Let’s begin with the livestreamed discussion between the legal minds of CFI, FFRF, and American Atheists as they wrestled with the crap-sandwich that was the Supreme Court’s ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Our own Nick Little was totally awesome.

We’ve got a great new report from CFI Kenya’s George Ongere on our joint efforts to support his community during the pandemic:

[D]espite the difficulties in fundraising in such hard times, CFI doubled its usual funding of CFI Kenya. It caught us by surprise; we expected a cut of funding across all programs. It demonstrated the commitment of CFI to ensuring that the orphans present at CFI Kenya continued getting essential materials to survive even during such tough times. This has proven that CFI places importance on the orphans project, protecting albino children in danger, and the other activities of CFI Kenya. CFI is doing its best to ensure CFI Kenya survives the coronavirus pandemic and continues to prosper in the future.

CFI Board Chair Eddie Tabash writes into the Los Angeles Times to make clear that flag-burning is protected speech. It’s paywalled, so I got you covered:

If you burn your personally owned American flag, you’re destroying your property and not someone else’s. To prohibit this would negate the core 1st Amendment principle that no form of expression can be banned for nothing more than how much it offends others. …

… The 1st Amendment knows no political partisanship. No exceptions to its universal protection of free expression exist because of the hurt feelings of conservatives or liberals. If any expression can be outlawed only because of its degree of offensiveness, we reduce the 1st Amendment to an umbrella that is taken away the moment it begins to rain.

Here we go, folks. Trump thinks he’s found a new wedge to drive into the American psyche: the idea that public schools are indoctrinating kids into the radical left. Valerie Strauss at the Post writes:

Now, in [Trump’s] view, schools are teaching kids to “hate our country” with a “far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance.”

“If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished,” he said. …

… Meanwhile, Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has made clear her disdain for public schools, once calling them “a dead end” and making her No. 1 priority the expansion of alternatives to traditional public schools.

Which of course means public funding for religious schools.

It’s Enough to Make You Sick

We’re in the middle of a plague, and guess what’s back. The Plague. The New York Times reports:

A herdsman in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia was confirmed to be infected with bubonic plague, health officials said, a reminder of how even as the world battles a pandemic caused by a novel virus, old threats remain. … The disease, which caused the Black Death in the Middle Ages, is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium and is transmitted by fleas that become infected by rodents. In Inner Mongolia, the host is often marmots that live in rural areas.

NIH chief Francis Collins wants you to know that we’re not even close to being done with COVID-19:

I think most Americans are still being careful, but it doesn’t take a huge proportion of those being careless to give the virus its chance. We may be tired of COVID-19, but the virus doesn’t care. It’s out there, and 90 percent of Americans haven’t yet developed any immunity to it and are still totally vulnerable. … It’s one of the great tragedies of this current moment that scientifically based public-health measures have somehow been captured as cultural or political phenomena. Your chance of spreading the coronavirus to a vulnerable person has nothing to do with what culture you come from or what political party you belong to.

239 scientists are trying to tell the World Health Organization that they think the coronavirus is airborne, and not just by projectile-spit from a sneeze, but lingering in the air and floating across a room. GREAT. Apoorva Mandavilli at the Times reports:

“I do get frustrated about the issues of airflow and sizing of particles, absolutely,” said Mary-Louise McLaws, a committee member and epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

“If we started revisiting airflow, we would have to be prepared to change a lot of what we do,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea, a very good idea, but it will cause an enormous shudder through the infection control society.”

Twitter really means business:

You can have an edit button when everyone wears a mask

Things That Are Not Things

Politifact debunks a claim on social media that COVID-19 tests are being manipulated, because, you see, a guy knows a lady who says she knows someone who says “every test came back positive.” As the post’s author appropriately asks, “What the he’ll[sic] is going on ???”

The Waco Tribune-Herald profiles Dr. TJ Webb, a local physician who has taken it upon himself to combat COVID-19 misinformation:

“People who have blogs like mine, all over the country and all over the world, I think it’s really helpful,” he said. “We have these very small realms of influence, but I think the more people doing that work, the better. There are people who would trust a local doctor who wouldn’t trust (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, or another expert in New York in the middle of the epicenter.”

Daniel Norero at Cornell’s Alliance for Science tells of Iván Santandreu, the alt-med, anti-GMO, COVID-denying entrepreneur who recently died of COVID-19:

It would have been tremendously irresponsible if Santandreu’s anti-quarantine and anti-mask ideas facilitated his infection and death, and worse, if there are people within his large circle of followers still spreading and copying these ideas.

Gilad Edelman at Wired assures us that, at the very least, “COVID parties are not a thing.” He better be right:

The press just can’t stop pushing the narrative that people are trying to get themselves infected. And they always seem to push it the same way: Local reporters write down what some official said, and then national publications pick up those claims, citing the local reports as evidence. At no point in this chain has anyone bothered to confirm the underlying claim. … It is, of course, technically impossible to rule out the existence of Covid parties.

10,000 folks in Victoria, Australia refuse to be tested, and one reason is that many of them think they will be implanted with microchips via cotton swab. I wish I was kidding. Yahoo News reports:

“There’s no pandemic! What we’re really doing is implanting Bill Gates’ microchip. The Gates Foundation is paying $25k per implanted chip,” a post to Facebook last month read.

The post, shared nearly 10,000 times, included a diagram of a person’s head and a swab down their throat with an arrow pointing to the back of the throat saying “implant microchip here”.

Similarly, the Post reports on how anti-vaxxers in Germany are causing a ruckus:

“With such a bad pandemic, there were people that said it would make anti-vaxxers wake up and see that vaccines are important,” said Heidi Larson, director of the London-based Vaccine Confidence Project. “But it’s actually done the opposite.”

I imagine this struggle is more common than we realize: The Economist‘s 1843 Magazine (alas, paywalled) tells the story of a woman living with her QAnon-devoted mother:

Then Trump was elected and along came QAnon. It was 2018 when Mary first heard her mother mention the conspiracy by name. Living in a (Republican) “red state”, Mary was “used to hearing people with their anti-government, distrustful kind of thinking”, but she soon realised this was something bigger. Her mother was constantly posting messages about QAnon theories on Facebook. To Mary, her mother would tell story after story, each more incredible than the next – that John F. Kennedy junior was still alive, or that children were being kept in underground tunnels below New York. Her mother’s face would turn red as she spoke and her breath would quicken, as if she was about to have a panic attack. “She’s never wrong,” said Mary. “If she’s upset it’s because you pushed her to it. I wish I knew what it was about QAnon that brought out such a fevered attitude.”

Benjamin Radford uses a current social media meme, “This is America” vs. “This is USA,” to show how the meaning of these quick-bite images can very much depend on the eye of the beholder, if they have any really deep meaning at all:

Social media makes it easy to share content (often implicitly endorsing it) while at the same time discouraging people from taking time to actually think about what that content means. Is it logical? Is it true? What does it mean? If you wouldn’t talk to a friend face-to-face and repeat something you heard from some anonymous person without being sure it was true (and that you even understood it), why would you do the same on social media?

I’ll Have a Grande Americano and a Bucket of Despair

Jack Jenkins at RNS reports on Mississippi’s decision to take the Confederate symbol off its flag and replace it with “In God We Trust,” writing, “Requiring the phrase has drawn a range of reactions, with politicians and faith leaders arguing that it is unifying and watchdog groups seeing it as evidence of Christian nationalism.”


While “Death Café” sounds like an ironic title for a blog in the middle-aughts, it’s actually a real phenomenon in which people get together (now usually virtually) deal honestly with death and mortality. Leanne Italie at the AP reports.

At The Guardian, Nick Cohen says there is little pushback from Muslim-majority regimes on China’s mass-detention of Uighur Muslims because, “In many countries, criticising China is the new blasphemy“:

Once, they tried to murder blasphemous novelists and screamed about their desire to defend the prophet from the smallest insult. Today, they bend their knees and bite their tongues as China engages in unspeakable atrocities against the largely Muslim Uighur population of western China. … But the main reasons why Muslims suffer in silence is that the Muslim-majority countries that raged against Rushdie, Jyllands-Posten and Charlie Hebdo have decided to stay silent. They use the idea of Muslim solidarity only when it suits them.

In space, no one can smell you scream.

We’re keeping track of COVID-19 pseudoscience, snake oil, fake cures, and more at CFI’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Separate fact from fiction and inoculate yourself from misinformation at

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.