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Elaborate and Oddly Durable

May 28, 2019

On Saturday morning, you may have awoken to the glorious English-accented sound of CFI’s own Nick Little, as he was interviewed by Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition, talking about our lawsuit against Walmart for their peddling of homeopathy. Nick was GREAT.

The 50th anniversary of the Moon landing is upon us, and Joel Achenbach takes this opportunity to check in with the people (5 or 6 percent of Americans) who refuse to believe that it actually happened:

The moon hoax is a classic conspiracy theory — elaborate, oddly durable, requiring the existence of malevolent actors with a secret agenda. The moon-fakers are allegedly so competent they can fool the whole world (but not so competent that they can actually put humans on the moon).

Try not to think about how awkward Will Smith’s genie character looks, and check out Ben Radford’s exploration of genie folklore, and their origins as “jinn”:

Jinn are sometimes blamed for unexplained minor health scares, accidents, and misfortune. Like spirits and demons, jinn are said to be able to possess humans and can be exorcised from the human body through rituals. Jinn are believed, like ghosts, to sometimes haunt buildings, homes, and other locations. They are associated with wind and fire.

HHS and HUD are doing their best to sanction discrimination against transgender Americans in housing and health care, and we are not okay with it:

Transgender people suffer from disproportionately high levels of violent crime and suicide; discrimination against them is widespread in education, housing, employment, and medical treatment is widespread. The removal of hard-fought protections for transgender individuals, along with the public announcement that no protections are warranted to prevent the demonstrable harm they face, represents an assault on this marginalized group.

The New York Times reports on the Trump administration’s “new assault” on climate science, as if the old assault weren’t doing enough damage:

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests. …

… parts of the federal government will no longer fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and presenting a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the guy making his entire presidential campaign about the threat of climate change, Washington governor Jay Inslee, can’t catch a break.

The Satanic Temple is having internal strife. Jex Blackmore parted ways with the organization when the Hail Satan? documentary showed her saying, “We are going to disrupt, distort, destroy… We are going to storm press conferences, kidnap an executive, release snakes in the governor’s mansion, execute the president.” Blackmore says power in the organization is being hoarded by a small group of men and that its attracting white supremacists.

The New York Times talks to Navy lieutenants Ryan Graves and Danny Accoin about their UFO encounters and the process by which the U.S. military handles these kinds of reports:

Asked what they thought the objects were, the pilots refused to speculate.

“We have helicopters that can hover,” Lieutenant Graves said. “We have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface.” But “combine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume.”

Lieutenant Accoin said only that “we’re here to do a job, with excellence, not make up myths.”

By now you know about the faked video of a “drunk” Nancy Pelosi, which Facebook says it isn’t going to take down. Facebook told Politico, “We remove things from Facebook that violate our Community Standards, and we don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”

Judge Carlton Reeves, blocking Mississippi’s “fetal heartbeat” anti-abortion law, writes:

Here we go again. Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability. By banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, SB 226 prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy.

But here comes Florida State Rep. Mike Hill, who says God told him to introduce a bill to criminalize doctors who perform abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, oh, and it has no exceptions for rape, incest, or life of the woman. God told him!

As plain as day, God spoke to me. He said that wasn’t my bill, talking about the heartbeat detection bill that I filed. He said that wasn’t my bill. I knew immediately what he was talking about. He said, you remove those exceptions and you file it again. And I said yes Lord, I will. It’s coming back. It’s coming back. We are going to file that bill without any exceptions just like what we saw passed in Alabama.

Alabama, not content with its current level of backwardness, decides that it’s so pissed off that the gays can get married, takes its state sanctioning of marriage and goes home. Alabama Political Reporter says:

Many Alabama probate judges found officiating at same-sex marriage ceremonies morally repugnant and an affront to God’s law. They no longer have to officiate any wedding ceremonies as part of their job.

Relatedly, 41 percent of LGB adults (no data given on the T and the Q) are atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” Gosh, I wonder why they don’t see the appeal of religion.

Kenya’s High Court upholds the criminalization of same-sex relations.

Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is suing insurance companies to pay for rain damage. The jokes write themselves.

Arthur Allen at Politico looks at how the GOP is becoming a haven for anti-vaxxers, with this key quote from David Gorski:

The more they dig into it being about freedom, the more susceptible they become to the theories. Appeals to freedom are like the gateway drug to pseudoscience.

Oh, this is also “freedom”: Hating the gays. The anti-LGBTQ “Freedom March” in Washington drew, as Hemant put it, “tens of people.” Also, tens of freedom.

In Pakistan, the conspiracy theorists don’t think that vaccines cause autism. They think they cause death. The polio virus is pleased.

Jonah Blank at The Atlantic explores the Hindu nationalism that fueled Narendra Modi’s recent victory in India’s elections, which is not really about religion, but sounds a lot like “making India great again”:

First came the “love jihad”—false accusations that Muslim men were wooing and impregnating Hindu women to change India’s demographic balance … Next came the “cow protection” lynchings in BJP-controlled states such as Uttar Pradesh. … Perhaps most ominously, in 2017 Modi appointed the radical priest Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of UP, India’s largest state. Adityanath’s militancy makes Modi seem almost moderate—and Adityanath openly covets his patron’s office. 

Hulu is going to produce a show called North American Lake Monsters. Via The Verge:

Hulu says the series will explore the plights of people “driven to desperate acts in an attempt to repair their lives, ultimately showing there is a thin line between man and beast.” Their stories will feature “encounters with Gothic beasts, including fallen angels and werewolves.”


The Michigan Supreme Court returns custody of three kids to their parents, Rachel and Joshua Piland, who allowed their youngest baby to die because they thought prayer was a better idea than medical care when their baby was sick. It’s okay, you see, because the neglect was because of their religion, and as we all know, the imaginary magic powers you believe in trump everything else.

12 percent of Americans want the Bible taught in public schools. That’s it. They are one loud, and I suppose increasingly happy, 12.

Apparently there’s a new Goop podcast…for guys! It’s called Goopfellas, because of course it is. Ruth Graham at Slate endured it for us:

[Former NFL athlete Keith] Mitchell briefly referred to a doctor in Honduras who helped him heal from the concussions he sustained as an NFL player; he has written elsewhere about applying a paste to his head and eating raw orchids to treat past concussions. Very Goop!

A female anaconda got pregnant without any contact with a male snake, and produced a whole bunch of baby snakes. Katie Mettler at the Post explains:

The staffers [at the aquarium] immediately suspected a rare reproductive strategy called parthenogenesis, which means that a female organism can self-impregnate. She does not need no man-aconda.

The word itself is of Greek origin. Its translation means virgin birth.

Because the world as it is just isn’t weird enough, the Times is running op-eds “from the future.”

Ginko biloba doesn’t do anything, Steven Salzberg reminds us.

This is totally messed up! The Army won’t let a Pastafarian grow a beard because, UGH, they think he’s not serious. Lieutenant General Thomas C. Seamands told Army Specialist John Hoskins:

I have considered your request for a religious accommodation to permit you to grow a beard in observance of your Pastafarian beliefs, along with the recommendation of your chain of command. I deny your request for an exception to Army personal appearance and grooming standards. Your request for an accommodation is denied based on a lack of sincerely held religious belief.

The nerve!

History professor Matthew Avery Sutton takes us on a trip back 100 years to a meeting in Philadelphia that started a lot of terrible things:

Beginning on May 25, 1919, 6,000 ministers, theologians and evangelists came together in Philadelphia for a weeklong series of meetings. They heard sermons on everything from “Christ and the Present Crisis” to “Why I Preach the Second Coming.” The men and women assembled there believed that God had chosen them to call Christians back to the “fundamentals” of the faith, and to prepare the world for one final revival before Jesus returned to earth. They called their group the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.

Quote of the Day

Yuval Noah Harari writes in the New York Times about how political tribalism nudges humans to believe things that are not so:

If political loyalty is signaled by believing a true story, anyone can fake it. But believing ridiculous and outlandish stories exacts greater cost, and is therefore a better signal of loyalty. If you believe your leader only when he or she tells the truth, what does that prove? In contrast, if you believe your leader even when he or she builds castles in the air, that’s loyalty! Shrewd leaders might sometimes deliberately say nonsensical things as a way to distinguish reliable devotees from fair-weather supporters.

… the truth is often painful and disturbing. Hence if you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you. An American presidential candidate who tells the American public the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about American history has a 100 percent guarantee of losing the elections. The same goes for candidates in all other countries. How many Israelis, Italians or Indians can stomach the unblemished truth about their nations? An uncompromising adherence to the truth is an admirable spiritual practice, but it is not a winning political strategy. …

… Think, for example, about the Nazis. Nazi racial theory was a bogus pseudoscience. Though they tried to buttress it with scientific evidence, the Nazis nevertheless had to silence their rational faculties in order to develop a belief strong enough to justify murdering millions of people. Yet when it came time to design gas chambers and prepare timetables for the Auschwitz trains, Nazi rationality emerged from its hiding place intact.

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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.