Elnur - Adobe Stock

Polio Fanciers and Plague Enthusiasts

December 9, 2019

The New York Times profiles Rose Mackenberg, early-twentieth-century skeptical paranormal investigator and Houdini collaborator:

Mackenberg investigated more than 300 psychics and seers in the two years she worked for Houdini and many more after that. In a career that lasted decades and led her to testify before Congress, she proved to be quick-witted, adept with disguises and unblinkingly skeptical. Speaking to a reporter for the Hearst newspapers in 1949, she boasted, “I smell a rat before I smell the incense.”

India looking to out-Trump Trump with the mother of all Muslim bans. NYT reports the jaw-dropping development:

India took a major step toward the official marginalization of Muslims on Monday, as Parliament opened debate on a bill that would establish a religious test for migrants’ eligibility to become citizens, solidifying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda.

The bill, which is expected to easily pass the lower house of Parliament, would give migrants of all of South Asia’s major religions — except Islam — a clear path to Indian citizenship. It is the most significant move yet to profoundly alter India’s secular nature enshrined by its founding leaders when the country gained independence in 1947.

Muslim Indians are furious and terrified. They see the new measure, called the Citizenship Amendment Bill, as the first step by the governing party to make second-class citizens of India’s 200 million Muslims, one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, and render many of them stateless.

“Furious and terrified” sounds about right.

The Editorial Board of the New York Times says climate change is solvable, using the ozone problem as a positive example. I am skeptical.

Tim Binga, overlord of CFI Libraries, declares that his domain yet thrives:

CFI is always getting requests for information from the media, scholars, independent researchers who all want a quick “ready reference” type of scan citation, or verification. This has not changed over the years; only the method of delivery of their information.

CFI Libraries is still here, still doing the type of work you would expect from a library. We are just more of a hidden gem.

Psychoanalyst Erica Komisar writes at the Wall Street Journal that we should lie to our kids about the afterlife. No, really:

I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” My answer is always the same: “Lie.” The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.

Well then I’ve already blown it.

NYT looks at how Bill Barr is essentially blowing up the place on behalf of religious conservatives:

He is a devoted Catholic who has said he believes the nation needs a “moral renaissance” to restore Judeo-Christian values in American life. He has been unafraid to use his platform as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to fight the cultural changes they believe are making the country more inhospitable and unrecognizable, like rising immigration and secularism or new legal protections for L.G.B.T. people. …

… He has painted a picture of a country divided into camps of “secularists” — those who, he said recently, “seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience” — and people of faith. The depiction echoes Mr. Trump’s worldview, with the “us versus them” divisions that the president often stokes when he tells crowds at his rallies that Democrats “don’t like you.”

Also at the Times, Peter Wehner looks at why Christian conservatives seem so certain that the world is turning into a morality-free hellscape (I mean, it is, but not the way they think it is):

One of the things I have been most struck by in my conversations with Christian conservatives is how moral concern has given way to moral panic. It distorts their perceptions about the very real progress that has been made while causing feelings of deep insecurity and fear, despite “fear not” being one of the most frequently repeated commands in the Bible.

Many Christians have become invested in a dark narrative. As a friend of mine puts it: “They seem to have some kind of psychological craving for apocalyptic fear. I wonder if walking it back is even possible.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah, introduces a “Fairness for All” bill, backed by Christian colleges, that purports to protect LGBTQ rights as well as religious liberty rights, and is supposed to be an alternative to the Equality Act, which CFI supports. RNS reports:

The bill’s religious liberty exemptions, however, were immediately shot down by groups advocating for LGBTQ rights. The Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and PFLAG, said they oppose it.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the bill was an “unacceptable, partisan vehicle that erodes existing civil rights protections based on race, sex and religion, while sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.”

Amy Klobuchar gives an underwhelming answer on church-state separation.

A woman almost gets kicked off an Americans Airlines flight for wearing a t-shirt that says “Hail Satan.” BuzzFeed reports:

After she’d gotten settled in her seat and was happily reading a copy of New York magazine, a crew member approached her and told her she had to change or get off the plane.

“He said, ‘Our crew has found your shirt to be offensive,’” said Goyal. “We initially just thought it was a joke. But he repeated the directive, and there was another female crew member who was behind him with her arms crossed looking very angry.”

Responding to a Canadian MP’s defense of the use of homeopathy as a “personal liberty” issue, Paul Benedetti, Wayne MacPhail, and Timothy Caulfield write at The Globe and Mail:

His appeal is a common refrain – not to mention an intuitively appealing one – in the alternative-medicine world. It seems logical: Consumers should have the right to choose whatever treatment they want for them and their children. Sounds reasonable.

It’s not. …

… Sick people are not like consumers shopping for a vacuum cleaner. They are ill, sometimes desperately so, and are faced with a decision based on complex medical and scientific data. They often have to trust health-care professionals and regulators, such as Health Canada, to help facilitate the provision of evidence-based information about risk and benefits. Informed choice is dependent on the availability of accurate information.

Anti-vaxxers don’t want to be called anti-vaxxers. I’d be happy if we called them anti-vaxers, with one “x,” except maybe that would mean pronouncing it as “VAYK-sers” instead of “VAX-ers.” Anyway, as assembled by Good, other people had better ideas such as “Polio fanciers,” “plague enthusiasts,” “typhoid mommies,” “influenzers,”and my favorite, “bioterrorists.”

Marianne Williamson is still at it, showing a total lack of understanding of what she’s talking about:

Vaccines save lives absolutely. But asking for an independent commission to review vaccine safety is not “anti-vaxx.” It’s “safe-vaxx,” which is totally understandable given over $4B paid in vaccine injury claims. Why are so many people so invested in protecting Big Pharma? Odd.

Anti-vaxxer activist Edwin Tamasese was arrested in Samoa for incitement against government vaccination orders.

This is not surprising, but gross and sad all the same: Alan Keyes is on board with getting people to drink bleach to cure things like autism.

In Brazil, people are being terrorized by militant Pentecostals. The Post reports:

As evangelicalism reconfigures the spiritual map in Latin America’s largest country, attracting tens of millions of adherents, winning political power and threatening Catholicism’s long-held dominance, its most extreme adherents — often affiliated with gangs — are increasingly targeting Brazil’s non-Christian religious minorities.

Priests have been killed. Children have been stoned. An elderly woman was seriously injured. Death threats and taunts are common. Gangs are unfurling the flag of Israel, a nation seen by some evangelicals as necessary to bringing about the return of Christ.

Pew Research updates its “10 facts about atheists” post, and things are about what you’d think. Also, we grok the competition:

Atheists may not believe religious teachings, but they are quite informed about religion. In Pew Research Center’s 2019 religious knowledge survey, atheists were among the best-performing groups, answering an average of about 18 out of 32 fact-based questions correctly, while U.S. adults overall got an average of roughly 14 questions right. Atheists were at least as knowledgeable as Christians on Christianity-related questions – roughly eight-in-ten in both groups, for example, know that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – and they were also twice as likely as Americans overall to know that the U.S. Constitution says “no religious test” shall be necessary to hold public office.

We joined up with the Secular Coalition for America and Ex-Muslims of North America to back a request by Rep. Jared Huffman urging Facebook to stop allowing oppressive regimes and extremists to game their rules to persecute atheists around the world. Our bit:

“Mark Zuckerberg responds to almost all criticism or scrutiny of Facebook by declaring the company’s dedication to free speech. So where is this passionate commitment to free expression when oppressive governments and religious extremists game Facebook’s rules to silence and endanger atheists and other dissidents?” said Jason Lemieux, Director of Government Affairs for the Center for Inquiry, which runs Secular Rescue, a program that helps threatened secularist writers and activists escape to safety.

“If Facebook truly cares about protecting free speech rights, it should start by making clear that it won’t play along with those regimes and extremists who threaten its most vulnerable users,” said Lemieux.

CFI’s Translations Project now has available Richard Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality in Urdu.

You ready for some convoluted claptrap? Holy moly do I have a piece that would give Rube Goldberg a seizure: Alexander Riley at The Federalist says college activists who protest speakers are actually riddled with guilt and that’s because they are so secularized and only a religion could serve as a balm to their feelings because it gives theological explanations for why they feel so bad. Whew. Someone get OK Go to make a video about that.

Someone spent $16,500 on UFO photos.


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.