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Polysyllabic Wad

March 5, 2019

The Supreme Court correctly declines to hear a case from New Jersey about taxpayer funding of the historical preservation of churches. CNN reports:

The court decision to stay out of the dispute is a loss for the churches and leaves in place a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that held the denial of state funds to religious establishments did not violate the church’s free exercise rights.

Yay! EXCEPT! This is the part where the right-wing justices weigh in and spoil everything, and for that, we get JusticeBro Brett Kavanaugh:

At some point, this court will need to decide whether governments that distribute historic preservation funds may deny funds to religious organizations simply because the organizations are religious. … [B]arring religious organizations because they are religious from a general historic preservation grants program is pure discrimination against religion.

A megastudy of more than 650,000 children proves once again that the MMR vaccine does not have anything whatsoever to do with autism. So I guess that’s solved, and the antivaxxers will all go away now. Anyhoo, Sanjay Gupta, who is not exactly the greatest when it comes to keeping things on the scientific up-and-up, nonetheless does a good service on CNN:

There isn’t an “other side” here, frankly. … We’re not sure as a scientific community what causes autism, but we know that vaccines do not. And I think it’s important to say that as succinctly as I just did.

Masha Gessen at The New Yorker makes plain what the vaccine “debate” is all about:

Vaccination is a basic political issue, because it is the subject of community agreement. When a high-enough percentage of community members are immunized, a disease can be effectively vanquished. … When enough people reject the community agreement, they endanger the rest. Willfully unvaccinated adults and children can spread diseases to those who cannot be vaccinated or haven’t been vaccinated. … Vaccination and the refusal to vaccinate are political acts: individual decisions that affect others and the very ability of people to inhabit common spaces.

Hey, guys? Did they just cure AIDS? NYT on the jaw-dropping news:

For just the second time since the global epidemic began, a patient appears to have been cured of infection with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. … Publicly, the scientists are describing the case as a long-term remission. In interviews, most experts are calling it a cure, with the caveat that it is hard to know how to define the word when there are only two known instances.

No mo’ Momo! Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso, who created the sculpture that inspired the Momo images that are freaking people out, has destroyed said sculpture:

When Momo first appeared, it was good in a way that it had received some attention. I was pleased. But the way that it has been used now is very unfortunate. People do not know if it is true or not, but apparently the children have been affected and I do feel a little responsible for it. I feel like I am in trouble but it’s all out of my hands.

That’s really unfortunate, because, as we have pointed out, there is no evidence at all that anyone has been hurt as a result of Momo images. Other than me, of course, ’cause good-god-DAMN that thing is freaky.

Another of of those license-to-discriminate “religious liberty” bills in Georgia looks unlikely to get anywhere this year as the deadline for passage is this Thursday, and it’s already gotten bumped once. It’s almost like someone there is embarrassed about it.

You’ve heard about the “playing the race card,” but in his satirical piece for Free Inquiry, Steve Cuno explains that there are in fact rules for race-card playing! At least they seem less confusing than the rules for Pokémon.

We have a few new pieces from the pages of Skeptical Inquirer now available online, including:

  • Release the Nickell! Joe Nickell investigates the legend of the Kraken to find out what it was a 19th-century sea captain actually saw when a tentacled monster allegedly attacked his ship.
  • Harriet Hall worries about what the mainstream acceptance of acupuncture bodes for science and evidence in the “Age of Endarkenment.”
  • Massimo Polidoro wants more skeptics to follow his lead and get our message onto YouTube. “I understand it may seem daunting, but one can just start with the camera on your smartphone. It’s as simple as that!”
  • Matt Nisbet wrestles with the challenge of bringing faith communities on board with crucial science-related issues like climate change.

Speaking of communicating about climate change, Maggie Koerth-Baker at FiveThirtyEight looks at why it’s so freaking difficult to get the message across in a way that our political messaging culture can swallow:

Political action means convincing both constituents and colleagues that said action has to be taken and that you know the right path forward. But the global climate system, and our understanding of how humans are altering it, is complex and nuanced enough that talking about it can easily involve a stumbled series of “ifs,” “ands” and “buts.” […] The trouble, of course, is that nuance and complexity aren’t always optional.

Mary Beth Griggs at The Verge talks to psychologist Mike Wood about his research into conspiracy theories and how they spread. He says:

It’s really easy to believe crap because crap is appealing in a lot of ways. You can get into this default mode where you settle on your ideology or you settle on you beliefs and you don’t critically reflect on it. And that’s very easy to do.

A convicted criminal and abuser of children, Clyde E. Brothers, is welcomed back to the Church of Christ in Uniontown, Pennsylvania by church elders. So a judge stepped in.

Muslim inmates in Arkansas are suing the prison system for limiting their opportunity for worship services to an overlapping service with the the Nation of Islam and Nation of Gods and Earths. Which are not the same. Aysha Khan reports:

Muslim inmates say that attending Friday prayer services with other Muslims is a mandate of their faith. The Arkansas prison system policy requires that Muslims attend the combined Friday prayer services or risk losing their designation as Muslims — which could cause them to lose religious accommodations such as a specialized Ramadan meal program.

For some light reading, James Haught recounts some of the many, many, many, many horrors committed in the name of religions…and it’s just the first of a nine-part series.

It’s apparently time for March Mammal Madness, in which you can “pit furry, fuzzy organisms against each other in epic (and purely theoretical) duels to see which one comes out on top,” according to The Verge. I’m feeling good about that 9-banded armadillo. His name is Paul Revere, and there’s a guy who says if the weather’s clear, “can do.”

Quote of the Day

In a letter to the Salt Late Tribune in response to George Will’s op-ed about the Bladensburg Cross, one Tom Foster writes:

Mr. Will, your charge that people who are concerned that the cross violates the Establishment Clause are “cranky, persnickety, hairsplitting secularists” motivated by “hair-trigger rage” is hypocritical to the max. Let me remind you that you are paid to twice weekly ball yourself into a polysyllabic wad in order to provide persnickety, hairsplitting, entertaining, sometimes enlightening commentary.

OH SNAP GEORGE!

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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.