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Reconsider Your Priorities in Life

April 15, 2019

Sorry for the two-day absence last week, folks. I was devoting my energies to the production of Chicago I directed. You know, that show about about a time and place notable for new forms of expression as well as an obsession with celebrity and artifice that swamps civic institutions? I know, not relevant at all today.

Over the weekend, CNN quoted our boss Robyn Blumner in a piece about the latest “rise of the nones” survey, the one putting us in a dead heat with U.S. evangelicals and Catholics.

Last week, CFI chair and guy-with-whom-you-best-not-mess Eddie Tabash debated the (non)existence of God with Mohammed Hijab in an event put on by the Muslim Student Association at UC Davis. The video is available online in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.

Benjamin Radford has a new piece on the CFI website on a particularly ugly situation that combines the phenomena of white people calling the police on minorities who are just minding their own business (like last year’s Starbucks incident) with that of false rumors of child abductions. In a West Virginia mall, a mother calls the police and falsely accuses an Egyptian man of attacking and trying to abduct her daughter. Which was complete crap. Ben says:

Though false accusations (of all crimes) are rare, they are especially egregious when they are used as a weapon against minorities, and a measure of skepticism is always important when facts don’t add up.

29-year-old Katie Bouman, one of those responsible for the work that led to the incredible black hole image, becomes the target of awful people on the internet who can’t bear the idea of a woman getting credit for scientific work. Ben Collins at NBC News reports:

By Friday, falsehoods claiming it was not Bouman but a male colleague who deserved credit for the black hole image overtook legitimate coverage in search results on YouTube and Instagram.

On YouTube, the first video result for users who search for “Katie Bouman” returns a video titled “Woman Does 6% of the Work but Gets 100% of the Credit: Black Hole Photo.” The video is riddled with inaccuracies, and largely draws from a falsehood created on Reddit and pushed heavily by a “men’s rights” community.

For what it’s worth, Bouman herself never claimed this credit and is trying to make clear she’s part of a team, and the colleague that her detractors are trying to shine the spotlight on is having none of this (see QOTD).

The black hole in question now has a name, Pōwehi. NYT reports:

The word is derived from the Kumulipo, a centuries-old Hawaiian creation chant of 2,102 lines, and it means “the adorned fathomless dark creation.” It stems from “pō,” which means powerful, unfathomable and ceaseless creation, and “wehi,” an honorific befitting someone who would wear a crown, Professor Kimura said in an interview on Friday.

The results of the study of twins Scott and Mark Kelly, the former having spent a year on the International Space Station, have been published in the journal Science, and wow, space does things to the body that really make one rethink the whole going-to-space thing. The Post reports:

Scott Kelly experienced numerous physiological and chromosomal changes during his long sojourn in orbit, including changes in gene expression. His immune system went on high alert, both when he went to space and upon returning to Earth. His body acted as if it were under attack.

Clarence Thomas doesn’t think atheists can be taken seriously when taking oaths to tell the truth:

I think it’s interesting in a profession where we all take an oath, that they would look at people who have strong faith as somehow not good people, when, if you’re an atheist, what does an oath mean?

This is…something to think about: According to Eastern Illinois University’s Ryan P. Burge, almost every religious group in the U.S. has moved to the right politically since 2008. And that includes “nones” and agnostics (though they still average well into the “left” spectrum)! Atheists moved to the left, one of only seven groups to do so.

New York’s state senate approves a bill prohibiting discrimination against folks wearing religious attire in the workplace, such as Sikh and Muslim head coverings.

A Christian college in Indiana, Taylor University, is internally riven over having Mike Pence as a commencement speaker. Amy Peterson at the Post writes:

“I’ve been shaking all morning,” one young woman, a sophomore, texted me. She felt threatened by a white student shouting “USA” and “Mike Pence” on campus. … This decision doesn’t reassure those with underrepresented voices that they can flourish at Taylor; it leaves them feeling isolated and invisible. It reads like a deliberate and definitive statement about who we are and about what we think virtue in the public sphere looks like — and, by implication, who doesn’t belong.

Writing for the Vancouver Sun, Timothy Caulfield writes about the problem of unfettered pseudoscience in the “wellness” industry:

In this age of misinformation, fake news and twisted science, we need a stronger and less equivocal response to misinformation and unproven healthcare practices. Can we blame people for believing science-free nonsense when there are government-funded homeopathy programs and un-ironic media stories about the healing powers of crystals? If respected, publicly funded universities and healthcare institutions integrate life-force energy modalities into their programs, perhaps there are “natural” replacements to vaccines and alternative cures to cancer? (To be clear, there aren’t.)

Two babies in Australia have contracted measles, likely from public places, and as a result of the loss of herd immunity. The babies are too young to be vaccinated. Thanks, anti-vaxxers!

Our nearest neighbor star, Proxima Centauri, was found in 2016 to have a planet orbiting it, which was a big deal. Now it looks like there may be two. National Geographic reports:

If the planet is there, it’s at least six times more massive than Earth—making it what’s called a super-Earth—and it takes 1,936 days to loop once around its star. That means the planet’s average surface temperature is much too cold for liquid water to flow.

President Trump attacks Rep. Ilhan Omar on Twitter using images of the 9/11 attacks, and now she’s getting a big wave of death threats.

The Southern Baptist Convention produces a kind of policy statement on artificial intelligence, an idea that keeps making my brain hurt. Slate reports:

The document does draw some firm lines. Article 1 declares that technology ought not to “be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency”—robots are not, and will never be, human. And unsurprisingly, Article 6 states that A.I. should not be used to pursue sexual pleasure and “should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife”: It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and HAL.

Herman Cain, who will now likely not be in the Federal Reserve Board, says God will let us know when it’s time to stop using fossil fuels. Perhaps that message will come in the form of, I dunno, massive flooding, wildfires, rapidly rising temperatures, droughts, hurricanes, the introduction of a $35,000 Tesla car…

Ratzinger, the scary, ever-lurking, ever-watching former pope, emerges from his lair to blame the sexual abuse crisis on “the absence of God” in the culture, the 1960s sexual revolution, and the formation of “homosexual cliques.” Watch out for those, folks.

Carl Zimmer at the New York Times introduces us to Homo luzonensis, a newly discovered human species found on Luzon in the Philippines. These folks look to have stood about three feet tall, so I’m thinking this is where my family tree finds its roots.

Jesus climbed some stairs, maybe, and these stairs, maybe, are the ones he climbed, maybe.

Jesus, tired of appearing on toast, is now in a pile of rocks.

Quote of the Day

The guy who Katie Bouman’s trolls are trying to lift up in order to discredit her speaks up on Twitter. Developer Andrew Chael says:

So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library … to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman. Stop. … I’m thrilled Katie is getting recognition for her work and that she’s inspiring people as an example of women’s leadership in STEM. … if you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life.

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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.