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Shaky in the Boots

June 18, 2020

I don’t know how much stock one should put into the claims of John Bolton, but according to his new book on his time inside the White House, President Trump encouraged China’s President Xi Jinping to keep building concentration camps to detain Uighur Muslims:

“According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do,” Bolton wrote. The former Trump aide noted that another National Security Council official said the president made similar comments during a 2017 trip to China.

Just when you thought you had lost your capacity for being horrified.


Michael McGough at the LA Times looks at the claims from the right-wing WAAAmbulance about how the Supreme Court’s decision on LGBTQ discrimination will somehow kill religious liberty:

Gorsuch said, “how these doctrines protecting religious liberty inter­act with Title VII are questions for future cases.”

It’s not preordained that those future cases will result in a significant diminution of religious freedom — unless you believe religious freedom means that churches and other religious employers should be hermetically sealed off from compliance with civil rights laws.

Gorsuch may have been intentionally foreshadowing, since some of those future cases are about to be decided, maybe even today.

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention gets to sulk in an op-ed for the New York Times (perhaps it’s a “pout-ed”):

The question many have now is whether religious institutions will now be required to abandon their views on marriage and sexuality, or else cease carrying out their missions altogether?

Nope. Doesn’t mean that. But of course you know that already.

… such views [on sex] are not peripheral to the missions of many religious institutions. One cannot simply uproot them and expect these people to adjust their consciences to fit the new cultural expectation.

Yeah, again, no one is telling them to.

… as we have those arguments, let’s keep our First Amendment and our history of religious freedom intact. Without it, we will not be left with arguments at all, but just with the raw power of whoever has more votes at the moment. That’s not what most of us want. But if you do, and you get it, trust me — you’ll hate it.

As opposed to what we have now, where the raw power goes to the people with fewer votes? Because I’m definitely hating that.

Politically Paranormal

Trump’s weird Bible photo-op seems to have blown up in his face, politically speaking, with voters in Michigan. MLive reports:

One poll conducted from May 30 to June 3 found Biden leading by 12 percentage points, but the second poll, which started and ended just one day later, recorded a 16-point lead for the former vice president.

EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn attributed the quick drop to public backlash and negative press resulting from Trump’s staged photo on June 1. The two polls collected responses from separate samples of 600 likely Michigan voters and both had a 4% margin of error.

“That is, by the process of elimination, the only reason that you go from a 12-point lead to a 16-point lead,” Porn said. “(Trump) went from 38% of people saying they would definitely vote to re-elect him to only 33% saying that they would definitely vote to re-elect him.”

And yes, I had to look at that name over and over to make sure it actually said “Bernie Porn,” and that’s exactly what it says, and I don’t have any explanations for you.

Paul Rosenberg at Salon has a really interesting piece exploring the potential of religious-left “parachurches,” emulating the organizing and political power of the religious right with quasi-religious nonprofits and advocacy organizations to tackle issues of justice and, most specifically to this article, reproductive freedom.

Some Republicans are now getting squeamish about the woman who is likely to be their new colleague in Congress, House candidate and QAnon devotee Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Post reports:

[Politico] reported Wednesday that in those hours of videos, Greene had said that black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party,” called prominent Jewish Democratic donor George Soros a “Nazi” and suggested that Muslims shouldn’t hold elected public office.

Congressional GOP leaders immediately condemned her comments on learning about them, yet only Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) actively said he would not support her.

Just because they’re squeamish doesn’t mean they won’t still fall in ine.

Look, if we built this large wooden badger…

The Post comes down hard on Mike Pence for what they are calling an irresponsible op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he is “ignoring reality” about the ongoing pandemic. I like how Alexandra Petri handled it, writing in the voice of the vice president:

In recent days, Cassandra has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a “second wave” of Greek attack that will soon come sweeping over us like the wrath of Poseidon and leave our city in ruins. Such panic is overblown. (Although, technically, “panic” is fear induced by the god Pan, so really this is not even panic at all. But whatever it is, it is overblown.)

Thanks to the leadership of King Priam and the courage and compassion of the Trojan people, our walled city is far stronger and even less pregnable than it was nine years ago, and we have won the fight against the Greeks. And if you doubt that, just look at this enormous and beautifully constructed wooden horse they have left for us, which is definitely not hollow and will absolutely not be filled with handpicked soldiers ready to pour out and devastate our city.

Hilary Brueck at Business Insider looks at the relative potential for COVID-19 spread from the Black Lives Matters protests and the upcoming Trump rally in Tulsa:

Protesters have been doing their demonstrating outdoors, while Trump’s rally-goers will gather inside, chanting and breathing in the same stale air.

That indoor arena is a vitally different — and more dangerous — space to occupy during the coronavirus pandemic, because we’ve seen time and time again how this virus thrives in enclosed spaces, where people come in close contact with one another for hours at a time.

And so far, it looks like there haven’t been big spikes from the first days of protests a couple weeks ago:

Because the coronavirus incubation period is typically about two weeks or less, enough time has elapsed since protesters first took to the streets — raising their voices and lifting their heels for human rights — that hospitals and COVID-19 testing centers might’ve seen some of the first new cases tied to the protests, if there was rampant viral spread. … So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case, despite all the big crowds.

Meanwhile, a sheriff in Arizona who pledged not to enforce lockdown rules now has COVID-19.

A few months ago, you’ll remember that the state of Missouri sued televangelist Jim Bakker for selling a fake coronavirus cure, that colloidal silver stuff. Now, the state of Arkansas is all let me get in on that action. CBS News reports:

“Jim Bakker has exploited Arkansas consumers by leveraging COVID-19 fears to sell over $60,000 worth of their products that do nothing to fight the virus,” [Attorney General Leslie] Rutledge said in a statement released by her office. The Republican attorney general added that her case was about consumer fraud, not freedom of religion.

Jann Bellamy at Science-Based Medicine rounds up, with a measure of glee, all the COVID-19 hucksters that the FTC has been issuing warnings to.

Combat Boots

Jonathan Stea at Psychology Today says we should embrace a combative stance when it comes to the spread of pseudoscience and misinformation:

We fight disease. We battle racism. And we go to war against ideas in order to grow at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal levels of analysis.

Joining the war against pseudoscience en Español is CFI Argentina’s Alejandro Borgo, who made a short video to introduce the Spanish-language skeptics’ magazine Pensar, published by us!

Did you know that Tim Minchin is only now putting out his first studio album? I assumed he had a whole big catalogue, but no, he’s just getting one out now, called Apart Together. In an interview with The AU Review, he talks about intellectual heroes that make him “shaky in the boots”:

I had dinner with Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith once. And I had dinner with Tom Stoppard once. They’re the ones that I get shaky in the boots about. The genuine giants of intellectual giants. … Well, f**k, there’s some scary smart people out there. I’ve had dinner with Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins as well. F**k. And the thing is, even though I’m shaking in my boots, I don’t actually feel threatened. I’m like, “F**k yeah. I’m going to have a chat with Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry about free will.” I’m well up for that stuff.

Netflix is debuting a fantasy-drama, Warrior Nun, about a woman who comes back from the dead, gets superpowers, and kicks asses. I’m here for it.

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.