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Single Spies v. Battalions

May 17, 2019

At Skeptical Inquirer, Guerilla Wikipedian Susan Gerbic offers advice on how non-scientists and non-academics can get more involved in skeptic activism. And yes, it has a lot to do with Wikipedia:

As you can imagine, there is so much work to be done. And yes, the idea of creating, rewriting, and maintaining all Wikipedia pages concerning science, scientific skepticism, and the paranormal—in all languages—is kind of an insane task. But at least this is something that the average person can do with training. And there is strength in numbers.

Rep. Dan Lipinski was the lone holdout among congressional Democrats supporting the Equality Act (which CFI endorses), citing, you guessed it, “religious liberty” concerns. No more, as he now supports the bill, though is the only Democrat not to be named as a cosponsor.

Taiwan becomes the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Its overseer, China, has not been friendly:

In neighboring China — which asserts sovereignty over Taiwan — popular LGBTQ microblogs were censored online in the wake of Taiwan’s 2017 high court ruling. The social media platform Weibo was criticized last month for restricting LGBTQ hashtags.

President Trump, meanwhile, says he’s “absolutely fine” with Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s same-sex marriage:

I think it’s great. I think that’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it’s good.

“Um, Mister President, you’re not supposed to be okay with this. Please come and see the Vice President for your next reeducation session.

Michelle Goldberg writes in the New York Times that once Roe v. Wade is overturned, it won’t just be a blast from the pre-abortion-rights past. It’ll be a lot worse:

While doctors were prosecuted for abortions before Roe, patients rarely were. Today, in states that have legislated fetal personhood, women are already arrested on suspicion of harming or endangering their fetuses, including by using drugs, attempting suicide or, in a case in Utah, delaying a cesarean section. There’s no reason to believe that, in states where abortion is considered homicide, prosecutors will be less punitive when investigating it.

In a Twitter thread on Goldberg’s piece, Amanda Marcotte expands upon the personhood question:

Instead of admitting they were repulsed by the sexual revolution and eager to instigate Victorian sexual mores (which most Victorians rejected!), [anti-abortion activists] invented the “fetuses are people” line and have kept to it with the diligence of fascist propagandists, which is what they are.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says the recent abortion bans being passed in states like Alabama and Georgia are “against Christian faith,” which misses the whole point of why they’re so heinously wrong:

If you are a person of the Christian faith, one of the tenants of our faith is free will.

Okay, well, first, the word is “tenets,” as I assume your faith is not an apartment or a landlord. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume someone at CBS News just transcribed this incorrectly. Second, theological arguments should have nothing to do with any of this, but at least she gets this right:

One of the tenants [sic] of our democracy is that we have a separation of church and state, and under no circumstances are we supposed to be imposing our faith on other people. And I think this is an example of that effort.

Yes it is.

Speaking of which, Missouri looks like it’s going to have a ban on abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy. When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

Sarah Stephan at Rewire.News explains that the new HHS “conscience rule,” which lets health care workers refuse to offer care if it conflicts with their religious beliefs, is worse than you think:

This administration is conflating the free exercise of religion and an undefined freedom of “moral conscience.” The U.S. Supreme Court has steadfastly protected religious exercise for decades. However, the Court has not given carte blanche to claim religious exemption without some evidence of religious beliefs. Regardless of the belief claimed … the Court has required the person claiming exemption to show that their belief is both sincere and rooted in religious tradition. Even as it has been highly deferent to believers, the highest Court has required some evidence that this belief was genuine and the exemption not claimed from personal conscience, but from existing religious tradition.

In these and related rules, HHS has created an untested criteria to claim exemption: A provider may decline to offer care based on their moral conviction.

This is a little confusing. The Saatchi Gallery in London had paintings that, according to the artist, “represented the expulsion of a ‘toxic spew’ of media images, including degrading images of women, nationalistic symbols and propaganda designed to ‘illicit support for a cause and demonize others,’” which some Muslims complained were blasphemous. Apparently there was little fuss as the gallery and artist both agreed to just cover them up, as its own kind of statement. Then the organization Quilliam said the paintings were blasphemous and sacrilegious and “The Satanic Verses all over again,” except that Quilliam is Maajid Nawaz’s counter-extremism organization, and are opposed to blasphemy restrictions. Which they later clarified, even though it sounded like they were saying that the paintings ought not be allowed. I told you this was confusing. It confused John Robson at Canada’s National Post:

If it’s not a threat, it could easily be mistaken for one. And was, prompting Quilliam to tweet that it opposes blasphemy censorship. But while Muslims have every right to complain, debate, critique art and urge us to convert, given the long shadow of lethal riots over those Danish cartoons, the Charlie Hebdo massacre etc., it’s irresponsible not to avoid any implied “Nice gallery. Pity if something were to … happen to it.”

Anyway, it’s a mess, like everything else.

Republicans are still scrambling to pass bills just to force acceptance of Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ activities. State Sen. José Menéndez, a Democrat, put it this way:

Session after session, we end up entertaining legislation that sends a message to my LGBT staff members. … They feel they’re coming under attack for who they are. So the question I have is: What do you say to them? Do you think Chick-fil-A needs more protection from us than our constituents who have a history of being discriminated against?”

A paper in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law Online shows that “parsonage exemptions” in the tax code are even more blatantly unconstitutional than they appear. As quoted by Hemant Mehta:

…the very fact that the Treasury Department and religious organizations claimed in their amicus briefs that “the survival of many congregations hangs in the balance” of the validity of the parsonage exemption is further proof that § 107 functions as an active subsidy of religion.

Plus, it’s a form of sex discrimination because, you know, not a whole lot of lady parsons.

William Reville in the Irish Times says, “Science would be well advised to avoid picking fights with a friendly and powerful potential ally,” religion. I dunno, Billy, I mean, I feel like it’s religion that’s been doing most of the fight-picking.

Two Yale scientists and a state legislator co-author an op-ed in the Hartford Courant in support of vaccination requirements, which the state legislature is not dealing with:

Scientific knowledge is not settled through debate or sophistry; it requires rigorous experimental design and objective interpretation of the data. Instead of pretending the safety of vaccines is subject to debate, Connecticut should move rapidly to enact policies that protect public health.

Almost 1000 Canadians reported UFO sightings in 2018. 41 percent were in Quebec. The year as a whole rated a 4.4 on their “strangeness scale,” whatever the hell that means.

Iain Boyd at The Conversation has an explanation for why the U.S. military might be so interested in UFOs. It’s not about aliens, but getting better at identifying things that are unidentified.

There is a company that was called Spartan but is now called Lambs (what?) and it sells EMF-blocking underpants and a radiation-proof beanie and it’s backed by an investment firm literally called “Science, Inc.” and why do we even bother.

The Virginia-Pilot does a puff piece on a pet-psychic-detective and I give up.

Grumpy Cat is dead, because we are all Grumpy Cat.

Quote of the Day

United Church of Christ minister Chuck Currie writes at RNS about Mike Pence’s claims that Christians are ridiculed:

Truth be told, it is Christians like Pence who do the most shunning and ridiculing. His message at Liberty [University] was both bad theology and bad politics.

Pence’s faith affiliation, for instance, is what helped propel him to the vice presidency; he is not a victim. When Pence is ridiculed, it is not for the religion he claims, but for the political stances he takes that have led to discrimination against others.

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