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Sycophants in the Office of the Dead

February 5, 2019

Our boss Robyn Blumner was interviewed for The Canadian Atheist, and I thought this recollection from her youth was pretty neat: usually the lone atheist in her family, a certain publication indicated to her maybe things were changing:

I just didn’t understand how everyone could believe such outlandish claims without evidence. I thought everyone around me was crazy, and I presume they thought I was — or that I’d outgrow my resistance to belief.

I knew my Dad had come full circle when I notice he subscribed to Free Inquiry magazine, the periodical that CFI publishes on secular humanism and atheism.

This was long before I became the organization’s CEO. Although Dad’s been dead for years, it’s a very nice memory to know he was a supporter of CFI way back when.

Kelsey Dallas at Deseret News talks to the Senate Chaplain, Rev. Barry Black, about how crazy things are:

Let’s put it this way, it could be worse. There was a time in our history when someone walked over from the House of Representatives and beat one of our senators into unconsciousness. There hasn’t been a caning on my watch so far.

“So far.” You just know there’s a beast inside of Dick Durbin just waiting to be unleashed.

Speaking of crazy, anti-Muslim uber-zealot Frank Gaffney tells the right wing group Intercessors for America that having two Muslim Members of Congress means that the U.S. is now in danger of “Sharia supremism,” and adds:

The persecution for following Jesus Christ is taking place on a scale that dwarfs the predations of Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung combined. Now think about that.

Oh Frank, you and I both know there’s not a lot of thinking going on there.

Business Insider looks at how some major corporations are using climate change for fun and profit. Mostly profit. For example, Apple!

When a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake hits, people tend to reach for their phones. Apple predicts that more customers will soon be inclined to purchase an iPhone in preparation for a severe climate-related event.

“Mobile devices can serve as the backbone communication network in emergency and quasi-emergency situations,” the company wrote in its disclosure. “They can serve as a flashlight or a siren; they can provide first aid instructions; they can act as a radio; and they can be charged for many days via car batteries or even hand cranks.”

You heard it here first: The next overpriced iPhone dongle, iCrank.

Avi Selk at the Post profiles Avi Loeb (tell me that wasn’t an intentional pairing of Avis…Avies?), the Harvard astronomer who has made a very big name for himself (not that “Avi” is itself a big name) for being the guy who said that ‘Oumuamua could possibly be an object from an alien civilization. I read the paper in question, and I thought the suggestion was a pretty reasonable and non-sensantionalist, but lots of other scientists disagreed…strongly. He doesn’t care:

“The worst thing that can happen to me is I would be relieved of my administrative duties, and that would give me even more time to focus on science,” Loeb adds. “All the titles I have, I can dial them back. In fact, I can dial myself back to the farm.”

I’d never heard of the podcast called The Futility Closet, but wow what a great name. Anyway, they have an episode on psychologist Leon Festinger who studied the beliefs of a UFO religion in the 1950s.

This thing by Chris Johnson at the Ledger-Inquirer about the presidential asperations of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz came up in my Google alerts for obvious reasons, and it made me smile, wryly of course:

Now, he’s looking to buy himself a White House. He’s touting his “self-made billionaire” American success story. I think the self-made billionaire is a myth on par with Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Oh I dunno about that. At least there are very blurry images of Nessie and Bigfoot.

How addictive is coffee? Despite how I personally feel, it’s actually not, says Harriet Hall.

Brian Hagedorn, a candidate for the State Supreme Court in Wisconsin, has made clear in his writings that he really hates the gays and Planned Parenthood, because Jesus, and rejects calls to recuse himself on related cases if he’s elected. He also wrote in 2005 that “Christianity is the correct religion, and that insofar as others contradict it, they are wrong.”

David Mislin of Temple University looks at the history of debate over Bible study in public schools, an issue he says “was among the first to divide religious liberals and conservatives.”

At the Irish Times, novelist Cauvery Madhavan recounts drifting between Hinduism and Catholicism (gods, saints, potato, po-tah-to), and on a trek to an Everest base camp she found a Buddhist temple where she saw “senior monks on a wooden platform in crimson silk and well above them, high on a silver dais, regal in maroon velvet, sat the head abbot…”

Get me out of here, I thought to myself. Even in this religion, beloved by people who reject all other beliefs, it’s all just about men in hierarchical costumes!

It’s a couple of years now and I’m a contented atheist because my conscience is my only god. Religion used to provide me with succour but nowadays I find reliable and greater succour in confronting my failings, each time only to realise that my destiny is truly in my own hands.

UC Riverside’s The Highlander (there can, I am told, be only one) touts Andrew Cuomo’s approach to governing-while-Catholic as laudable:

Governor Cuomo’s actions should be seen as an example of the many politicians out there who are caught at crossroads between wanting to govern based off of personally held values and wanting to serve the people of their constituencies. Politicians everywhere should look to Cuomo’s example and separate their governance from their personal convictions.

Quote of the Day

Through Science Trends quoting the American Heritage Dictionary, I learn the etymological roots of the word “placebo,” and it’s just so perfect:

Like the word dirge, placebo has its origin in the Office of the Dead, the cycle of prayers traditionally sung or recited for the repose of the souls of the dead. The traditional liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church is Latin, and in Latin, the first word of the first antiphon of the vespers service is placebo, “I shall please.” This word is taken from a phrase in the psalm text that is recited after the antiphon, placebo Domino in regione vivorum, “I shall please the Lord in the land of the living.” The vespers service of the Office of the Dead came to be called placebo in Middle English, and the expression sing placebo came to mean “to flatter, be obsequious.” … Placebo eventually came to mean “flatterer” and “sycophant.”

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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.