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This is Not a Serious Conversation

April 10, 2019

This morning, astronomers revealed the first-ever image of an honest-to-goodness black hole, 55 million light-years away at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy. NYT’s Dennis Overbye writes:

The image…resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the power and malevolence of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity. …

The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap, a black hole. Here, according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space and time come to an end and vanish like a dream.

On Wednesday morning that dark vision became a visceral reality.

A House Oversight Committee hearing on climate change and national security was turned into a bacchanalia of jackassery by science-denying Republicans. Rep. Thomas Massie mocked Paris agreement architect John Kerry for being rich and accusing him of having a “pseudoscience degree pushing pseudoscience.” (Irony is dead.) Rep. Mark Green said that using defense funds on anything to do with climate change was a threat to our security (the Pentagon says the opposite). Massie also tried to taunt Kerry over carbon dioxide levels millions of years ago. CNN reports:

“But there weren’t human beings — it was a different world, folks,” Kerry said. When Massie asked how carbon dioxide rose to such levels without humans, Kerry said it involved geological events. When Massie asked, “did geology stop when we got on the planet?” an irritated Kerry said, “this is just not a serious conversation,” he said.

Thomas Friedman says Trump’s denial of climate change is the key to defeating him in 2020, specifically with a “Green Real Deal,” and I’m just like, yeah, I really doubt that.

The Gainesville Sun editorializes in opposition to the Florida legislature spending a proposed $110 million on school vouchers:

State lawmakers need to start adequately funding [public school] needs and bring per-pupil public school funding and teacher salaries up to respectable levels, rather than creating new ways to divert taxpayer money to private and religious schools.

Oh hey, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an editorial on the same subject for Missouri, opposing tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds going to a voucher scheme “which so clearly defies logic,” adding, “Diverting taxpayer money for religious-school instruction raises particularly serious constitutional concerns.” You bet it does.

A fraction of Ireland’s primary schools are expected to divest themselves from the Catholic Church, which they don’t want to do, and shock of shocks, they’re making stuff up in order to turn public opinion against the idea. Emer O’Toole at The Guardian reports:

…three Catholic schools circulated leaflets containing misinformation: that the loss of religious patronage would mean an end to the schools marking Christmas, Easter and even Halloween; the axing of healthy eating programmes and book clubs; the devaluing of grandparents; censorship of the Irish language; lack of safety on school tours; a drop in the standard of education; the imperilment of teachers’ jobs – in short, to “a Brexit-type disaster”.

New York City declares a public health emergency over measles in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, ordering mandatory vaccinations. That community is being fed misinformation on vaccines, such as a “Vaccine Safety Handbook” that says, “It is our belief that there is no greater threat to public health than vaccines.” Not to put too fine a point on it, of course.

Literary Hub runs an excerpt from a new book by Thomas Milan Konda, Conspiracies of Conspiracies: How Delusions Have Overrun America.

David French at the National Review says opposition to Chick-fil-A businesses is an example of liberal intolerance run amok:

Not one of the “offensive” organizations supported by Chick-fil-A could fairly be described as a culture-war organization. … They have standard Christian rules of conduct. They are not remotely “anti-LGBT” but instead advance a different, biblical sexual ethic, one that applies to gay and straight individuals alike.

WAIT! You see what you just said right there??? “Advance a biblical sexual ethic”??? That’s the problem. DON’T YOU JUST GLOSS OVER THAT, DAVID FRENCH.

At Skeptical Inquirer, Rob Palmer looks at the harm caused by belief in psychics:

There is absolutely no reason to take a chance on a psychic. Believing that someone has these powers—when no one does—leaves oneself open to a disastrous con, for no good reason. Because, did I mention that No One Can Do This? … This needlessly exposes them to the possibility of destructive, unrecoverable financial loss at the hands of con artists who are masters of psychological manipulation.

The Philadelphia Inquirer profiles the indefatigable freethought activist Margaret Downey:

Despite differences she’s had with religious people over the years, Downey thinks nontheists and believers have more in common than they do at odds.

“If we look at the things we all appreciate about life, like the love and friendship of family and friends, we can find common ground,” she said. “Those are the things that pull us together.”

The asymptotically insufferable Tucker Carlson is losing more advertisers on his show. But you know who’s sticking with him? Ken Ham and his money pit the Ark Encounter. You gotta know your demographic.

At Religion & Politics, former evangelical Bradley Onishi says that “there is a new force organizing in opposition to the most powerful religious group in American politics,” by which he means people like him, “exvangelicals.”

This absolutely bananas: Tennessee’s House overwhelmingly passed a bill banning taxpayer funding of abortion because doing so constitutes an endorsement of “the religion of secular humanism.” I give up.

David Westmoreland at Scientific American writes of his experiences teaching evolution to Tibetan monks. (Maybe the next TIES workshop?) He opens with one of the questions he fielded: “We believe that we came into existence when an ogress mated with a monkey. Is that possible?” For the answer, I’d say see the previous item.

I want to congratulate Sarahbeth Caplin on her lede for this story:

In a story so weird you’d swear it had to take place in Florida…

NICELY DONE. Oh, the story is about a guy in Kentucky suing the hotel he worked at because his boss tried to force him into an exorcism. No big deal.

Mike Huckabee says Christianity’s problems are the result of people’s “failure to apply a biblical standard of maleness and femaleness.” I think that means being naked in the woods and totally not eating apples.

Karen Pence (or “Mother” if you’re her husband) says Pete Buttttiiii….Mayor Pete is “attacking” her Christianity by pushing back against the vice president’s anti-gay positions. Sure, okay. Hemant Mehta says, “Christianity is not an immunity shield from criticism.” WELL, OBVIOUSLY IT IS, HEMANT.

Quote of the Day

Okay, are you ready for the worst thing you’ve ever heard in your life? I warned you. Timothy Bella at the Washington Post reports from Taiwan:

The 29-year-old woman had no idea why her eye was swollen shut. She was in unbearable pain and could not stop tearing up. …

… doctors didn’t find a bacterial infection. While looking at [the woman’s] eyes through a microscope, Hung Chi-ting, the hospital’s head of ophthalmology, witnessed something he hadn’t seen before.

Insect legs were wiggling from one of her eye sockets.

He yanked out a small bee, known as Halictidae or a “sweat bee.” And it was alive.

The doctor, however, wasn’t done. Soon he extracted a second sweat bee. And a third.

And, finally, a fourth bee was pulled from the woman’s eyelid.

Craving salt, the bees had been feeding off [her] tears.

I’m getting off this ridiculous and horrifying planet.

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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.