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Unimaginably Strange Things

February 7, 2020

There’s a new member of the Center for Inquiry Expanded Universe, as we welcome our new fundraising superhero, Director of Development Connie Skingel.

So, otherwise, how are things? Not so good, right? Right. On our podcast Point of Inquiry, CFI’s board chair, the great Eddie Tabash, levels with us about the state of church-state separation.

Tim Binga, our master of freethought deep cuts, discusses the mountains of newsletters archived by CFI Libraries, and why they’re so valuable:

What makes these local newsletters so interesting is that they contain the history of the local group—the various events that were held, the officers of the groups, and attendees of events are often listed and recorded here. You sometimes see what the local group thought about a topic, which may not coincide with the position of their national organization. All sorts of interesting insights can be gleaned from their pages.

I would like to remind all these organizations that we are still collecting newsletters—whether they be in the form of paper back issues, new electronic issues, or both. It is also a good back-up for your organization for someone outside it to hold these materials.

At Skeptical Inquirer, Kenny Biddle continues chipping away at a plagiarism scandal involving the faux-investigator of the paranormal, Zak Bagans.

Get ready for some peak stupid. An astrology app, Co-Star, was removed from the Google Play Store for a violation of policy. The app’s makers then accused Google—and I can’t believe I’m actually typing this—of anti-astrology prejudice. Yep. As Mashable notes:

There are currently at least 250 astrology-related apps based in various traditions on the Play Store, and the company’s claims of “anti-astrology prejudice” aren’t backed up with more concrete information.

This is how we find the truth. You want to know what’s really going on with UFOs and aliens and whatnot? You get the people who might soon be president and you corner them in a room with a local newspaper’s editorial board and you get them on the record. That’s what Daymond Steer of the Conway Daily Sun in New Hampshire has been doing. From a report by MJ Banias at Vice, here’s one example, from Mayor Pete:

In response to Steer’s questioning regarding UFOs and the Nimitz case, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said that “strange things happen out there” and while he admits that life most likely does exist elsewhere in the universe, he hasn’t really seen enough evidence that suggests it is visiting Earth.

“As a curious species, [we] should always be looking at what’s going on around us,” Buttigieg philosophically remarks towards the end of the video. “Unimaginably strange things often happened in the grand sweep of American and world history and we should never fail to be on the lookout for what’s happening around us.”

That seems to be the gist from most of the candidates, some variation on, “Yeah man, cool, I’ll totally check on it.”

Max Read at New York Magazine attempts to work out why conspiracy theories are so rampant today, offering five explanation, including:

For centuries now we’ve lived in an increasingly interconnected, interdependent world, ruled over by shifting and unstable arrangements of bureaucratic institutions and free markets. In theory, this world is driven by human agency; in practice, any particular individual’s agency is sharply limited and often irrelevant. For people living through a ruinous financial crisis or devastating climate change — or even through rapid social change that has no material effect on their lives — it can be hard to make sense of a cascade of events that seem to have no plainly evident causal chain, or even identifiable human authors. How do you account for a world we’re meant to master, but is so complex its workings seem essentially opaque? In steps the conspiracy theory

A not-actually-psychic psychic in Sacramento has been arrested for scamming clients out of about $100,000. The Bee reports:

Authorities have said [Perlita] Afanacio-Ballester had promised the victims she would “bless” any amount of money she received by doubling it. She told the victims to return to a specific location, after a few days, to receive their doubled funds, according to police. The victims returned later and learned Afanacio-Ballester was gone, taking their money with her.

Rare good news: Virginia’s legislature passes—with bipartisan votes!—anti-discrimination legislation, the first of its kind in the south. The AP reports:

The legislation prohibits discrimination in housing, public or private employment, public spaces and credit transactions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also lays out causes of action that would allow individuals or, in certain circumstances the attorney general, to sue over alleged discrimination.

Back to bad news: Oklahoma’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly passes a de facto abortion ban with a bill that revokes the licenses of doctors who perform an abortion.

Joe Lockhart, formerly a press secretary for President Clinton, tweets his disgust at President Trump’s attacks on Nancy Pelosi’s and Mitt Romney’s invocations of faith, but I think blows it at the end:

It’s fitting that @realDonaldTrump would use a prayer breakfast to complain about what’s been done to him. He still has no sense of what he’s done to the country. And he has no sense of what a prayer breakfast is about. To him it’s only about him. As Godless as it gets.

No, Joe, the godless would have been way, way more respectful.

Phillip Adams at The Australian is pleased to be among the godless:

Religiosity continues to degrade US politics, Christian fundamentalists exalting its most venal president as “the chosen one”. In the US – and elsewhere – religion turbocharges patriotism and nationalism. In allegedly secular and democratic India, PM Narendra Modi is ramping up the hatred of Muslims with a sort of legislative Partition. In Israel, internecine conflicts between orthodox, ultra-orthodox and more progressive Jews make governance more fraught. It’s hard to see any country or culture where religion is a blessing, where it helps with harmony and unity. Religion talks of love but foments distrust. And professed Christians in high office in Australia show very little Christian compassion for – dare I mention them? – refugees. Yet I understand that Joseph and Mary were members of that ancient and unfortunate category.

Yes, despite the revelations of a plague of priestly misconduct, here and around the world many men and women of faith do great good, often working in collaboration with those of no faith. And many believers find comfort in their beliefs. But at the end of the day I look at the cathedrals, mosques, synagogues and Hillsongs, and I thank God I’m an atheist.

Netflix is going to give us the option to turn off those goddamned auto-playing previews. Maybe this is as good as things will ever get.

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.