Life Releases Gases

February 23, 2017

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.

In a petty and spiteful move, President Trump rescinds the protections for transgender students implemented by President Obama last year. Interestingly, the key person opposed to this move against students was the Education Secretary herself, Betsy DeVos (Jeff Sessions was all for it of course). She put out a statement in favor of Trump's order, but it's remarkably, well, almost apologetic? She said:

We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools. 

We'll see. 

Denmark, for the first time since 1971, charges a man with blasphemy for burning a Quran in an online video. Denmark, you know, where the "Danish cartoons" happened. Our response, in part:

“The fundamental rights that allow a religious believer to freely profess the divinity of a holy book also allow someone else to defile that book, and still others to censure such an action,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the United Nations. “While the actions of the accused may be offensive and his sentiments ugly, real democracy is only possible with the freedom to criticize even the most deeply held beliefs.”

Similarly, a play in Poland, The Curse, is being "investigated" for the crime of hurting religious feelings (blasphemy) for featuring the murder of a politician and "sexual scenes involving the cross and an image of the late Polish pope, St. John Paul II." I am going to adapt this into a musical.

Good news...I mean, like, amazingly cool good news: NASA announces the discovery of a planetary system around the star TRAPPIST-1 that is home to seven Earth-size planets, A through G, three of which (E, F, and G) reside in the star's "Goldilocks zone." 

“I think that we have made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury H. M. J. Triaud, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge in England and another member of the research team. “Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to that we have on Earth, then we will know.” 

I suggest renaming the star Community and naming each planet after members of the study group. Doesn't matter which is which, but TRAPPIST-B must be named Planet Pierce. Why? Because Pierce you're a B

On the appointment of H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser: William McCants at Politico notes that anyone who pisses off Nazis and anti-Muslim bigots is a good influence.

Who seems to not be influential? Rex Tillerson, right, Secretary of State. Silly me. 

Oh hey the DC Death with Dignity Act that the Republicans in Congress were going to quash? They missed their deadline, so now it's law. BUT they can still find other ways to thwart it. 

Despite what you hear from Trump and friends, there is no evidence that crime goes up with increases in immigration. 

Research also now shows that in states where same-sex marriage was made legal (before the Supreme Court made it nationwide), the rate of suicide attempts by teenagers in the LGBTQ community meaningfully dropped, saving perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives. 

Meanwhile, a heterosexual couple in Britain are not allowed to enter a civil partnership (instead of a marriage), as it remains reserved for same-sex couples as an "alternative" to marriage. 

In Skeptical Inquirer, Michael Marshall -- founder of the Merseyside Skeptics and now project director of The Good Thinking Society -- briefly tells of his first forays into organized skepticism, and how this work has made progress against, for example, the NHS support of homeopathy in the UK.

This is really interesting. The Atlantic's Emma Green reviews the new book by Rod Dreher (the original delicate snowflake) about what he calls "the Benedict Option," in which Christians fortify themselves from the secular world:

Nothing in this language suggests that Dreher is ready to live tolerantly alongside people with different views. If progressives wrote about the Bible as “a lot of babble about Jesus and God,” using language similar to that of the parent Dreher cites, he would be quick to cry foul against the ignorance and intolerance of the left; his language is dismissive and mocking, and he peppers in conspiratorial terms like the “LGBT agenda.” At times, it seems like the goal of the Benedict option is just as much about getting away from gay people as it is affirming the tenets of Christianity. The book seems to suggest that mere proximity to people with alternative beliefs about sexuality, and specifically LGBT people, is a threat to Christian children and families. 

The Times-News in Magic Valley, Idaho looks at how two outcast groups find community with their own kind: Pagans and atheists (respectively). 

Natural News = fake news? Google seems to have, for now, blacklisted the alt-med/alt-reality site from its index.

A state senator in Ohio wants to change the state's voucher program from one in which kids in a failing school district get vouchers, to one where they go to any kid wherever they are based on income

Holy crap look at this: The Morning Glory Spillway in Napa County. It's like a crop circle, but, like, in the water.

Quote of the Day:

From The Onion, which, while obviously fictional, I think may have lessons for us all:

Goose Suddenly Realizes It Doesn’t Have To Honk Like An Idiot Entire Time It’s Flapping Wings

The insight abruptly springing to mind as the bird took flight, a local goose suddenly realized Wednesday that it doesn’t have to honk like an idiot the entire time it’s flapping its wings. “Wow, I guess I don’t need to squawk like a goddamn moron during every single takeoff and landing,” said the Canadian goose, all at once aware that it truly had no reason for screeching like a jackass every time it used its wings in the slightest, let alone merely waddled around on some grass. “I feel pretty stupid for all the years I’ve spent bellowing my lungs out like a real grade-A dope. I saw a duck glide quietly onto a pond the other day, and it made me realize what a fucking racket I must have been making all this time.” At press time, the goose was startled by the realization that it didn’t have to veer dangerously close to an oncoming jet engine every single time it took to the sky.
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Photo credit: Si Longworth (Army Photographer) via / CC BY-NC

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#1 Randy (Guest) on Thursday February 23, 2017 at 10:46pm

“Goose Suddenly Realizes It Doesn’t Have To Honk Like An Idiot”

What I want to know is why I’m not allowed to cook up one of these things if I find it in the local park.  It’s just there, eating up the park, pooping all over the place. 

It would look much better on my plate, right?  And no honking.  I don’t eat mammals.  But I will eat ALL the birds.  Dinosaur is DONE!

#2 Randy (Guest) on Thursday February 23, 2017 at 10:53pm

“The Morning Glory Spillway”

Frankly this looks like just the sort of thing someone will find a way to die in.

#3 Randy (Guest) on Thursday February 23, 2017 at 10:56pm

“Pagans and atheists”

Actually, I have found pagans to be the most accepting of atheism, because their beliefs have got them shunned by the mainstream.  So there’s a common experience we can draw on, even if we have a different world view and think each other deeply wrong about the world.

#4 Randy (Guest) on Thursday February 23, 2017 at 10:59pm

“a heterosexual couple in Britain” was plainly discriminated against, on the basis of their sex, and sexual orientation. 

It’s rare for it to be so official, but it happens.  It’s one reason I never exclude straight people, or demean them as “allies” in the fight against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (i.e. sex).  It doesn’t matter what the discrimination means to ME.  The fact that it happens at all is wrong enough.

#5 Randy (Guest) on Thursday February 23, 2017 at 11:04pm

“Google seems to have, for now, blacklisted”

Oh.  So we traded fake science for fake index.  Wonderful.

(By the way, if you do the search, you’ll notice this had ZERO effect other than virtue signalling, because it still lists at least 10 sites—I stopped counting—in the first page of results that themselves link to the site.)

This is really NOT something we should be empowering Google or anyone else to do.  Do you REALLY want a global corporation telling you what you can and can’t see, even if you know its name?  This should strike fear into everyone’s heart.

#6 Randy (Guest) on Friday February 24, 2017 at 12:37am

“the rate of suicide attempts by teenagers in the LGBTQ community meaningfully dropped”

This is certainly good news, right?  But it leaves me uneasy.  It has a sense of “Mission Accomplished” about it.  Gay people have been talking about this forever, like we own stigma-induced suicide.  And while it’s true we have been affected, it just feels a little too convenient right now, just a little too smug and easy.  If we lose marriage rights, we can come back to it.

Let’s do the hard thing, and consider, for a moment, what it is like for a pedophile teen, particularly after the Milo mess.  (They exist, and YouTube seems to have found one they want to rip apart… the things people say to this kid make it clear they want another Rehtaeh Parsons result, or worse).

When I was a gay teen, I frequently had long suicidal thoughts myself.  We were, after all, going to be dying from what many said was their god’s wrath in the form of AIDS, and even non-religious people were taking delight in that.  It takes something strong inside yourself to endure that.  Some people didn’t have it, and they died by their own hand.  We will never really know how many.

How very similar it must be, for the pedophile teen.  All the structures of the world are arrayed against them, and they are fair game for any nut who comes along.  Not only will their future include loneliness, but utter isolation, and likely violence, imprisonment, and the scarlet letter for life.  This cannot be the future we offer this teen.  It’s not right.

And if you made it this far, I’m changing subject.

Let’s do the other hard thing.  Consider now the adult white male.  Life expectancy for this group has been going down due in part due to drugs and suicide.  Although the stats don’t break it out directly, the lifespan has been going down for whites, and for males, separately.  Drug deaths and suicide are on the rise.  Recognizing this, suicide was the theme of last year’s International Men’s Day. 

These people have experienced an export of their jobs, and now see coming an automation of the remaining jobs.  They’ve granted other people access to the reins of power, only to see themselves thanked for that with derision and exclusion.  When cops kill them, nobody cares, nobody marches.  Their lives do NOT matter.  They are presumed guilty in college rape cases.  They are presumed dangerous to children.  They are presumed to be racist.  You can openly mock them or objectify them without any fear.  You can even help torture one to death, and be lauded at a march in DC.  (The criminal’s name is Hylton, if you think I made it up)  And don’t you even DARE to think they should be proud of themselves.  Right?

If you read the transcripts of the Prop 8 case in California, you’ll learn a lot about the costs of social stigma.  And in part because of those costs, we won recognition of our right to marry.  So I’m not real concerned about US right now.  I’m concerned about other groups, the ones it’s actually OK to shame to death.  When do we stop killing them?  And how?

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