It’s a Scam, Sir

August 31, 2015

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

Oliver Sacks has died, at age 82. He knew, and we knew, it was coming, but it's a punch in the gut nonetheless. And boy does he leave a lot for people to chew over for the next few centuries. Check him out on our podcast Point of Inquiry from 2012, interviewed by Indre Viskontas, or read the transcript at Skeptical Inquirer. When Sacks announced his imminent end to the world, I reacted in my usually morose way at my own blog iMortal in a post called "Oliver and I are Going to Die."

This weekend I infiltrated a secret meeting of journalists who were conspiring to "report" on a phenomenon known as "religion" (sometimes under the code word "faith and values"), and did my best to infect them with skepto-secular mind viruses, and also to learn their Evil Plans. OR MORE ACCURATELY I was at the Religion Newswriters Association 2015 conference in Philly, and it was genuinely really cool. It was my fourth time exhibiting for CFI at the event, and it was a great chance to reconnect with journalists I know, build new relationships, and even find unexpected common ground with exhibitors and journalists from various faith perspectives. That, and a certain high-profile, award-winning reporter said my tweets were "the highlight of the conference," so I feel very validated.

One thing I learned at the conference was that our policy analyst Ed Beck decided not to tell me he appeared in this video from the DC Interfaith Leadership Summit, where he's all charming and whatnot.  

Bad news in India as anti-superstition skeptic M. M. Kalburgi is killed in a manner similar to that of Narendra Dabholkar in 2013. 

As a result of the Ashley Madison website leak, Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today estimated that by yesterday, about 400 clergy will have resigned after being exposed.  

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quotes CSI Fellow Robert Sheaffer on the lack of evidence of alien visitations:

There's too much nonsense in this world in terms of ghosts and Bigfoot and alien encounters. The world would be a better place if we were grounded in a bit more reality.

Worst person ever? South Dakota state legislator Roger Hunt says trans high school athletes should have to undergo a genital inspection

Evan Fleischer at Pacific Standard says we in the West don't really understand what "dangerous satire" really is. "No one asked Jon Stewart why he wasn’t on a hit list," as compared to Egypt's Bassem Youseff (who has also been on Point of Inquiry -- what a good show!).

You don't want genetically modified minerals, now do you? Yeah yeah, minerals don't have genes. That's what they want you to think. 

George Will opines in support of right-to-die measures: "There is nobility in suffering bravely borne, but also in affirming at the end the distinctive human dignity of autonomous choice." 

Myanmar enacts a law forbidding polygamy and cohabitation, which is seen as a persecutory measure against the Muslim minority. 

Self-help guru Wayne Dyer is dead at 75, who had claimed that he had his leukemia cured with "psychic surgery."

Quote of the Day:

A series of confessions by storefront psychics in New York as revealed by Michael Wilson at the Times. Preferring to fess up than stay in jail for whatever it is they're in trouble for, we get stuff like this:

Parole Commissioner: What is the psychic business? Is it real, or a bunch of baloney?

Celia Mitchell: It’s a scam, sir.

PC: The whole thing is a scam?

CM: Yes.


PC: Was it useless? 

Betty Vlado: Yes, pretty much.

PC: Are you pretty much just telling a story, basically lying? Just making stuff up?

BV: Yes.

PC: Do you consider yourself a good liar?

BV: No.

And back to Celia Mitchell:

PC: You don’t think there’s any legitimate psychics out there?

Celia Mitchell: If they are taking your money, they are not for real.

* * *

Original image by Shutterstock.

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. 

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#1 Randy on Tuesday September 01, 2015 at 8:45pm

i think Evan Fleischer at Pacific Standard is correct.  Now, going out with the goal of earning (credible) death threats is probably a stupid idea.  But in the West, it’s never allowed to get that far anyway.  If you say anything that the people in power think is too controversial, you’re fired, shunned, and perhaps even prosecuted, in fairly short order.  (These days people in power may be the government, or may be popular Twitter accounts, etc.)

Jon Stewart’s failure is that, like many liberals, he was unwilling to (or perhaps unaware that he even should) stand up for bedrock liberal principles, favoring a destructive “can’t we all just pretend we all want to live under 2015 Western values forever” line, and he was unwilling to speak truth to power on things like equality (segregation by gender, for example) because he knows he’d lose his faux liberal audience.

While apparently sharing the same politics as Stewart, I think John Oliver is doing better work, because he puts his comedy into action, and requests his fans do the same.  He may not be a Bassem Youssef, but he’s what we have, and it’s probably wrong to put him in the same category with the rest.  Time will tell whether his home on HBO will afford him the ability to say something really dangerous to himself personally.  But there are several kinds of people out there whose rights are seen as irrelevant by the majority, and he could stand up for some of them.  (A philosophy blog elsewhere recently asked that since it’s unlikely that we’ve perfected civil rights, who can you think of might need to be considered?  The list coming from comments was surprisingly long, and surprisingly valid, and certain to anger nearly everyone.)

#2 Randy on Tuesday September 01, 2015 at 8:48pm

“high school athletes should have to undergo a genital inspection”

Yet another reason we need to end sex segregation.

#3 Randy on Tuesday September 01, 2015 at 8:50pm

“about 400 clergy will have resigned after being exposed.”

I don’t know why.  Ashley Madison says they’ve got even more women on the site now.  Things are looking up!  (imagine I put a smile here… I don’t think it will let me do that)

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