Point of Inquiry Has a New Host

I’d like to Welcome Leighann Lord to the legion of hosts that have been heard on Point of Inquiry since I first started listening to the podcast way back at the dawn of time (2010ish) I first mentioned the podcast on the blog in The Ethics of Brain Death where I reference Lindsay Beyerstein’s interview with Arthur Caplan. But I was listening to the podcast when Indre Viskontas was first brought on as a host, and I followed her and Josh Zepps on to their next endeavours (Josh to We the People Live and Indre to Inquiring Minds) so my listening to the podcast predates that blog entry by several years.

The show had been on hiatus for quite awhile recently, but has come out strong again with Leighann Lord interviewing Ian Harris On Comedy, Skeptical Audiences, And Atheism. I first heard her working on Startalk when the Son and I would listen to that podcast driving to and from his high school. She’s great, and I look forward to hearing more from her and Point of Inquiry for awhile. Please?

Point of Inquiry – Ian Harris On Comedy, Skeptical Audiences, And Atheism – May 7, 2020

The Plane That Never Leaves the Ground

Theness.com

Regenerative braking is used on most electric cars (My 2011 Leaf has them) it is a great idea to try to recapture the energy spent on getting up to cruising speed. However, to make it work for planes or rockets you would first have to figure out how to recapture the expended energy in a form that could then be reused by the machine. I personally can’t think of any way to ‘brake’ a plane or a rocket in such a way that the recaptured energy is worth the weight cost of the capturing device.

…as Dr. Novella says in the article, there is no way to overcome Newton’s laws. If there was, it won’t emerge as something as pedestrian as a plane that flies without refueling. That would be small potatoes compared to what could be done if the second law of thermodynamics didn’t apply.

Coronavirus Panic

How the Trump administration is incapable of preventing a panic due to the very nature of what the Trump administration is. Also, how can you tell if you have COVID-19? What should I do to avoid getting sick?

It is the last day of February 2020. It’s a leap year this year so that means the date is the 29th and not the usual 28th. Every four years we add in another day so that the calendar that most of human society uses to mark annual time doesn’t slip off of the real cycles of the planet around the day-star, what we refer to as the sun.

We add that day into the calendars every four years (Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400) because generations of measuring solar data had revealed that the previous most common calendar, the Julian calendar (created in 709 AUC, 45 BC) was off by some increment of days in the year, even though it too had an additional day every four years. For more than 2000 years we have been able to mark time uniformly through the use of science and observation.

This is an ironical fact. That the day that exists where it does in the calendar, exists because of science, is the day that marks the first US death of a COVID-19 coronavirus sufferer. He, and probably most of the people in his nursing home, has died and will die because of the Trump administrations denial of science and facts. This latest death that can be blamed on the Trump administration is just the tip of the iceberg. Just the bit of hell that we are about to collide with over the coming months when it comes to this sociopathic president, the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) and his unwillingness to accept reality as it exists around him.

…But I’m jumping ahead to the end of the story. For those who haven’t been keeping track of the subject of this latest adventure in epidemiology, I penned a quick piece on the blog the first time I heard a news story about the subject. At the time I wondered about its origins, and whether it stemmed from loosely regulated Chinese genomic explorations. I titled it:

RAnt(hony)-ings

…but the virus was rather quickly determined to stem from wet markets in the Wuhan province of China (Revenge of the Pangolin? -ed.) where the first cases of the viral infection surfaced. That was a month ago. Today, at the end of February, we have the OHM insisting that this coronavirus is a thing that is magically going to be going away while the stock markets crash around him, and his yesmen are running around declaring that the stock markets are crashing because Democrats want to get rid of president Trump.

All Things Considered – How The United States Failed To See The Coronavirus Crisis Coming – April 3, 2020

We also have the Russians cooking up conspiracy fantasies and spreading them all over the internet, some of which are being spread by Stormtrumpers. So it is only a matter of time before the OHM starts demanding to have Bill Gates prosecuted for creating the COVID-19 virus. For all you people who think this is a grand conspiracy playing out around us; just ask yourselves, what does it say about your belief in an all-powerful government/corporate structure that the coronavirus is so ineffective at killing people?

We’re going to give everyone in the world a bad cold! Mwah, hah, hah, hah!

Now, a worldwide pandemic caused by a virus that bears similarity to four other cold viruses, one that is novel or new and so hasn’t been encountered by your immune system before, is going to have a higher death toll than you would get from a virus that a good number of people’s systems are already partially resistant to. The best minds that I’ve heard speak on the subject compare what is about to happen to the world to what occurred during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919 (Wikipedia) We can postulate a 2% death rate from the virus based on statistics from the countries where the virus first emerged and spread, which means that 98% of people who catch it will be fine (80% will be fine without medical intervention. 18% of those who require medical intervention will survive. -ed.) Like this guy’s story.

As of my most recent test, on Thursday, I am still testing positive for the virus. But by now, I don’t require much medical care. The nurses check my temperature twice a day and draw my blood, because I’ve agreed to participate in a clinical study to try to find a treatment for coronavirus. If I test negative three days in a row, then I get to leave.

Washington Post

As Jeff Jarvis noted on Twitter today, that report represents N=1 which makes it largely pointless. COVID-19 is a lot like the spanish flu in spread rates and death rates, as I noted previously. That means that if at least a billion people catch it, 20+ million people could die from it (214 million Americans infected, 1.7 million dead worst case projections from the CDC -ed.) So you will probably survive the virus if you get proper treatment and you aren’t in the group that is showing susceptibility to the virus. Who is in that group? People who have diabetes. People who have hypertension. People who have compromised immune systems. People like me, dear reader. You will probably live. I will probably die without hospitalization, and I might even die then.

Lipsitch predicts that, within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life-threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, around 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)

Lipsitch is far from alone in his belief that this virus will continue to spread widely. The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.”

The Atlantic

Them’s the breaks. One might dismiss all of the noise around the emergence of COVID-19 as fruforaw, much like the noise and smoke around the so many other looming epidemics that have not turned out to be civilization ending events, if the stock markets hadn’t crashed and if the United States was actually prepared and ready for the millions of cases of people needing to be hospitalized and requiring ventilators in order to continue breathing and living. But we aren’t prepared, and therefore the smoke and noise probably conceal a real fire that needs addressing.

That part of the story was the good news, the part where 98% of the infected people will live. Now for the part where people are already dying here in the United States, today. The first death to the COVID-19 coronavirus here has been attributed to be this poor nameless man in Washington state (It wasn’t. The first death was weeks earlier in California. -ed.)

Health officials in Washington state said on Saturday a coronavirus patient has died, marking the first death in the U.S. from COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s responding to “the first possible outbreak” of the respiratory illness in a long-term care center in Washington. The death was not associated with that facility.

Health officials in Washington said 27 patients and 25 staff members at the center have symptoms associated with COVID-19.

NBCAPNew York Times

…which means that not only is the virus spreading in the US undetected, but that it has been spreading undetected in the US for at least two weeks already. The virus is spreading undetected because we have a president who is more concerned about re-election and the stock market than he is about the possible death toll that his mismanagement of this crisis might yield.

Mismanagement? Definitely. His political appointees to Health and Human Services (HHS) have violated CDC guidelines at every turn. They did not observe quarantine procedures in Japan where the passengers of the cruise ship were flown by helicopter after being evacuated from the ship. They then ignored the advice of these same officials and flew the sick people back to the United States.

TwitterNew York Magazine: Intelligencer

These same HHS officials violated quarantine on the Air Force base where the returnees from Japan were being housed, and then promptly got on planes full of people to fly back to the regions of the country that they had come from originally. All of them possibly infected with the virus that they were supposed to be trying to stop from spreading.

The CDC guidelines for dealing with the spread of infectious diseases have been built up over time, like our calendars and our understanding of the solar system was built up over time. Since Ignaz Semmelweis first proposed handwashing as a preventative to spreading puerperal fever among patients at the hospitals that he supervised, the ignorant have insisted that they knew better what should or shouldn’t be done when it came to the treatment of illness. Always, in the end, science wins out and procedures change so as to encompass the way the world really works, as opposed to the way that the ignorant want it to work.

Short Wave – The Surprising Origin Of Some Timely Advice: Wash Your Hands – January 31, 2020

The OHM doesn’t understand science. The Stormtrumpers who support him don’t understand science. His HHS political appointees don’t understand science. The Republican party itself not only doesn’t understand science, but actively denies science in their bid to stubbornly keep doing exactly the same thing they’ve been doing for the last hundred years. They deny science and their wilful ignorance might well get us all killed in the end, if the worst predictions of climate scientists come to be reality.

We have slowly clawed ourselves up over the course of millennia in our pursuit of understanding who we are and what our place in the universe is. That is what science is. It started with accurate measurements of the world and then the solar system more than two thousand years ago, and now we are mapping the genome and altering the course of mindless natural processes for the first time in man’s history. And the OHM wants us to throw it all away because he might not get re-elected if we do what we should be doing right now.

The OHM has put his Vice President, Mike Pence, in charge of the political process that will govern how we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This fact should scare you if nothing else will. Mike Pence tried to cure the AIDS epidemic with prayer, when he was governor of Indiana. He prayed before he finally agreed to allow needle exchanges, which is probably code for he asked his wife what to do, and she slapped him and told him to allow the exchanges to occur.

However, Mike Pence will now control all communications at the federal level as it pertains to the emerging pandemic. Which means we won’t hear anything about the subject, except that it is all under control. They will be able to say this because they currently aren’t testing anyone for the virus (Now they say they will test. -editor) They aren’t testing because the first test kits they made were faulty and so did not give reliable results, and they aren’t approving widespread use of any new kits they might make.

It has gotten so bad that New York is now creating its own test kit so as to be certain that they will have enough kits to meet the projected demand for them in their state. They are only the first state to do this. Every US state will have to commision the creation of their own kits, eventually, if they are serious about tracking the progress of this virus across their populations.

The OHM will never admit that his own HHS officials spread the disease because of their reckless behavior, their violations of quarantine procedures. But the most likely culprits for these non-travel related COVID-19 cases are those very same officials. The science-denying president and his science-denying supporters are now betrayed by their own wilful ignorance. If the death toll of twenty million people could somehow be limited to their numbers, I would count that as justice served. It won’t happen like that, unfortunately. So millions of innocent people will now die because political operatives in the United States can’t bear to be held responsible for their own actions.

I thought we were supposed to be the free people. Freedonia? So much for that idea. Now our leaders are no better than the ayatollahs in Iran, pretending that our people are not dying while glorying in their ability to retain political power behind the mask of religion. This is what happens when you let the wrong people run your government. This is what happens when you deny science. I hope our children live long enough to learn from our bad examples.

Life Kit – 5 Ways To Prevent And Prepare For The Coronavirus – February 28, 2020 (Shortwave podcast)


On March 4th we learned that patients aren’t being tested, even though they showed symptoms for the COVID-19 virus. One of them was not tested for five days. Five days.

Morning Edition – Delays In Coronavirus Testing Creates Confusion, Questions – March 4, 2020

What are those symptoms?

COVID-19 symptoms can range from asymptomatic to severe pneumonia leading to organ failure and death. COVID-19 in most people is mild and resembles the common cold. According to the WHO, symptoms include fever (87.9%), dry cough (67.7%), fatigue (38.1%), sputum production (33.4%), shortness of breath (18.6%), sore throat (13.9%), headache (13.6%), muscle or joint aches (14.8%), chills (11.4%), nausea or vomiting (5.0%), nasal congestion (4.8%), diarrhea (3.7%), coughing up blood (0.9%), and conjunctival congestion (0.8%). Symptoms generally occur an average of 5-6 days after infection, but the range is from one to 14 days.

Sciencebasedmedicine.org

(graphic removed / text revised 3/17/20. I hated linking to a Medium article in the first place. Medium uses paywalls. -ed.)

Embedded – Covering Covid: Not Enough Tests – April 4, 2020

Our not testing people, canvassing cities looking for cases among the homeless, the park goers, the partiers, going door to door in residential areas, is how the spread of the virus continues unabated. Italy demonstrated this as reported today (March 17, 2020 – Financial Times) reducing transmission in the town where this has been tested to zero. You’d think we’d have figured this out given the excellent demonstration by South Korea (not to mention China and Singapore, but we don’t have to go as far as they did to have an impact) of the effectiveness of easy and thorough testing of the population, but apparently not.

The math is a known quantity. With an R0 (are-naught) over 2 the coronavirus spreads, and it spreads fast (the R0 in Wuhan might have been as high as 6 before China cracked down and forced quarantine. It could be as high as 6 to 9 if we were not trying to practice social distancing. What is R0? -ed) The fact that people can be (and frequently are) asymptomatic means that there are a lot of infected people out there who don’t even know that they are already infected. If you are in the groups that are at risk (elderly, immunocompromised, hypertension, lung disease, diabetes, etc) then you should not be in a group of people that you don’t already spend all your time around, and those people should not be near other people if they can help it. Those are the math facts that we have to deal with for at least the next month, and I say we because I am a member of the at-risk group just like a lot of other people.

Here are some tips from a virologist concerning how to avoid infections, viral or otherwise:

  1. NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.
  2. Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc.. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.
  3. Open doors with your closed fist or hip – do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.
  4. Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.
  5. Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.
  6. Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances. AND in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  7. If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

From Snopes.com: Did a Noted Pathologist Write This Viral Coronavirus Advice Letter? (yes he did) I’m going to have to work on not shaking hands. I’ve trained myself not to touch my face over the course of the last fifteen years, ever since my immunologist informed me I was immune compromised. Realizing that having to take antibiotics was the least worst outcome (worst? Painful death) from casually infecting myself with pathogens that I willingly put on my face, in my eyes and nose.

I don’t use the sanitizers much because I have been a compulsive hand washer since I was pre-pubescent. I have to make myself not scrub the skin off my hands on a regular basis. He goes on to recommend zinc lozenges later in the quoted text. Taking zinc to prevent or limit infections borders on woo for me. But, if it makes you feel better to take it, knock yourself out. I won’t be doing that.

Short Wave – Coronavirus Can Live On Surfaces For Days – March 18, 2020

…and be ready to do all that you can (within reason) to avoid getting sick. The Trump administration will not be letting just anybody get the COVID-19 vaccine if one becomes available.

TwitterForbes

WikiTribune has a Sub-Wiki for the COVID-19 epidemic. If you are like me and want to be up to date on the subject of the now-occurring pandemic, feel free to join me over on WT.Social.

I don’t have an account for the site at this link Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE but here is a image of the site as it displayed on March the 5th. The timestamp will tell you what time in the morning I was still obsessively working on the blog.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE

That link may or may not give you the site. I have no idea. Modeling scenarios run along these lines,

Here’s the grimmest version of life a year from now: More than two million Americans have died from the new coronavirus, almost all mourned without funerals. Countless others have died because hospitals are too overwhelmed to deal adequately with heart attacks, asthma and diabetic crises. The economy has cratered into a depression, for fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective when people fear going out, businesses are closed and tens of millions of people are unemployed. A vaccine still seems far off, immunity among those who have recovered proves fleeting and the coronavirus has joined the seasonal flu as a recurring peril.

Yet here’s an alternative scenario for March 2021: Life largely returned to normal by the late summer of 2020, and the economy has rebounded strongly. The United States used a sharp, short shock in the spring of 2020 to break the cycle of transmission; warm weather then reduced new infections and provided a summer respite for the Northern Hemisphere. By the second wave in the fall, mutations had attenuated the coronavirus, many people were immune and drugs were shown effective in treating it and even in reducing infection. Thousands of Americans died, mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians and some with respiratory conditions, but by February 2021, vaccinations were introduced worldwide and the virus was conquered.

New York Times

To get to the better modeling scenario we need to flatten the curve,

Twitter – Dr. Siouxsie Wiles h/t to Sciencebasedmedicine.org

…and raise the line,

Twitter – Benjamin Kerr h/t to Liz Specht whose tweet I removed in favor of the NYT opinion article that offered an over/under analysis of the pandemic modeling. I also removed the tweet from drg1985 (Dr. David Robert Grimes) because, while his input was helpful at the time, it wasn’t really what I described it as when I first wrote this article. -ed.

There are no treatments for infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Covid-19) no matter what the OHM says or tweets about. If you haven’t figured that out already, then I’m amazed that you can tie your shoelaces by yourself in the morning.

sciencebasedmedicine.org

Quinine is an ingredient in a proper gin & tonic. It is not a real treatment for illness no matter what anyone tells you. Quinine was a treatment for Malaria more than a century ago. Malaria still exists because we’ve never developed a vaccine for it. Maybe now that malaria is appearing in Florida again we will get around to that.


On March 16th the national directive to practice social distancing was issued, but without any enforcement provisions at the local level. We are now eight days into the fifteen days that the OHM originally requested, and some cities (Austin) and states (Texas) are issuing directives based on their powers to quarantine as established in previous epidemics. If you think that social distancing and mandated quarantines are not effective, look at this comparison chart and see the difference a few days made.

The Rachel Maddow show – April 23, 2020 (Feedly download link for the video)(A better image from later in the pandemic -ed.)
RACHEL MADDOW – Doctor whose prescience saved countless lives reflects on first stay-at-home order – April 23, 2020

We have yet to see if the state or federal governments have made any headway towards ending this crisis by mandating a ramping up of production of necessary goods or by authorizing the creation of necessary extra hospital beds. (No. They didn’t. -ed.) The OHM is busy trying to steal money from the American people by creating a 500 billion dollar slush fund that his treasury secretary can then hand straight over to him as compensation for all his golf courses and hotels being closed. Not happening.


Editor’s note. I pulled the last addendum from the Crake article I wrote in January (and linked previously) and I moved it here and expanded on it significantly. I’m freaking out about the virus as I sit here editing, and I know that freaking out is not helpful.

Voilà, I’ve written a sanity mantra that I can read to myself as many times as it takes to put myself to sleep until this pandemic has run its course. May we all be there to witness that. I am scrapping most attempts at further writing on this subject and burying myself in World of Warcraft for the next two weeks, two months, however long it takes. Maybe something non-virus-related will occur to me in the meantime. As I come across new information on the pandemic I may or may not edit it into this article. So if the article looks like it has changed, I have now told you that it would.

Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate.

Michael Levitt, former Secretary of Health and Human Services

Stolpersteine

I think the large Holocaust memorial here [in Berlin] will always remain abstract. You have to make the decision to visit it. But not with the stumbling blocks. Suddenly they are there, right outside your front door, at your feet, in front of you.

Guenther Demnig
Morning Edition – Stumbling Upon Mini Memorials To Holocaust Victims May 31, 2012

The artist Gunter Demnig has placed almost 60,000 “Stolpersteine” cobblestones across Europe. The first 50 were placed in Berlin in May 1996. Illegally. Now, it is the biggest decentralized monument in the world.

20 years of ‘Stolpersteine’

Stolpersteine translates, literally, into stumbling stones. You stumble over them because they are obvious. Gunter Demnig has earned his place in artistic history, placing every one of the 60,000 stolpersteine himself. This is the website where you can donate to the fund or even pay to have one placed with a name of your choice.

I was thinking of posting the memorial image below again today on Facebook, as I have for the last few years, because it is once again the anniversary of Sophie Scholl’s death sentence.

…but those really aren’t her final words, except that they were in one of the last letters she wrote before the death sentence was carried out. What her final words were remain undocumented. That she died at the hands of people who thought she did not belong, is documented. So I’m creating this post in memory of her on this date. In memory of all the holocaust victims, with the sincere hope that we don’t have to start installing stolpersteine in the US in order to mark the spots were the brown-skinned people we arrested and hauled off to their deaths used to live, because people in this country continue to deny that it has happened here, and continues to happen here.

New York Times – The White Rose Guillotine

We know their story well, these students who wrote the Leaflets of the White Rose. We know their bravery, their utter courage, how they wrote death-defying words that led straight to the guillotine.

Yet we hardly know them at all. We focus so tightly on their noble deeds that we overlook who they were. We’re listening so closely for those awe-inspiring retorts as the students stand before Judge Freisler that we miss the wonder of the debates that stirred them to act.

When we begin to step back to “see” them better, to grasp the whole of their work, we find that our widened lens is capturing people we don’t know at all. There are new faces, new voices, new perspectives.

Before long, we realize there is so much more to “resistance” during the Shoah than just White Rose, more even than White Rose plus 20 July 1944 plus Rote Kapelle plus the Kreisauer Circle and the handful of other groups that have made their way into the literature.

Every new story we find – whether it is Helmuth Hübener and his friends, or Helle Hirsch, or the BMW leaflet writers – demonstrates how much there is still to learn about the strength of character of so many unknown heroes.

Once that camera lens pans the landscape of thousands of courageous individuals, our spirits are lifted. We understand that even in the darkest of days, there were those who stood up for justice, those who did the right thing no matter the cost.

The Center for White Rose Studies has dedicated its resources to uncovering those stories. We began with White Rose, but we are actively documenting as many heroic acts (and heroes) as we can.

We believe that these biographies will inspire and encourage young people in 21st century America to live lives characterized by integrity and the pursuit of justice. We believe that, because we know how the stories have affected us.

Join us on this journey!

White Rose Studies

Robert Green Ingersoll (Aug. 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899)

Reason, Observation and Experience – the Holy Trinity of Science – have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us. In this belief we are content to live and die. If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will then be time enough to kneel. Until then, let us stand erect.

Wikiquote – The Gods and Other Lectures (1879)

A hat/tip is due to W.F. Strong and the Texas Standard for bringing the name Robert Green Ingersoll back to mind with this piece about Redwater, Texas. I first learned of Ingersoll by listening to the weekly broadcast of the FFrF way back when. If you haven’t heard an FFrF broadcast, then you probably haven’t heard of Robert Green Ingersoll before. Which is why he is billed these days as the most famous American you’ve never heard of.

I found it amusing that Mr. Strong felt he had to point out that Ingersoll was not an atheist but an agnostic. As a freethinker, I understand the finer points of the difference, probably better than W.F. Strong does. There is little doubt that Ingersoll had no use for religion as an institution, as this last quote should illustrate.

While utterly discarding all creeds, and denying the truth of all religions, there is neither in my heart nor upon my lips a sneer for the hopeful, loving and tender souls who believe that from all this discord will result a perfect harmony; that every evil will in some mysterious way become a good, and that above and over all there is a being who, in some way, will reclaim and glorify every one of the children of men; but for those who heartlessly try to prove that salvation is almost impossible; that damnation is almost certain; that the highway of the universe leads to hell; who fill life with fear and death with horror; who curse the cradle and mock the tomb, it is impossible to entertain other than feelings of pity, contempt and scorn.

Wikiquote – The Gods and Other Lectures (1879)

Babylon 5: Believers. The Trolley Problem.

This discussion started in the Babylon 5 fan group. There is a rule in the group that disallows all politics and religion that isn’t part of the show from being discussed in the group. If a post strays too far into the real world, the moderators will delete it. I know why moderators do this, but I don’t honestly care. It is unrealistic to expect human beings to be able to separate their beliefs from the entertainment that they enjoy. Especially a show like Babylon 5 or Star Trek, shows that are always tweaking politics and religion in the course of their storytelling. Discuss any episode of the show without straying into weighty matters of philosophy or politics. Go ahead and try.

The long and the short of why I started the article this way is, I have no idea how long the writing I’ve done on the subject will exist within the Facebook group. It just takes one religious zealot, one antitheist, and the thread goes poof. Can you blame me that I want to export the writing so as preserve it?

This image is from the Babylon 5 episode Believers. Here is a link to a synopsis of the episode in case you haven’t seen it or if you don’t want to spend an hour watching the show right now. Also, you should stop reading now if you don’t want any spoilers before you watch the episode, because this article will be full of them.

Still with me? Okay then, here we go. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The OP included this statement with the image, “I still remember how outraged I was when I saw it the first time.” A sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse. When the episode aired back in 1994 I was furious when the credits rolled. As a young parent myself, I couldn’t imagine how any parent could be so blind as to do what they did in the final scenes. The story revolves around a sick child,

Shon, a young alien boy, has developed a “congested blockage in his upper air passages.” When Dr. Franklin explains to Shon’s parents that Shon’s condition can be cured by a fairly routine surgical procedure, the parents seem bewildered. “You will cut him open?” they ask, and explain that the “Chosen of God” cannot be “punctured” — for their souls will escape.

The main conflict of the episode, above, is introduced in the teaser opening. The show starts this way for a reason, and develops the way it does specifically in service to the moral quandary of the problem. “Oh, but his soul!” say his parents. The soul is unmeasurable, unidentifiable. The soul, for the purposes of this episode, is non-existent. The McGuffin, in scriptwriting terms.

There are other episodes of the show where the soul is treated as a physical or at least detectable energy presence. The episode Soul Hunter, eight episodes before this one in the first series, springs immediately to mind as an example of this. So the problem isn’t that there are no souls in the show, or that the writer, David Gerrold, didn’t flesh out the story well enough. It is simply necessary in this episode that the presence of the soul cannot be detected because if it could be verified as being present after the surgery, then there is no moral quandary. There is no story to tell.

When I ran across the thread discussing the episode it already had over 100 comments. However, in reading through the comments I found a near absence of understanding of the purposeful moral dilemma presented by the story. Comments like this one,

Sorry, but I call BS on that one. “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable; AKA, non-existent.” Is nothing more than an argument to silence. For the vast majority of human history things like cells, atoms, and gravity were “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable;” so they were “AKA, non-existent”, right? Just because it is not (yet) measurable does not mean it does not exist. 

As I have mentioned a number of times about this episode, the reasons for this particular belief were not addressed. That’s either a failure of Franklin or David Gerrold.

His willingness to blame the writer and actor simply reveals his beliefs on this particular subject. His rejection of the argument is far more revealing of his moral rigidity and lack of understanding of the mechanics of storytelling than it is a truthful observation about the episode and the moral quandary that it contains.

Like the trolley problem, there is no right answer to this problem. In the trolley problem you are asked to choose between taking one life or five under varying circumstances. When the problem is framed one way, you predominantly get an answer that underscores utilitarian ethics; i.e. most people will choose to sacrifice one life to save five. However, when the problem is framed another way, usually requiring the person making the decision to take an active physical role in the decision by pushing a person onto the tracks to stop the trolley, as one example, most people will chose to allow the five people to die.

The problem here, narrowly defined, is medical intervention vs. natural selection. The doctor is required to help his patients. He makes a reference to this fact when he alludes to taking a medical oath to do no harm. The good doctor saw his moral obligation as at least attempting to save the child’s life. The child will end up dead no matter what the doctor does. Of course, neither he nor the audience knows this until the reveal at the end.

The parents knew their child was dying. They expected to find him dead when they were summoned back to the medical lab. When he was instead alive and well, they knew that the doctor had violated their beliefs and saved the child against their wishes. So they acted on their beliefs and did what they thought should have been allowed to happen in the first place.

If the soul is measurable, produce a measurement. If it is definable, define it in a way that can be demonstrated empirically. In this specific episode of Babylon 5 there was no measurement, no definition. In the world that we exist in, believers have been trying to prove the existence of the soul for hundreds of years. They have yet to demonstrate a single method for determining the properties of a soul, and yet few humans will step forward and say they have no soul. Why is this? The soul cannot be shown to be real by any measurement that we humans can attempt, and yet we all still believe that we all have a soul. That it is important we not deny the existence of our own souls.

The doctor is certain that the parents will see reason. He is certain about what his moral path is. The parents are certain that their child should be dead. They are certain of their moral path. The conflict is unresolvable, on purpose. You are supposed to question “what is the moral course?”

Delinn asks the only important question “Whose beliefs are the correct ones?” when she refuses to help the parents stop the operation. Whose beliefs are correct, and how do you demonstrate the correctness of your beliefs? What would have happened if the parents had accepted that their child was healthy but unchanged? If they had taken him home to their planet, would the rest of their people have recognized him as a demon on sight? Or would they have blithely accepted that medicine had saved the boy without loosing his soul? They wouldn’t know that he had been cut unless they could sense the change in his body like a soul hunter would in that other episode.

The boy’s parents did know, because they said goodbye to him minutes before he would have died only to return and find him alive and well. But if they could have accepted him, would anyone else have noticed? This was the lesson I learned from the episode and I’ve carried it with me ever since. You cannot save a child from their parents without removing the child from the parents. The separation has to be physical, and the child has to accept that this is the right thing to do. Without that action, without the agreement of the person you are trying to help, you will simply deliver the lamb to the slaughterer at another time and place, and you might as well have not bothered to make the attempt in the first place.

Act or not act, the outcome is the same in this story. The only question is, what was the moral thing to do? I still side with Dr. Franklin. You, however, are free to disagree.

The avalanche has already started; It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

Ambassador Kosh

Daily Beef: Try Agnosticism

Most people go through life certain of their moral superiority, yet never questioning the morals that were handed down to them by their parents and their grandparents before them. This fact can be illustrated by the numbers of people who attend the same church that their parents did, claim the faith of their parents. But this problem goes far beyond religion and touches the most minor of common beliefs, such as what kinds of food are the right kinds of food to eat.

Here’s a thought experiment. The next time you think you might know something, forget your belief about that thing and go look the subject up in an unusual place. See what you learn while just pretending not to know something. I guarantee that you will get a surprise.

Babylon is Babel

The internet is a click-bait whore. After more than two decades of living in this digital realm, I can say that with confidence. Everything on the internet is composed to get you to follow the link and find out what AMAZING, STUPENDOUS, GLORIOUS things are waiting for you on the other side of that provocative come hither looking text. Unfortunately, the reality that awaits on the other side of that click is rarely worth the energy it takes to click the link.

Take this promotion for Unexplained on Gaia for example. It popped up on Facebook for me a few months ago. Dramatic music. Good-looking talking heads tell you things you want to believe. What isn’t to love about that trailer?

You know what I can’t find in a shareable form? The trailer thrown in my face on Facebook, promoted by the Gaia streaming service. I can’t find it anywhere to post to the blog so that I and my readers may laugh at it. The curious will have to go to Facebook and see it there (click the clickbait. You know you want to) because no keyword search that I’ve come up with so far can produce the actual trailer promoting this episode of Ancient Civilizations produced two years ago. If you want to see it, you have to pay for it. I guess the charlatans are getting smarter. You can’t get the rubes to give you the money if you blow your load in the first teaser trailer.

…and that link to Facebook. Just watch the repeating video at the top. That looping video is really all you need to understand the confidence game that is being played on the believers who pony up to pay for this streaming service. Ancient aliens are among us? Please.

There was no Tower of Babel, just as there was no real Atlantis. Just as there was no Ark built by Noah. I shouldn’t have to explain the difference between religion and history to people smart enough to know how to work a camera and create a documentary. There was no Tower of Babel where god looked down and cursed man with many languages for its construction. That Tower of Babel is myth. If you believe otherwise, you are a fool.

Like Atlantis, the Tower of Babel is a storytelling device. Atlantis was embroidered in the imagination of Plato, a mythical place created to hearken back to earlier, more prosperous times. This storyline should sound familiar to anyone currently immersed in US politics. But like the lies of the Orange Hate-Monkey, Plato created the illusion of Atlantis to paint a picture that his students would want to strive for, and still people think they can find it. Noah’s Ark is similar.

The Ark of Noah is encased in ice on Mt Ararat

Prove it. Go to Ararat yourself and take pictures of it, yourself. I’ve taken the same trek that you’ve taken so far; which is to say, a vicarious trek. I listened to the stories told to me by elders and I believed. I read In Search of Noah’s Ark in the seventies. That book had me convinced. I just knew there was an Ark somewhere under all that ice. Just like the child shoveling out the stables. Then I started reading the works of other religions and other believers, and that’s when I discovered that it’s a common prehistoric myth. 

flood myth or deluge myth is a narrative in which a great flood, usually sent by a deity or deities, destroys civilization, often in an act of divine retribution. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primaeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth. Most flood myths also contain a culture hero, who “represents the human craving for life”.[1]
The flood myth motif is found among many cultures as seen in the Mesopotamian flood stories, Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek mythology, the Genesis flood narrativePralaya in Hinduism, the Gun-Yu in Chinese mythologyBergelmir in Norse mythology, in the lore of the K’iche’ and Maya peoples in Mesoamerica, the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa tribe of Native Americans in North America, the Muisca, and Cañari Confederation, in South America, and the Aboriginal tribes in southern Australia.

Flood myth From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The myth is so common as to be pointless to attempt to verify any one claim. Like the virgin birth of Jesus reflects the virgin birth of other godlike creations, flood myths pervade early religions everywhere. All of these myths may be based on some historic flood that the local population remembers, none of them spanned the globe and destroyed all human civilization. What I’ve seen in several decades of curiosity about this subject is that there is no proof, none whatsoever, for Noah’s Ark. The story was someone else’s before it was Noah’s, and Ararat is just the nearest peak to where the myth of the Ark was located.

Also, Mary was probably having it off with someone about nine months earlier and didn’t want to die at her father’s hands. This is a practice still pathetically commonplace in many regions of the world. She got caught by being the sex that carries the young of the species (humans, in case you are wondering) a problem that the fertilizing sex doesn’t have. She couldn’t hide the belly anymore, so she claimed that god visited her in the night and that’s how the baby got in there. This is another common occurrence, lying to save your own life. It goes hand in hand with death penalties wherever you find them. You’d think parents would be happy to have grandchildren to raise, rather than worrying about selling off a virgin daughter to the highest bidder. She ended up being fobbed off on the carpenter, someone who was happy to have a few extra hands around the jobsite with all the work he had to do.

There are probably evangelicals reading this right now, or they were reading it until they got to that last paragraph. They probably aren’t reading it anymore. But if they were they would insist that we can’t find the ark on Ararat because if there was a wooden boat under the ice on Ararat for all those millennia it would of been ground to a pulp centuries ago and pushed down the mountain as debris. Myths are not realities. There was no boat, because flood waters cannot rise that high even if all the ice in the world melted. How high would it rise? 70ish meters. Numbers vary. We should see 9 feet of rise in the sea levels over the next couple of decades based on current CO2 levels. More if we don’t moderate emissions that produce warmer temperatures.

But all of that is beside the point that the Tower of Babel is a myth.

What’s that I hear you saying? The tower of Babel existed? Well yes. There were ziggurats in Babylon, one of them near the Gate of God (Marduk) so the history experts say (some of them even say it in breathless tones) and if you talk to language experts they will say that Babylon renders out as Babel or Bavel in Hebrew. So there were several towers in Babylon, one near the gate of Marduk that the Hebrew scholars of the time elbowed each other in the ribs over. Every discipline has their weird inside jokes.

But there wasn’t a tower where god sundered the languages and caused strife across the world. That would be kind of pointless since he had drowned the world just a few years earlier because of all the strife in the world. Or are you suggesting that god condemns his people for things that he created them to do? That he holds us all accountable for the things that he makes us do? Well that figures.

Facebook comments expanded for the blog.

Raw Milk is Woo. Goat’s Milk is Not. And Yes, Plastic is Bad

This week on the SGU Cara decides to trash all things Hippy and all things Austin with the following line,

These are the places where they sell, like, raw goat milk because apparently cow milk is unhealthy. And they have only organic free-range bleah.

Cara Santa-Maria SGU #705

Cara deciding to trash all things Hippy isn’t surprising. There is little at the typical health food store that warrants a special trip there. Little, unless you happen to have special dietary needs. If you have food allergies. If you are lactose intolerant. If any number of food-related issues bother you, the health food store used to be the only place you could go to find relief. Considering that skeptics would claim you couldn’t be allergic to foods, until those allergies could be demonstrated, and still flame-on when anyone mentions the word gluten, panning all things health food related is completely understandable.

I just happen to not react to goat’s milk like I do cow’s milk. So I can drink goat’s milk and suffer little or no ill effects. I still can’t eat pizza, that is too much cheese of any kind, but at least I can put a slice of goat cheese on my hamburger and not have to worry about reacting to the lactose in the cheese. And the best place to get that kind of food is still at a health food store. I buy my oat milk, my Nada Moo, goat cheese and goat milk, and try to restrain myself as I walk past the chocolate and liquorice on the way to the register.

The Wife, who can consume all the cheese she wants because she was descended from Mongols who were raised on yak’s milk, has some very unflattering things to say about us Mediterranean types whose ancestors tended goats and sheep, but I also have some insults I could hurl in return considering she’s pretty much 100% Irish. I won’t utter them because I don’t feel like being beaten up by any Irish who might read this and take offense. I have to be able to sleep sometime. It all comes down to genetics and how your particular gut came to be in the here and now.

Which brings me to the idea of drinking raw milk. If you are drinking raw milk and you don’t milk the cows (or goats. Or sheep) yourself, you are just asking to get sick and possibly be killed by the naturally occuring bacteria found on the udders and in the milk of any animal. And I laugh every time I read the label on cheese and it trumpets made from raw milk. This is just another marketing ploy like organic or natural, since the process of making cheese kills most of the bacteria that lives in the milk. That is why we started making cheese from milk in the first place. If you are still concerned about the possibility of food poisoning, don’t get the cheese made from raw milk. Pasteurization is a good thing. It’s why we have milk on supermarket shelves today.

I mean, we could irradiate the milk and skip the pasteurization flavor change problem, but the fantasists who think that pasteurization is bad also think that irradiation of food is bad. There really is no way to win over everyone. There’s always going to be one or two of them that have to stick their fingers in the electrical outlet before they’ll believe that electric shocks are painful, and there will be at least one guy that swears electrical shocks make him feel better and so recommends you shock yourself two or three times a day.

Steve’s suggestion that bulk foods were useful, while the other offerings at the health food stores were not, is also slightly off-cue. The reason that goods are offered in their own sealed containers should be readily apparent to anyone who gives this much thought. But for those who don’t think a lot, I’ll spell it out. Adulteration or contamination of the product, which was a problem back in the days when everything was offered in bulk quantities. Some nefarious grocers would dilute the products offered and charge the same rate. This is essentially how all vodka is made, but very few people know that their vodka was distilled to 190 proof at the distillery and then cut in half with water at the bottler. There is also the problem of some anonymous others tampering with the bulk products and no one noticing (think Tylenol) as an Austinite, and someone who frequents health food stores for his oat milk and goat’s milk products, I could buy a lot of products in bulk. I just don’t.

Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods and a few other now-defunct health food chains. I’m an owner at Wheatsville Food Co-op. I could shop in bulk products if I wanted to. I don’t shop in bulk products because I don’t want to have to trust every person who passes by the bulk products bins not to drop their chewing gum in there with my morning steel cut oats. I’ll take the time to recycle the packaging, that is fine by me. I like branded, labeled products in sealed packages. It’s probably the most American thing about me.

I would rather the packaging not be plastic packaging, plastic packaging being the reason that health food stores came up at all in that Skeptic’s Guide episode. I try to avoid plastic packaging when I can, but it is nearly impossible to avoid plastic when it comes to food packaging. You can count me in for testing new packaging that isn’t plastic. Oh, and Jay? You want plastic that breaks down on its own? That also existed once upon a time. They tested plastic bags that degraded in the sun faster when they first rolled out plastic bags, back when everyone was worried about paper demand destroying all the forests. That plastic turned into micro plastics too, just like regular plastic. The only way to avoid this is to create disposable items from something other than plastic. Say, compressed corn starch.

Sailing Tides

https://www.theskepticsguide.org/podcasts/episode-633

On the subject of tides mentioned in this episode (during the discussion of the eclipse) I remembered this because I am a sailing geek, but I had to look it up to be sure.

When the sun and moon are aligned, there are exceptionally strong gravitational forces, causing very high and very low tides which are called spring tides, though they have nothing to do with the season. When the sun and moon are not aligned, the gravitational forces cancel each other out, and the tides are not as dramatically high and low. These are called neap tides.

hiwaay.net

Spring tides are the highest tides at the full and new moon phases. Neap tides (the phrase I did remember) are the most moderate tides, first and third quarters because the effects of the Sun and Moon are working perpendicular to each other.

Just a bit of sailing lore from a wannabe pirate & beach bum.

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