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

Insanity Personified

There was a time in history when I was a devoted Dilbert follower. The Wife had just gotten a job at a local computer manufacturer, trapped in a cube farm, and Dilbert documented the problems of corporate workers trapped in cube farms everywhere. Working in an architecture firm that employed more than a few draftsman was itself much like corporate cube-farm dwelling, so I could identify with the comic about as well as she did.

Time moved on and we moved on, but Dilbert remained pretty much the same. Until it wasn’t the same. It was a gradual change. I had noticed that Dogbert seemed to speak with the author’s voice from early on in the comic’s run. This in itself wasn’t a problem, but, the character of Dogbert seemed to do this speaking from authority pretty frequently; and what Dogbert said was generally despicable, not the kinds of things that one is comfortable agreeing with whether they are true observations or not. But the real change to the comic occurred about the time that Scott Adams decided to update the look of the comic and took away Dilbert’s signature white shirt and tie. He started taking a lot of time off allowing guest artists to draw for him, and the humor of these artists definitely wasn’t the kind of humor I was willing to laugh at. So I gradually stopped reading the comic, finally ending my subscription to his newsletter about the time that he applauded Donald Trump’s emergence on the presidential field. I really had no intention of polluting my mental sphere with someone so delusional as to think that Donald Trump needed to be anywhere near power.

Then Trump won the presidency on a technicality. Three million more votes for Hillary Clinton couldn’t be legitimized as meaning that more Americans wanted her as president than wanted him as president. The electoral college so painstakingly negotiated into the U.S. Constitution more than 200 years ago utterly failed to do the job intended, as I took pains to write about in The Electoral College Explained. Failed to respect the will of the majority of the American people for the second time in twenty years and advanced a demonstrably unfit man to lead the government of the United States. In November of 2016 Scott Adams penned this blog post:

You can still expect Trump to ignore any facts that don’t matter, such as the exact number of non-citizens that voted for Clinton. In that case he was making the press think past the sale (that non-citizens voted) and forcing them to spend time talking about the exact number until our brains uncritically accept his central premise that lots of non-citizens voted for Clinton. That is pure persuasion. He won’t change the methods that work. Watch and learn.

Scott Adams

In which he crystallizes the sentiment I expressed above. It doesn’t matter to Scott Adams that three million more people wanted Hillary Clinton as president because taking those discarded voices into account makes him wrong on the issue of Trump, and he’s staked his reputation and persona on Trump and his clever strategery that we average humans just can’t see. I wrote a reply on his blog at the time essentially accusing him of kowtowing to power because he doesn’t want to end up in Gitmo, a reply that he promptly deleted, and I forgot all about it and him.

I forgot all about it and him until Sam Harris interviewed him for Waking up. Sam Harris titled that conversation Triggered, and I certainly was as well. I couldn’t finish listening to it, it bothered me so much. It was at that point that I started writing this article, resigning myself to having to listen to and then parse every single nutty-assed thing that Scott Adams said.

About the time I was mentally ready to take on that task, Josh Zepps interviewed him for We The People Live! I’ve been following Josh’s work since discovering him hosting Point of Inquiry for the Center for Inquiry. Both Sam and Josh are interesting interviewers to listen to, and one of the reasons this is true is because they approach a conversation with their shields down. The downside of this approach is that they are frequently real-life examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect, in that they attempt to apply critical thinking on the fly in a discussion that they by definition know less about than the person they are talking to. Because of this they are sometimes lead down the proverbial garden path by their guests, and it takes a bit of critical thinking on the part of the listener to parse out just how the hosts have been fooled.

So now I’m on the hook for two interviews. Two interviews to parse and dissect and spend precious hours listening to carefully and doing the legwork to illustrate just how nuts Scott Adams is on display as being. That’s when the procrastination set in. July turned to August and then September. Now it’s November and I just can’t bring myself to spend that kind of time dissecting the thoughts of someone I quit caring about several years ago, and dismissed as irrelevant last year at about this time.

Lucky for me, I don’t have to spend that time after all. When I deleted the two podcasts from my queue and resolved to delete this post unfinished, I took a few minutes to look around and see if anyone else had noticed the insanity on display that I had noticed, and I stumbled across this article over on The Atlantic. The Atlantic is a publication that I only discovered recently, sad to say. It is sad because their authorship is top notch and their research generally in-depth and unimpeachable. The author of the article hits the nail on the head when he dismisses the defense of the OHM thusly:

If Adams truly is the most formidable defender of the Trump presidency, then the best defense of the president is grounded in corrosive moral nihilism.

The Atlantic

 He has a lot more to say about the Waking Up interview, but I’ll just point you to the article and leave it at that. I have family I have to reason with on this subject, plenty of real people to practice on without having to dissect the thinking of a total stranger. Procrastination does pay off on occasion and this is one of those occasions.


Scott Adams is a racist and a xenophobe and continues to support Donald Trump even though he attempted to stage a coup and stay in power after he was defeated. Unfortunately his support of a traitor isn’t enough to get his work pulled from major news outlets, but at least his racism is:

The Washington PostThe Los Angeles Times and other newspapers across the country say they will no longer carry the syndicated “Dilbert” comic strip after cartoonist Scott Adams urged white people “to get the hell away from Black people.” He uttered his racist advice during his online video program last week, during which he labeled Black people a “hate group.”


Scott Adams claims he is the victim of racism. Racist white people always say that. It isn’t racism. You’re just an asshole, Scott.

This post has been deorangified.

The Astonishing History of Vibrators

The title of this article is identical to an article I saved on delicious way back in 2008.  Originally hosted on TBD, written by one Michael Castleman for that site, it has since been taken down and can be found archived on the Wayback Machine. I found the story and book it was taken from to be quite entertaining, and for a long time I hosted a copy of the article here for my own amusement as well as the potential enlightenment of others.

Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the author of the book either made up most of her citations for historical information, or purposefully misinterpreted the historical record in order to promote the popular misunderstanding of the use and origin of vibrators. I was duped. Everyone who read the book and made the movie based on the book were duped, because we wanted to believe something that was not true.

The idea was that massaging the clitoris would calm down the hysteria. The vibrator’s origin story became so popular that it spawned a historical romantic comedy called Hysteria in 2011 starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, as well as the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play). The thing is, it’s not true.


No one took the time to follow up on the research until years later when Hallie Lieberman was writing her dissertation on technology and technology’s use in orgasm. When she went back to do her due diligence work on the subject before publishing her dissertation, she discovered the injustice that had been perpetrated in writing Rachel Maines’ book.

It is important to remember that massagers were no different than any other type of snake oil back in the years when they were invented (Granville’s Hammer) and they were thought to be a good treatment for everything including the made-up female disease labeled hysteria. When someone is acting hysterically, it has nothing to do with their uterus wandering all around their bodies, just to be clear here. You can’t cure that with pelvic massage, either.

Yes, some doctors did use vibrators as described in Rachel Maines’ book. Snake oil salesmen and quacks used them for those reasons and for a whole host of other legitimate and made-up reasons. However, there wasn’t an accepted medical practice associated with their use. That never happened.

(H/T to the SGU episode 904)

I find the repression of sexual information which pervades US culture almost intolerable, but the fabrication of a false history of sex is just as much of a disservice as the repression of sexual information is. If we ever want to get past pornography dominating all our information services, the US is going to have to come to grips with the reality of sexuality in all its various forms. The place to start is to admit that women like sex, need sex, just like men do. Men need to stop pretending that sex is about them. Sex is about what the couple creates with their coupling, together. The interplay between yin and yang, dark and light, negative and positive, male and female.

More information on the subject of the history of vibrators can be found at the Antique Vibrator Museum. If you are more of a youtuber, or just want to explore the subject of sex with someone who clearly enjoys talking about the subject, let me suggest a further resource in the YouTuber LaciGreen, specifically her video titled SEX TOY HYSTERIA. I laughed my ass off watching Laci Green explain about the history of the vibrator. Laci Green is the featured guest of this episode of Point of Inquiry, from the Center for Inquiry.

Point of Inquiry – Laci Green – Truth And Myths About Sex And Love – February 14, 2015

It is also worth noting that the Texas law outlawing vibrators is no longer on the books. (This should have been the first warning sign that the book and the movie that this article was originally about were not well researched. -ed) In 2008 it was struck down after being challenged by two shop owners who wanted to be able to sell these devices in their stores. I actually blogged about this at the time in this article and I just found an article on Lonestar Q debunking the I09 article that I stupidly relied on previously.

Our sitting governor was the defender of the law in federal courts as the Texas A.G. He spent our money all the way up to the SCOTUS trying to deny women sexual satisfaction for as long as possible, because that is what Republicans exist for.

Misinformation corrected on December 22, 2022. My apologies to my readers.

The Ethics of Brain Death

I’ve been meaning to post on this subject for a few weeks now. Abortion politics has bleed over into end of life decisions, clouding the issue of what life is or isn’t as established by science and medical practice.

There is a medical phrase which communicates when a human body no longer has the capability of generating human consciousness.  That phrase is brain death. Experiencing brain death is to cease to exist even though the physical form is still present. It doesn’t even take brain death to alter a person into someone else, as numerous articles on the subject have discussed, and destroying someone’s brain in order to control them or alter them is rightly considered a crime unless engaged in for reasons of justice or life-saving intervention. Should even those instances be outlawed, because they kill a person, creating a new person? The brain is the seat of consciousness, the basis upon which human life is generated.

As Arthur Caplan discusses with Lindsay Beyerstein on Point of Inquiry, The Ethics of Brain Death: The End of Life, the State, and the Religious Right.

The family of a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain-dead after suffering complications from sleep apnea surgery has secured for her the feeding and breathing tubes for which they had been fighting.

Christopher Dolan, the attorney for the girl’s family, said doctors inserted the gastric tube and tracheostomy tube Wednesday at the undisclosed facility where Jahi McMath was taken on 5 January.

The procedure was a success, Dolan said, and Jahi is getting the treatment that her family believes she should have received 28 days ago, when doctors at Children’s Hospital Oakland first declared her brain-dead.

Jahi underwent tonsil surgery 9 December, then began bleeding heavily before going into cardiac arrest and being declared brain dead on 12 December.

Her mother has refused to believe Jahi is dead and went to court to prevent her daughter from being taken off a ventilator.

The Guardian, Family of brain-dead California girl

In that episode of Point of Inquiry he points out that the case of Jahi McMath represents a potential violation of ethics for the doctors involved, since the child in question has been pronounced dead by clinicians in the state. Has been pronounced dead, but remains on life support until current day (she has since been taken off of life support and buried. The family wants her date of death to be revised. –ed.)

He also talks about the Marlise Machado Muñoz case (NPR story) in which Pro-Life Republicans in Texas have crafted laws that keep this woman’s body alive, costing the hospital thousands of dollars daily, on the off-chance that the fetus she died carrying isn’t also damaged (and it looks like it is) so the cost is quite literally wasted. Someone else needs the space that her corpse is kept in and will possibly die because of this farce.


The First Question, The Right Test

That is not what the Bible says, that is what it reads

Dr. Lawrence C. Keene For the Bible Tells Me So

I’ve toyed with a half-dozen articles for this blog on the subject of belief. The first question of introspection, probably the first question ever asked would probably be:

Why am I here?

Douglas Adams noted in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the importance of asking the right question if you want to understand the answer (42 In his version of events) this lead to the creation of the Earth as the universe’s largest computer, capable of answering the ultimate question of Life, The Universe and Everything. If we want to understand the answer to the question why am I here? Then we should probably be sure that is the question we want answered.

I have not talked about religion or my beliefs here before this post, but I have talked about them elsewhere. I created the phrase Atheism is Not a Belief System when I authored the thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum, a thread that is now over 500 pages and several years old, and that was my first attempted blog post on the subject of belief. I was simply transposing that argument there from here, or rather, trying out the ideas I would eventually put here. When I created that thread it was the only search return for that string when typed into Google; now there are several hits with that exact title. I consider it a good thing that I never managed to finish compiling my points from that thread to post here.  I don’t think I understood the question I was seeking answers to when I started it.

Let’s talk about Religion Then was one of the titles I tried to kill the thread with, later in its life. When you talk about religious particulars the important questions are lost, and the dialog becomes a childish set of opposing monologues espousing nothing more than my beliefs are better than yours. That title was inspired by the angry religionists (and denialist atheists who really did want another religion) who insisted that not-basketball was a sport. The childish set of opposing monologues went on for hundreds of pages on that thread.

I could poke fun at religion and the religious all day long, but I know that there really isn’t that much difference between believers and non-believers in a general sense. The non-believers ask questions about things that believers will not when it comes to the subject of religion, that is the only major difference between the two groups. Let’s talk about Religion Then would have been a tally of religious transgressions similar to ones found in other places, like FFRF’s documenting priestly excesses, the kind of content that can be found on any number of opinion sites on the internet these days.

In the end, I don’t have enough hatred for religion as a social structure to want to hurt people I know and love. People I know who are religious, who will not be able to separate the attacks on religion from their beliefs. I’m not an anti-theist, I’m just an atheist or a freethinker, and atheists simply have no gods which was the point of using the phrase Atheism is Not a Belief System in the first place.

I toyed with titling this article Why Atheism? At first, because The Wife wanted to know, why did I have to call myself an atheist? Why I would want to be associated with the most hated group on the planet?  In the end that title turned out to be the wrong question. I don’t want to be an atheist, which is why I altered my personal identifier from atheist to freethinker. After I did that, most of her questions fell by the wayside.

Why Existence? Is the right question, but not the right title for the article. Why existence is the first question, the one question that sparks all other questions. Why am I here to ask this question? Why do I exist?

This question ties directly into what I have come to identify as Emergent Principles of Human Nature. Without that question, there are no principles to define, there is no introspection that requires answers. A religious person will answer “I am here because god placed me here.” or some variation on that theme. Which is all fine and good, as far as unmoved movers and Spinozan gods goes.

If, however, you want to drag Jesus or his Abrahamic god-father into this article, then I must explain the minimum standards you have to meet in order to have your beliefs taken seriously anywhere outside your own head. Are you ready? Then I’ll describe the minimum standards for my accepting the existence of your Abrahamic god.

I’ll agree that there is a supreme being who offers judgement and whose will must be followed on the day that he submits himself for questioning and verification by a certifying authority. The test I would suggest? I’d pick one from the bible. It should be easy enough for Jehovah/Allah to replicate if what the Bible says of him is true. Dig up the recently deceased, certified as dead, someone who was embalmed and known to be buried. Have Jehovah/Allah breath life into the corpse and then question the newly revived person as to the particulars of his previous life. If it is the same person (which should be an impossibility given what we know of biology) then Jehovah/Allah has demonstrated his powers over reality itself.

Until that time, as a pragmatist, I’m going to stick with best practices as suggested by applied science to determine what rules we should follow. I am sorry to disappoint the believers out there among my readers.


This was an article stub that I maintained for years hoping against hope that the Atheism is Not a Belief System thread would give me something to hang onto, some kind of concise way of defeating all religious arguments and deflecting the atheophobic that I hadn’t even realized existed until the thread hit page 500. Once I realized that I was dealing with fear of atheism and atheists and not just hatred or misunderstanding, I resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to convince anyone with words alone.

It was at that point that I contrived the right test, since the right argument was never going to win the day. It was also about that time that I decided the softer label, freethinker, would at least allow me to have conversations without triggering fear in the random religious person that I might be talking to. That is about as far as I’m willing to go to spare the feelings of the delusional that surround me. Let John Wathey explain it to you:

The Illusion of God’s Presence: The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing by John C. Wathey

…or why god is a substitute for your parents. The blog version of Atheism is Not a Belief System is here:

I spend most of the beginning of that article describing my experience trying to shepherd that thread through its years of existence. It was not a pleasant experience but it was educational.