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 it 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 about the time that he applauded the Orange Hate-Monkey’s (OHM) 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 the OHM 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 the OHM 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 the OHM, and he’s staked his reputation and persona on the OHM and his clever strategery that we average humans just can’t see. I wrote a reply 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.

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.  I am placing it in my blog for preservation purposes only, having been forced to go looking for the information I thought would still be available but is now gone less than a decade later.   

None of what follows outside of italics is mine beyond the placing of links and images where they appear in the article. All copyrights revert to the original authors if they choose to assert them.

More information on the subject can be found at the Antique Vibrator Museum.  There is also a documentary on the subject of the book titled Passion & Power: The Technology of the Orgasm a clip of which can be found on Youtube.

I find the repression of sexual information which pervades US culture almost intolerable. 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. 

Mention vibrators, and most people think of women’s sexual pleasure. But that was the furthest thing from the minds of the male doctors who invented them more than a century ago. They were more interested in a labor-saving device to spare their own hands the fatigue caused by treating “female hysteria.” This condition involved a number of vague, chronic complaints in adult women, including: anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasies, and moisture inside the vagina. Female hysteria was actually women’s sexual frustration. The history of vibrators is a strange tale that provides insights into both the history of sex toys, and cultural notions about women’s sexuality.

Until the 20th century, American and European men believed that women were incapable of sexual desire and pleasure. Women of that era basically concurred. They were socialized to believe that “ladies” had no sex drive, and were merely passive receptacles for men’s unbridled lust, which they had to endure to hang on to their husbands and have children. Not surprisingly, these beliefs led to a great deal of sexual frustration on the part of women.

Over the centuries, doctors prescribed various remedies for hysteria (named for the Greek for “uterus”). In the 13th century, physicians advised women to use dildos. In the 16th century, they told married hysterics to encourage the lust of their husbands. Unfortunately, that probably didn’t help too many wives, because modern sexuality research clearly shows that most women rarely experience orgasm from intercourse, but need direct clitoral stimulation. For hysteria unrelieved by husbandly lust, and for widows, and single and unhappily married women, doctors advised horseback riding, which, in some cases, provided enough clitoral stimulation to trigger orgasm.

But many women found little relief from horseback riding, and by the 17th century, dildos were less of an option because the arbiters of decency had succeeded in demonizing masturbation as “self-abuse.” Fortunately, an acceptable, reliable treatment emerged: having a doctor or midwife “massage the genitalia with one finger inside, using oil of lilies or crocus” as a lubricant. With enough genital massage, hysterical women could experience sudden, dramatic relief through “paroxysm,” which virtually no medical authority called orgasm, because, of course, everyone knew that women did not have sexual feelings, so they could not possibly experience sexual climax.

By the 19th century, physician-assisted paroxysm was firmly entrenched in Europe and the U.S. It was a godsend for many doctors. At that time, the public viewed physicians with tremendous distrust. Most doctors had little or no scientific training, and they had few treatments that worked. But thanks to genital massage, hysteria was a condition doctors could treat with great success. This produced large numbers of grateful women, who returned faithfully and regularly, eager to pay for additional treatment.

But treating hysteria also had a downside for doctors? tired fingers from all that massage. Nineteenth-century medical journals lamented that many hysterics taxed their doctors’ stamina. Physicians complained of having trouble maintaining therapeutic massage long enough to produce the desired result. (For a look at 19th century treatment of female hysteria, see the film, The Road to Wellville)

Necessity being the mother of invention, physicians began experimenting with mechanical substitutes for their hands. They tried a number of genital massage contraptions, among them water-driven devices (the forerunners of today’s shower massagers), and steam-driven pumping dildos. But these machines were cumbersome, messy, often unreliable, and sometimes dangerous.

In the late 19th century, electricity became available for home use and the first electric appliances were invented: the sewing machine, the electric fan, and the toaster. These were followed soon after, around 1880, by the electromechanical vibrator, patented by an enterprising British physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville. The electric vibrator was invented more than a decade before the vacuum cleaner and the electric iron.

Electric vibrators were an immediate hit. They produced paroxysm quickly, safely, reliably, and inexpensively and as often as women might desire it. By the dawn of the 20th century, doctors had lost their monopoly on vibrators and hysteria treatment as women began buying the devices themselves. Advertisements appearing in such magazines as “Women’s Home Companion,” “Needlecraft,” and the Amazon.com of that era, the “Sears & Roebuck Catalogue” (“…such a delightful companion….all the pleasures of youth…will throb within you….”).

Electricity gave women vibrators, but ironically, within a few decades, electricity almost took the devices away from them. With the invention of motion pictures, vibrators started turning up in pornography and gained an unsavory reputation. By the 1920s, they had become socially unacceptable. Vibrator ads disappeared from the consumer media. From the late 1920s and well into the 1970s, they were difficult to find.

But some inventions are so useful that they survive despite attempts at suppression. Today, an estimated 25 percent of women own vibrators, and 10 percent of American couples use them in partner sex. Just think, we owe the world’s most popular sex toy to physicians’ fatigued fingers.

For more on the history of vibrators, read “The Technology of Orgasm: ‘Hysteria,’ The Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction,” by Rachel Maines (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

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,

lacigreenSEX TOY HYSTERIA – Nov 2, 2012

If it makes you feel better you can pretend that this old man did not laugh his 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 cited in Passion & Power: The Technology of the Orgasm is no longer on the books. 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 blame my advancing age and failing memory for my oversight in saying that the law was still on the books when I originally placed this piece on the blog. It is also worth noting that the erroneous article I relied on is still on the internet while the fact-checking article has now vanished and can only be found on the wayback machine. -ed.) 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.

Yes, it does bear noting that our sitting governor was the defender of the law who carried it’s defense as far as he could take it.  Proving, once again, that Republicans are not in favor of small government. 

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.