Category Archives: PODCASTS

Only in America.

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Had an interesting day last week with a significantly important coincidence:

So we spent two hours at work last Wednesday doing our annual insurance benefits review. For two hours, with our insurance broker and our Aflac rep, we discussed how much our insurance costs. How many thousands our deductible is. What’s in-network and what’s out. Whether ER visit costs get rolled into the hospital stay coverage or not. What conditions allow for supplemental insurance payouts and whether it follows you and your job. Tips and hints on how to try to get the insurance company to authorize and pay out for treatments. Etc. etc.

(Interesting note provided by the Aflac rep: 70% of bankruptcy cases in America are due to medical costs. And 50% of those — the bankrupt had medical insurance.)

So, two hours of numbers and facts and complex conditions surrounding how your life can be slowly destroyed by medical bills instead of quickly destroyed. Now for the comedic coinkydink:

That very morning, on the way to work, I was listening to a recent “Sword and Laser” scifi/fantasy book club podcast with a conversation with multi-bestselling and award winning author Robert J. Sawyer. And when asked how old he was when he was able to start writing full-time, he said he was writing full-time in his early twenties. Why? Because he’s Canadian. He expressed that, like him, a lot of Canadian writers and other artists are able to even have careers as artists, are able to work on their art from an early age and get good, developing their skill and talent early, allowing them to have decades of quality output far in excess of American writers and artists for primarily one main reason: socialized healthcare. As a young man, Sawyer never had to worry about giving up his talent and dream in order to find and work at a job doing not at all what he wanted to do in order to have healthcare. Sure, there were times he had to eat pretty skimpily, but that’s doable. Paying thousands of dollars for an illness or accident isn’t.

Award-winning Canadian author (among other things) Cory Doctorow once expressed similar arguments on an episode of American Freethought. He said now that he had a family, he’d never live in the U.S. again, never not live in Canada or the U.K., so that his daughter would never be without healthcare. He told a story of how when traveling across England, his daughter started developing a bad fever. They stopped in a town and saw a doctor who examined her, wrote a script, they picked it up, and were able to continue on, and they never had to fill out papers and only had to pay a couple of dollars (equivalent) for the medication. He and his wife get to thrive in their dream jobs because aren’t forced to work for healthcare.

I can’t say who because I didn’t ask permission to say, but I know someone in Canada who had a car accident not long ago. They were taken to the ER by ambulance, were examined, treated, and released with great care. They were provided with a new shirt because theirs had to be cut off, and, reimbursed for the cut shirt. All they had to do was show their Canadian citizen health I.D., and they got all this treatment without paying a dime or filling out paperwork.

Oh, of course, taxes pay for this care. But I once compared how much taxes I pay (sales, income, property) with a relative who lives in Canada (higher sales but no income (or property — one of the two, I forget)), and at the bottom line is we pay about the same in taxes.

…except they don’t have to pay what I do in health insurance premiums and deductibles and medical co-pays and out of pocket bills…. So, who wins here?

In every modern country in the world: the citizens do. In the U.S., and only the U.S., health insurers do. And the so-called healthcare “reform” that was recently passed? That “Obamacare” (which can be called “Newtcare” since it’s the same reform proposed by the House Republicans in the 90s), it actually put insurers in better position to make more money while hurting small businesses and much of the people. But, small wonder considering how many millions of dollars politicians, from both parties, get from insurance industry lobby.

Do I hear someone yell, “If you love Canada so much, why don’t you move there!“? Oh, I swear I wish I could, I really very much wish I could. But it costs to move and I’m too far in debt with student loans.

Oh, did I mention that, like most of Europe, most of higher education in Canada is also as free as their healthcare? They have this crazy idea that a healthy and educated citizenry is somehow good for the country on the whole. I know, crazy, huh?

Update: Well this is funny!
Note the date of today’s post — September 2011. Well, after posting this post, my blog automatically created a set of “related posts” links (see below). And lookee what’s likely still the first suggested link.

It’s a post I did in April 2009 about the same author(s) talking on different podcasts about the same thing. I’d totally forgotten! Wow, so much has changed in the last 2 to 3 years, huh? Oh I’m laughing til I cry.

2011: Posting the first — and last-ish.

I’ve kept my resolutions for a whole day already! Wee, I’m on a roll!
I’ve deleted or hidden around 15 Facebook people/pages, 8 RSS feeds, and 6 podcast feeds. What I’ve kept are only media involving sci-fi, writing, literature, general philosophy, and technology news. That so means that this blog will probably go to sleep for the year, seeing how the general subject matter of CelticBear has been politics, religion, and related topics that I’m trying to minimize in my life right now. I do need to finish the last two posts in my Alpha Course analysis so that can be put to bed — but after that, this blog will likely be inactive for 2011.

In the meantime, I plan to do a lot more blogging of SF, writing, literature, reviews, and scholarly stuff. And for that, I’m using my blogs: GrogMonkey and Tragic Sans.
Right now they just mirror each other; I need to decide on how to separate their roles and make them unique. Shoulda done that before today.
Anyway, so there’s the update.

Have a good year!

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

No more morning wakemeups.

Ugh! What a nagging headache.
I’ve been off caffeine for 36 hours now. Not that I was a big caffeine drinker in the first place — I would have an energy drink, like a diet NoFear or a SoBe Energy (Lean) in the morning, and sometimes a can of diet Coke in the afternoon, and then for the rest of the day it’s flavored waters or diet PowerAides. But, it’s enough.

I listened to neurologist Dr. Steven Novella on a recent Skeptic’s Gude to the Universe podcast talk about how caffeine works and the tolarance buildup, and how invariably ANY caffeine usage will lead to caffeine headaches, which are often a migraine trigger for people probe to migraines. (Luckily for me, I’ve only had two in my life. My wife and brother are chronic sufferers of migraines…and chronic caffeine consumers.)

So, there’s really no benefit and lots of downsides to taking caffeine long-term. I decided to give it up. Once I get past this withdrawl headache, things’ll be peachy. 🙂

Sadly, all we have here at work is acetomeniphrine and no ibuprofen. Since I like my liver and I want it available in case I decide to take up excessive drinking, I don’t feel too keen on taking more than 1 of these “extra strength”… Oh nuts. Lots of these “extra strength” headache pills contain caffeine. Better go check that. 😛

Keep on questioning!

Brian of skeptoid.com recently posted a listener mail response episode. He makes good points, and you don’t have to have read/listened to his past episodes to get something out of this one:

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4169

The best part of the whole thing, though, is at the end when he summarizes thus:

“That’s what I think is the biggest tragedy of those who accept the supernatural: They’re missing out on the wonder of science. When you look at a 30-ton block of coral and conclude that magic must be the only way a single small man could have moved it, you have stopped trying to learn, and you miss out on a truly delightful and creative application of mechanics.

When you dismiss medical science because of its imperfections and turn instead to magic-based therapies, you abandon any meaningful understanding of how your own body actually works.

When you settle on a conspiracy theory as the explanation for what happens in world news, you effectively stop searching for other sources, and you miss out on the real causes and motivations that drive what happens in politics and economics.

The answer is to be more skeptical, and to require a higher standard for what you believe. Keep on thinking, keep on questioning….”

Two great debunking stories.

psychis oooohhhhhA recent panel of skeptics spoke on a panel at DragonCon, recorded and presented on the Sketpic’s Guide to the Universe, features a couple of great stories about debunking. I urge you to listen to them in their own words.

The first story is how the SGU group, early in its career, sought to investigate the Warrens (a famous couple, one a “psychic” and the other a “scientist” who made their claim to fame by creating the entire mythology around the “Amityville Horror” house). The Warrens were very charming and charismatic, and eager to participate. They gave the SGU crew a tape that was their one biggest most fantastic piece of evidence for the supernatural: a video tape of a person “dematerializing.”

So using a video editing deck which allows one to see a wider field of view and various data that you don’t see on the TV, including timecodes, on the tape you could see the person in question in the distance. Then a finger you can’t see on the television framed image approach the camera. Then when the “disappearance” happens, the timecode instantly jumps. The obvious verdict: someone paused the camera and restarted it once the person had moved away. Simple as that.

But once this was pointed out, the Warrens became upset and angry, quoted as saying, “I don’t care what you say, that kid disappeared!” Not even actual hard evidence to the contrary can dissuade some people from their embedded beliefs.

Then, James Randi told a story of how he was asked by a TV station to go out with a “medium” and investigate the Amityville house. The psychic told him once she steps foot on the property, she’ll sense “vibrations” from the spirits on the land. So, they get out of the car, she steps on the house’s lawn, and instantly goes into fits and rolls around from the power of the spirits.

Meanwhile a police car had been hanging back, watching the crew. Once the psychic started her gyrations, the police approached and asked what was going on. Once informed they were investigating the Amityville house, the police told them, “Oh, that’s two blocks down that way.”

Reality gatekeepers.

the brainsI’m listening to an episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe where they podcasted from the recent DragonCon, and one of the early cool things discussed on the panel is how telescopes from around the Earth were “linked” together to form a giant virtual telescope the size of the planet, and examined the center of our galaxy. They saw the event horizon and tell-tale evidence of a 40 million solar mass giant black hole!

But what I most wanted to mention was the discussion on the brain and dreams. Prompted by a question from the audience to discuss lucid dreaming, Steven Novella (a neurologist as well as a podcast host) described how a dreamer is in a literally altered state of consciousness (sounds like a “no duh!” statement, but it’s deeper than just the obvious) which is in essence an entirely different you than when you’re awake.

Part of that fundamental difference is the turning “off” of the parts of the brain that compare experience and stimuli to what we understand as “reality”. Thus, when we dream, everything makes sense to our dreaming selves, nothing seems unusual or odd no matter how unusual or odd it is. Unless you can manage to switch that filter “on” while dreaming in which even you then are “lucid dreaming,” knowledgeable that you’re dreaming–although that state tends to last very briefly.

I remember an NPR news article a few years ago where researcher is schizophrenia developed a VR goggles and headphones that allowed people to experience a small taste of what it’s like to suffer from schizophrenia. They described the brain as always running in a sort of dream state at the base of consciousness. But that the “normal” person has these filters, like what Steve discusses in the podcast, which filters out the surreal and abnormal from our reality. But people with schizophrenia don’t have these filters. So any bizarre and unusual idea or image or sensory misfire or thought that their brain comes up with in this constant stream of dream-like processing, their conscious brain thinks is totally believable and acceptable.

On the panel was also a co-host of Skepticality, Derek, who suffered a stroke a few years ago. (Young guy, in his 30s, who one day after dinner just dropped and if not for the immediate reaction from present friends and family he’d likely be dead. As it was, he was in a coma for weeks and had to “climb” back into a recognizable form of conscious wakefulness. Then spend months in therapy and had to reconstruct his speech ability–and even now, a few years later, alive and well, he doesn’t quite sound like the person he was before the stroke.

They mention on this panel how his stroke affected his language center, which is intimately tied to our thought-process in that we think in words and language. When that ability of having language is stripped, reality and thinking becomes surreal and untethered and difficult to make sense of. Derek mentions how it took him a year to even make sense of the idea that he was in a coma at one time.

Something else interesting they discuss, is that the impressions he had while “in” the coma, the impressions of people and words and singing, similar experiences many people who had been in comas report as having, he actually did not experience while in the coma but rather as he was waking up–but he had at the time attibuted to from inside the coma.

Anyway, cool stuff. 🙂

Corporate media starting to get a clue about the police state.

It’s old news here, old news for most independent news sources, civil liberty organizations, and bloggers who care–but corporate news (or at least some individuals within them) are finally getting around to noticing that the Department of Homeland Security has been thumbing their nose at the 4th Amendment by searching and seizing without oversight, standards, or even probable cause and suspicion, citizens’ laptops, cell phone, mp3 players, digital camera, and any other devices which can contain gigabytes of personal information.

“They’re saying they can rifle through all the information in a traveler’s laptop without having a smidgen of evidence that the traveler is breaking the law,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Notably, he said, the policies “don’t establish any criteria for whose computer can be searched.”

The danger of belief.

When discussing and criticizing New Age, New Thought, pseudoscience beliefs (like The Secret, crystals, homeopathy, chiropractic, ESP, psychics, Tarot, astrology, chi, feng shui, ghosts, reflexology, etc. ad nauseum) people often say “Oh, what’s the big deal? It’s harmless; let people believe what they want,” it’s often because they themselves have some belief or three that they know fall into the category of superstition and credulity. Subconsciously they think, “Hmm, I better not be too harsh on people who believe in The Secret because I know some know-it-all busybody would have problems with my belief in alien visitation.”

But there is a harm to non-critical thinking and it can be as “small” as spending good money on bunk to as significant as death:

(_Another Child Dies from Faith Healing_.) A cousin of his also recently died due to lack of medical care thanks to religious beliefs. There’s a woman I work with who also believes in faith healing, and has ignored ever-increasing symptoms until she passed out at a chiropractor and was sent to the hospital. Seems she has a brain tumor. (No word yet if it’s malignant or benign.)

There’s no reason for this. I want to try hard not to disparage faith or spirituality, but let’s be realistic here: medical science over the last 200 years has literally turned the worldview of illness in the west completely upside down. What was once thought to be caused by demons and curses we know to be viruses, bacteria, and chemical disorders. No amount of praying has ever repaired anything visibly irreparable and known to be medically incurable or able to go into remission such as amputations or visible horrific burn damage. A recent massive double-blind study showed that of the three groups of heart surgery patients, (one prayed for by large amounts of cross denominational Christians and not told about it, one prayed for and told about it, and one not prayed for) the group not prayed for and the one prayed for and not told had no difference in post-surgery recovery or complications. In fact, the one prayed for and who knew about it fared statistically worse. (Hypothesis is that some of the patients felt increased stress and concern which lead to complications.)

Recently a girl with serious Autism had a teaching assistant who visited a psychic. The psychic told her a student of hers was being molested. She went to the school with her “evidence” and they turned it to the Canadian version of Family Services:

(_Psychics and gullible people do REAL harm_.) Long story short, it was proven without a doubt that the girl was not being molested–the psychic was full of crap (surprise!) The result of her “for entertainment purposes only” seering was to throw a family into upheaval and cost them a great deal of money and emotional distress.

Neurologist Steven Novella has an excellent commentary on this story: _Psychic Alleges Sexual Abuse_:

Any reasonable assessment of the evidence, in my opinion, clearly shows that alleged psychics are frauds – yes, all of them. Some may be self-deluded, while others (by the techniques they use) must be con artists. But they are all frauds – they pretend to do something they cannot do. Spreading false beliefs about reality is harmful in and of itself. But this harm is greatly magnified by great mischief ensues when alleged psychics make serious allegations based upon their intuitions. This elevates fraud to negligence, and perhaps even depraved indifference.

My wife is often a voice of reason to me. When I go off on something, criticizing what I think is irrational thought, she usually has a point of view that pulls me back down to civility. On this issue she suggested that people should be allowed to believe whatever bogus ideas they want, but should be held accountable should negative results arise. Well, of course that makes sense–I don’t think we should outlaw gullibility or non-critical beliefs, that’s fascist and would actually be counter-productive. But there’s a problem: people AREN’T being held accountable because people are scared to death to publicly criticize religion, pseudoscience, superstitions, or other credulous beliefs. From that CNN article on the boy’s death:

After earlier deaths involving children of Followers of Christ believers, a 1999 Oregon law struck down religious shields for parents who treat their children solely with prayer. No one had been prosecuted under it until the Worthingtons’ case [last March].

We have reached a point in our culture where criticizing, examining, demanding evidence for people’s beliefs is verboten. That kind of Christian fundamentalism which eschews modern medicine and science and puts their children in harm damn well deserves to be criticized at its very foundation. All psychics are frauds, period, and should be treated as such by the legal system and society at large. Beliefs which can and often do lead to harm should not be tip-toed around and given a pass because of some misguided desire to give all beliefs respect and tolerance. Some don’t deserve it.

There’s a CNN article yesterday:

It floored me. Because of vaccinations we’ve eradicated polio, a disease which used to kill or paralyze or cripple literally hundreds of thousands of people a year. Measles? Silly measles, we can risk it–why vaccinate. Because measles is a highly contagious disease with a 10-30% fatality rate and killed half a million unvaccinated people in 2003. There’s a reason we vaccinate children–it saves countless lives from many easily preventable diseases. And because of completely non-critical thinking, this process is thrown into question. Because of three converging conditions, this life-saving science is questioned and debated and needlessly avoided by many:

  • Symptoms of Autism reveal themselves at the same age range in which we vaccinate kids–regardless of vaccination. We’ve known this for decades, we see this in places where vaccinations aren’t done. It is coincidence which confuses correlation with causation.
  • We’re diagnosing more cases of Autism because of changes in methodology. It used to be that only the most severe cases of Autism were recognized as such–non-functional, “Rainman” style Autism. Now an extremely expansive continuum of symptom severity is being diagnosed. People with Ausperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning Autism was virtually undiagnosed a couple of decades ago…now doctors are more readily recognizing and diagnosing cases. It’s always existed–we’re just diagnosing it more and it has nothing to do with vaccines.
  • Parents understandably want to blame something. No one, parents, anyone, likes hearing “sometimes things just happen.” People want reasons, they want answers, they want something to blame. It’s completely understandable, perfectly human. It’s why people turn to ideas of “luck” and fortune, ESP, ghosts, aliens, what have you, for explanations to coincidence, accident, unexplained (in their mind) occurrences.

But the bottom line, is test after test, study after study, research after research, prove that there is no link between Autism and vaccines. In fact, one of the most vocal proponents of the connection was invited to help design what was one of the largest and most comprehensive studies examining the possible link. When the data was analyzed and it was becoming obvious that once again there was no link, she took her name off the study and started a propaganda campaign to distance her involvement and try to discredit the study.

Sometimes people want to believe something despite all evidence to the contrary. That’s delusion.

We should hold people accountable for the effects of their beliefs, absolutely. But what happens when those responsible for holding people accountable themselves rely on magical-thinking, superstition, and other woo? People get a pass. Children are being killed by medieval religious beliefs? Well, we have to be tolerant of religion (especially in this country if it in any way involves the words “Christian” or “…of Christ”.) “Psychics” like _Sylvia Browne_ crassly lie to grieving families, feeding on their pain and grief for their own fame and money? Well, it’s for “entertainment purposes” so they’re covered. (Or, hey, in Sylvia’s case it’s a “religious belief”! Two passes in one!) Besides, cultural leaders and gurus like Oprah advocate mysticism, New Age and New Thought, psychic beliefs, and pseudoscience–so, there must be something to it.

And so we continue to support and encourage un-critical thinking and credulous belief in woo as a culture in general, and that affects our legal system, politics, media.

The other day I heard a commercial for some “all natural” prostate health herbal supplement. “And it’s all natural, so you don’t have to worry about those annoying side effects that come with pharmaceutical products.” Got a message for you: poison ivy is “all natural.” Hemlock, toadstools, heroin, arsenic, Ebola, hepatitis, cancer, cyanide, anthrax…all natural, my friends! And here’s another clue: if something, like an herb, is capable of any kind of “positive” biochemical effect on your body, it’s capable of producing unwanted and negative side effects. The only difference, FDA regulated pharmaceuticals go through rigorous testing to find all or most of those side effects, their severity, cross medication reactions. Herbal remedies get none of that testing. St. John’s Wort? All natural, and promotes liver disease. Ginko biloba? All natural, and contributes to heart disease and strokes. (True) homeopathic “medicine” is the safest, being pretty much complete water, so what’s the harm? A lot if people trust water and sugar tablets instead of seeking needed medical advice for symptoms that may indicate something water and sugar don’t affect!

A culture that believes in woo won’t and can’t hold people who harm others or themselves, based on woo, accountable in any significant degree.

The need for proper sex education!

One of the benefits is to keep from being victimized by blatantly malicious and intentionally dishonest misinformation propaganda, like the kind profiles in this post:

♦ The Pill Kills OMG!

It’s a reaction to an article on Reproductive Health Reality Check site about pro-life groups protesting contraceptive, using, among others, the tactic of lying about the efficacy and health risks of oral contraception:

♦  ‘Pro-Lifers’ Plan National Protest of Contraception

What kills me is the horrible, unthinking, unreasoned hypocrisies of these people. They will lie and deceive in order to promote their ideology of “truth.” To them, a clump of cells without a mind, without personhood, without a chance of being a viable living creature were it to be removed from the womb, is more important to them than actual living people. Who cares if famine and disease horribly kill millions, contraception is against God’s Plan! Wars, crime, abusive and neglectful parents, none of this is more important than making sure more and more humans get born–because that’s God’s Plan!

Well, here’s a question for you: Are you saying that God’s Almighty Plan can be thwarted and derailed so thoroughly by mere humans? What does that say about the omnipotent omniscience of His Plan?

The Sex is Fun podcast has recently completed a series of episodes on good, informative sex education. A really good few episodes that details how important the right information is in reducing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STIs. And how dangerous and unrealistic abstinence-only “education” is. The hosts wondered once or twice in an episode, why fundamentalist Christians adhere to abstinence-only when it’s statistically proven not to work, why they protest the HPV vaccine for teenage girls. They lament, don’t these people understand sex education will stem the rise in disease? Will prevent unwanted pregnancies? They don’t understand the mindset: To the fundamentalist Christian, if you fornicate, you get what you deserve. It’s God’s Will that you get an STI, or cervical cancer. It’s God’s Will that you have a child that is a burden to your ability to properly care for. It’s your punishment for for-ni-ca-t’n! They literally, completely, totally don’t care one whit about stemming disease or teen pregnancies.

I am so damn sick of living in America. It just never ends:
♦ Just in case you though Florida was part of the 21st century

…about a teacher in Florida dismissed for practicing “wizardry.” Lest you think we’re talking about New Age hermetic quasi-Wiccan magic rituals or something, the “wizardry” in question was a magic trick involving a toothpick.

Moral naturalism.

Last month I commented on a conversation over at NewSojourn, “Where Does ‘Ought’ Come From?“, where he commits the fallacy of the false dilemma by saying that you either believe morality, ethics, “proper” civil behavior is dictated by a (the Christian) god, or else there is no such thing and any claim to believe in ethics and morality if you’re not religious (Christian) is a lie. Or his word, “hogwash.”

Well of course, as an atheist and a naturalist (no, NOT nudist!) I’m also a secular humanist, so I take great offense at the idea that you have to be either a religious believer (Christian specifically) or a nihilist. There is something in between that is perfectly complimentary to the idea that morality exists (because it does) without the need for any god (because there aren’t (–even so, why specifically Yahweh and not one of the other 2400 gods?)

But better than any response I’ve given, I just listened to the latest Point of Inquiry podcast with an interview with naturalism philosopher and Vice President for Research and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry:

♦ John Shook – Naturalism and the Scientific Outlook

It’s not a very long episode, only 25 minutes, and I think the way he discuses the argument for naturalism as a philosophy and a worldview is pretty much the final word in my book. He also discusses the role of science in society and the way science is not a study of scientists (which is what creationists and anti-scientists want to make it out to be), but an examination purely of nature and the evidence from the examination of nature regardless of the people involved.

Here are some nice bits:

Naturalism is a worldview, a philosophy of you like, that understand reality through experience, reason and science. And I break it down into these three more simpler elements but it’s necessary to understand: they work together. …

You cannot have naturalism without science. But, we have to understand, science itself is based upon our experience of the world, and, reasoning about the world. We draw inferences, we test hypotheses, we draw tentative conclusions about what reality is like. Sometimes, opponents of naturalism, love to appeal to experience independently of science, or to reason (let’s say some rational arguments for the existence of god), again–completely unhinged from science. …

The diversity of human experience is incredible! Of course religious experience is part of this. What naturalism simply demands is that… experience is not enough. Experience has to be tested by rational standards of coherence and common sense, and also it has to be consistent with science. …

Strictly speaking, science itself as a list of cutting-edge theories, that are best tested by experiments, you can’t directly infer moral conclusions about how human beings ought to live. You can’t read them off…. You can’t detect values with a microscope. There have been some objectionable philosophies that have attempted this. For example Social Darwinism once proliferated: ‘Rich people ought to survive because obviously they’re more fit,’ this sort of bogus, junk science really is a logical dead end. … Humorously, this junk science, this propaganda of Social Darwinism, was actually playing a card played by theologians played by time immemorial. ‘If it’s natural, it’s right.’ This presumption being by theologians: God set up nature so God must have deemed it right. That principle just have to be thrown out as completely illogical and unsupportable, so scientists shouldn’t do it either.

What I would suggest is that instead we remind ourselves that as naturalists we rely on experience, reason, and science–it’s the unity of the three of them that really allows naturalism to tell us real information about how human beings ought to live. Especially the experience. Sometimes naturalists think by discarding supernaturalism they have to completely discard the religious cultural heritages of humanity too. And we don’t have to do that. What we can do is we can distinguish between what doesn’t work anymore in religion and what still may work. For example: moral wisdom, about how human beings ought to live. Now of course it’s couched too often in mythological language… and it is horribly outmoded.

So, naturalism would recommend, not that we start from scratch, some blank slate, some a priori principles of pure reason to deduce how we ought to live; instead what we ought to do is we ought to critically examine and test this cumulative body of moral wisdom that comes from the world’s cultures. After all, there’s sort of an evolutionary wisdom here. Most of these cultures have lasted for hundreds if not thousands of years, human beings have to a certain extent, successfully flourished, why discard this body of wisdom? So a naturalist would say: ‘We could build a new non-religious, secular culture–not in some a priori fashion or by consulting intuitions or anything like that, but simply by taking from the best of the other world cultures. …

And from there they discuss value of life, the meaning of life, and cosmic ego versus personal ego and what may be in between when defining meaning and passing values on.
It’s a good listen!

Little Brother’s watching Big Brother. And, Bush hates literacy.

I’ve been anticipating Cory Doctorow’s latest novel for half a year now, since I first heard of it. It’s a young adult novel in which some innocent kids get picked up by Homeland Security for suspicion of involvement in a terrorist act. After the treatment they receive, the decide it’s time to bring back the Bill of Rights and use home-grown technology to fight the government. The novel is filled with actual tech and counter-tech plans and ideas.

I just listened to an interview with Doctorow on the Adventures in Scifi Publishing podcast:

♦ AISFP 48 – Cory Doctorow

In which they talk about the fascist techniques and outlook of the U.S. and U.K. these days, the new book, and also publishing. It’s interesting to hear how Doctorow supports and defends book publishers as being on the side of the writer and the reader, as opposed to music companies who you would think by the way they treat artists and fans were out to destroy them. Considering how much his book publisher, TOR, supports Doctorow giving away books they sell, for free on his Web site–they must be supportive! Random House has the audiobook rights and are willing to provide it in non-DRMA crippled MP3 format! Book publishers are cool. Anyway, you can listen to all this on the podcast.

Before the interview the hosts discuss Bush’s 2009 budget proposal which would defund the long-running Reading is Fundamental program:

♦ Bush’s ’09 Budget Eliminates RIF Funding

The hosts, bless their naive hearts, seem shocked by this. They don’t seem to understand that to Milton Friedman worshiping corporate-owned capitalist fascists, a literate and educated populace is the enemy. A strong middle-class, a literate masses, can recognize and understand what’s going on around them, and are able to use the system to “fight the power,” and hinder the neo-con (and not a small number of Democrats) attempt to turn the government into a corporate controlled oligarchy. This is why the Bush administration has been trying hard for seven years to get rid of (or at least control using neo-con loyalist lackies) PBS and NPR, have been sabotaging public education system, promoting abstinence-only programs which are proven to be ineffective, have tried to get rid of the public education mandate of NASA. To these people, the purpose of the populace are to be wage-slaves and spend what little free time they have watching mindless garbage and not thinking, especially not critically and not for themselves. Bush’s attempt to get rid of the program which provides books and promotes literacy among the poor and at-risk kids is just another in his long line of attempts to transorm the American people into mindless peasants.

Unintelligent design.

3D chromosomesJust listened to an episode of Air America’s “Atheists Talk” episode 8 where they interview “The Friendly Atheist” and biologist PZ Myers:

Atheists Talk #008 Mar 2, 2008
(click the “listen now” link at the bottom to listen or download)

The first half interview with Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist is kind of interesting; he discusses his book “I Sold My Soul on eBay” and his work with campus freethinking organizations. It’s interesting, by I have to admit, gets a little boring. For me. Mainly because I’ve heard what he has to say before–but I would think to the person who hasn’t it could be fascinating.

What really engaged me, was the way too brief second half with biologist and professor PZ Myers (and blogger, with his Pharyngula site).
He discusses bad design in nature, which counters the “intelligent design”…argument, that at least some of nature is so perfectly and elegantly designed that it has to have been done by A Designer. Well, even though the examples IDers have used all have turned out quite reducible, nature is rife with qualities that flagrantly display the bottom-up nature of evolution: Things come about that work. They seem cobbled together, haphazard, inelegant, but they get the job done.

The brain contains a mess of this kind of design, and Myers discusses Gary Marcus’ book Kluge, which investigates the weird and haphazard way the brain often gets things done.
Then he talks about other instances of natures design that would get a human engineer or programmer fired:

Like the human genome. It’s a mess! IDers often point to the genome as an elegant program of data and instructions that prove a programmer, but in truth, the genome is filled with junk data and bad instructions. There are significant portions of the genome that have portions where its only function is to uselessly copy itself for no purpose, except when a virus latches onto it and uses it for its own purpose.
Also, interestingly, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans have 24 pairs. Well, evidently, a couple of the human chromosomes have at some point in evolution fused together, and you can see in the human sets of pairs where this meshing exists!

Back to bad design: the human eye. The light sensors sit behind the nerves and blood vessels making it so that we have blind spots and “poor resolution” than we could have. Like putting the cords of a video camera in front of the lens. (As I understand, squid and octopus happened to evolve without this problem.)

The human male testes have to be cooler than body temp to work, so they dangle (quite annoyingly and often painfully and terribly prone to damage) outside the body–after traveling, during infant development, through the body trailing the seminal tubing behind it to make a weird, long journey from testes to penis. A weird solution that has been better evolved in other animal species.

One of my favorites of bad design that PZ didn’t mention (his segment was much too short) was how we eat and breathe through the same whole, making the chances of our killing ourselves by choking on food quite possible. And the most common victims of this bad design are children.

Anyway, interesting program; worth a listen.
(image stolen from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/disorders/karyotype/)

Critical thinking is a learned skill and MUST be taught!

The human mind is an absolutely amazing thing. Our frontal lobes, cerebral cortex, allows us to recognize patterns and ascribe meaning to phenomenon. It gave us certain, unique survival skills during our evolution, allowing us to recognize recurring weather patterns and animal behavior of both predator and prey. To codify these behaviors, humans started anthropomorphizing other animals and natural phenomena–ascribe human-like motive and intent and nature to non-human creatures and events. From this feature of our larger brains, we’ve gotten the fascinating stories on the native Americans about Raven, and Coyote, and Rabbit, as myths which served to explain curious natural events as well as teach cultural values and lessons. We have the very ancient Babylonian stories of the Elohim, the family of gods such as Yahweh and Baal and Tiamat to explain the events of their desert culture and pass on their morality. The Greeks, the Maori, the Chinese, the Australian aboriginals…wherever there is human beings, there are myths and stories which they use to explain natural events and patterns, human and animal behavior.
The human mind is awesome!

But our amazing capacity to find patterns and devise explanations for things which we don’t understand doesn’t stop at the ancient world. This ability is what allowed Copernicus to map out the orbits of the planets, Issac Newton to develop his Laws of Conservation of Energy, Einstein to figure out relativity, and every other scientific and medical development from vaccines to that drug that stops “restless leg syndrome.” As a species we’ve used our powerful minds to create gods and monsters, and cure disease and alleviate suffering.

But that ability of pattern recognition, imagination, anthropomorphizing, can also be a hindrance. What once allowed us to track prey, successfully grow crops, and avoid being eaten ourselves, is still alive and well in all of us and threatens the progress and advancement we’ve made as a species from tribals to moderns. People are seeing ghosts in lens flares, UFO’s in street lights, angels in reflections, religious icons in toasted bread. Harmless enough, I suppose. But then there are those who take advantage of our bigger human brains to fool us with psychic surgery, fortune telling, talking with dead loved ones, homeopathy. And then there are the innocent dupes who are victims of nothing nefarious but basic logical fallacies and cognitive biases, and want vaccines to be the cause of their kid’s autism, wish that teen sex was stoppable via ignorance, that peace can be achieved through superior firepower, that all of life’s existential problems can be solved through buying all the right consumer products.

In the realm of our brain’s fertile imagination and pattern finding, the bridge between myth and fantasy, and advancement and progress, is “critical thinking.” It’s a skill that allows us recognize when we’re making false conclusions, finding patterns where there may not be any, seeing form in the formless, attributing the wrong cause to an effect. It keeps us from being lead down primrose paths at our own expense, being taken advantage of by both the crook and the misguided. It allows us to make clear and considered decisions and choices in our lives that have a better chance of being for the improvement of ourselves, our family, our society, humanity. Whether it’s the decisions we make in the food we buy, healthcare we choose, paper or plastic or reused canvas bag, the people we elect to manage our public policies and military, or the morals and values we pass on to our children–the value of good, critical thinking is immeasurable.

All that is to preface this short but wonderful essay from The Skeptoid podcast:

The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking
(That page has the entire transcript of the article, but I prefer to listen to the program; the “listen” link is near the top of the page.)

A skeptical approach to life leads to advances in all areas of the human condition; while a willingness to accept that which does not fit into the laws of our world represents a departure from the search for knowledge.

Host Brian Dunning does a fantastic job in explaining the necessity of critical thinking, but more than that, how it should be taught and how important it is that the message gets across. He discusses how so often the concepts of logic and Socratic reason are taught in a dry, boring manner that seems unrelatable to the lives of students. If we’re to minimize the pain and suffering of reliance on “alternate medicine,” the foolishness of relying on astrology and divination and New Age “Secrets” to make decisions in life, the waste of money and emotional dependence on psychics and faith healers, and eschew real potential in medical advances and ecological protection, we must teach and promote good critical thinking in our children! I’ve learned, it’s never too late to become a critical thinker, but it’s also never too early to encourage it.

Morality for the non-religious.

For nearly the last 36 hours I’ve been working on a co-worker’s PC which has crashed terribly hard. Potential to lose years worth of files he uses for his freelance and day-job work. He was in near tears when it was looking like his data was lost, and his best alternative was spending nearly $200 to maybe get it back from a PC service center.
Well, since I helped him build his PC (I built his last PC, and for a year it was working like a dream. Then he decided to upgrade the CPU and mobo and RAM, and decided to choose his own parts. Well, he got a pretty bad mobo that was poor quality and nearly melted itself. The overheating Northbridge chip was causing bad data to be written to the harddrive causing a corrupted FAT. So I helped him order a better mobo (Newegg rocks, by the way) and that’s when we discovered the drive was corrupted.)
Anyway, it’s a long tale of backups, scares, repartitioning, Knoppix (which rocks!) data restoration programs, reinstallations of Windows (which sux), and so I’ve been sitting here for two days working on this PC (the tale is starting to come to an end, thank goodness! and with his data intact and with him not having to spend $200. I hate computers….) and so I’ve been catching up on all my podcasts….
(That kind of felt like a Simpson’s episode: the first 5 minutes of the show setting up the rest of the episode with events that have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show.)

So one of the many podcast episodes I listened to was this fantastic one from Point of Inquiry:

Paul Kurtz – Ethics for the Nonreligious

Paul Kurtz is the founder of the Council for Secular Humanism and author of the little book, Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance. He discusses the issues of morality, its development, purpose, cross-cultural and religious nature, and its necessity despite cultural or religious baggage:

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz talks about ethics from a nonreligious perspective, how morality develops, the moral education of children, and whether or not ethics can ever be more than just self-interestedness. He also explains how the question of God’s existence should be immaterial to any discussion of human morality.

Anyway, I urge you to take a listen to this fascinating program. D.J. Grothe, as always, does a fantastic job playing devil’s advocate and really getting to the root of an argument or claim.

(Oh yeah, by the way: Always backup your important data!! I learned this back around 1996 when I formatted the wrong partition for a Linux dual boot and lost tons of irreplaceable files (and wasn’t computer literate enough at that time to know how to recover data from a format–I thought it was all gone). Backup backup backup!! DVD burvers are getting awfully cheap now….)

Human value, the definition of “happiness,” over-population, and dominionism vs. stewardship.

Goodness, what a topic!
Yesterday’s Thom Hartmann program had a fantastic segment on overpopulation–is it an ecological and human-race-survival issue or is it a theological non-issue.

Yesterday’s Thom Hartmann program
(You’ll might want to right-click, save-as instead of stream it; it’s 19MB.)

Well, that’s later in the show. For the first 10 minutes he discusses the topic of Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design with an ID’er who’s just written a book, then he takes callers for the next 25 minutes. That’s all interesting in its own right. The issue of over-population, the issue of whether or not the planet is our domain for us to use wantonly or if we have responsibilities to it, starts at about 36 minutes in and goes until about the 53 minute mark. What was most interesting to me was at about 42 minutes in, they start discussing socialist vs. objectavist socio-politics. The cost of human labor. The price of exploitation of labor and who really benefits from it. About “freedom” and what it means in relation to happiness.

Anyway, give it a listen; good stuff.
UPDATE: Oops. Forgot to mention, on that page that goes to the Thom Hartmann archive page, you’ll need to select the show for 11 Dec 2007. Either stream from there or download the MP3.

Will blow your mind!

t3h brainzHopefully a quickie post today–on the subject of your spicy brains!
Two really interesting podcasts this week (I understand some people still need reminding you don’t need an MP3 player, certainly not an iPod to listen to podcasts. They’re just MP3 files you can download and listen on your computer.)

The first is The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe:
SGU’s Latest Episode
In addition to other cool topics like their experience at a psychic fair ($20 for a 15 minute reading, and dozens of readings through the day–even just working the fair for 4 hours that’s over $300. For four hours of conning people through play-acting and lying. Amazing. But I digress….) they did some news on some updated research regarding how photographs (and manipulated photographs in particular) influence the way we remember something, which influences what we think about a particular topic.
(Something politicians, spin doctors, and marketers already know all too well.)

They also discuss some research that shows that when we recall a memory, we’re changing the neural paths and proteins that “store” the memory–we change the memory when we remember it! Every time we remember an event, we’re editing it with current sensory stimuli and emotion and thoughts. Keep that in mind next time you think you’re absolutely certain about how something happened, or are dealing with purely anecdotal “evidence.”

And, the latest episode of Point of Inquiry:
Richard Wiseman – Quirkology
Wiseman is a magician, psychologist, and professor of Public Understanding of Psychology. He’s written a new book, they discuss. But talks about his work dealing with perception, how our senses fool us, how others fool us, and the psychology of how we perceive what we do. His experience in magic helps him bring an interesting and entertaining perspective on the topic.

There’s a link on the site to a YouTube video he made that really might blow your mind, regarding our senses and false perception. Cwazy!

Shoot first; show compassion, intelligence, competency, later.

SWAT officersHere is the world we live in now:

Terror police ‘shot’ man in coma

Cops in Leeds, England, decided it was better to Taser a man, twice, and hold a pistol on him, because he was found on a bus unresponsive due to a diabetic coma. Better safe than sorry, right?! He could have been one of the floods, deluge, of terrorist bombers that have carpeted our Western Lands. Not one of the one or two people who are citizens in medical distress, or confused, or in need of help.

A commenter, I think on BoingBoing, in a thread discussing how police in Vancouver killed an innocent although distraught man in an airport (either from the Tasering or the putting all of one officer’s weight on his knee on top of the guy’s neck…the medical examiner’s report isn’t out yet), has remarked that Tasers have made cops lazy. Instead of actually doing their job, using their brain, intuition, experience, training to figure out what a situation is and then deal with it in the most appropriate manner, they just shoot a “non-lethal” Taser at the problem until it’s jerking around helpless on the ground soiling himself, then they’ll bother to figure out what’s going on.

Just this last year, off the top of my head, we’ve had the cop brutally and sadistically Tasering the drunk woman on the side of the road and she’s screaming in pain and fear and terror, the guy at the airport killed by Tasering cops, the politically questioning college kid Taser’ed needlessly outside the John Kerry appearance, the diabetic coma guy Tasered for being unresponsive–all in this last year.
Then there’s the several incidents of “War on Drugs” cops decked out in military body armor and carrying CAW shotguns and MP5 submachine guns and M15 assault rifles breaking into houses of the occasional innocent person or family, either because of their own mistake, an informant’s mistake, or an informant’s lie, and at worst killing innocent people and planting evidence or at best terrorizing and threatening peaceful and innocent families. (See: The war on drugs, liberty, reason.)
There’s peaceful protesters in Burma, Georgia, and Los Angeles set upon by brutal and violent military (or militarized police).
London has CCTV cameras on nearly every city block.
The NSA is tracking the phone calls, phone records, email, even buying habits of American citizens….

I have to ask, seriously, am I just blowing things out of proportion? Am I succumbing to the common cognitive bias that all times in the past were better than they are now? Has society always been this f–ed-up, or are things getting worse? Have police always been thugish brutes in general, willing to shoot up houses and people with military issue weapons without asking questions? Have always been spied on with such wanton disregard to privacy and personal liberty, and I’m just being a crotchety curmudgeon Chicken Little?

Or are we in the middle of some terrible, horrific, slide into a coming socio-political nightmare? I truly want to know.

Coercion by the legal system, by the mind.

Just read an article on Classically Liberal that’s just astoundingly tragic and nearly unbelievable:

<> Four innocent men, one dead woman and a bad cop.

I challenge you to read it without dropping your jaw at least once. Bottom line: a prosecutor is denying all reason, logic, obvious and ridiculous mistakes in order to prosecute his original theory of a crime–despite the fact that all evidence points to another person. It’s a scenario that’s so absurd, so insane, that it’s almost impossible to believe. If it weren’t for the links to the evidence and documents, you have to just believe this is made up.

But last week I listened to a podcast on Point of Inquiry:

<> Carol Tavris – Mistakes Were Made

The guest is the author of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, where she talks about how rampant the reticence by the legal system is to admit mistakes and how people will completely close themselves up to admitting mistakes to the point of devolving into a world of absurdity in order to justify their errors in thinking.

Scary.

Wonders in reality.

Just a quickie: The latest Skepticality episode has a great conversation with Australian author Lynne Kelly regarding the wonders that can be found in reality. (In her case, mainly involving the little-known qualities and beauty and abilities of crocodiles and spiders.) You don’t need to look to pseudoscience for wonder and amazement when there’s so much to be awed and amazed by in rational, legitimate science.

(A point very often revealed by Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait. I mean, just look at these recent photographs of Jupiter!
And the recent Astronomy Cast episode on the finding of another possibly habitable-friendly planet!)