The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pulling the Triggers

"If someone tells me I've hurt their feelings, I say, 'I'm still waiting to hear what your point is.'" Christopher Hitchens

I don't like trigger warnings.

I know, this likely won't make me popular with all the large hairpieces of the no-god-having, leftie-leaning groups, but it's just a fact. I think they're bullshit and they're disempowering people, keeping them from actually dealing with their problems. I mean, look at this article from the New York Times in March talking about the subject of triggers, rape, and colleges. If people were "triggered" by this presentation/dialogue they could go to a set-up "safe space" described as follows:
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.
Sorry? I get that a small minority percentage of the audience might have to take a break and get their head out of the content for a minute, but what is with the childish nonsense? Play doh and bubbles? Are you serious? I thought colleges and universities were for young adults exploring ideas and learning about the world? Check out this quote from a person who made use of said "safe room":
“I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,”
Yeah, welcome to university. As Denis Leary once said, "I thought I was going to be the starting centre fielder for the Boston Red Socks. Life sucks, get a fucking helmet."

I'm sorry if I'm blunt and seemingly unsympathetic. I'm not unsympathetic at all. I teach first aid and CPR and recently at a course for a dental office we were going through the motions of CPR on the mannequins. We were obviously talking about doing the technique on people who present as dead - no heartbeat, no breathing - and that most of the people who have CPR done on them will, unfortunately, not make it. One of the attendees, I noticed, was welling up slightly with tears and certainly was not sharing in the occasional black humour that accompanies our presentation. At the conclusion, she quickly took her leave with moist eyes and a couple of the other office workers mentioned that she recently lost someone very close to her.

I feel for that woman. She experienced loss and had to face a short course that dealt with death in a very up-front way. She was "triggered", but she got through it and was professional about it, albeit understandably with difficulty. I would argue that the fact that she got through the class likely helped her deal with the loss.

The NYT article also makes the very valid point that:
“I don’t see how you can have a therapeutic space that’s also an intellectual space...”
and’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago.
The former quote shows the incompatibility of the concepts we're dealing with here. "Safe" spaces just don't do well with intellectual discourse. You are going to be challenged to provide evidence for your position and if you can't, your argument is going to be thrown out with very little ceremony. You feelings be damned.

The last four paragraphs illustrate just what backwards-thinking nonsense this sort of blanketing results in: college students feeling less "safe" than an artist whose comrades were gunned down in their workplace and who was traveling with (very necessary) bodyguards. I urge you to read the whole thing.

Greta Christina (who I admire greatly but disagree with on this topic) wrote an article supportive of trigger warnings in Free Inquiry magazine (FI) (volume 35) wherein she argues that if the reader was supportive of "spoiler alerts" for movies then you should logically be in favor of "trigger warnings". In the most recent issue of FI there is a rebuttal article by Kristine Harley which echoes many of my concerns when I read Christina's original piece.

One point made is the obvious and concerning growth of what can and does "trigger" people and what the ultimate goal is for these warnings:
...the goal of preventing any kind of “trauma” has replaced the reasonable goal of heading off PTSD-related episodes.
Note here that Harley states plainly that some trigger warnings are sensible and necessary to stop trauma victims from having an episode. However, Harley takes on Christina's main analogy thusly:
Triggering material, unlike spoilers, is so poorly defined that almost anything can be a trigger...Law students avoiding rape law in class neither resemble fans of The Empire Strikes Back who don’t want to know beforehand that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, nor do they “decide not to read [the material] on the bus to work.” They rather behave like the pharmacists who do not want to dispense birth control or the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
I remember listening to Penn Jillette talking on his podcast about an issue much like this. He recounted a story about him and Teller performing on stage at a theatre somewhere and one of the tricks they did was to have a large plexiglass tank, fill it with water with Teller inside, and then Teller would "drown" in it while attempting to escape. Very Penn & Teller.

A woman, during the gag, got up and left the theatre quickly. She was attended to in the lobby by an usher who asked if she was alright and if she needed anything. The woman told the usher that someone very close to her had recently drown and that she didn't know that was part of the show and it just hit a little too close to home. She couldn't stay and watch. The usher apologized and offered to refund her ticket and she refused because, she said, there was nothing wrong with the show, it was just that *she* couldn't stay because of her specific circumstance. She would go back into the show in a few minutes and all would be well. And, against all odds, it was. This woman may not have been ready to see a realistic, fake drowning at that point of her grief process, but she watched some of it. Eventually, that sort of thing won't bother her anymore and she will be able to see it for what it is: a stage gag. It brings up this point from the above article though:
According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided. A person who is trapped in an elevator during a power outage may panic and think she is going to die. That frightening experience can change neural connections in her amygdala, leading to an elevator phobia. If you want this woman to retain her fear for life, you should help her avoid elevators.
Let people face their fears/triggers. Slowly at first and then they will eventually get over them. The infantilization and coddling is doing no one any favours. To put a point on the quote, ensuring that any time discussion of elevators comes up Susan is told to go get some coffee so her ears won't hear the offending syllables will only make her irrational fear persist and her social anxiety worsen to the point of paralysis.

I'll end with this.
...(W)e should choose to react to our negative experiences with reason, logic, and evidence-based inquiry...As Isaac Asimov famously said, there is “no thumb to suck” in life, and to me these growing demands for an expected outcome are beginning to sound like prayers to a therapeutic god in a feel-good church of conformity.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Monk See, Monk Please Don't Do

A photo of a serene-looking, peaceful, orange-robed monk walking down a road in Southeast Asia somewhere. It's a picture that has ended up in the albums and picture files of thousands of travelers over the years. Much like Mother Theresa, these seemingly docile gentlemen can sometimes have an outward appearance that conflicts greatly with their actual beliefs and actions.

Monks in Burma are reacting more like our simian cousins than fellow humans with respect to the struggle of women in that country to have basic sex education and control of their lives. These are, obviously, extremist religious zealots who are trying to pass family planning laws to restrict the population growth of the Muslim community there because they are scared of a minority becoming a majority. Or they're just xenophobic. I'd put what little money I have (and I'd borrow a lot more) on the latter.

Funny story: There's no word for "vagina" in Burmese. Check this out -
The only “polite” term available for women who want or need to refer to that part of their anatomy translates as “woman’s body”
So, imagine being a woman with a health issue regarding that particular part of their anatomy and trying to describe it to a doctor, who also can't speak with any real precision.

Patient - "My body hurts."
Doctor - "Oh really? What seems to be the problem?"
Px - "Well, my body. My *lower* body. It hurts."
Dx - " it...uh.... Oh, I'm sorry, I'm getting an urgent page to go...over there."

There is a passage in that Guardian article that sort of sums up what this is about, so I'll just quote it in full here:
Garments that have come into close contact with a woman’s lower half, such as the traditional htamein (a wraparound skirt worn by most women in Myanmar) or underpants, are considered unclean, even after they have been washed. They are also believed to have the ability to rob men of their hpoun – a concept that could roughly be translated as “masculine power”.
Perhaps I'm juvenile (Ok, we don't really have to suppose), but it makes me laugh that clothing in close proximity to a woman's vagina is thought to rob men of something pronounced, "poon". Weird that ideas like this come from a religion, I know. It's so rare that thought-cages espousing on-going lives and beliefs in power-stealing clothing would promote discrimination against women and minorities. Hm. Must be a one-off.

If you have a second, the Akhaya Women are doing good work in Burma trying to get women autonomy over their bodies and some semblance of respect in society. Oh, and get a damn word for vagina...just please don't go with, "va-jayjay".

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Sunday, November 08, 2015

Little Red Whiny Christians

Seriously. Is there *anything* these whiny bitches won't complain about? Red Starbucks cups? Those assholes should feel lucky that we don't put up giant billboards educating people about how you stole pagan traditions to insert your favorite widdle invisible Sky Daddy into an already existing and well established ceremony about the solstice...which is a real thing that has actual bearing on how we lived our lives for thousands of years.

Whinging about fuckin' red Starbucks cups. Get a goddamn helmet.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Islam and the Future of Tolerance

I just finished reading the dialogue book by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, Islam and the Future of Tolerance and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's rare that reading a book brings the same interest that watching a debate will, but when the participants are both well-read, respectful of their partner in conversation, and willing to concede points made, it makes for a (not-surprising in this case) great page-turning.

Harris brings up one of the points he made previously in The End of Faith where he criticized moderate believers by stating, "One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one's own group are behaving like psychopaths." This is a point well-worth listening to and one that Nawaz also recognizes. Only a few pages later, Nawaz goes through his "circles of Muslim believers" that Harris tried in vain to explain to Ben Affleck on Bill Maher's show. The explanation is great and very helpful in showing the layers of ideology and what those involved actually want to achieve.

Another interesting tidbit that harkened back to Nawaz's previous book, Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism, was his explanation of the four elements of recruitment to an ideological extreme. Reading a former star recruiter tell the details of how he worked with these elements was intriguing.

Harris brings up the on-going problem of so-called "liberals" being sensitive to the point of extreme dishonesty and goes right to the brink of actually naming the people he refers to as, "the usual suspects". If you've listened Kyle Kulinski's interview of Harris (well worth the 2 hour time investment) you'll know exactly who he is talking about and why he is so (justifiably) testy. Harris also brings up a major issue with respect to internal reform within Islam, pointing out that moderation or interpretation of religious texts involves outside authority i.e. a source that originates from outside the "infallible" doctrines of the faith, which obviously would be a large problem for many devout Muslims (or any devout believer of any faith).

Nawaz makes a great point regarding the reasons for having the conversation at all, pointing out that for a person to blow themselves up as well as anyone - man, woman, child - in the surrounding area and believe that this is a good thing with a positive outcome for all killed, you would need to have 100% commitment and belief in your doctrine. If a conversation, "can seed even 1 percent doubt, we may stop that suicide bomber." To change Islam, however, he admits that, "(A) complete overhaul of cultural identity patterns and a reformed scriptural approach is required." That is asking a lot of the world's Muslim population, but it is doable.

Maajid Nawaz has, in my opinion, the line of the book where he states what should be the motto of all who attempt to have this sort of discussion in their own lives - privately or in public. "No idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity." Oftentimes, when a scientist is being interviewed, one of the last questions will be something along the lines of, "If you could correct one major misunderstanding about your profession or specialization, what would it be?" Well, with respect to atheists, we need a t-shirt slogan that shows we're not all (or even mostly) the snotty and condescending image so often portrayed in media; this one quotation, if things were right in the world, would be that t-shirt. Hell, I'll buy one right now.

This short, interesting book is well worth the read and if you haven't picked it up yet, you should.

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Monday, October 05, 2015

Update Type New Stuff

Wow. Look at this place. I miss it when I've been gone for so long. Blog still looks ok here, maybe I'll pop back and hang out for a little bit.

This chick blinded herself (though with the assistance of a "helpful" psychologist) to fulfill a lifelong desire to be disabled. I really have no comment on this except to think, fuck, there's a psychological disability where you're so *not* disabled that you want to be disabled. Weird.

The pope decided to meet with Kim Davis (if you don't know who Kim Davis is, you're awesome and we should hang out - you clearly have better things to do and that's where I'd like to be in life) and then almost immediately distanced himself from meeting with Kim Davis. We all know, however, just how committed to saving clumps of cells the Catholic church is because of Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the former "Mother" Theresa. She took in millions in donations - also the proceeds from criminal activity via the Duvaliers and Keating - and instead of spending that money on her "hospital", she forwarded it to the Vatican so they could fund the fight against women's rights, safe abortion access, and community health education. So let's not play like we're surprised that Francis met with this woman in Kentucky.

There was *another* mass shooting in the U.S. Dan Hodges, political commentator, said on Twitter, "In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over." Not much left to say after that. The truth just kind of stabs you in the chest and leaves the knife handle sticking out for all to see.

Donald Trump is in the U.S. GOP running for presidential candidate. There's really not a lot to comment on here, I just wanted a record of that statement on my blog for future laughs/weeping.

The insecure, wannabe bullies of the world, ISIS, destroyed the Arch of Triumph in the formerly protected UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra, Syria this past Sunday (October 4). They took control of the city in May, beheaded the antiquities expert, and then started blowing shit up. There really needs to be more money put into R&D to get one of those Charles Xavier world-wide mind control devices to we can just get into the heads of all these ISIS morons and cause them great pain anytime they even ponder the idea of destroying historical sites. These dickheads must be stopped. They are the Nazis of our time. We have to take them seriously and get rid of them.

In slightly happier news, the Nobel Prizes are being handed out again and William Campbell & Satoshi Omura were awarded the prize for medicine. They jointly developed the drug Avermectin which helps save people from River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis. Saving lives and being awesome - that's what scientists are about.

I need some breakfast. Eggs is on the menu. Come on over and I'll make something delicious to make your mouth water.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Medical Qi Gong = Marshmallow Foundations

Imagine you went to school to learn how to build houses. You went there and the instructors taught you about foundations, materials, framing, nailing patterns, sustainable and/or green technology, etc. There was along the way a little bit of weird talk about fringe stuff like making buildings out of "alternative materials" and how some people were amazing at doing it that way. Some instructors were all about those "alternatives".

Of course, no government would ever actually let you build a house out of these materials. It wouldn't be safe and it certainly wouldn't stand up to the test of weather and actual building stresses. The supporters of these "alternatives", however, were convinced that not only were the "alternates" safe, they were better than "conventional" materials. They argued that the governments were impinging on their "freedom" to use whatever building materials they chose; if they want to pour a house foundation of marshmallow, they should be able to because look at the amount of shock absorption it would have! It would be damn earthquake-proof!

Silly, right? The thing is, it's no more silly than what is being bandied about (and has been for decades) in medicine, particularly around the edges of health care. One major difference is that if you actually built a house foundation out of marshmallow, the building would not even get vertical. The failure would be so complete and catastrophic that denying it as anything else would be the ruining of anyone attempting such a ridiculous position.

For a "modality" like homeopathy, however, it gains an amount of fake credibility because the effects - or, more correctly, non-effects - are interpreted as the patient (or should I say, "victim"?) getting better. Nevermind that homeopathy has been repeatedly, to the point of nausea, been shown to be ineffective for any condition. Nevermind that the implausibility of the basic workings of homeopathy would render any further investigation moot. Nevermind that if even the most elemental principle of homeopathy were proven true a Nobel Prize in chemistry would be given and textbooks the world over would be rewritten. The fact remains that it sometimes looks like it is effective, so it's still on shelves and recommended by gullible health-care providers to their trusting patients.

For example, I work at a physiotherapy clinic doing massage therapy. Being an RMT (registered massage therapist) gets you invited to partake in loads of seminars for all sorts of wacky crap. One of the more recent emails I received was to see if I would like to take a "medical Qi Gong" course. If you're not sure what Qi Gong (aka Chi Kung) is, you're lucky, as it's one of the more pervasive and dumb forms of TCM or "traditional Chinese medicine". I use the word "medicine" very loosely there. Here is a video of an old news show purportedly showing a "chi master" demonstrating on his students:Obviously, this is silliness at its most egregious. Willing students not wanting to make their teacher look foolish, an American who has "studied hard martial arts" but can't get even the rudimentary pieces of a throw together, and dumbfounded giggling hosts make for an embarrassing spectacle.

Medical Qi Gong claims to use the so-called "energy" supposedly produced by these people to diagnose and treat sick people. It is pretty gross to think that seriously ill people can get taken in by parlour tricks, convinced to use them instead of actual medicine, and then get more sick or even die. Just ask Makayla Sault - oh, wait, you can't because she's dead due to leaving real medicine behind and using quack nonsense to try and treat cancer. I find it disgusting that a professional health organization in Canada is promoting fatuous crap as a way to "treat" sick and injured patients.

Here is a great explanation of how one particular "qi" or "chi" demonstration works: It is disheartening to read the comments (disappointing YouTube comments?! No way!), but believers will do what their name implies.

The burden of proof lies on the one making the claim - if Qi Gong is real and it can do all the stuff attributed to it, get some actual proof and go get you a Nobel Prize in physics. Please. That would be awesome.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Flu Babe

Way back in 2013, Vani Hari (aka the Food "Babe") decided to put her five cents worth of "research" into a post on whether or not you, dear reader, should get a flu shot. The results are exactly what you think they'd be if a seven year old asked their insane, conspiracy-theory-laden, drug-addled father about "chemicals".

Her post, cryptically titled, "Should I Get The Flu Shot?" is a disastrous mess of out-dated "arguments" against a well-established public-health measure. She begins with the completely fucked-out tactic of referring to those who get immunized as "lemmings":
This is why it is extremely important to understand the Flu Shot – I want you to think about what you are directly injecting into your bloodstream. Before you consider jumping off the ledge with other lemmings and taking this years Flu Shot
Hm, I wonder what her position is on this issue? If we told her the ingredients were organic and slathered in kale, I'm sure she'd line up around the damn block to get three.

Also, regarding the whole, "directly into your bloodstream" thing. If she took the same vast amounts of time to research her article that I did to write mine (approximately nine seconds), she may have come across page 9 of the CDC guidelines for vaccine administration where it says:
There are only two routinely recommended IM sites for administration of vaccines, the vastus lateralis muscle (anterolateral thigh) and the deltoid muscle (upper arm). Injection at these sites reduces the chance of involving neural or vascular structures. The site depends on the age of the individual and the degree of muscle development.
You'll note the attention to reducing the involvement of vascular structures, contrary to what Ms. Hari repeats in her article, "...the mainstream medical community, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies suggest that I directly inject these ingredients into my bloodstream? And I need do it every year until I die? Are you freaking kidding me?" No, we're not kidding. Oddly, you also need to ingest iron. I KNOW!! That same stuff that's in the railings on your goddamn stairs and in your CAR!

She of course drags out the old, "the flu shot doesn't protect us anyway" argument. I find it amusing when flippant shit-heads start wailing about how people who have to do actual complex science and math to predict what strain(s) of influenza will be here at flu season get it wrong. Not completely wrong, but wrong enough to reduce efficacy a tad. A degree of protection still exists and that will be enough to protect some vulnerable populations (the very young, very old, and immuno-compromised) from maximum morbidity & mortality. But, hey, why protect those people? Food "Babe" seems to think they're worth just letting go. And people say atheists are lacking in emotion....

Check this shit out:
Q: Why do I have to get a Flu Shot every year? Aren’t vaccines suppose to immunize you for life? A: They have to continuously give you a flu shot, because it is not a real vaccine.
Not a "real vaccine". C'mon, even Ernie knows this is bullshit! What are you sellin' over there, lady?

More equine excrement:
"...(W)hy do I need to get another shot if I got one last year? This is the way the pharmaceutical companies continue to make money off of you – The CDC says it “wears off.” And this brings me back to my previous point – if the flu vaccine were truly a vaccine – it wouldn’t wear off. Think about it – Once you get chicken pox as a child, your body develops antibodies to strengthen your immune system from ever getting chicken pox again.
Ok, for the thousandth time - pharmaceutical companies don't really make a lot of money from vaccines. They make their money off of the drugs you take two, three, four times a day like heart meds, liver meds, blood pressure meds, and, of course, boner pills. Medication you take once a year doesn't really add that much to your bottom line...but, I guess math isn't her strong point. Numbers are made of chemicals, don'tcha know.
Why does every drug store have a sign up promoting the shot? Why are shots available at work? And at school? Why is their so much propaganda each year around this time? There is only one answer – Money.
It has to be money, eh? Couldn't be that the medical community and health professionals are trying to quell the 250,000-500,000 deaths worldwide every year because of influenza and its associated problems. Why fix that?

She questions why pregnant women, children, and the elderly are supposed to get the vaccine and then drops a steaming pile of shit as reasons. Instead of me just swearing more and perhaps feeling my rising pulse behind my eyeballs, I'll point you at Mark Crislip's Science Based Medicine post where he brings a large can opener, cracks several cylindrical containers of Industrial Strength WhoopAss, and pours them all over this post. It's really a thing of beauty.
Australia banned the flu shot for all children under 5 last year when 250 children were hospitalized and one died after receiving the vaccine. Finland and Sweden also banned the shots and opened up an investigation last year. Don’t you wonder why this didn’t make major news here in the United States?
Right, that did happen and it sucked. But what was the end result? Scientists (not fake-expert, fearmongering, hype-machines) figured out what to do and put precautionary measures in place to protect the vulnerable populations. You didn't hear about it in the U.S. because you probably don't pay attention to Australian news regularly - I certainly don't.

Finally, the gem of the whole article. Please, bask in the logic pool that the Food "Babe" lays before you:
Q: Can I immunize myself naturally from the Flu? A: Yes! You can build lifetime antibodies against the infection. Just Skip the vaccine, boost your vitamin D intake, and encounter the flu naturally. If you encounter the flu – rest, take care of yourself, understand that your body needs a break and focus on getting better...
So, you can immunize yourself from influenza by being infected with influenza. That's like saying you can protect yourself from a vampire invasion by going to the nearest vampire bar, walking in, and yelling insults at the fanged crowd.

What scientists would say is, hey, let's capture a vampire and beat the shit out of him, then let him stagger into the town square at high noon. Everyone in the town would see him, realize that there are vampires afoot, and set to making wooden stakes post haste. The whole town would be equipped to face off with an army of night-dwellers. See the difference? Careful thought leading to practical preparation versus brainless wandering in the dark coupled with over-confidence with your abilities leading to a lot of death and misery.

I also absolutely love that she signs off with this:
I am not “anti-vaccination”, I choose not to take the flu shot for the ingredients they contain as stated above.
In other words: "I'm not anti-library, I just choose to not read all those fancy-big-wordin' books because chemicals. Dirty filthy CHEMICALS!!"

In conclusion.

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