COVID: Claims of Africa Information Suppression?

The Claim

Anti-vax folks I know shared an article with me from The Daily Reckoning, written by James Rickards. In this article, Rickards claims:

One of the reasons the per capita rate of infection and fatality in Sub-Saharan Africa has been so much lower than was expected at the start of the pandemic is because Africans routinely take hydroxychloroquine to prevent malaria.

Hydroxychloroquine is cheap and safe and seems to have excellent prophylactic properties against the COVID virus. Likewise, the drug Ivermectin, which is also cheap and safe, has had fantastic results in helping to mitigate a severe outbreak of the Delta variant of the virus in India…

Why have you not heard more about the role of hydroxychloroquine in Africa? Why have you not heard more about the role of Ivermectin in India? Why are both drugs not being more widely utilized to fight COVID?…

The answer is that Big Tech and Big Media have banned any discussion…

Is this true? What does a basic investigation turn up?

[Read more…]

Church of Conspiracy: the Fauci Patents

As many have experienced, the COVID disinformation engine has jumped the shark. It has become nearly impossible to talk to friends and relatives about medicine and science. Those categories have been replaced with the mislabeling of “politics,” which is bizarre when the state of scientific knowledge remains unchanged whether we are standing among Democrats and Republicans in the US, or in a completely different political landscape in Europe or Asia. I’ve tried to engage and generally met with failure. The experience has been oddly similar to interfacing with young-earth creationists. The disinformation crowd has gone full fundamentalist, mingling misunderstanding with belligerence and brimstone.

This article is an adaptation from an email I sent to some of the anti-vaxxers I know. That dialogue has been long and unhappy, and it has since lapsed. But I was encouraged by others to post some of the content (of which there is a great deal), in the hopes that it might help a reader or two. I’m not sure how much energy I will assign to this effort, but at the least, I’ll put forward this installment…

[Read more…]

Solution to Every Human Problem

There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.

H. L. Mencken

Twitter Rage Antidote, by Sagan

I recently perused a relative’s Twitter feed, surveying the particular brand of rage that seems to fuel his worldview. And more recently still, I saw an interview with a professor who does research on the addictive nature of outrage, and how the anger products being offered online come to create a junkie-itch in their audiences. Rage becomes a need and a want. There are so many for whom this engine of corrosion is a financial boon. People have their anger because it is profitable to a particular industry. I wish there was more that bystanders could do to help their family and friends. Because the outrage and malice out there points ever more strongly toward growing division, decay, violence, and conflagration.

As a possible antidote, I offer the poignant observations by Carl Sagan as relayed in the video below, penned long before there was such a thing as Twitter. The context for his words is described on Wikipedia:

Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles)…

In the photograph, Earth’s apparent size is less than a pixel; the planet appears as a tiny dot against the vastness of space, among bands of sunlight reflected by the camera…

Voyager 1, which had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and take one last photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space, at the request of astronomer and author Carl Sagan.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot

Original Image:

Justifiable Belief

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

~ William Kingdon Clifford, 1877

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kingdon_Clifford

Taking Easter Seriously, an Infographic

It is that time of year again, and so I am reposting the popular “Taking Easter Seriously” infographic.

Many Christians read the Easter stories year upon year, as I did for several decades, yet we never compare them in detail. As a consequence, we often do not realize that they are not telling the same story. There are indeed contradictions in the texts, but it is very important to move beyond “mere contradiction” — the issues with the gospels are far more extensive than that. Comparison against the historical record and assessing the gospels for trends of legend development are probably far more crucial. As with many non-believers, I left Christianity specifically because of the Bible, and because I considered and examined its content very seriously indeed.

Perhaps it is time for more Christians to take the Bible and our Easter stories seriously.

[Click Image for Full Size Version (PNG), Use Ctrl+ and Ctrl- to adjust zoom.] or [PDF Version ]  or [Greek Version]

I am indebted to scholars like Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg, Richard Carrier, and many others, without whom I would no doubt continue in my own past failures to take Easter seriously. And as always, I look to improve the accuracy of my work wherever possible. Please reply with any factual errors found, and I will correct appropriately. Thanks.

Also See: Infographic for New Testament Timeline

(C) Copyright 2015, JerichoBrisance.com

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

[In other words, feel free to pass along, distribute, etc., just don’t repackage it and sell it. Thanks!]

 

~

References: [Read more…]

Is Science Hard on God?

I had an long interchange with a recent visitor about climate change, and I have excerpted one part of that dialogue here (edited, enhanced, and slightly expanded for clarity). Science and math nerds: I’m taking liberties with the use of the word “proof” for accessibility reasons.

The Objection

The following basic objection was raised:

Science has spent years trying to prove the nonexistence of god. If god doesn’t exist, there is no need to try to prove he doesn’t…

My Response

There really isn’t a science journal out there dedicated to the field of disproving god. Nor does science in principle disprove the existence of anything. Science has the opposite bias. The positive claimant bears the burden of proof. If you claim the existence of a deity, the proof must come from you. Just to make sure this isn’t missed, and to underscore how baked in the burdens of proof are, consider this scenario…

You have lost your car keys. You think about where they could be. You conjure several possible explanations.

  1. They fell into the couch cushions.
  2. They are in your jacket pocket, hanging in the closet.
  3. They fell out in the parking lot and are on the ground by your car.
  4. Your neighbor took them from your counter top when he visited last.
  5. Aliens stole them.
[Read more…]

Third World of Texas

I sit in the dark, in my house, where we have been isolating since March of 2020 due to the pandemic. I look out over a six inch blanket of snow, in a city that rarely sees a single inch. We are now without water and mobile phone communication. The heat has held where we are. Power has been intermittent, but better than elsewhere. We had food reserves set aside and some firewood. My old generator failed to turn over and appears to be dead. Roads are closed and traffic cannot move. Highways are lined with stalled vehicles. Stores are shuttered. Supply trucks are largely not moving. And in what has become a chronic feature of daily reality, schools have all shut down, yet again.

My son is away at college, a few hundred miles from here in a neighboring city, and they have cut off power and water in the dorms. Food appears to be running out. No one really knows when any of it will come back. We try to troubleshoot his situation over failing mobile phone connections, to help him somehow get food and water without becoming stranded.

My wife’s brother lives in our city, and after 48 hours with no heat, his indoor temperature had fallen to 26 degrees. My own brother, steeled by years of far-north driving, braved the roads in the middle of the night, crossing the city to extract him. He was dropped at a house that still had heat — but they have now lost power and are relying on what firewood remains.

We and our neighbors have been left to vigilantly scan the local news, looking for early warnings of what services may fail next. And when they might be restored. This bleak preoccupation is necessary, so that we can perform the mental calculus of contingency planning, and so we can ration what remains.

This is the city of Austin, in the third world country of Texas, USA, in the year 2021.

I am tired, just being honest. Tired of living in crisis. Tired of living in a first world country that meets every crisis with third world performance. Tired of explaining to my overseas clients why the US appears so incompetent at everything.

[Read more…]

When Team Loyalty Skews Moral Logic

Two ships in a harbor, one in the distance. On board, men stripped to the waist and wearing feathers in their hair throw crates of tea overboard. A large crowd, mostly men, stands on the dock, waving hats and cheering. A few people wave their hats from windows in a nearby building.

It is interesting to ask Americans whether they think the Boston Tea Party was a morally acceptable act. This was a polarizing question for the contemporaries of the time — Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin had starkly opposing views. For those who may not recall the details, the Wikipedia entry makes good reading. It was an act of high-dollar, coordinated, mob-driven vandalism, conducted by citizens dressed up like minorities/indigenous peoples. But because they were Americans (i.e., the home team), and because of their politics, many of my countrymen give this bit of anarchy a pass, and indeed hail the Tea Partiers as heroes to be emulated.

[Read more…]

Hemingway on Fascism

He remains one of my favorite authors, now made a prophet.

“But are there not many fascists in your country?”


“There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the times comes.”

― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Jesus & Insurrection, and Why Some Christians Struggle with Right & Wrong

Martyr, or Insurrectionist?

I know Christian conservatives right now who cannot, at least for the moment, seem to find the right side of the Capitol riot that occurred on January 6th. One relative has posted a video lionizing the woman who was shot and killed, painting her as a martyr — an unarmed protestor, slain without cause. It is not hard to find information about the victim, or to discover what she did or why she was doing it. Her Twitter feed made her motives clear:

Less than a day before she joined the Trump loyalist protest, Babbitt, an avowed and public Trump supporter as well as a subscriber to a number of alt-right conspiracy theories, had vowed the insurrectionist movement could never be halted. “Nothing will stop us … they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours … dark to light!” she wrote on Twitter.

~ The Guardian

The circumstances of her death have also been reported upon (same article):

Babbitt, 35, was reportedly shot as she and other rioters tried to break through a barricaded door in the building where Capitol police officers were armed on the other side.

A video of the incident is here.

No doubt we will find more details emerging over time, but at present, this woman does not appear to be a good candidate for sainthood. She was killed while taking part in a violent insurrection, which is the most serious of criminal acts.

[Read more…]

Disavowal Day – for My Still-Trumper Friends and Family

Trump supporters storm US Capitol

Hopes and Fears of 2016

I have friends and family members who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. There were a range of assumptions behind their various ballot choices. Some felt he would be good for business. Others that he would gain them ground in the courts. Some believed he was brilliant, playing three-dimensional chess at a level not understood by the press or the government apparatus.

Because I spend quite a bit of time studying history, and because I listened carefully to what Trump said, I believed he had the makings and the yearnings of an autocrat. In my profession, I’ve known and worked with too many actual geniuses to arrive at the miscalibrated conclusion that Trump was even close. And I was born and raised in a household of political extremism, conspiracy theorizing, and firearms fanaticism, so I’ve never had any illusions about the cult following that was drawn to his banner.

[Read more…]

Democrats Usually Win Pennsylvania, Darlings

Pennsylvania State Shape Sticker Outline WHITE | State shapes, Medication  for dogs, States

As this bizarre election winds on unending, I do begin to wonder at people’s memory. Middle age and even older citizens act as though they never witnessed an election before. Many seem to have forgotten what calling an election actually means, and all manner of misconceptions are being attached to the phrase. They seem to have no recollection that mail ballots are not a recent invention, and that methods for securely vetting them have been with us for some time. But one of the starker blips of recall regards Pennsylvania.

Democrats usually win PA, darlings.

That phrase Blue Wall seems rather permanent, doesn’t it? It has the catchy sort of jingle that is meant to conjure immovability, steadfastness, etc. It was derived from what seemed an unwavering truth… What was it ? That Democrats always win certain states, and among them is PA. Its 30 year history:

[Read more…]

Exponentials

Exponential functions are routinely underestimated, and coronavirus seems poised to instruct. She appears to have found another gear. Rather, she, like all exponential functions, does not operate based on gears at all. They grow larger based upon their current size. The larger the size, the faster the growth. There is no intrinsic upper limit. That sentence bears a second reading, because we seem not to have learned it.

The difficult part about watching this is that we actually could do something about it. It does not have to play out in this way. Most countries have done better, and some have done far better. But in America, we are experiencing a tyranny of the incompetent. The daily care exercised by many is nulled out by the indiscretions of the witless.

Growth functions like this one are conditional. Its movement reflects our decisions. The history of coronavirus in America is a measurement of collective action, not inexorable fate. Coronavirus is not an asteroid. We cannot chalk it up as a no-fault collision. Rather, this is the tale of a soccer team repeatedly kicking the ball into their own goal.

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

The 2020 Voting Experience in Texas

We went to early voting this morning, and this being 2020, it was more of a journey than a mere item on the checklist. Reports have surfaced from around the country of people standing in long lines for many hours, so we decided to be prepared.

We went in a small group — my wife and I, my eldest son, and my brother and sister in law — so that any long wait would at least entail company and conversation. Polling locations in Austin are fewer than last year, and our normal venue was not active. The nearest polling spot was perhaps a 20 minute drive from our house. Expecting long lines outdoors, we took two or three camp chairs. And we were determined not to let this eat our entire day, so we rose early. We left around 625AM and arrived before the polls opened, around 645AM.

We rolled in to the parking lot and saw the promised lines already winding around the building. Here is the pre-dawn image of the line, with the actual poll about 50-60 yards to the left, and the line receding into the darkness on the right:

Turns out the line went much further, wrapping behind a grocery store…

[Read more…]

Tolstoy’s Warriors

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.

~ Leo Tolstoy

Gravity Applies

People like to talk about the power of believing. Mind over matter. Their faith in whatnot. Alternative medicine. Woo-woo of every brand.

As the news of Trump’s coronavirus infection this morning conveys, there are immutables in this world, beyond the reach of human narrative.

[Read more…]

Evidence-Free Zone: Nonsense Claims about Superiority of US Coronavirus Response

The following image shows per-capita coronavirus case counts for the US, Canada and Mexico. These per-capita rates are proportional to population size. This image was obtained from the Weather Channel mapping utility on September 27, 2020.

Let’s juxtapose that map against a few claims over the past month by Trump (here and here):

We’ve done a great job in Covid but we don’t get the credit. (August 31)

We’ve possibly done the best job.” (September 10)

[Read more…]

Working Definition of Faith-Based Claims, for Religion, Politics, and Life

Working Definition

Faith-based claims are more frequent and pervasive than most people think. Most people probably connect this phrase with religion, but I believe this is too limiting. Faith-based thinking is a method of thought, an algorithm for truth claims, and humans apply this algorithm well beyond the fence-line of religion. As a prelude to subsequent posts on a few topics, I’m going to propose a working definition for faith-based claims. Working definitions should be simple, and I propose the following two characteristics:

  1. Faith-based claims are grounded in belief without proof and/or sufficient evidence.
  2. Faith-based claims are not open to revision based on contrary evidence.

To qualify, a truth claim or assertion must contain both aspects. Hypotheses in science satisfy Condition 1, because they are guesses ahead of conclusive evidence; but they are tentative and discarded if they fail to survive experimental testing; thus they do not satisfy Condition 2. Much of of our working knowledge in life functions in a similar way. We may or may not know much about the evidence behind a lot of what we are taught or learn. There is nothing wrong with that. But if those views are held dogmatically for any reason, and we are closed to revision, they function as faith-based claims about the world. [Read more…]

Hitch-ing the Supreme Court

The situation with the Supreme Court in the United States has caused no end of commentary, hand wringing, and gloating along different points of the political spectrum. It all reminded me of a Hitchens quote that boiled things down to the ugly little stone sitting at the bottom of the pot. But first, a bit of context.

[Read more…]
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