Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The CarnivAOL's in town

   The fourteenth edition of CarnivAOL has been published at the CarnivAOL journal. Check it out, why don't you?


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My God, it's full of polls.

   Another poll for your fun and edification. Or mine. Or something.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Serial delusions

   The results of my poll about homeopathic medicine were very close to an even split between those who think there might be something to it, and those who think it's nonsense. It was pretty much as I expected, with the only difference being that I thought more people would weigh in on the side of homeopathy than against it.
   The purpose of the poll was to test a theory of mine. Well, it's not really a theory,
as theories are defined. More like a hypothesis. Well, really, it's just a supposition.

   I suspect that many people who are willing to allow that there might be something to the claims of efficacy of homeopathic remedies have never really heard a good, clear explanation of exactly what homeopathic remedies are.

I would like to attempt to make this that clear explanation.

   The page explaining Homeopathic medicine that I linked to from my previous entry was that of the Toronto School of Homeopathy. They provide a basic explanation of the practice they teach:
...there [are] two ways of treating ill health, the way of opposites and the way of similars.

Take, for example, a case of insomnia. The way of opposites is to treat this by giving a drug to bring on an artificial sleep. This frequently involves the use of large or regular doses of drugs which can sometimes cause side-effects or addiction.

The way of similars - the homeopathic way - is to give the patient a minute dose of a substance which in large doses caused sleeplessness in a healthy person. Surprisingly this will enable the patient to sleep naturally. Because of the minute dosage no side-effects or addiction will result...
   This explanation is a little light on detail, but it does mention the two most important foundations of homeopathic medicine. The theory of similars, and the concept of minute doses. Remember those two things as our story moves along.

OK, here we go.

   Once upon a time, in a far off land, there lived a man named Samuel Hahnemann. Well, actually, the time was the end of the eighteenth century, and the land was Germany. Mr Hahnemann was a doctor, and he had a problem. His patients kept dying.
   Now don't think I'm trying in any way to impugn Dr. Hahnemann's reputation as a physician. He was an unfortunate victim of his era. People who got sick in the eighteenth century died. A lot. We are talking about a time when one of a doctor's most sophisticated treatments consisted of making a big cut in his patient, and letting the blood run out for a while.
   In fact, I believe that Dr. Hahnemann deserves a lot of credit. Unhappy with his lot...well, the lot of his patients, anyway, he was searching for more effective ways of treating them. One day, while he was working on a little side job he had picked up translating English medical papers to German, he came across a description of a native Peruvian remedy that was being used, with some success, in the treatment of malaria. The treatment consisted of an infusion brewed from the bark of a tree common to South America, called Cinchona.
   Now, you might think of malaria as being a disease of the tropics, but at that time in Europe, it was a considerable problem. Hahnemann was eager to learn more about a potential new way to help his community. He undertook to experiment with this new remedy he had read about.
   Uncomfortable with the idea of experimenting on his patients, Sam tried taking doses of the concoction himself, and found he suffered drowsiness, heart palpitations, trembling, weakness, thirst, and redness of his cheeks. The symptoms would last for several hours, and then subside. 
   Hahnemann believed that he was experiencing malarial symptoms, and made a sudden, intuitive leap. He came to the conclusion that substances that cure a disease in someone who is ill, would cause symptoms of that disease in someone who is healthy. Conversely, he thought, if he could discover substances that caused the symptoms of other diseases in healthy people, those substances would cure people who were afflicted with those diseases. The idea was that "like cures like." This is his law of similars.

   How the concept of minute doses came about is less clear. One article I read suggested that Hahnemann was dismayed to find that his homeopathic remedies did, indeed, cause unwanted, harmful reactions in his patients, and so diluted those remedies until the harmful effects stopped presenting, but I was unable to verify that account elsewhere, and it may be apocryphal.
   Whatever the reason, the fact is that Hahnemann began diluting his remedies in extreme ways. The following account of his dilution practices is from an
article written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 1842.
A grain of the substance, if it is solid, a drop if it is liquid, is to be added to about a third part of one hundred grains of sugar of milk in an unglazed porcelain capsule which has had the polish removed from the lower part of its cavity by rubbing it with wet sand; they are to be mingled for an instant with a bone or horn spatula, and then rubbed together for six minutes; then the mass is to be scraped together from the mortar and pestle, which is to take four minutes; then to be again rubbed for six minutes. Four minutes are then to be devoted to scraping the powder into a heap, and the second third of the hundred grains of sugar of milk to be added. Then they are to be stirred an instant and rubbed six minutes, again to be scraped together four minutes and forcibly rubbed six; once more scraped together for four minutes, when the last third of the hundred grains of sugar of milk is to be added and mingled by stirring with the spatula; six minutes of forcible rubbing, four of scraping together, and six more (positively the last six) of rubbing, finish this part of the process.

Every grain of this powder contains the hundredth of a grain of the medicinal substance mingled with the sugar of milk. If, therefore, a grain of the powder just prepared is mingled with another hundred grains of sugar of milk, and the process just described repeated, we shall have a powder of which every grain contains the hundredth of the hundredth, or the ten thousandth part of a' grain of the medicinal substance. Repeat the same process with the same quantity of fresh sugar of milk, and every grain of your powder will contain the millionth of a grain of the medicinal substance. When the powder is of this strength, it is ready to employ in the further solutions and dilutions to be made use of in practice.

A grain of the powder is to be taken, a hundred drops of alcohol are to be poured on it, the vial is to be slowly turned for a few minutes, until the powder is dissolved, and two shakes are to be given to it. On this point I will quote Hahnemann's own words. "A long experience and multiplied observations upon the sick lead me within the last few years to prefer giving only two shakes to medicinal liquids, whereas I formerly used to give ten." The process of dilution is carried on in the same way as the attenuation of the powder was done; each successive dilution with alcohol reducing the medicine to a hundredth part of the quantity of that which preceded it. In this way the dilution of the original millionth of a grain of medicine contained in the grain of powder operated on is carried successively to the billionth, trillionth, quadrillionth, quintillionth, and very often much higher fractional divisions...
   I see, at this point, that you are skeptical. You are asking, "do you really want me to believe that homeopathic remedies have been diluted out to concentrations as low as one part per million, or more?"
   Well, yes, I do. Those are the facts of the matter. This afternoon, I took a little jaunt over to our local monster-mega-ultra-super-store, and had a look at their homeopathic medicine section. It took me a while to find it, as it was nowhere near the pharmacy. They had an impressive selection of remedies, all of them available in 6C and 30C dilutions.
   Let me explain those terms. Levels of dilution in homeopathy are represented by a number, and a letter. The number represent the number of serial dilutions a substance has undergone, and the letter represents the amount of each dilution. The letter 'X' represent a dilution in which one part of a solution is combined with nine parts of solvent, for a one-in-ten dilution. The letter 'C' a one-in-one hundred dilution.
   So, in the case of the above mentioned remedies, the term 6C means that one part of an original substance, or 'mother tincture' was diluted into 99 parts of solvent (either water or an alcohol solution). One part of the resulting mixture is then diluted into another 99 parts of solvent, creating a solution in which the original substance is present at a concentration of one part per ten thousand. This is a 2C solution. The same process is then repeated four more times, to produce a 6C dilution, in which the original substance now represents a mere one part per trillion.

   Let's pause for a minute, and think about what that means. How big is one milliliter of a liquid? Say about the size of a cube of sugar. How big is one trillion milliliters? Take a football field. Extend its width until it is as wide as it is long. Build walls around it that are as high as it is wide and long. You now have a huge cube measuring approximately one hundred meters a side. Fill it with water.  Add your sugar cube of the original substance. Stir. That is the equivalent of a 6C dilution.
   Now, take a bottle of simple sugar pills. Touch each pill with the merest fraction of a drop of that solution, and you have homeopathic medicine.
   Remember I said the remedies were also available in a 30C dilution? That represents a concentration of the original mother tincture of 1 part per 1x10 raised to the 59th power. That's a one followed by sixty zeros. To use a similar analogy as we did for the 6C dilution,, picture... No, I can't picture it.

   Sorry, I had to take a break there. I was having difficulty wrapping my head around the numbers involved in these serial dilutions. Unable to come up with an analogy to describe the 30C dilution, I went to my friend, fv, for help. Vinny, who has a university science degree sent me back this:

Take a grain of rice. Cut it in half. Cut it in half again. That is the amount of your original solution.

Now, take the distance from where you live to the south pole. Now think about the distance around the earth. Now think about the distance from the earth to the sun. Ok, now think about the distance from the sun to Pluto. Pretty big, huh? Ok, now think about the distance from here to the nearest star. It takes light 4.3 years (light that came from our sun when Bush was re-elected will reach that star 4 months after he leaves office) to reach that star, Proxima Centauri.

Got that? Ok now imagine a cube with each side the length of that distance. I am going to hide that crumb of rice in that cube. Try to find it...

   Wow. Big concepts. Hard to really imagine numbers that big. Here's another interesting fact. At about the 12C point in the dilution process, it becomes extremely unlikely that even one single molecule of the original medicinal ingredient still remains in the solution. At 30C it is a virtual certainty that the remedy is now comprised of 100% solvent. And yet, homeopathic practitioners maintain that it retains it's efficacy due to something they call potentisation.
   Scroll back up to that quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes. Yes, I know. It's a long way back. This is the part I want you to remember:
the powder is dissolved, and two shakes are to be given to it.
   Those shakes are important. They are what is referred to as succussion. In between each step of the dilution process, Hahnemann would succuss the solution by shaking the vial, or tapping it upon a hard but elastic surface, like the leather cover of a book. He believed that this process of succussion 'potentised' or energised the solution, counteracting the effects of the dilution. Nowhere can I find an explanation of why the succussion would retain the beneficial properties of a remedy, but not the harmful ones the dilutions were undertaken to remove.
This web page has a series of quotations referring to the practice of succussion as Hahnemann conceived of it. An example:
In the Organon, however, he stated that trituration and succussion release the ‘spirit-like power’ of the medicine - which is compatible with his assumption that medicines act through their spiritual (geistlich) or dynamic impact upon the organism.
   Here we have the basic underlying concept behind the origin of homeopathy. Samuel Hahnemann believed there was some kind of magic force acting upon the remedies he was preparing keeping them potent even after he had diluted any trace of the original ingredient out of them.
   At this point, I have to pause once more and ask you a question. Does any of this make any sense whatsoever? If you are a die hard adherent to the practice of homeopathic medicine, your answer is that is doesn't matter if it makes sense, as long as it works. Right? What do you have to say about that? Huh?
   <Best John Wayne Drawl>Well, I'll tell ya.</John Wayne> I don't have to say much at all. I'll simply let the headlines speak for me. Here is a news report detailing the results of the latest and largest clinical study of homeopathy: Homeopathy no better then placebo, says study. So, beyond the fact that it sounds silly, it just plain doesn't work.
   This is the end of my story. If you would be so good as to vote again in a poll, I would like to know how many of you, whether you believe(d) in homeopathic medicine or not, knew exactly what it was before you read this entry, and whether your opinion has changed at all.

And once more, if you would be so kind...

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Thursday, May 25, 2006


Banner ads go international

Now all you guys who were pissed off at me for speaking up about a situation that didn't affect me can come by, point, and laugh.

Some Thursday thoughts

   Apparently, today is towel day. Are you a hoopy frood?

   Apparently, the world is going to end today. I'm wondering if the guy deliberately chose towel day for this prediction, or if that's just delicious irony.

   Please check out the latest edition of The Skeptics' Circle at Skeptico. There can be only one!

   Please check out CarnivAOL. It's time for me to solicit entries from the AOL and AIM blogging communities for next week's edition.

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Please tell me your opinion.

   Here's a little poll for you. I'd like to get your opinion on the practice of Homeopathic medicine. In this case, I would like you to focus only on this particular practice. Don't take into account your feelings on Naturopathic medicine, accupuncture, reflexology, or any other complementary and alternative medicine. I got the poll started with my vote.

To those who have asked, bunk means:
1) A narrow bed built like a shelf into or against a wall, as in a ship's cabin.
Oops, wait.
2) Empty talk; nonsense.
There, that's better.

   Yes, I realise that this poll is an example of a false dilemma. There may be more than two possible views held on this topic. For the sake of argument, if you believe that there might be something beyond the roll of placebo to some part of the practice of Homeopathy, vote 'not bunk.'



'American Idol' '06: Who Has the Winning Stars?

Alabama soul man crowned American Idol


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A couple of Wednesday thoughts

   At some point in the last several hours, my counter passed 20,000. That's 20,000 unique visitors, as opposed to individual page loads, which is what AOL's counters measure. If I still had my AOL counter up, it would probably read about 25,000.
   So, thanks to those of you who come by regularly to read what I have to say. I appreciate the ego stroking.

   This morning, I left the house at 6:00am, and drove two hours to Belleville, Ontario, to attend at The County of Hastings traffic court regarding
my indiscretion of several months ago. After a two hour drive, I waited patiently for the Provicial Offences Office to open, so I could speak to the prosecutor before court started.
   In view of my previous clean record, and the fact that I asked nicely, he agreed to reduce the infraction by one level, from 118km/h to 109km/h in an 80km/h zone. This reduced the number of demerit points from four to three, and the fine from $283.00 to $160.50. Now I just have to hope that my insurance company doesn't decide to randomly check my record for the next two years.

   On the way out of town after my court date, I noticed that some vandals had defaced the shaped gardens that spell out the town name on the hill beside the Highway 401. They had removed the upper and lower cross pieces from the first letter, transforming it from a 'B' to an 'H'. When the flowers grow in, they will colourfully spell out "Welcome to HELLEVILLE."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

absolutely nothing

   There is a new journal on my blogroll. I found it today via a link from someone else. The Cosmic Water Cooler, I think. It's called The Medicine Box, and this post might be a good introduction. A snippet:
The Bible
The Bible was written by God as a merchandising tie-in to His blockbuster film "The Ten Commandments." Each book of the Bible is named after a person who features prominently in it, for example, the Book of Numbers, which is named after Herschel Numbers, who invented numerals. The Bible was so successful that God wrote a sequel, "Bible II: On to Rome," now generally called "The New Testament." Protestants believe the Bible is literal and exactly true in every detail except the description of the Eucharist, while Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible.


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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mini Wheats and TV

   The other day I was watching the morning show on one of our local television stations. Their on-location feature that morning took place at a clinic specializing in Naturopathic and Homeopathic "medicine." I noticed a couple of humorous things during the several segments.

1) Absolutely everything they talked about was labelled "high tech," or "cutting edge." In one segment, the practitioner mentioned their "holistic" approach to health care, and their "cutting edge" techniques, and went on to explain to the woman reporter how to go about doing a tradition breast exam. What's cutting edge about that?

2) At one point, they were taking questions that had been e-mailed in by viewers. One wanted to know if the "doctors" there had any recommendations for the treatment and control of psoriasis. The practitioner took a jar of something he called "essential fatty acids" off the shelf, and pronounced it as the absolute best thing available for the treatment of psoriasis. This, in itself, was not necessarily suspect, although I am prone to distrust any health care provider that just happens to sell the product he recommends to treat the condition he has diagnosed. However, the very next question was about Attention Deficit Disorder. The answer? You guessed it: essential fatty acids.
   Now my scam radar is starting to blip. The remedy that he sells is the best thing for both of these randomly suggested ailments? Sure, it's possible, but I'm skeptical. A little bit of googling, and I find articles online that say there is no clinical evidence to suggest any food related or natural remedies are efficacious in the treatment of ADHD. In fact, several providers of natural remedies for ADD and ADHD featuring essential fatty acids have been ordered by the courts to cease and desist from making unsubstantiated claims.
   Now, does that mean that EFAs are useless for all health problems? Of course not. However, it does give me pause when considering whether or not to consult with this person who calls themselves a "medical professional."

3) Several patients of the clinic were interviewed on camera. One woman said she had been complaining of poor sleeping, and chronic stomach aches. When asked, she agreed that she was feeling much better now. And here's the kicker: when the interviewer asked, "what was the problem," she was greeted by a completely blank stare. The woman had absolutely no idea what condition they had treated her for. The "doctor" had to jump in and rescue her with another practised speech on how they treat the whole body instead of just the symptoms.
   Unfortunately, there was no hiding it. The practitioners at the clinic had not given the woman any diagnosis. They prescribed something for her without telling her why. And she took it. Any guesses what it was? I have no idea, but I'll make a stab. I'm thinking Essential Fatty Acids.

4) The interviewer, who admitted to the viewers that she was a regular patient at this clinic, was eating it all up. She was obviously a believer in everything they had to say, and eager to help promote their therapies. A little bit too eager, perhaps.
   At one point they were talking with the naturopathic "doctor" and a patient. When the patient described his or her complaint, the interviewer asked if the practitioner was going to prescribe a homeopathic remedy. The "doctor" totally ignored her, and moved the conversation in a different direction immediately. He didn't even acknowledge the question. Even though the clinic was advertised as being both naturopathic and homeopathic, he clearly did not want to address the concept of homeopathy on the air. And, really, can you blame him?


Friday, May 19, 2006

It says, "untitled"

   Wow, what a lemon head! I published the baker's dozenth edition of CarnivAOL this past Tuesday, and neglected to mention it here. Go read the entries that were submitted this week, and consider submitting one of your entries next week. Click here for "The Rules."

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Damn it, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a (insert your profession here).

   I'm probably way late to the party with this, but I only found it last night. The American TV channel G4 has recently accquired broadcast rights to Star Trek:The Original Series. Along with showing episodes five nights a week, they have an online, interactive portal called Trek2.0, where fans can enter contests, chat, learn Trek Trivia, and play interactive games. To promote Trek2.0, they have run a series of animated ads using Star Trek figurines (or maybe they aren't real figurines, but animated representations of figurines). This one is called Star Trek Cribs. It made me laugh. That's all I wanted to say.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

The frog days of summer

Frog    Curse you, Mr. Frog. Curse you and your unobtrusive, outdoor, musical entertainment value. Your widely splayed, webbed feet, your placid, uncaring stare, and your discreetly hidden, waterproof speaker have been the cause of much consternation to me over the past several days.
   Two years ago, when first you graced our household, the logistics of your operation were simple. I hooked you up to the 'B' speaker channel of my upstairs amplifier, and sweet, sweet music on the patio was my reward. Sure, it wasn't a perfect solution. You are much less efficient than my living room speakers, so if they were on at the same time as you, we found that either they were too loud, or you were too quiet. Still, we enjoyed your presence during the course of the summer, and into the early autumn.
   Then, over the winter, everything changed. We re-arranged our living room furniture, adding a piece or two, removing others, and suddenly found we did not have a place for my 'upstairs' amplifier anymore. The solution, at the time, was to move the amp down in to the crawl space directly below, leave it on permanently, fix the volume, and install a volume control in the wall of the living room. An elegant solution, I thought.
Volume_Control   Spring rolled around again, as it is wont to do, and I once again came face to face with your Mona Lisa-like, enigmatic smile. Hooking you up this time was not going to be quite as simple. I could have connected you to the same volume control as the other pair of speakers, but doing that would result in both you and the speakers in the living room being on at the same time, all the time. I would not have been able to turn off one or the other independently. I considered that to be an unacceptable solution.
   Also possible, was hooking you up directly to the 'B' speaker channel of the amp again. However, that amp was now in the far reaches of the crawl space, and turning you on and off would have been very inconvenient, to say the least. As well, your volume would have to have been controlled from the amp, and the living room volume control in the system would have introduced all sorts of complicated interactions to that scenario. The very opposite of an elegant solution, I would say.
   The elegant solution, of course, was the very same one I had employed before. Another volume control to regulate your froggy output. But where to put it? Ah, yes, the question. Outside, near the patio would be the most convenient, but would necessitate the use of a special, water-tight box to contain the volume control, and was a more involved installation than I was prepared to undertake on your behalf. Alternatively, a spot in the kitchen, just inside the patio door, was next considered. The obvious solution, but the logistics of running wire in a sixty year old house are more complicated than in newer homes, and in the end, I simply did not get around to it, as they say. We went that summer without the pleasantry of your company. Alas!
   Here it is, spring once again. And once again, I find you peeking out from under the protective canopy of the Bar-b-que cover, taunting me with your potential musical reproduction capabilities. This year will be different, I exclaim. This year I will sit on my patio and enjoy a cold beer whilst listening to you play Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin music in your entirely uncroaking way. I only need a plan.

   And a plan I did develop. In my kitchen, in a location that would be entirely convenient for the placement of an in-wall volume control, there was already a wall-mounted phone jack. I determined to temporarily remove the phone jack, enlarge the hole in the drywall, and install a volume control in such a way as both could be covered by one decora, double-gang wall plate. This I had the knowledge and the experience to undertake.
   I did remove the phone jack from the wall, and left it dangling by its wire. I did carefully measure, level, and mark the appropriately sized cut-out to fit a new retrofit, double-gang drywall caddy. I did measure twice, and cut once. And the hole was the right size, and the caddy fit like a glove. I was happy...until I saw the block.
   Yes, my froggy friend, my enjoyment of you was not to be achieved quite so easily as I had planned. It is, it seems, ever this way. The block was both literal and figurative. Literally, it was a two-by-four block. My house, you see, is of an age that when it was built, the tradesmen actually cared about what they were doing, and the prevailing business model was not "cut costs at every corner." All of the two-by-four stud walls in my house have cross blocks in them. It serves to prevent the wood from warping and twisting over time, so the walls stay flat. Figuratively, it was a roadblock that I was going to have to overcome if I was ever going to get your throwback tadpole tail of speaker wire routed through the volume control and to the amplifier.
   Overcoming that roadblock, however was not to be an easy endeavour, as you will soon see. Into the two-by-four cross block, I was going to have to drill two holes: one for the speaker wire coming in from the amplifier, and one for the speaker wire going out to you, my musical frog. Drilling these holes was to be accomplished through a four by six inch opening in the drywall, approximately six inches above the surface to be drilled, without further enlarging the opening. A conundrum over which I was to puzzle for the succeeding three days, juggling three different length drill bits, two different drills, a 90 degree chuck adapter, and numerous protestations, imprecations and maledictions.
   It can be our little secret, can't it, the fact that it took me three days to drill two holes in a block of wood? We don't have to mention that I had to cut a hole in the other side of the wall, inside the bedroom closet, in order to do it either, do we? And it would be good if we could just skip over the part where my first attempt got more than six inches deep before I realised that I was drilling directly into the center of a two-by-eight floor joist. Honestly, my tuneful amphibian, these are the kinds of details my readers just aren't interested in hearing.
   Would I lie to you?

   And so, nearly a full week after I began, I made the final connection. I plugged in the amplifier, and ever so tentatively pressed the power button. I waited. There was no smoke.
   I climbed the stairs. I entered the kitchen. I turned the volume dial, but soft, only one notch, for caution is the better part of valour. I proceeded to the patio, bent down my head towards your impenetrable gaze. And I heard, oh yes I heard a sound. Running back into the kitchen, I turned the dial, again with caution, two more notches, and returned to hear what I would hear. With what wisdom did you grace my ears, oh salient one?
Nothing matters but the weekend
From a Tuesday point of view
Like a kettle in the kitchen
I feel the steam begin to brew
Apt words, my imperturbable friend. Apt words.

   So, here we are. I have my favourite beer chilling in the refrigerator. I have my favourite albums lined up in the CD changer. I have my fingers on my newly installed in-wall volume control. And I stand at the door, eyes upon the steel grey sky; the circles bursting into being, one wiping out another, in the water filled indentation on my patio; the needle on my thermometer pointing firmly at the number fifty. If I press my face to the window, I can just see the tip of your nose sticking out past the edge of the Bar-B-Que cover, testing the cool, moist spring air. The weather makes no dent in your stolid, stoic expression. You don't mind the rain. No, you don't mind at all. You are, after all, a frog.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Come on, I lean.

Your Political Profile:
Overall:   35% Conservative, 65% Liberal
Social Issues:   0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Personal Responsibility:   25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Fiscal Issues:   75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Ethics:   25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Defense and Crime:   50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
How Liberal Or Conservative Are You?

via Presto Speaks.

   This quiz is a good example of a false dilemma. Only two, extreme options are offered for every question. In most cases, my choice would have been somewhere in the middle of the two, so take each of the above results, slide them more towards the center, and you are probably closer to my real political leanings.

update: OK, I did the test again, and by simply ignoring the questions for which I disliked both options, and prefered an answer that fell in the middle, or was perhaps a combination of the two offered solutions, I got this:

Your Political Profile:
: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Social Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Ethics: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal 

   I think that's a bit more representative of where I stand.


Friday, May 12, 2006

I just can't help myself

   At this point, my Mother would probably tell me to, "leave well enough alone." Whatever that means.

   Charley recently posted a couple of entries about a new prayer ring he is starting, and I just had to ask him, "I'm interested, Charley. Do you believe in the power of intercessory prayer? If so, why?"
   <teenslang>Ummm, hellooooo. The guy's starting a prayer ring, of course he believes. Duh! What, are you competing in the stupid question of the year contest, or something?</teenslang>
   Charley, being the generous guy he is, chose to overlook my glaring lack of ability to grasp the obvious, and responded. His comments are below, followed by my thoughts on the subject.
Hi Paul,
I do believe in the power of intercessory prayer. My belief comes from both first-hand experience and faith (as in the word's definition...not in a particular denomination or god(s)). In brief:

- A friend was in a terrible accident with catastrophic internal injuries, brain swelling, and a coma. This coma was not induced to limit the swelling, but rather by the trauma of the accident. External injuries, amazingly, were scarce.

The doctors did what they could (at a respectable hospital outside Philadelphia), however he did not come out of his coma or show any signs of recovery. As his heart had stopped and he had stopped breathing for an undetermined amount of time prior to resuscitation at the accident scene, his brain showed a vegetative state (lack of oxygen the believed cause, as well as the swelling).

His other internal injuries were dealt with as best as possible, but due to his fragile health, extensive surgery was not possible.

The family and his friends prayed for the intercession of Padre Pio, 24 hours a day for three days. On the morning of the fourth day he emerged from his coma, fully functioning, with no brain damage.

Upon further evaluation, the doctors also determined that his internal organs had healed and showed no damage or trauma.

There is no justifiable medical cause for this sudden turn of events. Is it possible that his body cured itself? Yes, it is possible. But next to impossible if not nearly completely improbable.

His recovery was actually submitted to the Vatican for research and study as one of Padre Pio's miracles during his canonization proceedings (it was not chosen and subsequently not investigated).

As there is a chance that nature not intercessory prayer worked in this case, this is where my faith in intercessory prayer leads me to believe. He showed no signs of improvement during his time in the hospital. Nothing could be done for him that would completely reverse his maladies.

Something happened inside him, however, and I believe that prayer had a role.

Best regards,
   I have always had a problem with the idea of intercessory prayer, even back when I sorta, kinda believed in God. The reasons are pretty much twofold.
   First, the way I read The Bible, it's a sin. It goes against the very first of the big rules, The Ten Commandments. God states it pretty darn clearly. He says, "I am a jealous God." He doesn't want anyone praying to any entity other than Him. So whether it's Padre Pio, St. Francis, or Holy Mary, Mother of God herself, what we are talking about is iconography, and clearly contravenes the law as given us directly by God himself.

   Silly semantic arguments aside, my other reason for doubting the efficacy of intercessory prayer goes to reliability and replicability. It plain doesn't always work. For every miraculous sounding story you tell me, I can reply with an instance where, regardless of who prayed to whom, how hard, and for how long, the person being prayed for still died.
   So, clearly, there are rules to this intercessory prayer thing. God has criteria for whose prayers he answers, and whose he flat out ignores. How do we determine that criteria?
   How do we know who to pray to? Is there a list somewhere that tells me which saint covers head trauma, and which one covers damaged internal organs, and which one covers incurable diseases? If your friend's family had accidentally prayed to St. Thomas Aquinas, would your friend have died?
   How much prayer is necessary? Is there a critical mass, above which your prayers come to somebody's attention? How large does your prayer group have to be? Does God have a calculator where he compares the virtuousness of the sick person against the volume of incoming prayer?
   Your answers to all these questions are, of course, "I haven't got a frickin' clue." We don't know why sometimes our prayers appear to be answered, and why sometimes they don't. We just pray. And the results look like this:

   Some people who get prayed for get better.
   Some people who do not get prayed for get better.
   Some people who do not get prayed for do not get better.
   Some people who get prayed for do not get better.

   Looks like a pretty random distribution to me. But, don't take my word for it. This topic has been studied in quite some depth over the years. The results of the most recent clinical study
were released several weeks ago.
"Patients who knowingly received prayers developed more post-surgery complications than did patients who unknowingly received prayers—and patients who were prayed for did no better than patients who weren't prayed for. In fact, patients who received prayers without their knowledge ended up with more major complications than did patients who received no prayers at all."
   The study also noted that there was no difference in 30 day mortality rates between groups. That is to say that the number of patients who died within the first 30 days after surgery was approximately the same between the groups who received prayer, and the groups who did not.

   What does all this prove? Absolutely nothing. Maybe God doesn't do studies. Maybe He refuses to step in when people are "testing" Him. "The Lord works in mysterious ways." "God has a plan, though we may not know it." Yada, yada, yada. All of these things are simply excuses to account for the fact that whenever we attempt to examine the efficacy of intercessory prayer, the results always appear to be completely random.
   For every friend in a car accident recovers due to miracle you offer me, I can come back with a friend with lung cancer was prayed for by dozens of people who loved her...still died.

   I would also like to examine your anecdote a little more closely, Charley. We exchanged e-mails the other night regarding the church in Forest, Ohio that was hit by lightning during a sermon. I opined that, while news reports support the fact that the event happened, the claims of people that it happened at the exact instant that the preacher called out for a sign from God are hard to accept unquestioningly. Human beings have a well known tendency to embellish stories to make them sound better, and it is entirely plausible that such an embellishment developed around that event in order to turn a good story into a great one. Maybe it did happen exactly the way it has been reported, but I'd want to interview several people who were there and compare their stories looking for inconsistencies before I would accept it.
   Likewise, when I look at your story with a critical eye I see it thusly:

Things I accept at face value:
a) Your friend was critically injured.
b) The doctors did all they could for him, but at some point conceded that it was out of their hands.
c) Your friend recovered against the expectations of the medical profession.

Things I question:
a) His family and friends prayed "24 hours a day for three days." Did none of them sleep in 72 hours? I doubt it.
b) "Upon further evaluation, the doctors also determined that his internal organs had healed and showed no damage or trauma." [emphasis mine] This is a remarkable claim, and as such, I cannot accept it at face value. It sounds very much like the same kind of embellishment we talked about before. Were you there at the hospital, or did you hear these things third hand? The only thing that would convince me about this part of the story would be examining the before and after medical reports. I would want to see the initial reports that described the damage to the internal organs, and I would want to see reports from three days later in which a doctor stated that those same organs "showed no damage or trauma."
   This is not to say that your friend's recovery wasn't remarkable, but I am inclined to believe that those around him have somewhat exaggerated the tale in order to make it sound more miraculous than it really was.

   The technical term for what we are talking about here is confirmation bias. Skeptics tend to refer to this as "counting the hits, and ignoring the misses." For example, your friend's recovery was a solid hit. He was prayed for, and he recovered. However, you fail to account for the number of people in the same hospital who may have died over the same time period, many of whom may have received a similar amount of prayer. Did such 'misses' exist? I don't know. You don't know. You didn't ask. Thatis not an indictment. It's just the way our brains work.
   However, if you had to guess, would you say it was likely or unlikely that someone in that hospital, during that time, died, even though he or she was also prayed for by many friends and family members? I would tend to think it was pretty likely. Because that's just the way the world works.


Edited to add: Charley has responded to this on his blog. I encourage you all to go there and read his further thoughts.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Happy Thursday, part deux

   It is two Thursdays since I last made an announcement of this nature. Today a new edition of the Skeptics' Circle has been published at The Second Sight. The Skeptics' Circle is a bi-weekly blog carnival devoted to the arena of skepticism and critical thinking.

   While we're on the topic, I am looking for submissions for the next edition of CarnivAOL, the bi-weekly blog carnival devoted to AOL and AIM journals. Send me an e-mail containing a link to the entry you want to feature. More details are available over at the
CarnivAOL site.

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Happy Thursday

   This is the way my day began: I put the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher, and it being pretty full, I poured some soap into the appropriate spots, closed the door, and turned it on.

   Nothing happened.

   No little red light came on. No sound of water being drawn into the belly of the beast. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
   I turned the dial. I pushed it in. I pulled it out again. I opened and closed the door. I tried changing the cycle, the temperature. Zip. I went downstairs to see if there was a tripped breaker. Nope. Now I have to pull it out from under the counter, and see if maybe there is a loose connection behind it.
   But, before I can do that, I have to remove three days worth of dirty dishes from it, and wash them by hand.

   Yeah. Happy Thursday to you, too.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Here are the results of a couple of those silly internet quizzes I took recently. I'm sorry, I don't remember where I first saw them.

You Are an Excellent Cook

You're a top cook, but you weren't born that way.
It's taken a lot of practice, a lot of experimenting,
and a lot of learning.
It's likely that you have what it takes to be a top chef,
should you have the desire...

Are You A Good Cook?

You Are 70% Weird

You're so weird, you think you're *totally* normal. Right?
But you wig out even the biggest of circus freaks!
How Weird Are You?


Monday, May 8, 2006

Monday photo shoot

   John says:
Your Monday Photo Shoot: Grab Bag! Show off any picture you want, and long as it's really cool. That's right, you make the call -- all I want is to look at it and say "Whoa! What a neat picture."
   Here is a picture of Matthew breaking a board in TaeKwon-Do class a few years ago. I see a green belt around his waist, so this was during a test to move up to either a blue stripe, or from a blue stripe to a blue belt.


   Fortunately, we do not have a picture of me putting my back out attempting to break a board using a reverse hooking kick, when the guy moved the board at the last second (Not the guy in the picture, another guy). I did manage to do it on my second attempt. I guess my back was really OK.


<scalzify>A sixpack of bloggy goodness</scalzify>

(My original title for this entry was "blog six packs." I thought that was rather bland, so I decided to use the new scalzify html tag. What do you think of the result?)

   Our good buddy, Joe, the AOL Journals Editor, has asked for our help. He wants us to get him a six pack. And he's the one who's always warning us to be careful about what we write in our blogs. (psst. Joe! I think your boss is reading)

   Oh, that's not what he meant. He's looking for a blog six pack. That's a list of six blogs I enjoy reading, and that I think you'll enjoy, too.
   So, here are six blogs I enjoy reading, and that I think you'll enjoy, too. OK, honesty is the best policy. I really couldn't care less whether you enjoy them, or not.

Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant

Mike is a fellow Canadian, which means many of you will be jealous of his insightfulness and wisdom. And proper spelling. Be aware that Mike doesn't pull any punches, and has been known to use profanity in his state of almost perpetual exasperation.

Memoirs of a Skepchick

Rebecca is a skepchick, which means she is able to model for a calendar and think at the same time. Critical thinking skills are sexy.

What my kids want to know

Maggie's two sons, Colin and Robert, ask a lot of questions, as young people are wont to do. For fun, she decided to ask the Internet at large for answers. Sure, she could have just made good use of Google, or Wikipedia. But hey, if you're going to get answers of dubious value, why not add interaction to the mix?

Simian Farmer

Simon, another Canadian (I see you rolling your eyes), named his blog after popular spellcheck results for his name. Like Aurora Walking Vacation, Simian Farmer doesn't have a specific theme. Simon writes about his family, his job (a bit), and his observations on life. And he does it really well.

Project Jason: Voice For The Missing

Five years ago, Kelly Jolkowski's eighteen year old son left the house to wait for a ride to his part time job. His brother looked out to see him bringing the empty trash cans up from the curb as he was waiting. He was never seen again. Kelly and her family started Project Jason, a non-profit organisation devoted to "creat[ing] and increas[ing] public awareness of missing people through a variety of outreach and educational activities. Project Jason seeks to bring hope and assistance to families of the missing by providing resources and support."

One of the things Kelly has chosen to focus on is the way families of missing persons are victimized by alleged psychics and mediums claiming to have information about missing loved ones. Her series on psychics and missing persons begins here:
Introduction to the Psychics and Missing People Series.

The Wisdom of a Distracted Mind

Dan is a little bit out there. But he makes me laugh. More or less.

   There, that's six, isn't it? On a completely unrelated note, does anyone else think Joe needs a haircut?


Friday, May 5, 2006

What is my head noise?

   I have one or two more things to say about this topic, and we'll leave it behind for a while. I want to examine a potential explanation of why I believe what I believe.
   Using Dawn's, and Dianna's comments as a leaping off point, I think it is safe to say that many people who believe in God do so because they have had some kind of spiritual experience in their lives. It may have been dramatic and seemingly revelatory like an answer to a prayer, or it may have simply been a feeling of awe, like one might feel at the sight of a wondrous sunset.
   I, too, have had similar experiences. I just don't attribute them to a higher being. And the question I want to examine is, why not?
   The answer, I think, comes from my feelings about the nature of the concepts of good and evil (Alec and I have had this discussion before, so he'll know where I'm going with this). People who believe in God, also hold the concurrent belief that 'good' and 'evil' have absolute values independant of human society; that events can be classed as good or evil in and of themselves. I do not hold that belief. Good and evil are subjective values that we assign to events or actions based on our social mores.
   About a year and a half ago, the second largest earthquake ever measured by a seismometer occurred on the floor of the Indian Ocean, triggering a Tsunami, or giant wave, that killed as many as two hundred thousand people. Some people have said that was a bad, or evil happening. They have looked for reasons for the huge death toll, assigning blame for some imagined sins to those who lost their lives.
   I don't see the world that way. The Tsunami was an event. The loss of so many lives, while unpleasant, and regretable, was not an evil, or a bad thing. Now, don't make the mistake of accusing me of thinking it was a good thing. Believing that bad or good are the only two choices is what's called a false dichotomy. The event was neutral. It was neither bad or good. It just happened. I don't feel the need to assign some kind of value, or meaning to every event in the world. I'm not looking for meaning in everything. I don't need it to be there. That's why I'm an atheist. I think.

   This quiz has been going around the skeptical blogosphere. I thought it was a rather timely quiz for me to take.

The Pyrrhonian
The results are in, and it appears that you have scored 59%... Quietly confident and aloof, the Pyrrhonian recognises that religions exist and that people subscribe to them, but manages to keep well out of it all. Pyrrhonians came to the realisation long ago that all matters of faith are beyond the scope of reason or argument, and thus retains a clear-headed skeptical approach to religion in general. They refuse to place belief in anything for which there is no proof, and regard the majority of theistic claims as irreconcilable. Leading a life of tranquility undisturbed by religious concerns, the position of the Pyrrhonian is enviable, if a little frustrating for others at times.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online dating free online dating You scored higher than 99% on pentagrams
Take The Atheist Test written by chi_the_cynic

via Pharyngula, via Science and Politics

   Here is a quote from Isaac Asimov that also describes the way I feel quite succinctly:
“I prefer rationalism to atheism. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don't have to waste your time in either attacking or defending.”
And with that, let's move on to another topic.

tags:, ,

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

"I Superman"

In the comments thread of my previous entry, yrkcllgegy asks:
Does it not require just as much faith to say there is no God as it does to say there is?
   Let me do that infuriating thing, and answer your question with another question. Does it require just as much faith to claim that a man cannot fly as it does to claim that he can? Sure, we've all heard stories about men being able to fly. Books have been written about men who fly. Movies have been made. Heck, there's a brand new one just about to come out.
   And yet, I have never actually met a man who could really fly. None of my friends and family have ever met a man who could really fly. We all saw Doug Henning claiming that his group of "Yogic Flyers" could do it, but when we saw the video, it was embarrassingly evident that they were just bouncing up and down. We felt bad for Doug that he had been taken in by those silly people.
   Occasionally, we might run into someone who does claim that people really can fly, and that he's seen them do it. When asked to show us, he has some excuse that they're out of the country right now. Or they cannot display their abilities for fear of persecution from the CIA. Or they're shy.
   Having never seen evidence that a man can fly, our life experience leads us to disbelieve any casual claims of technologically unassisted human flight. Asking us to believe that a man can fly does ask us to make a leap of faith. Believing that a man cannot fly becomes a simple default position.

   So, for an atheist, the idea that there is no God is a default position based on the fact that:
1) He has seen no evidence to support the existence of said God.
2) Descriptions he reads of said God are extremely fantastic in nature.
3) He finds the traditional documentation claiming said God's existence to be rife with internal inconsistancies to the point of being ridiculous (even the people who claim he exists can't keep their story straight).
   Does it require faith for me to disbelieve in God? No. It is the only logical conclusion I can come to based on my understanding of the world around me. You want me to believe this guy flies? You're gonna hafta show me. Because if you can't, I'm going to assume he doesn't.

Bonus marks if you can identify the quote in the title.

tags:, ,

Be bad, and go to Heaven

   My recent post about religion drew this comment from Bgilmore725 of the journal Wanderer:
God takes his youngest children into his arms as readily as he would take the atheist, who on his death bed breathes, "Father, forgive me. I didn't know. I didn't understand."
   This comment illuminates one of my biggest beefs with the Christian ideal. The concept that we can be as bad as we want all our lives, and at the end, all we have to do is say, "I'm sorry," and it'll all be OK. Conversely, we can be as good as we can, all our lives, but if we don't say the magic words just right, we're screwed.

   No, I'm serious. I could spend my life stealing from my boss, cheating on my wife, lying to my kids, disrespecting my parents, spitting on the poor, swearing at God, kicking dogs. Hell, I could kill a guy. I could worship Satan. I could work on the Sabbath, eat leavened bread, fail to sacrifice the firstlings of the herd. I could be a real bad guy.
   And I could, on my death bed, mere seconds before I breathed my last, say, "I'm sorry, God." Christians tell me I would go to heaven. I would leave behind a trail of damaged and despairing people, trying to face a life that I had ruined for them. The wife of the man I killed, trying to go on for her children. The husband of the woman I screwed, faith in life torn from him in an instant. My ex-boss, standing amidst the ashes of his failed business due to my embezzlement. I'd be up there, in the presence of God, all angels and harps, and they'd still be down here, broken. And that's justice?

   On the other hand, I could be a real good guy. I could honour my mother and father, love and respect my wife. I could give all that I have to charities, both money and time volunteering. I could believe in God, one God above all others. I could be happy in all that I have, and never desire to have more, even though my neighbours did. I could spend my life without ever telling a lie, or making a false accusation against anyone. All these things I could do, and yet, according to Christians, I would not be entitled to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I would spend eternity burning on a lake of fire, simply because I didn't say the right words. And that's justice.


Bad Homeopath!

   A new blog to add to your reading list: Bad Homeopath. The blog owner has enrolled in a mail order course in Homeopathic Medicine, and determined to write about his experience doing so. Some really good basic information about the history and nature of Homeopathic Medicine has already been posted.


Tuesday, May 2, 2006

100 other things about me

   Psychfun recently discovered my 100 things about me entry, and commented:
I like this idea. I'm going to try to do this in my spare time & post it to mine! Great idea! Now I wonder what 100 things others would list about you?
   Others have also suggested the same game, most notably in the same comment thread, Amy, Karen, and Simon. I thought it was a great idea, so here it is. In the comments thread to this entry, I want y'all to offer up your own suggestions to make up a list of 100 things about me. As they come in, I'll add them to the bottom of this entry.
   Let's try and keep the suggestions to things that you actually believe to be true, shall we. No completely off the wall, non-sequiter, and totally divorced from reality statements, OK? (I mean you, Dan)


Monday, May 1, 2006

Much ado about cee oh two

  I have been having a discussion with a friend about global warming, and it has got to a point where I have to dredge up some high school science in order to go deeper. While I was doing that, I decided to turn a long, and unwieldy e-mail into a journal entry.
   So, to steal a line from one of my favourite shows, Mythbusters - Warning: Science Content Ahead. (This is why discussions like this one, or ones about evolution are difficult to get into. To fully understand them, it is necessary to understand some of the science behind them, and many people just don't. And when you try to explain the science, you lose your audience. If you are talking to them in person, you can actually see their eyes glaze over. It's not that they are not capable of understanding the science, it's just that they are not really interested in sitting through a Grade 12 chemistry lesson, just to have a casual discussion about a topic that is currently in the news.)
   So, having said that, allow me to launch into a basic, Grade 12 chemistry lesson. This is about something called The Carbon Cycle.

   The gaseous makeup of our atmosphere is regulated, in large part, by our oceans. Most of the gasses that are in the air we breathe are water soluble. When we are talking about global warming, the gas we are most concerned about is Carbon Dioxide or CO2.
   Carbon Dioxide dissolves very readily in water, and the ratio of CO2 in the water of our oceans to the CO2 in our atmosphere is a constant. This allows a giant balancing act to take place. When the concentration of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide goes up, a significant amount of that gas becomes dissolved in our oceans. If the concentration of CO2 in the air goes down, more is released out of the oceans, to maintain the balance. The process is pretty much one way. Carbon dioxide is constantly being out-gassed naturally on our planet by volcanic activity, and the oceans suck up all but one-sixtieth of what is produced.
   In the oceans, some of the dissolved, gaseous CO2 combines with water to form a substance called carbonic acid, or H2CO3. Carbonic acid forms more easily in cold conditions, and under pressure, so the deeper you go in the ocean, the more carbonic acid is produced. At high concentrations of this substance, the carbon combines with other materials, like calcium, magnesium, and boron, to form carbonates, bicarbonates, and boric acid. As more and more carbon is locked into these forms, it frees up more water, to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere.  Here are the numbers as I understand them. There is about sixty times more CO2 dissolved in the oceans than there is in our atmosphere, and there is over 1600 times more carbon held in other materials in deposits on the ocean floor than there is in the water.

   Why are we concerned about CO2? Carbon dioxide is the most important part of our atmosphere. Number one, it is what plants use to create oxygen for us to breathe. Number two, it is the most significant of what we call the greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide is responsible for holding in the heat of the sun to keep our planet warm. Without CO2 in our atmosphere, the earth would be about 30 degrees centigrade cooler. Think about that for a moment. If there was no greenhouse effect in our atmosphere, the temperature, at the equator, might go above freezing once in a while. Most of the planet would be uninhabitable. So, we like carbon dioxide.
   However, if we add too much CO2 to our atmosphere, we increase that greenhouse effect, and make our planet warmer. And here's a funny thing. Much the opposite of what you might expect, CO2 dissolves more readily in cold water than it does in warm. So, if the average temperature of the ocean went up a little bit, it could absorb less CO2 from our atmosphere. Which would increase the rate at which CO2 was accumulating, which would make it warmer still, which would lower the amount of CO2 the ocean get where I am going.
   This is what people like you and me generally understand to be the concern about global warming. However, this is nothing compared to what some scientists are worried about. Remember, the Carbon Cycle goes several layers deep, and we have only really talked about the first layer. If the average temperature of the ocean were to rise significantly, the formation of Carbonic acid would be hindered, meaning more CO2 would remain dissolved in the water, further slowing the rate at which the oceans take it up from the air. And a worst case scenario, is that we somehow manage to reverse the process, and the carbonates and bicarbonates on the ocean floor begin to dissolve, increasing the amount of carbonic acid in the deep ocean, increasing the levels of CO2 in the ocean to the point where the oceans start putting carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere all by themselves.
   It is this 'tipping point' that scientists who rail about global warming are afraid of, because if we ever get there, the reaction would become self sustaining, regardless of anything we chose to do at that point. The oceans would be dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, which would heat up the earth, which would cause more CO2 to be outgassed, and so on, like a runaway train. It would only end when the amount of water vapour in the air, also dramatically increased by the heat, caused a layer of permanent cloud cover, effectively shutting out the warming rays of the sun and cooling the planet again. And as these things go, like pendulums swinging, we would experience the first ever, man-made ice age. That is, if anybody was still alive at that point.

   I know that only about 2% of those who started reading this article are still with me at this point. That's too bad, as we are coming to the good news. You see, you don't have to worry about it.
   This is a long term projection; hundreds, maybe thousands of years. You'll be dead and gone long before any of this ever happens. Besides, it's all just conjecture. Scientists really don't know if we are contributing to an increase in average global temperature, or if it's all just some natural climatic cycle of cooler and warmer trends. Also, even if we are causing global warming with our indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels, we don't know if it's even possible to reach that theoretical 'tipping point' where the train starts down the mountain, with no brakes on, and no one in the control room. There is no way to know. Until it happens. And then it will be too late. There will be only one thing to do, for our descendants riding the runaway train we started. Jump off.
   Oh yeah, we're cutting NASA's budget, too.