Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Mystery lady

A couple of months ago I met an older Caucasian gentleman. I'd guess in his 60s. He told me he was a cancer survivor. He said he had had a tumor the size of his hand in his left kidney back in 1996. It was removed, along with an adrenal gland, but he suffered complications from the surgery including a collapsed left lung. As a result he had to spend two weeks in the ICU at a local hospital.

He said sometime during his ICU stay when he was feeling at his worst and in fact fearing he'd die, he saw a lady who looked to be in her late 60s and dressed in a maroon colored gown walk into the ICU where he was and immediately make a bee line toward him. According to the gentleman, she walked right up to him while he was in bed, grabbed his left arm, and with the deepest blue eyes he had ever seen, eyes which he said "saw straight through me," "piercing" through him, she said in an authoritative and commanding voice, "Fear not, for God is with you!"

Then she spun around and walked out of the ICU. He said when she spoke these words, he suddenly felt such immense peace and comfort, and he knew all would be well.

He said he would've thought he was just hallucinating all this had it not been for his brother who happened to be there by his bedside visiting him while he was in the ICU. He said his brother also saw the woman say and do all this.

The following day he said he tried to look for the woman so he could thank her. He asked all the doctors and nurses and other staff who she was and how he could find her. He thought she was another patient because she was dressed in what he thought must've been a hospital gown. But he said no one else had ever even seen or heard of such a woman. He never figured out who she was.

However it was after this that he began attending church (or attending church again).

Spontaneous remission

Just a few (preliminary) thoughts about "spontaneous remission" in the context of cancer:

  1. A side note regarding terminology:

    a. The term "spontaneous" isn't used only in cancer, but applied to other diseases or pathologies as well. For example, spontaneous mutations, spontaneous abortions, spontaneous pneumothorax, some leprosy (tuberculoid) patients often spontaneously recover, etc. There seems to be a degree of indiscrimination in the use of the term "spontaneous".

    b. Focusing on cancer, I've seen and heard physicians use both "spontaneous regression" as well as "spontaneous remission". Likewise that's what I read in the relevant medical literature. If I had to pick, I'd say I see "spontaneous regression" more often used. However, I'm not sure if there's meant to be a significant distinction between the two or if they're both interchangeable. Perhaps "remission" is meant to suggest permanency in a way "regression" is not? In any case, I don't see how one term makes an important enough difference over the other, but it could be I'm missing some subtleties or nuances.

  2. A few complications which make it more difficult to address spontaneous regression cases:

    a. I think one of the main complications is simply that cancer isn't a single disease. It's a collection of many diseases. What ties them all together into "cancer" is mutations in DNA which lead to a cell growing out of control. There's a plethora of possible mutations which cause cancer. It's not at all uncommon to see 100 mutated genes in a single tumor.

    b. Another major complication is cancer cells are adaptive. Cancer cells can adapt to drugs such as chemotherapies and become resistant to these drugs, similar to bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant.

    c. The last big complication is cancer needs a receptive environment in which to thrive. For example, I've read some people have molecular and cellular changes which are characteristic of leukemia, but they don't have leukemia. That seems to be because the environment of their bodies wasn't receptive to developing leukemia.

  3. Keeping the above complications in mind:

    a. Spontaneous regression can depend on the kind of cancer one has. Spontaneous regression is known to happen in some cancers far more frequently than others (e.g. as many as one-third of low grade lymphomas are known to spontaneously regress without any treatment).

    b. At the same time, it can depend on the patient. That's because it's thought spontaneous regression is most likely an immune phenomenon (i.e. related to immune checkpoint inhibition; cf. PD-1/PD-L1). Our immune system is able to distinguish between friend and foe. Yet cancers can mask themselves as friends when they're really foes, thereby circumventing our immune system. However, it seems some people's immune systems can aid the environment of their bodies, making it less congenial to developing some cancers. (Hence much of the future of cancer therapies is focused on changing the body's environment to make it inhospitable to developing cancer.)

  4. I think all this is actually helpful to know:

    a. For one thing, if some cancers are known to have extremely low spontaneous regression or remission rates, then, if, say, someone prayed over a patient with a cancer with extremely low rates, and their cancer spontaneously regressed, then it'd seem to have the backing of scientific evidence that this type of cancer is highly unlikely to spontaneously regress or remit.

    b. Of course, God could use means by which to spontaneously regress or remit cancers. For example, perhaps prayer "activated" or "deactivated" something in someone's immune system for them to spontaneously regress or remit the cancer. So prayer healing cancer and a known mechanism for spontaneous regression are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  5. I don't know what kind of cancer Joy Davidman had. I've read she had some sort of bone cancer that metastasized to her breast.

    I'm not sure if the breast metastasis was in her initial diagnosis or if it came later when she finally succumbed to it.

    If her bone cancer had already metastasized to her breast in her initial presentation, then I'd guess it'd be highly unlikely to go into remission. Of course, I'm no oncologist, but given how rare bone cancers are in adults (metastasis to the bones are way more common), given her bone cancer metastasized to her breast, and given back in the 1950s they didn't have a whole lot of the understanding about cancer and how to treat it like we do today (e.g. Watson and Crick had just discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 and cancer is fundamentally a molecular and cellular disease), that's my working assumption.

    If all this is so, then the fact that it did go into remission after prayer should be deemed "miraculous".

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Marvel on Netflix

Here are my rankings for Netflix's Marvel comic book shows (spoilers):

  1. Daredevil season 1. Its success set a high standard for the rest of the Marvel Netflix shows to follow. If it hadn’t succeeded, then it’s possible the other Netflix shows wouldn’t have had as much viewer interest, not as much money allocated, the quality could have suffered as a result, etc. So Daredevil season 1 was exemplary in that respect. What’s more, it was a refreshing turn for Marvel if we contrast the naked realism, the grit and grime of Daredevil with the more (shall we say) colorful and flamboyant Marvel movies (e.g. X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America, Avengers). In fact, Marvel’s Netflix tv series are arguably more sophisticated in literary terms than its movies. Not to mention Kingpin was an excellent counterpoint to Daredevil. A villain who might even be said to outshine the hero.

  2. Daredevil season 2a. The first half with the Punisher storyline was fantastic. Perhaps equaling Daredevil season 1. We felt Punisher as a real individual, one with searing scars burned deeply into his psyche in the tragic loss of his family, rather than the caricature he usually is portrayed in comic books and lesser films. The character Frank Castle could have been very one dimensional (i.e. all about revenge), but the story here made Castle far more nuanced than he’s ever been. That’s a credit to the writers as well as actor who played Frank Castle i.e. Jon Bernthal. And the contrast between Daredevil and the Punisher, such as in how best to serve justice (lethally or non-lethally), makes for a lively ethical debate.

  3. Jessica Jones season 1. As others have noted, it’s more psychological thriller than action-oriented (like Daredevil). I thought it worked very well overall, and very much enjoyed it. However, there were some themes which could’ve been better teased out and a couple of storylines which felt tacked on rather than smoothly integrated (e.g. Simpson). Kilgrave was an excellent villain, as good as Vincent D'onofrio Kingpin, and David Tennant did a fine job (I loved Tennant in Doctor Who as well), though the Purple Man was ultimately too powerful. Sort of in the vein of X-Men’s Professor X since Kilgrave could similarly control minds. Perhaps that’s why Kilgrave had to be killed off, because there would be virtually no limit to his power and who he could control (and it was never completely explained how Jessica Jones could resist him, one assumes it had something to do with her superpowers, but what exactly). Jessica snapping Kilgrave’s neck like a twig stands in sharp contrast to Daredevil who has to wrestle his own inner demons about not killing his archnemesis, among other enemies, as if killing even in self-defense is somehow intrinsically wrong.

  4. Luke Cage season 1a. The first half with Cottonmouth and Mariah, before Diamondback shows up was saturated with African-American culture focused on the culture of Harlem. Luke is in many respects the anti-stereotype of the stereotypical black man (a la blaxploitation flicks) - not loud and angry, but calm, cool, and collected; not drive by an abundance of testosterone, but manly in both brawn and brains, in both physicality and cognition, sharp and intelligent as much as a force of (super)nature - which was a welcome breath of fresh air. The action wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but perhaps I’ve been overly captivated and thus biased by Daredevil’s amazing martial arts, whereas Luke Cage is more about nearly invincible brute strength in most of its fight scenes.

  5. Daredevil season 2b. This latter half of the season felt incomplete, which it doubtless was, because it was meant to be a setup for future stories involving the Hand and so on. It also came on the heels of the Punisher storyline, which regrettably only served to heighten the differences between the two - and unfavorably in regard to Elektra. In other words, Elektra’s storyline stood in stark contrast to Punisher’s, and as a result, Elektra’s storyline unfortunately paled in comparison (and I say this as someone who is a fan of Elektra). Her story stood in the shadow of the Punisher. However, there were highlights. For example, the love between her and Matt Murdock was promising, even though it didn’t sizzle quite as much as one would’ve liked. Also, as I’ve alluded, the ending intentionally left several loose ties which show a lot of future potential in the forthcoming season. And, in my modest view, the actor who plays Stick largely embodies the character quite well - a wiry, somewhat noirish and mystic figure, with a wry sense of humor, but chock full of worldly wise common sense, who, at the end of the day, has a heart of gold underneath the tough as nails exterior.

  6. Luke Cage season 1b. Second half was such a disappointment in comparison to the first half. Diamondback was touted as the nefarious baddie pulling all the strings behind the events of the first half of the season, so much and so often by Shades, but ultimately the Diamondback character proved over-the-top. Diamondback instead seemed too comical rather than menacing or any sort of a real threat. He was supposed to be a bigger and badder villain than Cottonmouth, but he was quite the let-down from the expectations Shades had built up. Actually, I’d say one of Luke Cage’s biggest problems was that it had too many villains (e.g. Cottonmouth, Mariah, Shades, Diamondback, Mama Mabel in flashbacks). Having too many villains in this manner not only diluted the plot, at least more than it ought to have, but it likewise dilutes the viewing audience’s “sympathies” so to speak. Ideally, an audience should root for the hero(es), but love to hate the villain(s). However, Luke Cage built up too many of its villains in such a way that it blunted their overall effect, unlike say with Daredevil’s Kingpin or Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave. Still, the ending of Luke Cage was uniquely good in that not all the villains received their comeuppance but in fact escaped justice (for now), while our hero (voluntarily) went to prison. In short, unlike Daredevil or Jessica Jones, Luke Cage had more of a bittersweet ending, the good guys didn’t entirely win, and the bad guys didn’t entirely lose. All this said, even at its worst, Luke Cage is still a cut above many other comic book shows.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Columbian exchange

A friend ponders:

Today I was reading some entries in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Among other things, I read about how the conquistadors were successful in part because the Aztecs and Maya were decimated by smallpox. The conquistadors unwittingly introduced smallpox into the indigenous populations, which had no resistance to the foreign pathogen. Fortuitous biowarfare. That, along with other factors (e.g. superior tactics and technology), enabled them to subdue these warrior civilizations, even though the conquistadors were vastly outnumbered by hostile natives.

This isn't the first time I've read that explanation. But I have some questions:

i) To begin with, why wouldn't that be a two-way street? If the conquistadors were carriers, for which the natives had no resistance–why weren't the natives carriers, for which the conquistadors had no resistance?

ii) According to the CDE, the incubation period for smallpox is between 7-17 days, during which an infected person is asymptomatic and not contagious.

So a sailor would have to become infected before he boarded a ship in Spain. And that would have to be during the incubation period, when he was still asymptomatic. I take it for granted that the captain and crew would not permit a sailor with smallpox symptoms to board the ship. So his symptoms would have to develop at sea, at which point he becomes contagious.

iii) We have to compare that with the time it took ships to sail from Europe to the Americas. Here are two estimates:

Since ships in the 1700s relied on sails to propel them, the length of the voyage greatly depended on the wind. An immigrant who made the journey in 1750 reported that it could take between eight and 12 weeks, while another who arrived in 1724 reported that the journey took six weeks and three days. The average journey was about seven weeks. (Source)

Henry Hudson was a European explorer traveling across the Atlantic during the colonial period. It took Hudson more than two months to sail from Amsterdam to New York City on his sailing ship, the Half Moon. (Source)

Assuming that's accurate, an infected sailor would become visibly symptomatic and contagious during the transatlantic passage. Assuming the crew didn't chuck him overboard, wouldn't there be a raging epidemic onboard by the time the ship docked in Mexico? But from what I've read, the conquistadors were asymptomatic when they disembarked. Moreover, I haven't read reports of conquistadors developing smallpox days or weeks after their arrival. Admittedly, my knowledge of the topic is quite cursory.

Just my thoughts:

I. A two way street

I agree it was a two way street. Native Americans (presumably including the Aztecs and Mayans) did likewise transmit diseases to Europeans (presumably including the conquistadors). For example, it's thought syphilis was likely transmitted from the New World to the Old World (on the Columbian theory). And before antibiotics syphillis could be quite harmful and sometimes even fatal.

There are other diseases Native Americans transmitted to Europeans, though I don't know if these were specifically from the Aztecs or Mayans (e.g. a species of hookworm; Chagas; Rocky Mountain Fever, though this was discovered much later than the 1500s).

II. Smallpox

Some facts about smallpox:

  1. Smallpox is a very large and complex virus. An ancient virus, from the dawn of civilization.

  2. Smallpox is thought to have originated from a domesticated animal, but it doesn't (or no longer can) infect any domesticated or any other animal. That is, there are no animal reservoirs which harbor smallpox. Smallpox only infects humans.

  3. There are actually two main types of smallpox: major and minor. Historically, smallpox major has a high mortality rate (30%), while smallpox minor a much lower one (1%). We could actually subdivide further, but it's not really all that relevant.

    However, I don't know the answer to this, but I wonder if minor existed at this time, and if so, if being infected with minor and surviving grants immunity to major?

  4. Smallpox is primarily transmitted either by droplets up to 3-6 feet (e.g. sneezing) or aerosols which travel farther than droplets and remain suspended in the air for longer periods of time (e.g. coughing). It's highly contagious, though there are other diseases which are more contagious.

    For example, if we compare by herd immunity, measles require upwards of 90-95% of a community to be vaccinated in order to keep measles from spreading to the unvaccinated in a community. However, with smallpox, about 80% of a community needs to be vaccinated in order to keep smallpox from spreading to the unvaccinated in a community. Still high, but not as high as measles.

  5. The average incubation period for smallpox is 10-12 days (range is usually from 7-17 days). The course of smallpox can vary, but usually symptoms will subside 14 days after onset. But (assuming the person survives) it takes another 7-14 days for the scabs to fall off. A person is considered no longer contagious until all their scabs have fallen off. Say for example: 10 days incubation period + 14 days symptoms to subside + 14 days for scabs to fall off = 38 days.

    In case anyone would like a bit more detail (though I could go in more depth than even here). After the incubation period, the patient will experience an acute onset of general signs and symptoms lasting 2-3 days (e.g. fevers, chills, rigors, malaise, aches and pains, nausea and vomiting). After these 2-3 days, the patient will develop a centrifugally distributed rash with lesions usually involving the face and extremities. Over the next 7-8 days, these lesions typically generalize across the entire body, and evolve through various stages (i.e. macular, papular, vesicular, pustular). Within a month or so, the patient will have either improved or not, but even if they improve a lot of complications may persist (e.g. permanent scarring, blindness, arthritis, infection with other opportunistic pathogens like pneumonia).

  6. Smallpox doesn't have a latent state. It doesn't hide as an asymptomatic infection. There's no carrier state for smallpox. Smallpox will produce overt signs (e.g. rash, lesions). (As an aside, this is one reason smallpox was able to be "eradicated".)

  7. If a person is infected with smallpox, but doesn't die, instead recovers, then (generally speaking) they should have lifelong immunity.

  8. As far as anyone is aware, smallpox has been "eradicated". I think the last known case was back in the 1970s. The only official specimens are in the CDC and I believe somewhere in Russia (though it's known the Soviet Union did attempt to weaponize smallpox in the past).

    Of course, who knows if terrorists or other nefarious groups have acquired smallpox which they could weaponize? After all, at one point, there were a lot of labs around the world which had smallpox since there was a lot of research on it. They should have destroyed all the smallpox in their possession, but did everyone do so?

III. Musings and speculations

Given all this:

  1. I suppose the straightforward answer (or one straightforward answer) could be if the conquistadors had already been exposed to smallpox in Spain or Europe and survived, then traveled to the New World to infect the Native Americans.

  2. People like Jared Diamond and Alfred Crosby talk about human contact with animals (especially domesticated animals) in the Old World vs. New World since animals can be reservoirs for infectious diseases. Specifically, living in close proximity to more varieties of animals might be relevant in building a more robust immune system among Europeans like the Spanish in contrast to Native Americans like the Aztecs and Mayans. However, it's debatable, I think.

    More to the point, since smallpox doesn't have an animal reservoir, since smallpox only infects humans, thus humans are its only reservoir, I'm not entirely sure how arguments from Diamond and Crosby would be relevant to smallpox, except indirectly at best, even if they are relevant to other communicable diseases?

  3. I believe people like Diamond and Crosby also talk about how much more dense European population centers were at the time in comparison to Native American population centers, where only a city like Tenochtitlan would've rivaled Europe. A more dense population center may mean more likelihood of exposure to various pathogens, which in turn could perhaps account for more robust immune systems among Europeans in contrast to Native Americans. That might be worth exploring as well, but again it seems to me it's a debatable topic.

  4. Generally speaking, it's possible the immune systems of Aztecs and Mayans are less genetically heterogeneous to one another than the immune systems of the Spanish to other Europeans. Perhaps especially if we accept the Bering strait theory that Native Americans trace their ancestry back to those groups which crossed the Bering strait.

    Anyway, if the Aztecs and Mayans have more genetically similar immune systems to other Native Americans than the Spanish do to other Europeans (say if the immune systems of all Native Americans are 50% identical, while the immune systems of all Europeans are 10% identical, just to use completely made-up figures), then it's possible a pathogen like smallpox could wreak havoc among Native Americans more easily if the pathogen can take advantage of something in the more similar immune systems, whereas the Spanish could more likely resist it.

    However, once again, I think this is debatable. It could just as well be entirely mistaken.

  5. Another consideration is the climate and environment in which infectious diseases tend to thrive and spread. Say Mesoamerica vs. the Spanish peninsula. Was there anything about each environment that made it more likely for certain diseases to thrive and spread? Or which inhibited them from thriving and spreading? Or say temperate climates vs. tropical or sub-tropical climates? And so on.

  6. Quite interestingly, historian Suzanne Alchon argues the following in her book A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective (emphasis mine):

    This study of disease among the native peoples of the New World before and after 1492 challenges many widely held notions about encounters between European and native peoples. Whereas many late twentieth century scholars blamed the catastrophic decline of postconquest native populations on the introduction of previously unknown infections from the Old World, Alchon argues that the experiences of native peoples in the New World closely resembled those of other human populations. Exposure to lethal new infections resulted in rates of morbidity and mortality among native Americans comparable to those found among Old World populations.

    Why then did native American populations decline by 75 to 90 percent in the century following contact with Europeans? Why did these populations fail to recover, in contrast to those of Africa, Asia, and Europe? Alchon points to the practices of European colonialism. Warfare and slavery increased mortality, and forced migrations undermined social, political, and economic institutions.

    This timely study effectively overturns the notion of New World exceptionalism. By showing that native Americans were not uniquely affected by European diseases, Alchon also undercuts the stereotypical notion of the Americas as a new Eden, free of disease and violence until the intrusion of germ-laden, rapacious Europeans.

  7. Along similar lines, it might be useful to look at, say, contemporary tribes in places like South America or Asia (e.g. Papua New Guinea) which have been isolated from contact by civilized societies. I presume anthropologists, for example, would take care to vaccinate themselves against known native diseases, so in the case of modern tribes it might not be a two way street like it was in the past. However, would anthropologists risk bringing their own diseases to some of these tribes if they make contact with these tribes? I suppose they take care to mitigate this possibility with good hygiene, minimal contact, etc. But still the possibility is there.

    Or if these isolated tribes happened upon people from their surrounding modern society. Suppose an Amazonian tribe happening upon Brazilians without any prior warning or other preparation by either side. Would there be any relevant parallels between something like this and the Columbian exchange of disease which we could learn from?

  8. By the way, I suppose if liberal violent PETA types had their way, perhaps smallpox would now be on an endangered species list, and in fact they may even try to spread it! I hope this is just an overly active imagination on my part.

IV. "Genocide"

  1. I've also read (mostly from liberals) how Europeans brought smallpox and other diseases to the New World, thereby causing a "genocide" among Native Americans. I think the term "genocide" is a highly loaded term, to say the least.

    For one thing, did all Europeans in general intentionally give diseases to Native Americans with the goal of wiping out an entire peoples or population? Wasn't the situation far more complex? At the bare minimum, we need to make distinctions between different Europeans and different Native Americans. Perhaps there were some Europeans who did so, but we can't generalize from some to all (e.g. there were some Europeans who helped some Native Americans get inoculated).

    Take this example. I've read there's some debate over some Englishmen giving blankets infected with smallpox to Native Americans in order to kill them. If true, then this would indeed have been a vile and reprehensible act, worthy of all condemnation. Regardless, let's assume it is true - can we therefore conclude all English colonials did the same to all Native Americans whom they encountered?

  2. I've read some people argue as much as 90% of the New World population was destroyed thanks to disease brought by Europeans. Where does this figure come from? How is it calculated?

    For example, is it based on some epidemics (e.g. the cocoliztli epidemics), which, let us say, killed 90% of the Native Americans, then extrapolated to all other Native American communities or populations?

  3. A couple of Mesoamerican epidemics in the 1500s, which killed millions, were caused by what the natives called "cocoliztli". There's debate over what cocoliztli was. Was it smallpox? Was it measles? Was it some unknown disease? Did it originate from the Old World or the New World?

    I've read some argue cocoliztli was a disease indigenous to the New World rather than transmitted by Europeans. For example, see here.

    I haven't deeply looked into any of this, so I don't know.

    However, if cocoliztli was indigenous to the Americas, then it would undercut the idea that it was the European diseases alone which were responsible for the alleged "genocide" of Native Americans. Especially if cocoliztli was not smallpox.

  4. Likewise, from the same article:

    In the 1530s, a band of Spanish adventurers conquered the Inca Empire. It is commonly believed that some kind of epidemic devastated the Andes immediately prior to the Spanish arrival. Noble D Cook has advanced much evidence and argued strongly that this epidemic was of Old World origin, perhaps measles combined with pneumonic plague and influenza.46 However, if our hypothesis for the Mexican case - that some pre-existing New World viral disease became epidemic due to ecological changes brought about by large-scale and relatively sudden alterations of human agricultural practices - is valid, then perhaps the Peruvian case merits further study along these lines.

  5. Perhaps one reason smallpox so easily spread across Mesoamerica (and other parts of the New World) was due to the collapse of social order among the Aztecs and Mayans? I presume the Aztecs and Mayans faced disease epidemics in the past since most civilizations seem to have. If so, they would've presumably been better able to isolate and stem epidemics. Like leaders to take charge and organize, quarantine the infected, etc.

  6. I've read some Native American populations didn't suffer as badly from some Old World diseases as Europeans did (e.g. the Quechua people in the Andes Mountains and malaria, due to their consuming tea from leaves containing quinine, which helps mitigate malaria). Point being, it seems more complex than simply saying, all Native Americans suffered from disease at the hands of Europeans.

  7. Of course, it's not only the Europeans who brought disease. For example, it's possible African slaves brought yellow fever to the New World. Although, if true, no doubt some would still like to blame Europeans for bringing the slaves. But that would be overly simplistic to do.

  8. Speaking of which, since the Europeans were planting colonies all around the world at this time, there were a lot of communicable diseases between Europe, Africa, and Asia too. Many which killed scores of people in Africa and Asia (e.g. re-occurences of the black death in northern Africa). I wonder if any of them were as catastrophic as what happened to Native Americans?

Monday, October 10, 2016

"You can do anything"

If Trump shouldn't be president because of his sexual harassment or worse of women, then (on the face of it) it seems arguable neither should some presidents have been president because they did the same or similar (e.g. JFK who may have coerced an intern named Mimi Alford to give oral sex to a friend of his while JFK watched).

If fair is fair, then the same people who have (rightly) criticized Trump should likewise criticize former presidents like JFK and Bill Clinton who sexually harassed women or worse. These same people should say something like: Trump shouldn't be president because he is a sexual predator, and neither should JFK or Bill have been president because they too were or are sexual predators.

However, I won't hold my breath because many of these same people who are criticizing Trump have a double standard when it comes to their own side. They will only criticize people who don't share their political views rather than being fair-minded and consistent and criticizing anyone (regardless of political affiliation or politics in general) who has sexually harassed women or worse.

In fact, if they were truly fair, then they would also criticize women who have sexually harassed men or worse. For example, if a woman touches or grabs a man's leg or butt, and he doesn't want it, then it's possible she has sexually harassed him.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Our first [blank] president

We often hear liberals tell us we should vote for one candidate over another candidate because they'll be our first president of this race or that gender. For example, we hear liberals tell us we should vote for Obama over another candidate because he'll be our first black president. Likewise, the reason we should vote for Hillary over another candidate is because she'll be our first female president.

At the same time, it's interesting to note that, for the generation born under Obama's term (i.e. those who are now about 7 years old or less), they'll only have known a black president. If we then assume Hillary will become the next president, then for the generation that's only known Obama and/or Hillary as president, they'll only have known a black and/or female president. If this trend continues until they're eligible to vote, then they'll have known a black and/or female president.

Now, let us take this same principle, and ask, why couldn't these upcoming generations, when they come of age to vote, argue along these lines and say they should vote for a white male for president since they'll never have known a white male president? Suppose the choice is between a white male for president vs. a white female for president, and suppose they've only known a string of white female presidents, then for them gender could be the deciding factor.

Sure, it won't be the first white male president in the whole of American history. (Though, in our hypothetical, it won't be the first female president either.) But it will be the first white male president in their history. So the same principle would still seem to be applicable, i.e., preferencing one person over another person because that person will be our first [blank] president.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

SpaceX

Elon Musk recently gave his much anticipated talk "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species" about eventually sending people to Mars and beyond.

Just a few scribbles for now:

  1. His talk slides as well as the aesthetics of his presentation are beautiful in their simplicity.

  2. Musk may sell himself as the real life Tony Stark, but he rather strikes me as someone on the tip of devolving into Howard Hughes. Certainly his charisma falls far short of the image he wishes to project of himself. He'd probably be better off having a right hand man or woman give his presentations and talks, or at least hiring someone to improve his public speaking skills if he doesn't wish to give up the reins, but I guess every Silicon Valley CEO thinks they can be Steve Jobs.

  3. However, the substance of his talk seemed quite a bit less than the expectations would've predicted. Perhaps that was inevitable. Maybe the expectations were ramped up way too high. I may get more into what I thought about his specifics and technicalities in the future (e.g. I think he minimizes risks to humans like radiation). Suffice it to say for now I think it's much tougher to land a person on Mars than Musk seems to make it out to be let alone establish a human colony there. A book like Mankind Beyond Earth is a good place to start.

  4. Attempting to establish a human colony on Mars (or the Moon) is in a sense a science experiment writ large. It's an attempt to create a viable biosphere. Another Earth in miniature. For instance, what ingredients would be needed in order to create an off-planet habitat which can sustain human life indefinitely? For starters, we'd need to consider such vitals as temperature (not too hot, not too cold), atmosphere (enough oxygen to breathe, enough carbon dioxide to help drive breathing, enough to shield cosmic radiation from harming humans), adequate energy intake (food and water sources), gravity (again, not too much, nor too little, otherwise it'd adversely effect our bodies including the sense of balance, bones, muscles, the immune system, heart pumping blood around the body), etc. Anyway, point being, creating a habitat for humanity on Mars may prove a real world echo of arguments for fine-tuning and other design arguments. I may expand on this in a future post as well.

  5. Atheists like Musk often wax poetic about space exploration. The search for knowledge, to go where no one has gone before, the possibility of making first contact with another intelligent species, for the sheer adventure of it all, and so on.

    Of course, the reality is more mundane. Atheists think we must go off planet because it's inevitable an extinction event will occur on Earth, hence humanity's only hope is the stars. We explore so we can survive as a species.

    That's true, but they forget (or ignore) the universe itself is headed for an extinction event too. So, given atheism, we're really just buying more time for ourselves until the axe falls, which it certainly will. Sure, there may be many exciting events in the interim, but our fate is sealed.

    As such, this casts a long shadow over all our strivings and endeavors. How could it not? It dampens the spirit of space exploration, to say the least, if and when we bring it to mind; and if we don't bring it to mind, then we're just pushing it back into the recesses of our consciousness so we don't have to consider our end. That's playing ostrich in a way.

    By contrast, Christians not only have a good impetus to explore, but we have good grounds to wax poetic about space exploration. We can explore space because we know all creation is God's creation, the other planets and stars reflect our God, whom we wish to know and understand, to study and adore, for "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Ps 19:1).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Liberals label

Many if not most liberals routinely use disapproving labels in lieu of reasoned argumentation. These liberals will label conservatives stupid, backwards, evil, etc., then immediately move to the supposed implication that therefore people need not and should not listen to this or that position put forth by a conservative.

For example: conservatives are greedy capitalists who don't care about the poor, therefore pay no attention to any plans conservatives propose to improve the economy.

Another example: conservatives are racist, therefore whatever conservatives say about blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other minorities is false.

Or: conservatives are misogynists, they don't have women's interests at heart, therefore we can safely dismiss whatever conservatives say about a woman's right to choose.

Closer to home: conservative Christians are poorly educated, anti-scientific hicks and rednecks, hence no need to consider anything they say about the theory of evolution.

Examples could be multiplied. But the point is, liberals who label in this fashion are not only illicitly reasoning, but they're behaving unethically or immorally. Indeed, these liberals are bullies.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Swinburne should be censored!

Paul Moser:

My FB friend David Sinclair has raised some questions crucial to being a responsible human being: "Are there any limits on the dehumanization of people groups? Is a biblical case for white supremacy, for example, within the realm of rational discourse? Apparently, Swinburne pathologized gay people. Isn't that beyond the pale? What other group could you describe as sadly inferior humans? Jewish people? Women?

There are certain notions in the 'free exchange of ideas' that deserve censure. I certainly wouldn't condone the position that all Christians are unfortunately mentally incapacitated...would you?

Let's untangle this woven web:

  1. Sure, one shouldn't normally condone racism or sexism. But how is homosexuality analogous to race or gender? That's simply assumed without argument here. Yet an argument is vital in the case at hand.

    For that matter, how is the belief that "all Christians are unfortunately mentally incapacitated" analogous to racism or sexism?

  2. How did what Swinburne said describe homosexuals as "inferior humans"? As such another unargued assumption seems to be if one "pathologizes" a group of people, then they have "dehumanized" the same group of people.

    If I said the Japanese have a high incidence of mental illness (e.g. major depression associated with suicide), and we need to help cure them, thereby I suppose "pathologizing" the Japanese, how would that entail I've described the Japanese as "inferior humans" or "dehumanized" the Japanese?

  3. Is this meant to suggest society ought to label speech against homosexuality hate speech? If so, then on what basis? I don't know, but if it is, then my best guess would be on the basis of offense. It's just offensive for people like Moser and Sinclair to hear homosexuality called a "disability" that should be cured if possible.

    If that's the case, then, for one thing, this cuts both ways. It's offensive to Christians (among others) to hear they should morally condone homosexuality.

    So how should society adjudicate between "offenses" here? That's a debate for another time.

    However, for the Christian, the first and final port of call for adjudicating homosexuality should be the Bible, relevant passages properly exegeted, in light of biblical and systematic theology on the matter. Ironically, Moser is a professing Christian. Thus, he should either accept what the Bible teaches in full or renounce his Christianity for consistency's sake. Instead, he seems he'd prefer to pick and choose the parts of the Bible with which he agrees largely based on his liberalism. His liberalism is what really arbitrates what's acceptable and what's unacceptable in the Bible, not the Bible itself.

  4. Or would people like Moser and Sinclar think it's simply intuitively wrong to say what Swinburne said about homosexuals and homosexuality? If so, then people like Moser and Sinclair are so provincially minded. They're stuck in the small world of 21st century liberal America.

    However, most peoples throughout history and most non-Western peoples around the world today have far different intuitions on homosexuality than people like Moser and Sinclair do. I'm not limiting this to Christians, but also most Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Africans, Asians, South Americans, and so on. Swinburne's statement on homosexuality is arguably more in line with the rest of the world's thinking than the thinking of insular liberal Western academics like Moser.

    Of course, I'm not suggesting intuitions are truth, but rather responding on these grounds.

Monday, September 12, 2016

God of the gaps

Militant atheists of the Dawkins variety often raise the God of the gaps argument. They think the religious are just saying "Goddidit" for an unexplained phenomenon. Say like how Norse pagans used to think thunderstorms were due to Thor. But now that we know what causes thunderstorms, there's no need for Thor.

However, one problem with this point is it's a false dichotomy. At least when it comes to classical theism let alone Christianity.

For example, now that we know the scientific explanation for thunderstorms, does this mean we should no longer attribute the thunderstorm to God? Christians believe God is the one who made a planet with phenomena such as thunderstorms, that God made lightning as electrical discharge, indeed that God made the laws of physics from which such phenomena result.

In other words, positing God as the ultimate source of thunderstorms is perfectly consistent with understanding the scientific explanation for thunderstorms. It's not either/or but both/and.

It's like if scientists discovered a sophisticated alien spacecraft. After years of studying it, scientists have figured out how the alien spaceship works. They know how to turn it on, how to fly it, how to use its navigation and weapons systems, how to land it. They know how its engine and other internal mechanics work. They know its energy source for fuel. They know what material it is built out of. And so on. Basically, scientists know everything there is to know about the alien spacecraft.

But now that scientists understand all this, would it make any sense if they then said, "Welp, now that we understand everything about this spacecraft, no need to posit that it was built by an intelligent alien species, for that would be superfluous"?

Of course not. It's not inconsistent to say scientists understand everything there is to understand about an alien spacecraft and the alien spacecraft was possibly built by an intelligent alien species.

Similarly, it'd make no sense on Christianity to say now that we understand how phenomena like thunderstorms work, we can therefore abandon the idea of God.

(Besides, science itself doesn't always close gaps. Sometimes science in fact opens gaps as it closes gaps. Sciences brings more questions. Nothing unreasonable about that.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

If fine-tuning, then...

I'm just aiming for a general audience in this post, not a philosophically educated one. The philosophically informed and trained would know about the works of philosophers and physicists like Robin Collins, Luke Barnes, etc. I'd heartily recommend following them on fine-tuning.

That said, given the purported evidence for fine-tuning, then the main options seem to be:

  1. Reject the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning.

  2. Accept the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning, but argue the fine-tuned universe "just is".

  3. Accept the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning, but argue the multiverse is behind it all.

  4. Accept the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning, but argue for design by an intelligent designer.

I'll quickly run through each of these options:

  1. The evidence seems to be everywhere. For instance, if I understand him aright, Robin Collins divides the evidence into three broad categories:

    a. Evidence for fine-tuning in the laws of nature (e.g. altering ever so minutely any of the fundamental forces, i.e., the law of gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force)

    b. Evidence for fine-tuning in the constants of nature (e.g. changing the fine-structure constant, which, as Richard Feynman once said: "It's [the fine-structure constant, approximately 1/137] one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the 'hand of God' wrote that number, and 'we don't know how he pushed his pencil'")

    c. Evidence for fine-tuning in the initial conditions of nature (e.g. as Roger Penrose has said: "In order to produce a universe resembling the one in which we live, the Creator would have to aim for an absurdly tiny volume of the phase space of possible universes [i.e. one part in 1010123]").

    For many other examples, see a book like Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees.

    (And, of course, I'm leaving aside the biological and chemical arguments for now.)

  2. If we argue the finely-tuned universe is a brute fact, that the finely-tuned universe "just is," that we humans just happened to exist in such a finely-tuned universe by chance, that seems highly improbable, to put it mildly!

    Philosopher-physicist Robin Collins calls it the "surprise" factor. Suppose we are astronauts traveling to a distant and otherwise deserted planet. Suppose we come across a strange monolith which when approached is suddenly activated, and tells us: "Welcome to our planet, intergalactic voyagers from Earth!" It would seem highly implausible if we therefore concluded this monolith just happened to be here by random chance.

  3. This only pushes the question back a step because we would need to explain the fine-tuning of the multiverse itself. In which case some might argue the multiverse itself is a brute fact. If so, then it'd bring us back to (b).

  4. Seems far more reasonable than the other choices to me.

    Many atheists would even agree. For example, they'd argue our universe is a computer simulation in a universe which contains our own. Perhaps like in "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" in Rick & Morty. But how likely is this? What are the arguments and evidences for the simulation hypothesis? Perhaps I'll explore this in a future post.

    However, my own position is Christian theism. That's the most probable and reasonable one in my mind. (Although to be fair my belief in Christianit is not only due to arguments from design including fine-tuning, but many other arguments as well.)

All in all, this video sums it up much better than I can:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Walter Hooper: The Life and Writing of C.S. Lewis" review

I've finished watching Eric Metaxas interview Walter Hooper about C.S. Lewis. It's a three part interview lasting a little over three hours total.

My (ironically) meandering thoughts:

1. Hooper comes across as an absolute gentleman. His humility shines through as well. He seems genuinely honored and grateful for being able to do so much for Lewis' legacy.

And I never realized, but it's indeed possible we might not have a lot of Lewis' works today had it not been for Hooper. I'm glad Metaxas highlighted this point throughout the interview. Although Metaxas said this many, many times throughout the interview (no doubt Metaxas is genuinely appreciative of Hooper and wanted others to share in his appreciation) so it seemed a bit like overkill.

2. I think the best parts of the interview were Hooper sharing his own firsthand anecdotes about Lewis. Things Lewis said to him, did for him, etc. It gives us a flavor of Lewis the person.

Also, there were some interesting little factoids. Such as the possibility that Lewis had written a part two to his Surprised by Joy but that it was likely burned in a bonfire. Another interesting piece of trivia was that at one point Hooper went through some pornographic magazines in search of a Lewis essay (which he never did find).

3. Metaxas was his usual witty self. I usually appreciate Metaxas' humor and generally like his interviewing style too.

4. However, in this case, I think Metaxas being Metaxas wasn't always so wonderful. For example, Metaxas would interrupt Hooper to make a funny quip or perhaps in search of banter, but Hooper isn't the type to banter back and forth, and so it seemed to derail Hooper a bit before he got back on track.

Also, Metaxas would often speak longer than necessary to ask a question. A few times Metaxas interrupted Hooper just to summarize out loud what Hooper had just said, which everyone already heard, but perhaps Metaxas needed to clarify something in his own mind, which he did out loud. This in turn meant Metaxas would keep speaking in what seemed to be an attempt to find a question to ask Hooper. My guess is Metaxas felt if he's going to interrupt Hoopoer, then he should ask him a question. But the problem was he had to search for a question to ask Hooper. (My own paragraph describing this is almost as long-winded!)

To be fair, some of this may not have been Metaxas, per se, but instead may have been due to Hooper's own diffident personality.

5. Overall, though, I felt the interview was largely a missed opportunity. Actually, many missed opportunities.

If I understood him correctly, Metaxas had about a year to prepare for this three hour interview with Hooper. And Metaxas kept saying how central this interview was to Socrates in the City, and in fact the main reason they did Socrates in the City in Oxford, England was to interview Hooper. Metaxas said it was a "dream" come true for him to interview Hooper.

If so, then I'm surprised the interview wasn't better. It was decent, but it fell far short of the high hopes Metaxas seemed to have had for the interview at its beginning.

6. For one thing, the interview wasn't very well focused. It basically seemed like Metaxas was winging it. Asking questions as they came to mind as Hooper talked about Lewis. For the audience it's not substantially different than eavesdropping on a conversation between a couple of friends at a bar or pub about a third (famous/celebrity) friend.

7. By contrast, I would've thought there are different possibilities for how to arrange or organize an interview. An interview could have been structured around Lewis' relationships and friendships such as with Hooper himself, Lewis' brother Warnie Lewis, Joy Davidman, Tolkien, the other Inklings (e.g. Barfield, Dyson), Charles Williams, and so on.

There could've been questions about Lewis' relationship with Mrs. Moore, his gardener (who was the inspiration for Puddleglum), etc.

It could've also included Lewis taking kids into his home (the Kilns) during the London bombings in WW2 including June Flewett who inspired Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia.

They could've talked about Lewis' relationship to his atheist tutor, William Kirkpatrick aka the Great Knock, his poor relationship with his father, his mother's untimely death.

They could've explored Lewis on the battlefield in WW1, and how that affected him, such as when he lost his friend Paddy Moore, yet promised to take care of his mother, Mrs. Moore, who lived with Lewis until her death (if I recall).

But very little of this was explored in much depth except for Hooper's anecdotes about Lewis, Warnie Lewis, and a couple of mentions (nothing in any sort of depth) about some of the Inklings including Tolkien. There was a bit about the gardener which was very good though.

8. If conversing about all these relationships would've been too much to do, another focus could've been around Lewis' literary friends and correspondences (e.g. Eliot, Sayers, Tolkien). Like how Lewis started out hating Eliot's poetry including penning a scathing review, how they met at the New English Bible translation committee and became friends, how Eliot published some of Lewis' writings, etc. But this didn't happen in the interview.

9. Another possibility could've been structuring the interview around Lewis' fictional and/or non-fictional works. Perhaps Metaxas could've gone chronologically through Lewis' literary ouevre and asked Hooper about each of these. They did have 3 hours after all.

Or at least asked about the major works.

Metaxas did ask Hooper about some of Lewis' books such as the Space trilogy (especially Perelandra), The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, and a quick mention of The Great Divorce and Miracles. Maybe a few others I'm forgetting.

But it seemed to me only Perelandra and Screwtape were explored in any depth, though even still there wasn't much depth explored.

10. Yet another possibility could've been structuring the interview around how to read and write well. Lewis had a lot of writings about stories, letters to children offering them advice about how to write, An Experiment in Criticism is about being a good reader and writer, and so on.

11. Or on how Lewis evolved as a writer. Say a children's writer for instance. Say from how Lewis (and his brother Warnie) created the fictional world of Boxen as children, their love for the Beatrix Potter stories, E. Nesbit's The Railway Children series, The Wind in the Willows, many others.

This in turn could've led to an exploration of Lewis' apologetics of the imagination. Apologetics through storytelling.

Alas! This didn't transpire either.

12. Or they could've discussed Lewis' literary influences in general (e.g. Chesterton, MacDonald).

As an aside, I wonder if Hooper could've talked about Lewis and Tolkien's wager for one of them to write a space adventure while the other wrote a time adventure, and the Space trilogy and the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings being possible fulfillments of these, respectively.

13. Or perhaps structuring the interview around what Metaxas knows best. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised Metaxas didn't talk more about Lewis' thoughts and writings against totalitarianism, statism, the culture wars, and the like (e.g. such as in The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength). That's somewhat ironic in light of the fact that Metaxas himself published a book on Bonhoeffer and a more recent book on the foundations of our American republic i.e. If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. Aren't these in part about how Christians can live in times of persecution by increasingly anti-Christian secular states?

Related, wasn't Lewis himself persecuted to some degree by many faculty members at Oxford for his Christian beliefs and publications? Isn't that the main reason Lewis reluctantly moved to Cambridge in his latter years (after Lewis kept getting passed over for promotions at Oxford; fortunately for Lewis Cambridge created a new chair and professorship for Lewis)?

14. Metaxas also wrote a book titled Miracles, which he has elsewhere said he "stole" the title from Lewis. Although Metaxas confessed he found Lewis' Miracles difficult to understand. That's fair enough, because neither Metaxas nor Hooper are philosophers as far as I'm aware, and Lewis' Miracles is probably less known for what it says about miracles and more known for proposing the argument from reason (later picked up by philosophers such as Reppert and Plantinga). Nevertheless it might've been nice to hear if Hooper might have had any interesting anecdotes about Lewis and Anscombe's debate.

In addition, and again given Metaxas published a book on Miracles, I was surprised Metaxas didn't ask Hooper about Joy Davidman's seemingly miraculous healing after a prayer and anointing by an Anglican priest named Peter Bide, who reputedly had a gift of healing.

15. Another perhaps interesting way to structure the interview might've been around themes with each theme introduced by a Lewis quotation (since Lewis is eminently quotable). Such as the theme of tyranny creeping into the Western secular state with "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive" or "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil".

Or the theme of friendship with "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival".

Or the theme of Christian apologetics with "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else".

Or the theme of suffering, from The Problem of Pain to A Grief Observed, with "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world:.

And so on.

16. I think Metaxas hyperfocused on Lewis' knack for words. Like Lewis' invention of names for his characters in Narnia (e.g. Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, Reepicheep), Lewis' clever turns of phrases, etc. Don't get me wrong, it was fascinating at points, but I think Metaxas brought it up intermittently throughout the 3 hour interview when in my opinion he would've been better off had he simply done it once and in-depth and not kept coming back to it.

Also, I wonder why Metaxas didn't ask Hooper about Lewis' book Studies in Words at this point.

17. I, for one, would've liked to have heard Hooper talk about Lewis' academic accomplishments. Most people already know about Lewis as a popular author (e.g. Narnia, Screwtape). Many people know about Lewis' apologetics. But I would suppose far fewer know about Lewis' academic accomplishments (e.g. The Allegory in Love, which I've heard is still used in some college or university courses; the OHEL book i.e. Poetry and Prose in the 16th Century was briefly mentioned in passing and no more, I think).

18. It might've been interesting to hear Hooper talk about Lewis and Sehnsucht, but that didn't come up either.

19. Or to hear if Hooper would know if Lewis might have had any opinions about turning his Narnia books into movies. I seem to recall Lewis watching and enjoying the original King Kong movie, but I might be thinking of another person in that period.

20. The bit about Hooper talking about why he thinks Lewis would've converted to Catholicism was interesting. I wished Metaxas had pressed him a bit more, because the main reason Hooper gave for Lewis converting to Catholicism seemed to be the liberalization of the Church of England; however, the Catholic church has liberalized as well, whereas there are some Anglican churches which have actually become more conservative. Perhaps a more interesting question would have been whether Lewis would've been drawn to those more conservative sections of the Anglican church, perhaps even evangelical, had he lived longer?

Of course, I'm aware Lewis never cared to identify as an evangelical, but he likewise is on record for never having cared to identify as a Catholic.

21. I'm sure all this sounds like I'm simply being an armchair interviewer. And that's true to an extent.

At the same time, Metaxas had a considerable amount of time to prepare for this interview (a year?), the interview itself was a very long 3 hour interview, and Metaxas himself voiced several times the import of the Hooper interview. And it's not as if Hooper is likely to be around much longer since he's already in his mid-80s, I believe.

Anyway, I'm just surprised it wasn't a better organized interview, but rather seemed more like it mostly improvised.

And I'm surprised so much which Hooper could've been asked was left out entirely.

All in all, it was a decent interview, but it could've been so much better. There was far more promise than realized. (Not unlike this post!)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Something wicked this way comes

Thanks to Jacob Howard for these:

"In social science it is of crucial importance that fact and inference should always be as clearly distinguished as possible. For that reason this book is divided into two parts: 'Data' and 'Interpretation.' For example, it is unequivocally a fact that the vast majority of those whom my informants have accused of witchcraft have been persons of wealth or prestige. My 'explanation' of this circumstance is equally unequivocally a non-fact. When data and interpretation are closely juxtaposed, there is often confusion as to the dividing line between the two." (p.6)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"The classic Witchery Way technique is that mentioned in the emergence legend. A preparation (usually called 'poison' by English-speaking informants) is made of the flesh of corpses. The flesh of children and especially of twin children is preferred, and the bones at the back of the head and skin whorls are the prized ingredients. When this 'corpse poison' is ground into powder it 'looks like pollen.' It may be dropped into a hogan from the smokehole, placed in the nose or mouth of a sleeping victim or blown from furrowed sticks into the face of someone in a large crowd. 'Corpse poison' is occasionally stated to have been administered in a cigarette. Fainting, lockjaw, a tongue black and swollen, immediate unconsciousness or some similar dramatic symptom is usually said to result promptly. Sometimes, however, the effects are less obvious. The victim gradually wastes away, and the usual ceremonial treatments are unavailing."

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"On the whole, there is substantial agreement between informants on the major features of Witchery ideology. Night activity, were-animals, association with corpses and incest, killing of a sibling as part of initiation, various points of technique--these traits are mentioned in interview after interview and are not denied explicitly or implicitly in any. This concordance holds also for the literature." (pp.27,28)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"If a witch confesses, the victim will at once begin slowly to improve, and the witch will die within the year from the same symptoms which have been afflicting the victim. If a witch refused to confess within four days, he was most often killed. In some cases the accused was allowed to escape if he permanently left the community. A number of accused witches are said to have fled to CaƱoncito. But Van Valkenburgh is undoubtedly right in considering witchcraft as a crime for which the Navaho administered capital punishment. A considerable number of witches put to death are referred to in the literature, and a much larger number are known to me from reliable white and Navaho informants. Sometimes, when tension mounted sufficiently, the witch was killed without 'trial,' sometimes by an aggrieved individual but equally often by a group of relatives (and friends) of some supposed victim. The manner of execution varied, but was usually violent (by axes and clubs)." (p.49)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"But from a total of 222 cases of persons accused of witchcraft where some other information was available, some idea can be gained as to Navaho conceptions of differential participation. One hundred and eighty-four were men; all were adults. No women were accused as Wizards or as Frenzy Witches. All women accused were definitely old; 131 of the men were definitely old (spoken of as 'old,' 'very old,' 'grey-haired,' 'white-haired,' etc.). One hundred and forty of the men were described as ceremonial practitioners of some sort, but it must be remembered that the proportion of adult Navaho men who are ceremonial practitioners is very high. Twenty-one of the men were said to be 'headmen' or 'chiefs.' This is an exceedingly high figure, considering the proportion of such leaders to the total adult male population. Twelve of the women were referred to as ceremonial practitioners. One hundred and fifteen out of the total group were described as rich or 'well-off'; seventeen were described as poor or very poor; for the remainder no economic information was available." (p.59)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"Of course, if we turn to the southern Athabascans, there are many specific parallels. Association with incest, trial and execution of witches and other traits are also found among the western Apache. Incest connection, killing of witches, ambivalent attitude toward ceremonial practitioners, the sacrifice of a close relative and other parallels likewise turn up among the Chiricahua Apache. But it is very difficult to find any trait shared by the various Apache groups and the Navaho which both of these do not also share with Pueblo culture. Indeed, it is my *impression* that Navaho witchcraft as a whole has more in common with Pueblo witchcraft (if one may lump the beliefs and practices found in various Pueblos) than it does with Apache witchcraft (if one lumps the information on different Apache groups). Such 'lumping,' however, is premature in the absence of adequate published data for Lipan, Mescalero, Jicarilla, and Kiowa Apache. And Dr. M. E. Opler, on reading the galleys of this book, pointed out many highly specific parallels, which I had not found in the literature. Dr. Opler, who undoubtedly has the broadest comparative knowledge of southern Athabascan cultures, writes me: 'I believe I can show that there are two layers of Navaho thought and practice on witchcraft, one of which draws largely from Pueblo sources; the other of which agrees in pattern and spirit with general Apachean.'"

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"It has been repeatedly asserted that 'possession' is unknown to the Old Testament. Keim declared it 'a modern disease among the Jews.' That is virtually the opinion of Meyer also. But the case of Saul is undoubtedly to be regarded as one of possession by an evil spirit. The terms describing the mode of action of this spirit are analogous to those which set forth the action of the Holy Spirit upon man; but the effects produced are those attributed by the ethnic creed to possessing spirits." (p.20)

Alexander, Wm. Menzies. "Demonic Possession in the New Testament: Its Relations Historical, Medical, and Theological." Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1902.

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"At the present day in China, the same idea holds sway. Where the native doctor fails to cast out a demon, spiritualists are called in. A charm is written out and then burnt, that it may reach any spirit hovering about. Incense is also burnt. If no name is written on the paper, the nearest demon accepts the invitation to eject his feebler congener. The first comer may offer 'a robustious and rough oncoming'; so that another charm is prepared, and inscribed to Lu-tou, a more facile demon. These are instructive illustrations of one satan casting out another. This pagan rite was Christianised, when the angels were invoked instead of the superior powers of evil (*Clem. Homil*. v.5)." (p.132)

Alexander, Wm. Menzies. "Demonic Possession in the New Testament: Its Relations Historical, Medical, and Theological." Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1902.

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"Witchcraft, familiar spirits, communications with and from the dead, trials by ordeal: fire, water, and poison; the magic circle, demonic possession, observances of the quarters of the moon, are all present-day African commonplace." (p.4)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"Among his many polite tricks is the transference of disease. A native falls sick. He has a real, or fancied enemy, who has ill-wished him. He consults his doctor: his nyanga.

The doctor then consults the spirits without whose advice he is powerless. Not, it should be clearly understood, the familiar and evil spirits, but the family and ancestral tribal spirits. If these inform him that the patient has made out a true bill, he tells him that he is right. So-and-so is his enemy. Now he will give varied instructions depending on his skill, individual preference, and tribe. Here is one method. The patient must obtain a portion of intimate garment from the enemy, and a similar portion of his own. These he must bring to the nyanga who 'makes medicine'. He invariably 'makes medicine' to suit each individual case. He binds the medicine in the scraps of cloth and instructs the patient to plant them secretly in the place where two paths intersect, over which the enemy will pass. When he crosses the spot, the disease will transfer.

So what? It's all a lot of hooey isn't it? Mumbo-jumbo and the like? It is up to you to call it what you like. I can only say I have seen it work again and again." (p.15)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"As to the means of smelling out, they are legion. A variation of the old 'yeka m'tambo' is one method. Only one bone is used, and it is laid, with the inescapable 'medicine', in a box, or basket, or other receptacle. Sometimes it is floated in a vessel filled with oil. The nyanga, after the usual incantations of the 'versicles and responses' type, names each person separately. If the person is innocent the bone lies quiet: if guilty, the bone stands up. It is uncanny to see this long bone, often a human one, suddenly take life to itself." (p.41)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"Though the sentencing of witches is strictly forbidden by the Government, it is surprising how many of them succumb to 'snake bite' when they get to their native villages." (pp. 88,89)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"The outstanding witchcraft practice in obeah is the manufacture of clay, wax, or wood images of the candidate for affliction and, by maltreating the simulcra, or alleged simulcra--some of those which I have seen are not even caricatures--evil befalls the prototype.

Again and again herein, with what may be considered boring repetition, I have been impelled to push home the same warning, here, without apology, I do it again. The too generally accepted thesis that all this is nonsense--stuff to frighten children and the like--plays right into the hands of the devilish practitioners. If by some mischance, from which may God preserve you, you become the victim of obeah, and lie in feverish unrest becoming weaker and weaker day by day--the despair of medical skill--you would not then be contemptuous of the power of evil. I protest I am as hard-boiled and normal as the toughest, but I have seen too much: I have tried unavailingly to save too many cases to be sceptical. More's the pity in a way. I would willingly have forgone some of my experiences."

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"The use of corpse flesh, and particularly bones, is common in Africa, both for witchcraft and for witchdoctoring medicines, but, apart from some of the worst Leopard Men orgies, cannibalism is very rare if not extinct. On the other hand, it is one of the cardinal rites of obeah, and undoubtedly goes on in obeah countries." (p.156)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"If a child cuts its upper incisors before its lower ones (known as *lutala*) it is thrown into the river. (I have been informed that the Ba-Kaonde throw such a child into the bush, and that throwing it into the water is only done (locally) by the Ba-lamba; as, so I was told, the Kaonde women believe that if thrown into the water the child's spirit will become hostile. I have, however, met with no case of a child being thrown into the bush, but have met cases of such infanticide by drowning among Ba-Kaonde and Ba-luba.) After the child has been thrown away the mother returns without mourning. No one asks any questions.

The reason for this custom is as follows: With a *lutala* child it is believed that every time one of the milk teeth comes out a person dies. Similarly if a nail comes off someone dies. If a woman allowed her *lutala* child to live, hiding the irregularity, she would be constructively guilty of murder of many people, a risk she dare not attempt to take." (p.50)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"*Mitala* are generally, like the *wa-kishi* and the living man's shadow, without substance. They are shades, spirits, souls. Restless ones, resenting some wrong done to the person with whom they walked in his lifetime, they wander around and avenge themselves on those who did wrong, and on their relatives and associates.

There are, however, forms of *mitala* that have substance. These take the form of a corpse--the upper half only: being legless as the legs have rotted away, and only the trunk, arms, and head remain. This kind of *mutala*, which is much dreaded, creeps about at night, pulling its legless trunk along the ground, and propelling itself with its arms, as a child when first beginning to crawl."

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"For some time I have had a suspicion, and reasonable ground for the suspicion, that there may be a class of professional and hereditary witches behind the scenes: men (and women) who habitually provide the means to bewitch, or impart the necessary knowledge to the layman to enable him to carry out his desires. They may just conceivably be in league with the *ng'anga*, but I do not, myself, believe that they are. If such exist they would be the people on whom to concentrate; but they would be very hard to find: one might even find an intermediate class of 'touts.' At home, even, in a matter like cocaine-selling--for instance--the actual vendors or hawkers are easy to apprehend: one can even find the 'retailer,' but the wholesale merchant or *entrepreneur*, the man at the back of it all, keeps himself secure behind a wall of secrecy. In all the 'under-world' at home the brainy initiators, and other useful people like the receivers are but rarely given away. I have often been on the tracks of such 'master-witches' but have never found any direct evidence, and I gather that the confessions of convicted witches as to the source of their supply or knowledge only relates to other 'casual witches' or to what may be called agents. It is, however, extraordinary how often one finds that in cases of witchcraft the witch went 'to some man who he thought was likely to know about such things,' or 'went to so-and-so because he had heard that he could provide him with what he sought,' or 'consulted a certain person because he was the obvious person to consult.' A would-be bewitcher does not ask these things at random, and so pile up evidence against himself: he does not go first to one, then to another; but, just as a native woman who seeks the means to procure abortion goes straight to the right woman, so (apparently) does the man, or woman, who seeks some particular form of bewitching medicine go straight to the purveyor, or to his agent. I fear that one would need to be a 'naturalised native' to find this out, at the present day anyhow. I submit, however, that it is possible, even probable, that besides people who might be called incidental or casual witches, namely, those who obtain and use the means of witchcraft against their enemies there are also what may be described as master-witches who are instructed in witchcraft from childhood and are as much an hereditary guild as are the witch-doctors. If it be an old religion they are the real guardians of it." (p.201,202)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"The witch-doctor undertakes this test [*Chisoko*] at night. The people having been summoned, sit round him, and he dances, singing his incantations. He has with him a basket, in which are placed medicines. After much singing, he takes the basket and places it on the head of a member of the audience (resting on the head, not reversed and placed over it). The basket still contains the medicines: the doctor then says: 'If you are innocent, the basket will come off,' and pulling the basket from the head of the person being tried (who is still sitting) it comes away easily. When the guilty person is reached, the basket sticks to his (her) head, so that when the doctor tries to pull it off it will not come away, but, instead, pulls him (her) up from the ground. Walking backwards--facing the person who is being tried--the doctor thus raises him (her) and pulls him (her) all over the space where the trial is being held.

This trial is used for serious cases of witchcraft such as owning and using *tuyewera* or *mulombe*, and the punishment is death (by beating to death and burning; or by burning to death)." (p.226,227)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"Further enquiries disclosed the 'facts' that the wing-spread was from 4 to 7 feet across, that the general colour was red. It was believed to have no feathers but only skin on its body, and was believed to have teeth in its beak: these last two points no one could be sure of, as no one ever saw a *kongamato* close and lived to tell the tale. I sent for two books which I had at my house, containing pictures of pterodactyls, and every native present immediately and unhesitatingly picked it out and identified it as a *kongamato*." (pp.237,238)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"The most interesting dance is the *Bwilandi*, or rather it would be if we could find out more about it. There is something very secretive about the native attitude as regards this dance, and an obvious fear exists that it is a thing that might be prohibited. It is more common in the north of Kaondeland than in the south, and may be of Luba origin. The name comes from the *bwilandi* drug which the dancers take beforehand, a drug that produces a kind of ecstasy. This drug does not grow (not in any quantity anyhow) south of the Luma. The chief feature of the dance is that the dancer simulates, either voluntarily or involuntarily, a lion; and goes about as a lion. But, and this is really remarkable if it is only made-up, he does not imitate the lion's roar. If anyone were to start 'playing at lions' the roar is the first thing that would be imitated. Another feature of the drug is that the natives state it gives wonderful endurance, so that a man under its influence can travel a hundred miles in a night--all the time 'as a lion.' The drumming at the *bwilandi* is distinct from other drummings, and a Kaonde hearing it in a village at a distance can identify it without difficulty.

Like most dances it takes place at night. The early stages may be in the daytime, and are quite innocuous. The attached illustration shows the 'overture.' The dancer has twenty genet skins as a kilt, and the proper chalk marks on back and chest. The latter stages, with the ecstasy and the lion performance I have not seen, nor do I know of any white man who has. If one did see it I fancy it would be distinctly 'modified.' Whether it has any religious significance, or any significance at all, I do not know." (pp.286,287)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"The victim could only say he didn't remember what happened, but witnesses told a strange story. I was called upon to put dressing on his 'feet' a month after the accident (?) occurred. He had just been released from the hospital, and I was told he had cut his feet. Arriving at the home, I found he had no feet. Both had been cut off well above the ankle. This was the story. He had been ill, and was advised to visit a witch doctor back in the hills. During the consultation, he was possessed by a demon who forced him to pick up a machete and hack off both his own feet. Bystanders were unable to restrain him. Fortunately, relatives were able to bring him the thirty miles to the hospital in time to save him from bleeding to death. But at twenty years of age, he was reduced to the fate of a street beggar because of his handicap." (pp.124,125)

See, Glenn A. "Experiences in Haiti." In "Demon Experiences: A Compilation," 123-125. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers; reprint of 1960 ed., 1970.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Trump panders to voters

"Happy Cinco de Mayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!" (Donald Trump)

"I really appreciate the support given to me by the evangelicals. They’ve been incredible. Every poll says how well I'm doing with them. And you know, my mother gave me this Bible, this very Bible, many years ago...It's just very special to me, and again I want to thank the evangelicals. I will never let you down." (Donald Trump)

"Any day is a great day for pho soup. I love Asians!" (Comedian Nathan Fielder replying to @realDonaldTrump)

I suppose next up for Trump is a photo of him eating fried chicken and waffles then saying "I love blacks!"?

Or perhaps a photo of him smoking a tobacco pipe and saying "I love Native Americans"?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

DSM-5

Just a word or two about the DSM:

1. The DSM is touted way too much by LGBT supporters. The DSM was meant to be a guide for psychiatrists and other medical professionals, not the Bible or gospel truth or anything like that.

2. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). As such, it doesn't necessarily mean other nations like the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand will follow the DSM to the letter. It's not as if psychiatrists in these other nations genuflect to whatever the APA says is true.

For example, here's what an Australian psychiatrist has said:

Studies show 50 per cent of western populations would now be diagnosed with a mental disorder under DSM-5, says Professor Gordon Parker, the founder of Black Dog Institute and a University of New South Wales Scientia Professor of Psychiatry. "For 50 per cent of the population to now be regarded as having a psychiatric condition strikes me as straining credulity," Parker said at a recent media briefing.

3. Also, even within the US, there's considerable dissent from the most recent update to the DSM - i.e. the DSM-5. For instance, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which falls under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has said and done the following:

[T]he NIMH did not waver from its initial ruling that it would no longer use diagnoses listed in the DSM for its' funded studies.

NIMH director Thomas Insel wrote in a statement earlier in May that the NIMH felt the proposed definitions for psychiatric disorders were too broad and ignore smaller disorders that were lumped in with a larger diagnosis.

"The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever," Insel said.

The bottom line is there's debate over the DSM-5 even among secular psychiatrists and other relevant scholars and professionals.

4. What's more, I recently read someone claim: "The psychiatric and psychological professions have long since removed gender dysphoria from the DSM."

a. That's just flat out wrong. I have a copy of the DSM-5 in front of me. There's an entire section on "gender dysphoria." See Section II: Diagnostic Criteria and Codes.

b. Besides, just because the DSM doesn't classify something as a mental illness doesn't mean it's not a mental illness. Or just because something isn't in the DSM doesn't therefore mean it doesn't exist. If a mathematics textbook failed to include a mathematical truth, it doesn't mean this mathematical truth doesn't exist.

c. To say there's no such thing as gender dysphoria or to imply that gender dysphoria isn't an illness is actually something that many LGBT advocates would disagree with because that's how they'd justify having sexual reassignment surgery, hormonal treatment to turn them into the gender they feel they truly are, etc.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Revenant and The Martian

I recently saw The Revenant. I think it's probably my favorite movie this year, or rather from last year and this year. (Followed closely by Mad Max: Fury Road.)

It might be interesting to compare and contrast The Revenant with The Martian, which I also saw. Apologies in advance for the rather slipshod nature of this review.

Both movies relied on a single lead actor to carry the film, viz. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Both were directed by accomplished filmmakers, viz. Alejandro Inarritu and Ridley Scott. Both were well filmed, indeed very well filmed, beautifully filmed. They're both absorbing, and draw you into their own world. Both are films which give justice to the term "cinematic experience." Both are essentially survival tales. Man vs. nature. Man in unforgiving environments. Both are arguably worthy Oscar contenders for best picture, best director, and best actor.

However, The Revenant is decidedly darker and grimmer than The Martian. In fact, The Martian is downright upbeat in comparison. Sure, we see Damon's fear of death, his loneliness, and so forth, but that's largely in the background or in-between the main scenes which move the narrative forward. At best it's peripheral rather than central to the story. The entire tone of The Martian is optimistic and hopeful. No real bad guys either except maybe for NASA exec Jeff Bridges' character. But he's only a villain in terms of having to make cold calculated decisions that CEOs tend to have to make to the consternation of their employees, not as an explicit enemy to Damon's protagonist. Mars as a hostile habitat for humanity would be the main antagonist, but that's a given in such a story. There's no dramatic tension between characters, most of the movie is predictable, and the only real question the audience is left with is how Matt Damon is going to make it back home. As long as Ridley Scott delivers in this respect, it's a success, I guess. And Scott does deliver for the most part, although I felt the ending was over the top.

More importantly, I'd say The Martian is secular at its core. There's no explicit or perhaps even implicit mention of God, or at least none I can recall. Yet I find this extremely unrealistic given a man is literally stranded on Mars. Maybe I missed it, but wouldn't someone in such dire straits at least consider reaching out to God? Instead, the main message which comes through the film is, basically, as Matt Damon tells himself: "I'm going to have to science the sh** out of this." Sheer survival boils down to human reason and ingenuity, along with a bit of luck or chance. Time and time again Matt Damon beats the astronomical odds stacked against him, and lives. Yet, for all the talk of the movie's scientific and technical accuracy, the mathematical probability that Damon would survive seems quite strained, to put it mildly. How many times and in how many ways does someone have to get lucky for it not to be chance but providence?

By contrast, The Revenant shows man at his worst. It's man vs. nature, but it's also man vs. man, and in the latter man behaves like a beast. It's a brutal film - physically and morally speaking. No one comes out unscathed on either count. (Domhnall Gleeson's character fares better than most though.) Indeed, the movie well reflects the fact that we live in a fallen world, and that we ourselves are fallen creatures.

I suppose The Revenant is a film which liberal critics want to be about the noble savage or to have an environmentally friendly message. It's neither. Instead, the film is bloody and violent. It reflects a view of man and nature doubtless odious to liberal critics, pampered pajama boys, and the like. Watching it would be like throwing a freezing cold bucket of ice water into their face to wake them up to reality. A punch in the gut.

Civilization is not a utopian project for scholar-kings to tinker around with to their satisfaction. At best civilization is an oasis in the middle of the frozen wasteland that is the world. A privileged planet in a dead universe. Or as The Revenant depicts it: a sparsely populated ramshackle town with tall wooden walls on the edge of the frontier while howling winds, blistering blizzards, fierce wild animals, and death itself are always near at hand. It's a harsh truth for some people to swallow, for people who think the world is a place where we can overcome our animal natures by better understanding one another, who think weapons like guns should have no place in our sophisticated society since guns are reminiscent of a violent and primitive past, who think we all can sit down and have a friendly chat to iron out differences in worldview, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, it's reality. As Richard Feynman once said in an entirely different context but which seems apropos here: "Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Perhaps all this in turn partly reflects Alejandro Inarritu's Catholicism, as well as the fact that Inarritu has had a less than indulgent life, at least in comparison to many other Hollywood celebs (e.g. having to cross the Atlantic on a cargo ship as a teenager, one of his children dying in infancy), whereas I suspect The Martian largely reflects Ridley Scott's secularism, which we likewise see in other Ridley Scott productions like Prometheus. For example, in Prometheus advanced aliens make man in their image, as humans have made androids. It's possible the self-sacrifice and death of the alien "Engineers" lead to the evolution of humans. We have the theme of patricide, which shades into killing one's creator. Much more could be said.

Anyway, I'm veering off track now. But for all the reasons Godawa gives as well as others (e.g. gorgeous cinematography) The Revenant is probably my favorite of the year. Not perfect by any means, but provocative on several levels. An immersive experience in the fullest sense of the word. Not easily forgotten, even haunting.

By the way, I should add I had hoped I'd like The Martian a lot more than I did, and certainly better than The Revenant. That's because I tend to like Matt Damon better than Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor. I love scifi themed movies in general, and Ridley Scott's scifi movies in particular (e.g. Blade Runner). And even when significantly flawed Scott's movies are at least thought-provoking (e.g. Prometheus). The Martian as a novel is from a geek who gone done good, which likewise gave me high hopes. The Martian is still an enjoyable movie. Maybe my expectations were too high.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Mystery lady

A couple of months ago I met an older Caucasian gentleman. I'd guess in his 60s. He told me he was a cancer survivor. He said he had had a tumor the size of his hand in his left kidney back in 1996. It was removed, along with an adrenal gland, but he suffered complications from the surgery including a collapsed left lung. As a result he had to spend two weeks in the ICU at a local hospital.

He said sometime during his ICU stay when he was feeling at his worst and in fact fearing he'd die, he saw a lady who looked to be in her late 60s and dressed in a maroon colored gown walk into the ICU where he was and immediately make a bee line toward him. According to the gentleman, she walked right up to him while he was in bed, grabbed his left arm, and with the deepest blue eyes he had ever seen, eyes which he said "saw straight through me," "piercing" through him, she said in an authoritative and commanding voice, "Fear not, for God is with you!"

Then she spun around and walked out of the ICU. He said when she spoke these words, he suddenly felt such immense peace and comfort, and he knew all would be well.

He said he would've thought he was just hallucinating all this had it not been for his brother who happened to be there by his bedside visiting him while he was in the ICU. He said his brother also saw the woman say and do all this.

The following day he said he tried to look for the woman so he could thank her. He asked all the doctors and nurses and other staff who she was and how he could find her. He thought she was another patient because she was dressed in what he thought must've been a hospital gown. But he said no one else had ever even seen or heard of such a woman. He never figured out who she was.

However it was after this that he began attending church (or attending church again).

Spontaneous remission

Just a few (preliminary) thoughts about "spontaneous remission" in the context of cancer:

  1. A side note regarding terminology:

    a. The term "spontaneous" isn't used only in cancer, but applied to other diseases or pathologies as well. For example, spontaneous mutations, spontaneous abortions, spontaneous pneumothorax, some leprosy (tuberculoid) patients often spontaneously recover, etc. There seems to be a degree of indiscrimination in the use of the term "spontaneous".

    b. Focusing on cancer, I've seen and heard physicians use both "spontaneous regression" as well as "spontaneous remission". Likewise that's what I read in the relevant medical literature. If I had to pick, I'd say I see "spontaneous regression" more often used. However, I'm not sure if there's meant to be a significant distinction between the two or if they're both interchangeable. Perhaps "remission" is meant to suggest permanency in a way "regression" is not? In any case, I don't see how one term makes an important enough difference over the other, but it could be I'm missing some subtleties or nuances.

  2. A few complications which make it more difficult to address spontaneous regression cases:

    a. I think one of the main complications is simply that cancer isn't a single disease. It's a collection of many diseases. What ties them all together into "cancer" is mutations in DNA which lead to a cell growing out of control. There's a plethora of possible mutations which cause cancer. It's not at all uncommon to see 100 mutated genes in a single tumor.

    b. Another major complication is cancer cells are adaptive. Cancer cells can adapt to drugs such as chemotherapies and become resistant to these drugs, similar to bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant.

    c. The last big complication is cancer needs a receptive environment in which to thrive. For example, I've read some people have molecular and cellular changes which are characteristic of leukemia, but they don't have leukemia. That seems to be because the environment of their bodies wasn't receptive to developing leukemia.

  3. Keeping the above complications in mind:

    a. Spontaneous regression can depend on the kind of cancer one has. Spontaneous regression is known to happen in some cancers far more frequently than others (e.g. as many as one-third of low grade lymphomas are known to spontaneously regress without any treatment).

    b. At the same time, it can depend on the patient. That's because it's thought spontaneous regression is most likely an immune phenomenon (i.e. related to immune checkpoint inhibition; cf. PD-1/PD-L1). Our immune system is able to distinguish between friend and foe. Yet cancers can mask themselves as friends when they're really foes, thereby circumventing our immune system. However, it seems some people's immune systems can aid the environment of their bodies, making it less congenial to developing some cancers. (Hence much of the future of cancer therapies is focused on changing the body's environment to make it inhospitable to developing cancer.)

  4. I think all this is actually helpful to know:

    a. For one thing, if some cancers are known to have extremely low spontaneous regression or remission rates, then, if, say, someone prayed over a patient with a cancer with extremely low rates, and their cancer spontaneously regressed, then it'd seem to have the backing of scientific evidence that this type of cancer is highly unlikely to spontaneously regress or remit.

    b. Of course, God could use means by which to spontaneously regress or remit cancers. For example, perhaps prayer "activated" or "deactivated" something in someone's immune system for them to spontaneously regress or remit the cancer. So prayer healing cancer and a known mechanism for spontaneous regression are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  5. I don't know what kind of cancer Joy Davidman had. I've read she had some sort of bone cancer that metastasized to her breast.

    I'm not sure if the breast metastasis was in her initial diagnosis or if it came later when she finally succumbed to it.

    If her bone cancer had already metastasized to her breast in her initial presentation, then I'd guess it'd be highly unlikely to go into remission. Of course, I'm no oncologist, but given how rare bone cancers are in adults (metastasis to the bones are way more common), given her bone cancer metastasized to her breast, and given back in the 1950s they didn't have a whole lot of the understanding about cancer and how to treat it like we do today (e.g. Watson and Crick had just discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 and cancer is fundamentally a molecular and cellular disease), that's my working assumption.

    If all this is so, then the fact that it did go into remission after prayer should be deemed "miraculous".

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Marvel on Netflix

Here are my rankings for Netflix's Marvel comic book shows (spoilers):

  1. Daredevil season 1. Its success set a high standard for the rest of the Marvel Netflix shows to follow. If it hadn’t succeeded, then it’s possible the other Netflix shows wouldn’t have had as much viewer interest, not as much money allocated, the quality could have suffered as a result, etc. So Daredevil season 1 was exemplary in that respect. What’s more, it was a refreshing turn for Marvel if we contrast the naked realism, the grit and grime of Daredevil with the more (shall we say) colorful and flamboyant Marvel movies (e.g. X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America, Avengers). In fact, Marvel’s Netflix tv series are arguably more sophisticated in literary terms than its movies. Not to mention Kingpin was an excellent counterpoint to Daredevil. A villain who might even be said to outshine the hero.

  2. Daredevil season 2a. The first half with the Punisher storyline was fantastic. Perhaps equaling Daredevil season 1. We felt Punisher as a real individual, one with searing scars burned deeply into his psyche in the tragic loss of his family, rather than the caricature he usually is portrayed in comic books and lesser films. The character Frank Castle could have been very one dimensional (i.e. all about revenge), but the story here made Castle far more nuanced than he’s ever been. That’s a credit to the writers as well as actor who played Frank Castle i.e. Jon Bernthal. And the contrast between Daredevil and the Punisher, such as in how best to serve justice (lethally or non-lethally), makes for a lively ethical debate.

  3. Jessica Jones season 1. As others have noted, it’s more psychological thriller than action-oriented (like Daredevil). I thought it worked very well overall, and very much enjoyed it. However, there were some themes which could’ve been better teased out and a couple of storylines which felt tacked on rather than smoothly integrated (e.g. Simpson). Kilgrave was an excellent villain, as good as Vincent D'onofrio Kingpin, and David Tennant did a fine job (I loved Tennant in Doctor Who as well), though the Purple Man was ultimately too powerful. Sort of in the vein of X-Men’s Professor X since Kilgrave could similarly control minds. Perhaps that’s why Kilgrave had to be killed off, because there would be virtually no limit to his power and who he could control (and it was never completely explained how Jessica Jones could resist him, one assumes it had something to do with her superpowers, but what exactly). Jessica snapping Kilgrave’s neck like a twig stands in sharp contrast to Daredevil who has to wrestle his own inner demons about not killing his archnemesis, among other enemies, as if killing even in self-defense is somehow intrinsically wrong.

  4. Luke Cage season 1a. The first half with Cottonmouth and Mariah, before Diamondback shows up was saturated with African-American culture focused on the culture of Harlem. Luke is in many respects the anti-stereotype of the stereotypical black man (a la blaxploitation flicks) - not loud and angry, but calm, cool, and collected; not drive by an abundance of testosterone, but manly in both brawn and brains, in both physicality and cognition, sharp and intelligent as much as a force of (super)nature - which was a welcome breath of fresh air. The action wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but perhaps I’ve been overly captivated and thus biased by Daredevil’s amazing martial arts, whereas Luke Cage is more about nearly invincible brute strength in most of its fight scenes.

  5. Daredevil season 2b. This latter half of the season felt incomplete, which it doubtless was, because it was meant to be a setup for future stories involving the Hand and so on. It also came on the heels of the Punisher storyline, which regrettably only served to heighten the differences between the two - and unfavorably in regard to Elektra. In other words, Elektra’s storyline stood in stark contrast to Punisher’s, and as a result, Elektra’s storyline unfortunately paled in comparison (and I say this as someone who is a fan of Elektra). Her story stood in the shadow of the Punisher. However, there were highlights. For example, the love between her and Matt Murdock was promising, even though it didn’t sizzle quite as much as one would’ve liked. Also, as I’ve alluded, the ending intentionally left several loose ties which show a lot of future potential in the forthcoming season. And, in my modest view, the actor who plays Stick largely embodies the character quite well - a wiry, somewhat noirish and mystic figure, with a wry sense of humor, but chock full of worldly wise common sense, who, at the end of the day, has a heart of gold underneath the tough as nails exterior.

  6. Luke Cage season 1b. Second half was such a disappointment in comparison to the first half. Diamondback was touted as the nefarious baddie pulling all the strings behind the events of the first half of the season, so much and so often by Shades, but ultimately the Diamondback character proved over-the-top. Diamondback instead seemed too comical rather than menacing or any sort of a real threat. He was supposed to be a bigger and badder villain than Cottonmouth, but he was quite the let-down from the expectations Shades had built up. Actually, I’d say one of Luke Cage’s biggest problems was that it had too many villains (e.g. Cottonmouth, Mariah, Shades, Diamondback, Mama Mabel in flashbacks). Having too many villains in this manner not only diluted the plot, at least more than it ought to have, but it likewise dilutes the viewing audience’s “sympathies” so to speak. Ideally, an audience should root for the hero(es), but love to hate the villain(s). However, Luke Cage built up too many of its villains in such a way that it blunted their overall effect, unlike say with Daredevil’s Kingpin or Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave. Still, the ending of Luke Cage was uniquely good in that not all the villains received their comeuppance but in fact escaped justice (for now), while our hero (voluntarily) went to prison. In short, unlike Daredevil or Jessica Jones, Luke Cage had more of a bittersweet ending, the good guys didn’t entirely win, and the bad guys didn’t entirely lose. All this said, even at its worst, Luke Cage is still a cut above many other comic book shows.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Columbian exchange

A friend ponders:

Today I was reading some entries in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Among other things, I read about how the conquistadors were successful in part because the Aztecs and Maya were decimated by smallpox. The conquistadors unwittingly introduced smallpox into the indigenous populations, which had no resistance to the foreign pathogen. Fortuitous biowarfare. That, along with other factors (e.g. superior tactics and technology), enabled them to subdue these warrior civilizations, even though the conquistadors were vastly outnumbered by hostile natives.

This isn't the first time I've read that explanation. But I have some questions:

i) To begin with, why wouldn't that be a two-way street? If the conquistadors were carriers, for which the natives had no resistance–why weren't the natives carriers, for which the conquistadors had no resistance?

ii) According to the CDE, the incubation period for smallpox is between 7-17 days, during which an infected person is asymptomatic and not contagious.

So a sailor would have to become infected before he boarded a ship in Spain. And that would have to be during the incubation period, when he was still asymptomatic. I take it for granted that the captain and crew would not permit a sailor with smallpox symptoms to board the ship. So his symptoms would have to develop at sea, at which point he becomes contagious.

iii) We have to compare that with the time it took ships to sail from Europe to the Americas. Here are two estimates:

Since ships in the 1700s relied on sails to propel them, the length of the voyage greatly depended on the wind. An immigrant who made the journey in 1750 reported that it could take between eight and 12 weeks, while another who arrived in 1724 reported that the journey took six weeks and three days. The average journey was about seven weeks. (Source)

Henry Hudson was a European explorer traveling across the Atlantic during the colonial period. It took Hudson more than two months to sail from Amsterdam to New York City on his sailing ship, the Half Moon. (Source)

Assuming that's accurate, an infected sailor would become visibly symptomatic and contagious during the transatlantic passage. Assuming the crew didn't chuck him overboard, wouldn't there be a raging epidemic onboard by the time the ship docked in Mexico? But from what I've read, the conquistadors were asymptomatic when they disembarked. Moreover, I haven't read reports of conquistadors developing smallpox days or weeks after their arrival. Admittedly, my knowledge of the topic is quite cursory.

Just my thoughts:

I. A two way street

I agree it was a two way street. Native Americans (presumably including the Aztecs and Mayans) did likewise transmit diseases to Europeans (presumably including the conquistadors). For example, it's thought syphilis was likely transmitted from the New World to the Old World (on the Columbian theory). And before antibiotics syphillis could be quite harmful and sometimes even fatal.

There are other diseases Native Americans transmitted to Europeans, though I don't know if these were specifically from the Aztecs or Mayans (e.g. a species of hookworm; Chagas; Rocky Mountain Fever, though this was discovered much later than the 1500s).

II. Smallpox

Some facts about smallpox:

  1. Smallpox is a very large and complex virus. An ancient virus, from the dawn of civilization.

  2. Smallpox is thought to have originated from a domesticated animal, but it doesn't (or no longer can) infect any domesticated or any other animal. That is, there are no animal reservoirs which harbor smallpox. Smallpox only infects humans.

  3. There are actually two main types of smallpox: major and minor. Historically, smallpox major has a high mortality rate (30%), while smallpox minor a much lower one (1%). We could actually subdivide further, but it's not really all that relevant.

    However, I don't know the answer to this, but I wonder if minor existed at this time, and if so, if being infected with minor and surviving grants immunity to major?

  4. Smallpox is primarily transmitted either by droplets up to 3-6 feet (e.g. sneezing) or aerosols which travel farther than droplets and remain suspended in the air for longer periods of time (e.g. coughing). It's highly contagious, though there are other diseases which are more contagious.

    For example, if we compare by herd immunity, measles require upwards of 90-95% of a community to be vaccinated in order to keep measles from spreading to the unvaccinated in a community. However, with smallpox, about 80% of a community needs to be vaccinated in order to keep smallpox from spreading to the unvaccinated in a community. Still high, but not as high as measles.

  5. The average incubation period for smallpox is 10-12 days (range is usually from 7-17 days). The course of smallpox can vary, but usually symptoms will subside 14 days after onset. But (assuming the person survives) it takes another 7-14 days for the scabs to fall off. A person is considered no longer contagious until all their scabs have fallen off. Say for example: 10 days incubation period + 14 days symptoms to subside + 14 days for scabs to fall off = 38 days.

    In case anyone would like a bit more detail (though I could go in more depth than even here). After the incubation period, the patient will experience an acute onset of general signs and symptoms lasting 2-3 days (e.g. fevers, chills, rigors, malaise, aches and pains, nausea and vomiting). After these 2-3 days, the patient will develop a centrifugally distributed rash with lesions usually involving the face and extremities. Over the next 7-8 days, these lesions typically generalize across the entire body, and evolve through various stages (i.e. macular, papular, vesicular, pustular). Within a month or so, the patient will have either improved or not, but even if they improve a lot of complications may persist (e.g. permanent scarring, blindness, arthritis, infection with other opportunistic pathogens like pneumonia).

  6. Smallpox doesn't have a latent state. It doesn't hide as an asymptomatic infection. There's no carrier state for smallpox. Smallpox will produce overt signs (e.g. rash, lesions). (As an aside, this is one reason smallpox was able to be "eradicated".)

  7. If a person is infected with smallpox, but doesn't die, instead recovers, then (generally speaking) they should have lifelong immunity.

  8. As far as anyone is aware, smallpox has been "eradicated". I think the last known case was back in the 1970s. The only official specimens are in the CDC and I believe somewhere in Russia (though it's known the Soviet Union did attempt to weaponize smallpox in the past).

    Of course, who knows if terrorists or other nefarious groups have acquired smallpox which they could weaponize? After all, at one point, there were a lot of labs around the world which had smallpox since there was a lot of research on it. They should have destroyed all the smallpox in their possession, but did everyone do so?

III. Musings and speculations

Given all this:

  1. I suppose the straightforward answer (or one straightforward answer) could be if the conquistadors had already been exposed to smallpox in Spain or Europe and survived, then traveled to the New World to infect the Native Americans.

  2. People like Jared Diamond and Alfred Crosby talk about human contact with animals (especially domesticated animals) in the Old World vs. New World since animals can be reservoirs for infectious diseases. Specifically, living in close proximity to more varieties of animals might be relevant in building a more robust immune system among Europeans like the Spanish in contrast to Native Americans like the Aztecs and Mayans. However, it's debatable, I think.

    More to the point, since smallpox doesn't have an animal reservoir, since smallpox only infects humans, thus humans are its only reservoir, I'm not entirely sure how arguments from Diamond and Crosby would be relevant to smallpox, except indirectly at best, even if they are relevant to other communicable diseases?

  3. I believe people like Diamond and Crosby also talk about how much more dense European population centers were at the time in comparison to Native American population centers, where only a city like Tenochtitlan would've rivaled Europe. A more dense population center may mean more likelihood of exposure to various pathogens, which in turn could perhaps account for more robust immune systems among Europeans in contrast to Native Americans. That might be worth exploring as well, but again it seems to me it's a debatable topic.

  4. Generally speaking, it's possible the immune systems of Aztecs and Mayans are less genetically heterogeneous to one another than the immune systems of the Spanish to other Europeans. Perhaps especially if we accept the Bering strait theory that Native Americans trace their ancestry back to those groups which crossed the Bering strait.

    Anyway, if the Aztecs and Mayans have more genetically similar immune systems to other Native Americans than the Spanish do to other Europeans (say if the immune systems of all Native Americans are 50% identical, while the immune systems of all Europeans are 10% identical, just to use completely made-up figures), then it's possible a pathogen like smallpox could wreak havoc among Native Americans more easily if the pathogen can take advantage of something in the more similar immune systems, whereas the Spanish could more likely resist it.

    However, once again, I think this is debatable. It could just as well be entirely mistaken.

  5. Another consideration is the climate and environment in which infectious diseases tend to thrive and spread. Say Mesoamerica vs. the Spanish peninsula. Was there anything about each environment that made it more likely for certain diseases to thrive and spread? Or which inhibited them from thriving and spreading? Or say temperate climates vs. tropical or sub-tropical climates? And so on.

  6. Quite interestingly, historian Suzanne Alchon argues the following in her book A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective (emphasis mine):

    This study of disease among the native peoples of the New World before and after 1492 challenges many widely held notions about encounters between European and native peoples. Whereas many late twentieth century scholars blamed the catastrophic decline of postconquest native populations on the introduction of previously unknown infections from the Old World, Alchon argues that the experiences of native peoples in the New World closely resembled those of other human populations. Exposure to lethal new infections resulted in rates of morbidity and mortality among native Americans comparable to those found among Old World populations.

    Why then did native American populations decline by 75 to 90 percent in the century following contact with Europeans? Why did these populations fail to recover, in contrast to those of Africa, Asia, and Europe? Alchon points to the practices of European colonialism. Warfare and slavery increased mortality, and forced migrations undermined social, political, and economic institutions.

    This timely study effectively overturns the notion of New World exceptionalism. By showing that native Americans were not uniquely affected by European diseases, Alchon also undercuts the stereotypical notion of the Americas as a new Eden, free of disease and violence until the intrusion of germ-laden, rapacious Europeans.

  7. Along similar lines, it might be useful to look at, say, contemporary tribes in places like South America or Asia (e.g. Papua New Guinea) which have been isolated from contact by civilized societies. I presume anthropologists, for example, would take care to vaccinate themselves against known native diseases, so in the case of modern tribes it might not be a two way street like it was in the past. However, would anthropologists risk bringing their own diseases to some of these tribes if they make contact with these tribes? I suppose they take care to mitigate this possibility with good hygiene, minimal contact, etc. But still the possibility is there.

    Or if these isolated tribes happened upon people from their surrounding modern society. Suppose an Amazonian tribe happening upon Brazilians without any prior warning or other preparation by either side. Would there be any relevant parallels between something like this and the Columbian exchange of disease which we could learn from?

  8. By the way, I suppose if liberal violent PETA types had their way, perhaps smallpox would now be on an endangered species list, and in fact they may even try to spread it! I hope this is just an overly active imagination on my part.

IV. "Genocide"

  1. I've also read (mostly from liberals) how Europeans brought smallpox and other diseases to the New World, thereby causing a "genocide" among Native Americans. I think the term "genocide" is a highly loaded term, to say the least.

    For one thing, did all Europeans in general intentionally give diseases to Native Americans with the goal of wiping out an entire peoples or population? Wasn't the situation far more complex? At the bare minimum, we need to make distinctions between different Europeans and different Native Americans. Perhaps there were some Europeans who did so, but we can't generalize from some to all (e.g. there were some Europeans who helped some Native Americans get inoculated).

    Take this example. I've read there's some debate over some Englishmen giving blankets infected with smallpox to Native Americans in order to kill them. If true, then this would indeed have been a vile and reprehensible act, worthy of all condemnation. Regardless, let's assume it is true - can we therefore conclude all English colonials did the same to all Native Americans whom they encountered?

  2. I've read some people argue as much as 90% of the New World population was destroyed thanks to disease brought by Europeans. Where does this figure come from? How is it calculated?

    For example, is it based on some epidemics (e.g. the cocoliztli epidemics), which, let us say, killed 90% of the Native Americans, then extrapolated to all other Native American communities or populations?

  3. A couple of Mesoamerican epidemics in the 1500s, which killed millions, were caused by what the natives called "cocoliztli". There's debate over what cocoliztli was. Was it smallpox? Was it measles? Was it some unknown disease? Did it originate from the Old World or the New World?

    I've read some argue cocoliztli was a disease indigenous to the New World rather than transmitted by Europeans. For example, see here.

    I haven't deeply looked into any of this, so I don't know.

    However, if cocoliztli was indigenous to the Americas, then it would undercut the idea that it was the European diseases alone which were responsible for the alleged "genocide" of Native Americans. Especially if cocoliztli was not smallpox.

  4. Likewise, from the same article:

    In the 1530s, a band of Spanish adventurers conquered the Inca Empire. It is commonly believed that some kind of epidemic devastated the Andes immediately prior to the Spanish arrival. Noble D Cook has advanced much evidence and argued strongly that this epidemic was of Old World origin, perhaps measles combined with pneumonic plague and influenza.46 However, if our hypothesis for the Mexican case - that some pre-existing New World viral disease became epidemic due to ecological changes brought about by large-scale and relatively sudden alterations of human agricultural practices - is valid, then perhaps the Peruvian case merits further study along these lines.

  5. Perhaps one reason smallpox so easily spread across Mesoamerica (and other parts of the New World) was due to the collapse of social order among the Aztecs and Mayans? I presume the Aztecs and Mayans faced disease epidemics in the past since most civilizations seem to have. If so, they would've presumably been better able to isolate and stem epidemics. Like leaders to take charge and organize, quarantine the infected, etc.

  6. I've read some Native American populations didn't suffer as badly from some Old World diseases as Europeans did (e.g. the Quechua people in the Andes Mountains and malaria, due to their consuming tea from leaves containing quinine, which helps mitigate malaria). Point being, it seems more complex than simply saying, all Native Americans suffered from disease at the hands of Europeans.

  7. Of course, it's not only the Europeans who brought disease. For example, it's possible African slaves brought yellow fever to the New World. Although, if true, no doubt some would still like to blame Europeans for bringing the slaves. But that would be overly simplistic to do.

  8. Speaking of which, since the Europeans were planting colonies all around the world at this time, there were a lot of communicable diseases between Europe, Africa, and Asia too. Many which killed scores of people in Africa and Asia (e.g. re-occurences of the black death in northern Africa). I wonder if any of them were as catastrophic as what happened to Native Americans?

Monday, October 10, 2016

"You can do anything"

If Trump shouldn't be president because of his sexual harassment or worse of women, then (on the face of it) it seems arguable neither should some presidents have been president because they did the same or similar (e.g. JFK who may have coerced an intern named Mimi Alford to give oral sex to a friend of his while JFK watched).

If fair is fair, then the same people who have (rightly) criticized Trump should likewise criticize former presidents like JFK and Bill Clinton who sexually harassed women or worse. These same people should say something like: Trump shouldn't be president because he is a sexual predator, and neither should JFK or Bill have been president because they too were or are sexual predators.

However, I won't hold my breath because many of these same people who are criticizing Trump have a double standard when it comes to their own side. They will only criticize people who don't share their political views rather than being fair-minded and consistent and criticizing anyone (regardless of political affiliation or politics in general) who has sexually harassed women or worse.

In fact, if they were truly fair, then they would also criticize women who have sexually harassed men or worse. For example, if a woman touches or grabs a man's leg or butt, and he doesn't want it, then it's possible she has sexually harassed him.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Our first [blank] president

We often hear liberals tell us we should vote for one candidate over another candidate because they'll be our first president of this race or that gender. For example, we hear liberals tell us we should vote for Obama over another candidate because he'll be our first black president. Likewise, the reason we should vote for Hillary over another candidate is because she'll be our first female president.

At the same time, it's interesting to note that, for the generation born under Obama's term (i.e. those who are now about 7 years old or less), they'll only have known a black president. If we then assume Hillary will become the next president, then for the generation that's only known Obama and/or Hillary as president, they'll only have known a black and/or female president. If this trend continues until they're eligible to vote, then they'll have known a black and/or female president.

Now, let us take this same principle, and ask, why couldn't these upcoming generations, when they come of age to vote, argue along these lines and say they should vote for a white male for president since they'll never have known a white male president? Suppose the choice is between a white male for president vs. a white female for president, and suppose they've only known a string of white female presidents, then for them gender could be the deciding factor.

Sure, it won't be the first white male president in the whole of American history. (Though, in our hypothetical, it won't be the first female president either.) But it will be the first white male president in their history. So the same principle would still seem to be applicable, i.e., preferencing one person over another person because that person will be our first [blank] president.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

SpaceX

Elon Musk recently gave his much anticipated talk "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species" about eventually sending people to Mars and beyond.

Just a few scribbles for now:

  1. His talk slides as well as the aesthetics of his presentation are beautiful in their simplicity.

  2. Musk may sell himself as the real life Tony Stark, but he rather strikes me as someone on the tip of devolving into Howard Hughes. Certainly his charisma falls far short of the image he wishes to project of himself. He'd probably be better off having a right hand man or woman give his presentations and talks, or at least hiring someone to improve his public speaking skills if he doesn't wish to give up the reins, but I guess every Silicon Valley CEO thinks they can be Steve Jobs.

  3. However, the substance of his talk seemed quite a bit less than the expectations would've predicted. Perhaps that was inevitable. Maybe the expectations were ramped up way too high. I may get more into what I thought about his specifics and technicalities in the future (e.g. I think he minimizes risks to humans like radiation). Suffice it to say for now I think it's much tougher to land a person on Mars than Musk seems to make it out to be let alone establish a human colony there. A book like Mankind Beyond Earth is a good place to start.

  4. Attempting to establish a human colony on Mars (or the Moon) is in a sense a science experiment writ large. It's an attempt to create a viable biosphere. Another Earth in miniature. For instance, what ingredients would be needed in order to create an off-planet habitat which can sustain human life indefinitely? For starters, we'd need to consider such vitals as temperature (not too hot, not too cold), atmosphere (enough oxygen to breathe, enough carbon dioxide to help drive breathing, enough to shield cosmic radiation from harming humans), adequate energy intake (food and water sources), gravity (again, not too much, nor too little, otherwise it'd adversely effect our bodies including the sense of balance, bones, muscles, the immune system, heart pumping blood around the body), etc. Anyway, point being, creating a habitat for humanity on Mars may prove a real world echo of arguments for fine-tuning and other design arguments. I may expand on this in a future post as well.

  5. Atheists like Musk often wax poetic about space exploration. The search for knowledge, to go where no one has gone before, the possibility of making first contact with another intelligent species, for the sheer adventure of it all, and so on.

    Of course, the reality is more mundane. Atheists think we must go off planet because it's inevitable an extinction event will occur on Earth, hence humanity's only hope is the stars. We explore so we can survive as a species.

    That's true, but they forget (or ignore) the universe itself is headed for an extinction event too. So, given atheism, we're really just buying more time for ourselves until the axe falls, which it certainly will. Sure, there may be many exciting events in the interim, but our fate is sealed.

    As such, this casts a long shadow over all our strivings and endeavors. How could it not? It dampens the spirit of space exploration, to say the least, if and when we bring it to mind; and if we don't bring it to mind, then we're just pushing it back into the recesses of our consciousness so we don't have to consider our end. That's playing ostrich in a way.

    By contrast, Christians not only have a good impetus to explore, but we have good grounds to wax poetic about space exploration. We can explore space because we know all creation is God's creation, the other planets and stars reflect our God, whom we wish to know and understand, to study and adore, for "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Ps 19:1).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Liberals label

Many if not most liberals routinely use disapproving labels in lieu of reasoned argumentation. These liberals will label conservatives stupid, backwards, evil, etc., then immediately move to the supposed implication that therefore people need not and should not listen to this or that position put forth by a conservative.

For example: conservatives are greedy capitalists who don't care about the poor, therefore pay no attention to any plans conservatives propose to improve the economy.

Another example: conservatives are racist, therefore whatever conservatives say about blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other minorities is false.

Or: conservatives are misogynists, they don't have women's interests at heart, therefore we can safely dismiss whatever conservatives say about a woman's right to choose.

Closer to home: conservative Christians are poorly educated, anti-scientific hicks and rednecks, hence no need to consider anything they say about the theory of evolution.

Examples could be multiplied. But the point is, liberals who label in this fashion are not only illicitly reasoning, but they're behaving unethically or immorally. Indeed, these liberals are bullies.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Swinburne should be censored!

Paul Moser:

My FB friend David Sinclair has raised some questions crucial to being a responsible human being: "Are there any limits on the dehumanization of people groups? Is a biblical case for white supremacy, for example, within the realm of rational discourse? Apparently, Swinburne pathologized gay people. Isn't that beyond the pale? What other group could you describe as sadly inferior humans? Jewish people? Women?

There are certain notions in the 'free exchange of ideas' that deserve censure. I certainly wouldn't condone the position that all Christians are unfortunately mentally incapacitated...would you?

Let's untangle this woven web:

  1. Sure, one shouldn't normally condone racism or sexism. But how is homosexuality analogous to race or gender? That's simply assumed without argument here. Yet an argument is vital in the case at hand.

    For that matter, how is the belief that "all Christians are unfortunately mentally incapacitated" analogous to racism or sexism?

  2. How did what Swinburne said describe homosexuals as "inferior humans"? As such another unargued assumption seems to be if one "pathologizes" a group of people, then they have "dehumanized" the same group of people.

    If I said the Japanese have a high incidence of mental illness (e.g. major depression associated with suicide), and we need to help cure them, thereby I suppose "pathologizing" the Japanese, how would that entail I've described the Japanese as "inferior humans" or "dehumanized" the Japanese?

  3. Is this meant to suggest society ought to label speech against homosexuality hate speech? If so, then on what basis? I don't know, but if it is, then my best guess would be on the basis of offense. It's just offensive for people like Moser and Sinclair to hear homosexuality called a "disability" that should be cured if possible.

    If that's the case, then, for one thing, this cuts both ways. It's offensive to Christians (among others) to hear they should morally condone homosexuality.

    So how should society adjudicate between "offenses" here? That's a debate for another time.

    However, for the Christian, the first and final port of call for adjudicating homosexuality should be the Bible, relevant passages properly exegeted, in light of biblical and systematic theology on the matter. Ironically, Moser is a professing Christian. Thus, he should either accept what the Bible teaches in full or renounce his Christianity for consistency's sake. Instead, he seems he'd prefer to pick and choose the parts of the Bible with which he agrees largely based on his liberalism. His liberalism is what really arbitrates what's acceptable and what's unacceptable in the Bible, not the Bible itself.

  4. Or would people like Moser and Sinclar think it's simply intuitively wrong to say what Swinburne said about homosexuals and homosexuality? If so, then people like Moser and Sinclair are so provincially minded. They're stuck in the small world of 21st century liberal America.

    However, most peoples throughout history and most non-Western peoples around the world today have far different intuitions on homosexuality than people like Moser and Sinclair do. I'm not limiting this to Christians, but also most Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Africans, Asians, South Americans, and so on. Swinburne's statement on homosexuality is arguably more in line with the rest of the world's thinking than the thinking of insular liberal Western academics like Moser.

    Of course, I'm not suggesting intuitions are truth, but rather responding on these grounds.

Monday, September 12, 2016

God of the gaps

Militant atheists of the Dawkins variety often raise the God of the gaps argument. They think the religious are just saying "Goddidit" for an unexplained phenomenon. Say like how Norse pagans used to think thunderstorms were due to Thor. But now that we know what causes thunderstorms, there's no need for Thor.

However, one problem with this point is it's a false dichotomy. At least when it comes to classical theism let alone Christianity.

For example, now that we know the scientific explanation for thunderstorms, does this mean we should no longer attribute the thunderstorm to God? Christians believe God is the one who made a planet with phenomena such as thunderstorms, that God made lightning as electrical discharge, indeed that God made the laws of physics from which such phenomena result.

In other words, positing God as the ultimate source of thunderstorms is perfectly consistent with understanding the scientific explanation for thunderstorms. It's not either/or but both/and.

It's like if scientists discovered a sophisticated alien spacecraft. After years of studying it, scientists have figured out how the alien spaceship works. They know how to turn it on, how to fly it, how to use its navigation and weapons systems, how to land it. They know how its engine and other internal mechanics work. They know its energy source for fuel. They know what material it is built out of. And so on. Basically, scientists know everything there is to know about the alien spacecraft.

But now that scientists understand all this, would it make any sense if they then said, "Welp, now that we understand everything about this spacecraft, no need to posit that it was built by an intelligent alien species, for that would be superfluous"?

Of course not. It's not inconsistent to say scientists understand everything there is to understand about an alien spacecraft and the alien spacecraft was possibly built by an intelligent alien species.

Similarly, it'd make no sense on Christianity to say now that we understand how phenomena like thunderstorms work, we can therefore abandon the idea of God.

(Besides, science itself doesn't always close gaps. Sometimes science in fact opens gaps as it closes gaps. Sciences brings more questions. Nothing unreasonable about that.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

If fine-tuning, then...

I'm just aiming for a general audience in this post, not a philosophically educated one. The philosophically informed and trained would know about the works of philosophers and physicists like Robin Collins, Luke Barnes, etc. I'd heartily recommend following them on fine-tuning.

That said, given the purported evidence for fine-tuning, then the main options seem to be:

  1. Reject the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning.

  2. Accept the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning, but argue the fine-tuned universe "just is".

  3. Accept the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning, but argue the multiverse is behind it all.

  4. Accept the evidence strongly argues for fine-tuning, but argue for design by an intelligent designer.

I'll quickly run through each of these options:

  1. The evidence seems to be everywhere. For instance, if I understand him aright, Robin Collins divides the evidence into three broad categories:

    a. Evidence for fine-tuning in the laws of nature (e.g. altering ever so minutely any of the fundamental forces, i.e., the law of gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force)

    b. Evidence for fine-tuning in the constants of nature (e.g. changing the fine-structure constant, which, as Richard Feynman once said: "It's [the fine-structure constant, approximately 1/137] one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the 'hand of God' wrote that number, and 'we don't know how he pushed his pencil'")

    c. Evidence for fine-tuning in the initial conditions of nature (e.g. as Roger Penrose has said: "In order to produce a universe resembling the one in which we live, the Creator would have to aim for an absurdly tiny volume of the phase space of possible universes [i.e. one part in 1010123]").

    For many other examples, see a book like Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees.

    (And, of course, I'm leaving aside the biological and chemical arguments for now.)

  2. If we argue the finely-tuned universe is a brute fact, that the finely-tuned universe "just is," that we humans just happened to exist in such a finely-tuned universe by chance, that seems highly improbable, to put it mildly!

    Philosopher-physicist Robin Collins calls it the "surprise" factor. Suppose we are astronauts traveling to a distant and otherwise deserted planet. Suppose we come across a strange monolith which when approached is suddenly activated, and tells us: "Welcome to our planet, intergalactic voyagers from Earth!" It would seem highly implausible if we therefore concluded this monolith just happened to be here by random chance.

  3. This only pushes the question back a step because we would need to explain the fine-tuning of the multiverse itself. In which case some might argue the multiverse itself is a brute fact. If so, then it'd bring us back to (b).

  4. Seems far more reasonable than the other choices to me.

    Many atheists would even agree. For example, they'd argue our universe is a computer simulation in a universe which contains our own. Perhaps like in "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" in Rick & Morty. But how likely is this? What are the arguments and evidences for the simulation hypothesis? Perhaps I'll explore this in a future post.

    However, my own position is Christian theism. That's the most probable and reasonable one in my mind. (Although to be fair my belief in Christianit is not only due to arguments from design including fine-tuning, but many other arguments as well.)

All in all, this video sums it up much better than I can:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Walter Hooper: The Life and Writing of C.S. Lewis" review

I've finished watching Eric Metaxas interview Walter Hooper about C.S. Lewis. It's a three part interview lasting a little over three hours total.

My (ironically) meandering thoughts:

1. Hooper comes across as an absolute gentleman. His humility shines through as well. He seems genuinely honored and grateful for being able to do so much for Lewis' legacy.

And I never realized, but it's indeed possible we might not have a lot of Lewis' works today had it not been for Hooper. I'm glad Metaxas highlighted this point throughout the interview. Although Metaxas said this many, many times throughout the interview (no doubt Metaxas is genuinely appreciative of Hooper and wanted others to share in his appreciation) so it seemed a bit like overkill.

2. I think the best parts of the interview were Hooper sharing his own firsthand anecdotes about Lewis. Things Lewis said to him, did for him, etc. It gives us a flavor of Lewis the person.

Also, there were some interesting little factoids. Such as the possibility that Lewis had written a part two to his Surprised by Joy but that it was likely burned in a bonfire. Another interesting piece of trivia was that at one point Hooper went through some pornographic magazines in search of a Lewis essay (which he never did find).

3. Metaxas was his usual witty self. I usually appreciate Metaxas' humor and generally like his interviewing style too.

4. However, in this case, I think Metaxas being Metaxas wasn't always so wonderful. For example, Metaxas would interrupt Hooper to make a funny quip or perhaps in search of banter, but Hooper isn't the type to banter back and forth, and so it seemed to derail Hooper a bit before he got back on track.

Also, Metaxas would often speak longer than necessary to ask a question. A few times Metaxas interrupted Hooper just to summarize out loud what Hooper had just said, which everyone already heard, but perhaps Metaxas needed to clarify something in his own mind, which he did out loud. This in turn meant Metaxas would keep speaking in what seemed to be an attempt to find a question to ask Hooper. My guess is Metaxas felt if he's going to interrupt Hoopoer, then he should ask him a question. But the problem was he had to search for a question to ask Hooper. (My own paragraph describing this is almost as long-winded!)

To be fair, some of this may not have been Metaxas, per se, but instead may have been due to Hooper's own diffident personality.

5. Overall, though, I felt the interview was largely a missed opportunity. Actually, many missed opportunities.

If I understood him correctly, Metaxas had about a year to prepare for this three hour interview with Hooper. And Metaxas kept saying how central this interview was to Socrates in the City, and in fact the main reason they did Socrates in the City in Oxford, England was to interview Hooper. Metaxas said it was a "dream" come true for him to interview Hooper.

If so, then I'm surprised the interview wasn't better. It was decent, but it fell far short of the high hopes Metaxas seemed to have had for the interview at its beginning.

6. For one thing, the interview wasn't very well focused. It basically seemed like Metaxas was winging it. Asking questions as they came to mind as Hooper talked about Lewis. For the audience it's not substantially different than eavesdropping on a conversation between a couple of friends at a bar or pub about a third (famous/celebrity) friend.

7. By contrast, I would've thought there are different possibilities for how to arrange or organize an interview. An interview could have been structured around Lewis' relationships and friendships such as with Hooper himself, Lewis' brother Warnie Lewis, Joy Davidman, Tolkien, the other Inklings (e.g. Barfield, Dyson), Charles Williams, and so on.

There could've been questions about Lewis' relationship with Mrs. Moore, his gardener (who was the inspiration for Puddleglum), etc.

It could've also included Lewis taking kids into his home (the Kilns) during the London bombings in WW2 including June Flewett who inspired Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia.

They could've talked about Lewis' relationship to his atheist tutor, William Kirkpatrick aka the Great Knock, his poor relationship with his father, his mother's untimely death.

They could've explored Lewis on the battlefield in WW1, and how that affected him, such as when he lost his friend Paddy Moore, yet promised to take care of his mother, Mrs. Moore, who lived with Lewis until her death (if I recall).

But very little of this was explored in much depth except for Hooper's anecdotes about Lewis, Warnie Lewis, and a couple of mentions (nothing in any sort of depth) about some of the Inklings including Tolkien. There was a bit about the gardener which was very good though.

8. If conversing about all these relationships would've been too much to do, another focus could've been around Lewis' literary friends and correspondences (e.g. Eliot, Sayers, Tolkien). Like how Lewis started out hating Eliot's poetry including penning a scathing review, how they met at the New English Bible translation committee and became friends, how Eliot published some of Lewis' writings, etc. But this didn't happen in the interview.

9. Another possibility could've been structuring the interview around Lewis' fictional and/or non-fictional works. Perhaps Metaxas could've gone chronologically through Lewis' literary ouevre and asked Hooper about each of these. They did have 3 hours after all.

Or at least asked about the major works.

Metaxas did ask Hooper about some of Lewis' books such as the Space trilogy (especially Perelandra), The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, and a quick mention of The Great Divorce and Miracles. Maybe a few others I'm forgetting.

But it seemed to me only Perelandra and Screwtape were explored in any depth, though even still there wasn't much depth explored.

10. Yet another possibility could've been structuring the interview around how to read and write well. Lewis had a lot of writings about stories, letters to children offering them advice about how to write, An Experiment in Criticism is about being a good reader and writer, and so on.

11. Or on how Lewis evolved as a writer. Say a children's writer for instance. Say from how Lewis (and his brother Warnie) created the fictional world of Boxen as children, their love for the Beatrix Potter stories, E. Nesbit's The Railway Children series, The Wind in the Willows, many others.

This in turn could've led to an exploration of Lewis' apologetics of the imagination. Apologetics through storytelling.

Alas! This didn't transpire either.

12. Or they could've discussed Lewis' literary influences in general (e.g. Chesterton, MacDonald).

As an aside, I wonder if Hooper could've talked about Lewis and Tolkien's wager for one of them to write a space adventure while the other wrote a time adventure, and the Space trilogy and the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings being possible fulfillments of these, respectively.

13. Or perhaps structuring the interview around what Metaxas knows best. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised Metaxas didn't talk more about Lewis' thoughts and writings against totalitarianism, statism, the culture wars, and the like (e.g. such as in The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength). That's somewhat ironic in light of the fact that Metaxas himself published a book on Bonhoeffer and a more recent book on the foundations of our American republic i.e. If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. Aren't these in part about how Christians can live in times of persecution by increasingly anti-Christian secular states?

Related, wasn't Lewis himself persecuted to some degree by many faculty members at Oxford for his Christian beliefs and publications? Isn't that the main reason Lewis reluctantly moved to Cambridge in his latter years (after Lewis kept getting passed over for promotions at Oxford; fortunately for Lewis Cambridge created a new chair and professorship for Lewis)?

14. Metaxas also wrote a book titled Miracles, which he has elsewhere said he "stole" the title from Lewis. Although Metaxas confessed he found Lewis' Miracles difficult to understand. That's fair enough, because neither Metaxas nor Hooper are philosophers as far as I'm aware, and Lewis' Miracles is probably less known for what it says about miracles and more known for proposing the argument from reason (later picked up by philosophers such as Reppert and Plantinga). Nevertheless it might've been nice to hear if Hooper might have had any interesting anecdotes about Lewis and Anscombe's debate.

In addition, and again given Metaxas published a book on Miracles, I was surprised Metaxas didn't ask Hooper about Joy Davidman's seemingly miraculous healing after a prayer and anointing by an Anglican priest named Peter Bide, who reputedly had a gift of healing.

15. Another perhaps interesting way to structure the interview might've been around themes with each theme introduced by a Lewis quotation (since Lewis is eminently quotable). Such as the theme of tyranny creeping into the Western secular state with "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive" or "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil".

Or the theme of friendship with "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival".

Or the theme of Christian apologetics with "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else".

Or the theme of suffering, from The Problem of Pain to A Grief Observed, with "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world:.

And so on.

16. I think Metaxas hyperfocused on Lewis' knack for words. Like Lewis' invention of names for his characters in Narnia (e.g. Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, Reepicheep), Lewis' clever turns of phrases, etc. Don't get me wrong, it was fascinating at points, but I think Metaxas brought it up intermittently throughout the 3 hour interview when in my opinion he would've been better off had he simply done it once and in-depth and not kept coming back to it.

Also, I wonder why Metaxas didn't ask Hooper about Lewis' book Studies in Words at this point.

17. I, for one, would've liked to have heard Hooper talk about Lewis' academic accomplishments. Most people already know about Lewis as a popular author (e.g. Narnia, Screwtape). Many people know about Lewis' apologetics. But I would suppose far fewer know about Lewis' academic accomplishments (e.g. The Allegory in Love, which I've heard is still used in some college or university courses; the OHEL book i.e. Poetry and Prose in the 16th Century was briefly mentioned in passing and no more, I think).

18. It might've been interesting to hear Hooper talk about Lewis and Sehnsucht, but that didn't come up either.

19. Or to hear if Hooper would know if Lewis might have had any opinions about turning his Narnia books into movies. I seem to recall Lewis watching and enjoying the original King Kong movie, but I might be thinking of another person in that period.

20. The bit about Hooper talking about why he thinks Lewis would've converted to Catholicism was interesting. I wished Metaxas had pressed him a bit more, because the main reason Hooper gave for Lewis converting to Catholicism seemed to be the liberalization of the Church of England; however, the Catholic church has liberalized as well, whereas there are some Anglican churches which have actually become more conservative. Perhaps a more interesting question would have been whether Lewis would've been drawn to those more conservative sections of the Anglican church, perhaps even evangelical, had he lived longer?

Of course, I'm aware Lewis never cared to identify as an evangelical, but he likewise is on record for never having cared to identify as a Catholic.

21. I'm sure all this sounds like I'm simply being an armchair interviewer. And that's true to an extent.

At the same time, Metaxas had a considerable amount of time to prepare for this interview (a year?), the interview itself was a very long 3 hour interview, and Metaxas himself voiced several times the import of the Hooper interview. And it's not as if Hooper is likely to be around much longer since he's already in his mid-80s, I believe.

Anyway, I'm just surprised it wasn't a better organized interview, but rather seemed more like it mostly improvised.

And I'm surprised so much which Hooper could've been asked was left out entirely.

All in all, it was a decent interview, but it could've been so much better. There was far more promise than realized. (Not unlike this post!)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Something wicked this way comes

Thanks to Jacob Howard for these:

"In social science it is of crucial importance that fact and inference should always be as clearly distinguished as possible. For that reason this book is divided into two parts: 'Data' and 'Interpretation.' For example, it is unequivocally a fact that the vast majority of those whom my informants have accused of witchcraft have been persons of wealth or prestige. My 'explanation' of this circumstance is equally unequivocally a non-fact. When data and interpretation are closely juxtaposed, there is often confusion as to the dividing line between the two." (p.6)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"The classic Witchery Way technique is that mentioned in the emergence legend. A preparation (usually called 'poison' by English-speaking informants) is made of the flesh of corpses. The flesh of children and especially of twin children is preferred, and the bones at the back of the head and skin whorls are the prized ingredients. When this 'corpse poison' is ground into powder it 'looks like pollen.' It may be dropped into a hogan from the smokehole, placed in the nose or mouth of a sleeping victim or blown from furrowed sticks into the face of someone in a large crowd. 'Corpse poison' is occasionally stated to have been administered in a cigarette. Fainting, lockjaw, a tongue black and swollen, immediate unconsciousness or some similar dramatic symptom is usually said to result promptly. Sometimes, however, the effects are less obvious. The victim gradually wastes away, and the usual ceremonial treatments are unavailing."

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"On the whole, there is substantial agreement between informants on the major features of Witchery ideology. Night activity, were-animals, association with corpses and incest, killing of a sibling as part of initiation, various points of technique--these traits are mentioned in interview after interview and are not denied explicitly or implicitly in any. This concordance holds also for the literature." (pp.27,28)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"If a witch confesses, the victim will at once begin slowly to improve, and the witch will die within the year from the same symptoms which have been afflicting the victim. If a witch refused to confess within four days, he was most often killed. In some cases the accused was allowed to escape if he permanently left the community. A number of accused witches are said to have fled to CaƱoncito. But Van Valkenburgh is undoubtedly right in considering witchcraft as a crime for which the Navaho administered capital punishment. A considerable number of witches put to death are referred to in the literature, and a much larger number are known to me from reliable white and Navaho informants. Sometimes, when tension mounted sufficiently, the witch was killed without 'trial,' sometimes by an aggrieved individual but equally often by a group of relatives (and friends) of some supposed victim. The manner of execution varied, but was usually violent (by axes and clubs)." (p.49)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"But from a total of 222 cases of persons accused of witchcraft where some other information was available, some idea can be gained as to Navaho conceptions of differential participation. One hundred and eighty-four were men; all were adults. No women were accused as Wizards or as Frenzy Witches. All women accused were definitely old; 131 of the men were definitely old (spoken of as 'old,' 'very old,' 'grey-haired,' 'white-haired,' etc.). One hundred and forty of the men were described as ceremonial practitioners of some sort, but it must be remembered that the proportion of adult Navaho men who are ceremonial practitioners is very high. Twenty-one of the men were said to be 'headmen' or 'chiefs.' This is an exceedingly high figure, considering the proportion of such leaders to the total adult male population. Twelve of the women were referred to as ceremonial practitioners. One hundred and fifteen out of the total group were described as rich or 'well-off'; seventeen were described as poor or very poor; for the remainder no economic information was available." (p.59)

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"Of course, if we turn to the southern Athabascans, there are many specific parallels. Association with incest, trial and execution of witches and other traits are also found among the western Apache. Incest connection, killing of witches, ambivalent attitude toward ceremonial practitioners, the sacrifice of a close relative and other parallels likewise turn up among the Chiricahua Apache. But it is very difficult to find any trait shared by the various Apache groups and the Navaho which both of these do not also share with Pueblo culture. Indeed, it is my *impression* that Navaho witchcraft as a whole has more in common with Pueblo witchcraft (if one may lump the beliefs and practices found in various Pueblos) than it does with Apache witchcraft (if one lumps the information on different Apache groups). Such 'lumping,' however, is premature in the absence of adequate published data for Lipan, Mescalero, Jicarilla, and Kiowa Apache. And Dr. M. E. Opler, on reading the galleys of this book, pointed out many highly specific parallels, which I had not found in the literature. Dr. Opler, who undoubtedly has the broadest comparative knowledge of southern Athabascan cultures, writes me: 'I believe I can show that there are two layers of Navaho thought and practice on witchcraft, one of which draws largely from Pueblo sources; the other of which agrees in pattern and spirit with general Apachean.'"

Kluckhohn, Clyde. "Navajo Witchcraft." Boston: Beacon Press; reprint of 1944 ed., 1967.

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"It has been repeatedly asserted that 'possession' is unknown to the Old Testament. Keim declared it 'a modern disease among the Jews.' That is virtually the opinion of Meyer also. But the case of Saul is undoubtedly to be regarded as one of possession by an evil spirit. The terms describing the mode of action of this spirit are analogous to those which set forth the action of the Holy Spirit upon man; but the effects produced are those attributed by the ethnic creed to possessing spirits." (p.20)

Alexander, Wm. Menzies. "Demonic Possession in the New Testament: Its Relations Historical, Medical, and Theological." Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1902.

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"At the present day in China, the same idea holds sway. Where the native doctor fails to cast out a demon, spiritualists are called in. A charm is written out and then burnt, that it may reach any spirit hovering about. Incense is also burnt. If no name is written on the paper, the nearest demon accepts the invitation to eject his feebler congener. The first comer may offer 'a robustious and rough oncoming'; so that another charm is prepared, and inscribed to Lu-tou, a more facile demon. These are instructive illustrations of one satan casting out another. This pagan rite was Christianised, when the angels were invoked instead of the superior powers of evil (*Clem. Homil*. v.5)." (p.132)

Alexander, Wm. Menzies. "Demonic Possession in the New Testament: Its Relations Historical, Medical, and Theological." Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1902.

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"Witchcraft, familiar spirits, communications with and from the dead, trials by ordeal: fire, water, and poison; the magic circle, demonic possession, observances of the quarters of the moon, are all present-day African commonplace." (p.4)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"Among his many polite tricks is the transference of disease. A native falls sick. He has a real, or fancied enemy, who has ill-wished him. He consults his doctor: his nyanga.

The doctor then consults the spirits without whose advice he is powerless. Not, it should be clearly understood, the familiar and evil spirits, but the family and ancestral tribal spirits. If these inform him that the patient has made out a true bill, he tells him that he is right. So-and-so is his enemy. Now he will give varied instructions depending on his skill, individual preference, and tribe. Here is one method. The patient must obtain a portion of intimate garment from the enemy, and a similar portion of his own. These he must bring to the nyanga who 'makes medicine'. He invariably 'makes medicine' to suit each individual case. He binds the medicine in the scraps of cloth and instructs the patient to plant them secretly in the place where two paths intersect, over which the enemy will pass. When he crosses the spot, the disease will transfer.

So what? It's all a lot of hooey isn't it? Mumbo-jumbo and the like? It is up to you to call it what you like. I can only say I have seen it work again and again." (p.15)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"As to the means of smelling out, they are legion. A variation of the old 'yeka m'tambo' is one method. Only one bone is used, and it is laid, with the inescapable 'medicine', in a box, or basket, or other receptacle. Sometimes it is floated in a vessel filled with oil. The nyanga, after the usual incantations of the 'versicles and responses' type, names each person separately. If the person is innocent the bone lies quiet: if guilty, the bone stands up. It is uncanny to see this long bone, often a human one, suddenly take life to itself." (p.41)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"Though the sentencing of witches is strictly forbidden by the Government, it is surprising how many of them succumb to 'snake bite' when they get to their native villages." (pp. 88,89)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"The outstanding witchcraft practice in obeah is the manufacture of clay, wax, or wood images of the candidate for affliction and, by maltreating the simulcra, or alleged simulcra--some of those which I have seen are not even caricatures--evil befalls the prototype.

Again and again herein, with what may be considered boring repetition, I have been impelled to push home the same warning, here, without apology, I do it again. The too generally accepted thesis that all this is nonsense--stuff to frighten children and the like--plays right into the hands of the devilish practitioners. If by some mischance, from which may God preserve you, you become the victim of obeah, and lie in feverish unrest becoming weaker and weaker day by day--the despair of medical skill--you would not then be contemptuous of the power of evil. I protest I am as hard-boiled and normal as the toughest, but I have seen too much: I have tried unavailingly to save too many cases to be sceptical. More's the pity in a way. I would willingly have forgone some of my experiences."

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"The use of corpse flesh, and particularly bones, is common in Africa, both for witchcraft and for witchdoctoring medicines, but, apart from some of the worst Leopard Men orgies, cannibalism is very rare if not extinct. On the other hand, it is one of the cardinal rites of obeah, and undoubtedly goes on in obeah countries." (p.156)

Kaigh, Frederick. "Witchcraft and Magic of Africa." London: Richard Lesley & Co Ltd, 1947.

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"If a child cuts its upper incisors before its lower ones (known as *lutala*) it is thrown into the river. (I have been informed that the Ba-Kaonde throw such a child into the bush, and that throwing it into the water is only done (locally) by the Ba-lamba; as, so I was told, the Kaonde women believe that if thrown into the water the child's spirit will become hostile. I have, however, met with no case of a child being thrown into the bush, but have met cases of such infanticide by drowning among Ba-Kaonde and Ba-luba.) After the child has been thrown away the mother returns without mourning. No one asks any questions.

The reason for this custom is as follows: With a *lutala* child it is believed that every time one of the milk teeth comes out a person dies. Similarly if a nail comes off someone dies. If a woman allowed her *lutala* child to live, hiding the irregularity, she would be constructively guilty of murder of many people, a risk she dare not attempt to take." (p.50)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"*Mitala* are generally, like the *wa-kishi* and the living man's shadow, without substance. They are shades, spirits, souls. Restless ones, resenting some wrong done to the person with whom they walked in his lifetime, they wander around and avenge themselves on those who did wrong, and on their relatives and associates.

There are, however, forms of *mitala* that have substance. These take the form of a corpse--the upper half only: being legless as the legs have rotted away, and only the trunk, arms, and head remain. This kind of *mutala*, which is much dreaded, creeps about at night, pulling its legless trunk along the ground, and propelling itself with its arms, as a child when first beginning to crawl."

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"For some time I have had a suspicion, and reasonable ground for the suspicion, that there may be a class of professional and hereditary witches behind the scenes: men (and women) who habitually provide the means to bewitch, or impart the necessary knowledge to the layman to enable him to carry out his desires. They may just conceivably be in league with the *ng'anga*, but I do not, myself, believe that they are. If such exist they would be the people on whom to concentrate; but they would be very hard to find: one might even find an intermediate class of 'touts.' At home, even, in a matter like cocaine-selling--for instance--the actual vendors or hawkers are easy to apprehend: one can even find the 'retailer,' but the wholesale merchant or *entrepreneur*, the man at the back of it all, keeps himself secure behind a wall of secrecy. In all the 'under-world' at home the brainy initiators, and other useful people like the receivers are but rarely given away. I have often been on the tracks of such 'master-witches' but have never found any direct evidence, and I gather that the confessions of convicted witches as to the source of their supply or knowledge only relates to other 'casual witches' or to what may be called agents. It is, however, extraordinary how often one finds that in cases of witchcraft the witch went 'to some man who he thought was likely to know about such things,' or 'went to so-and-so because he had heard that he could provide him with what he sought,' or 'consulted a certain person because he was the obvious person to consult.' A would-be bewitcher does not ask these things at random, and so pile up evidence against himself: he does not go first to one, then to another; but, just as a native woman who seeks the means to procure abortion goes straight to the right woman, so (apparently) does the man, or woman, who seeks some particular form of bewitching medicine go straight to the purveyor, or to his agent. I fear that one would need to be a 'naturalised native' to find this out, at the present day anyhow. I submit, however, that it is possible, even probable, that besides people who might be called incidental or casual witches, namely, those who obtain and use the means of witchcraft against their enemies there are also what may be described as master-witches who are instructed in witchcraft from childhood and are as much an hereditary guild as are the witch-doctors. If it be an old religion they are the real guardians of it." (p.201,202)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"The witch-doctor undertakes this test [*Chisoko*] at night. The people having been summoned, sit round him, and he dances, singing his incantations. He has with him a basket, in which are placed medicines. After much singing, he takes the basket and places it on the head of a member of the audience (resting on the head, not reversed and placed over it). The basket still contains the medicines: the doctor then says: 'If you are innocent, the basket will come off,' and pulling the basket from the head of the person being tried (who is still sitting) it comes away easily. When the guilty person is reached, the basket sticks to his (her) head, so that when the doctor tries to pull it off it will not come away, but, instead, pulls him (her) up from the ground. Walking backwards--facing the person who is being tried--the doctor thus raises him (her) and pulls him (her) all over the space where the trial is being held.

This trial is used for serious cases of witchcraft such as owning and using *tuyewera* or *mulombe*, and the punishment is death (by beating to death and burning; or by burning to death)." (p.226,227)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"Further enquiries disclosed the 'facts' that the wing-spread was from 4 to 7 feet across, that the general colour was red. It was believed to have no feathers but only skin on its body, and was believed to have teeth in its beak: these last two points no one could be sure of, as no one ever saw a *kongamato* close and lived to tell the tale. I sent for two books which I had at my house, containing pictures of pterodactyls, and every native present immediately and unhesitatingly picked it out and identified it as a *kongamato*." (pp.237,238)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"The most interesting dance is the *Bwilandi*, or rather it would be if we could find out more about it. There is something very secretive about the native attitude as regards this dance, and an obvious fear exists that it is a thing that might be prohibited. It is more common in the north of Kaondeland than in the south, and may be of Luba origin. The name comes from the *bwilandi* drug which the dancers take beforehand, a drug that produces a kind of ecstasy. This drug does not grow (not in any quantity anyhow) south of the Luma. The chief feature of the dance is that the dancer simulates, either voluntarily or involuntarily, a lion; and goes about as a lion. But, and this is really remarkable if it is only made-up, he does not imitate the lion's roar. If anyone were to start 'playing at lions' the roar is the first thing that would be imitated. Another feature of the drug is that the natives state it gives wonderful endurance, so that a man under its influence can travel a hundred miles in a night--all the time 'as a lion.' The drumming at the *bwilandi* is distinct from other drummings, and a Kaonde hearing it in a village at a distance can identify it without difficulty.

Like most dances it takes place at night. The early stages may be in the daytime, and are quite innocuous. The attached illustration shows the 'overture.' The dancer has twenty genet skins as a kilt, and the proper chalk marks on back and chest. The latter stages, with the ecstasy and the lion performance I have not seen, nor do I know of any white man who has. If one did see it I fancy it would be distinctly 'modified.' Whether it has any religious significance, or any significance at all, I do not know." (pp.286,287)

Melland, Frank H. "In Witch-Bound Africa: An Account of the Primitive Kaonde Tribe and Their Beliefs." London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.; reprint of 1923 ed., 1967.

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"The victim could only say he didn't remember what happened, but witnesses told a strange story. I was called upon to put dressing on his 'feet' a month after the accident (?) occurred. He had just been released from the hospital, and I was told he had cut his feet. Arriving at the home, I found he had no feet. Both had been cut off well above the ankle. This was the story. He had been ill, and was advised to visit a witch doctor back in the hills. During the consultation, he was possessed by a demon who forced him to pick up a machete and hack off both his own feet. Bystanders were unable to restrain him. Fortunately, relatives were able to bring him the thirty miles to the hospital in time to save him from bleeding to death. But at twenty years of age, he was reduced to the fate of a street beggar because of his handicap." (pp.124,125)

See, Glenn A. "Experiences in Haiti." In "Demon Experiences: A Compilation," 123-125. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers; reprint of 1960 ed., 1970.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Donald and Hobbes

You can click on each of these for a bigger image:

Source here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Trump panders to voters

"Happy Cinco de Mayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!" (Donald Trump)

"I really appreciate the support given to me by the evangelicals. They’ve been incredible. Every poll says how well I'm doing with them. And you know, my mother gave me this Bible, this very Bible, many years ago...It's just very special to me, and again I want to thank the evangelicals. I will never let you down." (Donald Trump)

"Any day is a great day for pho soup. I love Asians!" (Comedian Nathan Fielder replying to @realDonaldTrump)

I suppose next up for Trump is a photo of him eating fried chicken and waffles then saying "I love blacks!"?

Or perhaps a photo of him smoking a tobacco pipe and saying "I love Native Americans"?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

DSM-5

Just a word or two about the DSM:

1. The DSM is touted way too much by LGBT supporters. The DSM was meant to be a guide for psychiatrists and other medical professionals, not the Bible or gospel truth or anything like that.

2. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). As such, it doesn't necessarily mean other nations like the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand will follow the DSM to the letter. It's not as if psychiatrists in these other nations genuflect to whatever the APA says is true.

For example, here's what an Australian psychiatrist has said:

Studies show 50 per cent of western populations would now be diagnosed with a mental disorder under DSM-5, says Professor Gordon Parker, the founder of Black Dog Institute and a University of New South Wales Scientia Professor of Psychiatry. "For 50 per cent of the population to now be regarded as having a psychiatric condition strikes me as straining credulity," Parker said at a recent media briefing.

3. Also, even within the US, there's considerable dissent from the most recent update to the DSM - i.e. the DSM-5. For instance, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which falls under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has said and done the following:

[T]he NIMH did not waver from its initial ruling that it would no longer use diagnoses listed in the DSM for its' funded studies.

NIMH director Thomas Insel wrote in a statement earlier in May that the NIMH felt the proposed definitions for psychiatric disorders were too broad and ignore smaller disorders that were lumped in with a larger diagnosis.

"The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever," Insel said.

The bottom line is there's debate over the DSM-5 even among secular psychiatrists and other relevant scholars and professionals.

4. What's more, I recently read someone claim: "The psychiatric and psychological professions have long since removed gender dysphoria from the DSM."

a. That's just flat out wrong. I have a copy of the DSM-5 in front of me. There's an entire section on "gender dysphoria." See Section II: Diagnostic Criteria and Codes.

b. Besides, just because the DSM doesn't classify something as a mental illness doesn't mean it's not a mental illness. Or just because something isn't in the DSM doesn't therefore mean it doesn't exist. If a mathematics textbook failed to include a mathematical truth, it doesn't mean this mathematical truth doesn't exist.

c. To say there's no such thing as gender dysphoria or to imply that gender dysphoria isn't an illness is actually something that many LGBT advocates would disagree with because that's how they'd justify having sexual reassignment surgery, hormonal treatment to turn them into the gender they feel they truly are, etc.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Revenant and The Martian

I recently saw The Revenant. I think it's probably my favorite movie this year, or rather from last year and this year. (Followed closely by Mad Max: Fury Road.)

It might be interesting to compare and contrast The Revenant with The Martian, which I also saw. Apologies in advance for the rather slipshod nature of this review.

Both movies relied on a single lead actor to carry the film, viz. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Both were directed by accomplished filmmakers, viz. Alejandro Inarritu and Ridley Scott. Both were well filmed, indeed very well filmed, beautifully filmed. They're both absorbing, and draw you into their own world. Both are films which give justice to the term "cinematic experience." Both are essentially survival tales. Man vs. nature. Man in unforgiving environments. Both are arguably worthy Oscar contenders for best picture, best director, and best actor.

However, The Revenant is decidedly darker and grimmer than The Martian. In fact, The Martian is downright upbeat in comparison. Sure, we see Damon's fear of death, his loneliness, and so forth, but that's largely in the background or in-between the main scenes which move the narrative forward. At best it's peripheral rather than central to the story. The entire tone of The Martian is optimistic and hopeful. No real bad guys either except maybe for NASA exec Jeff Bridges' character. But he's only a villain in terms of having to make cold calculated decisions that CEOs tend to have to make to the consternation of their employees, not as an explicit enemy to Damon's protagonist. Mars as a hostile habitat for humanity would be the main antagonist, but that's a given in such a story. There's no dramatic tension between characters, most of the movie is predictable, and the only real question the audience is left with is how Matt Damon is going to make it back home. As long as Ridley Scott delivers in this respect, it's a success, I guess. And Scott does deliver for the most part, although I felt the ending was over the top.

More importantly, I'd say The Martian is secular at its core. There's no explicit or perhaps even implicit mention of God, or at least none I can recall. Yet I find this extremely unrealistic given a man is literally stranded on Mars. Maybe I missed it, but wouldn't someone in such dire straits at least consider reaching out to God? Instead, the main message which comes through the film is, basically, as Matt Damon tells himself: "I'm going to have to science the sh** out of this." Sheer survival boils down to human reason and ingenuity, along with a bit of luck or chance. Time and time again Matt Damon beats the astronomical odds stacked against him, and lives. Yet, for all the talk of the movie's scientific and technical accuracy, the mathematical probability that Damon would survive seems quite strained, to put it mildly. How many times and in how many ways does someone have to get lucky for it not to be chance but providence?

By contrast, The Revenant shows man at his worst. It's man vs. nature, but it's also man vs. man, and in the latter man behaves like a beast. It's a brutal film - physically and morally speaking. No one comes out unscathed on either count. (Domhnall Gleeson's character fares better than most though.) Indeed, the movie well reflects the fact that we live in a fallen world, and that we ourselves are fallen creatures.

I suppose The Revenant is a film which liberal critics want to be about the noble savage or to have an environmentally friendly message. It's neither. Instead, the film is bloody and violent. It reflects a view of man and nature doubtless odious to liberal critics, pampered pajama boys, and the like. Watching it would be like throwing a freezing cold bucket of ice water into their face to wake them up to reality. A punch in the gut.

Civilization is not a utopian project for scholar-kings to tinker around with to their satisfaction. At best civilization is an oasis in the middle of the frozen wasteland that is the world. A privileged planet in a dead universe. Or as The Revenant depicts it: a sparsely populated ramshackle town with tall wooden walls on the edge of the frontier while howling winds, blistering blizzards, fierce wild animals, and death itself are always near at hand. It's a harsh truth for some people to swallow, for people who think the world is a place where we can overcome our animal natures by better understanding one another, who think weapons like guns should have no place in our sophisticated society since guns are reminiscent of a violent and primitive past, who think we all can sit down and have a friendly chat to iron out differences in worldview, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, it's reality. As Richard Feynman once said in an entirely different context but which seems apropos here: "Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Perhaps all this in turn partly reflects Alejandro Inarritu's Catholicism, as well as the fact that Inarritu has had a less than indulgent life, at least in comparison to many other Hollywood celebs (e.g. having to cross the Atlantic on a cargo ship as a teenager, one of his children dying in infancy), whereas I suspect The Martian largely reflects Ridley Scott's secularism, which we likewise see in other Ridley Scott productions like Prometheus. For example, in Prometheus advanced aliens make man in their image, as humans have made androids. It's possible the self-sacrifice and death of the alien "Engineers" lead to the evolution of humans. We have the theme of patricide, which shades into killing one's creator. Much more could be said.

Anyway, I'm veering off track now. But for all the reasons Godawa gives as well as others (e.g. gorgeous cinematography) The Revenant is probably my favorite of the year. Not perfect by any means, but provocative on several levels. An immersive experience in the fullest sense of the word. Not easily forgotten, even haunting.

By the way, I should add I had hoped I'd like The Martian a lot more than I did, and certainly better than The Revenant. That's because I tend to like Matt Damon better than Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor. I love scifi themed movies in general, and Ridley Scott's scifi movies in particular (e.g. Blade Runner). And even when significantly flawed Scott's movies are at least thought-provoking (e.g. Prometheus). The Martian as a novel is from a geek who gone done good, which likewise gave me high hopes. The Martian is still an enjoyable movie. Maybe my expectations were too high.