Hilarious episode of This American Life

I have written many times before about my admiration for the way that this radio program tells stories, whether they are dealing with serious political issues or whimsical ones. This show really must be listened to to get the full effect, because these people are terrific storytellers, expertly blending in pauses, inflections, and music to great effect that gets lost with just the written word. Reading the transcript is nowhere near as good. Last week they had a particularly good episode that at times had me laughing out loud. It mostly dealt with watching films and TV.
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Book Review: The Unnecessary Science by Gunther Laird

Some readers may recall that a couple of years ago, I made fun of a press release issued by the publishers of a book by Edward Feser that had the title Five Proofs of the Existence of God and claimed that “the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments” (my italics). The point of my brief post was that life was too short to read yet another book claiming to prove the existence of any god since there have been so many failed past attempts. I said that if someone had actually come up with an irrefutable proof, that would be be earth-shattering news and reported all over the media and so I would wait and see if that a happened before wading through yet another theological treatise.
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How much physical distancing is safe?

As the pandemic drags on and countries try to grapple with how to achieve some semblance of normalcy in the fact of restrictions, they seem to have arrived at three general recommendations to help slow the spread of the virus. Wash hands with soap and water or use sanitizers, wear masks, and keep one’s distance from other people. While those seem straightforward enough, there are a lot of uncertainties within them. For example, when it comes to masks, while there has emerged a broad scientific consensus that wearing them is a good thing, what types of masks are better and are they meant to prevent the wearer from spreading infections to others or from getting infected by others or both?
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Radiolab on jury nullification

I have written many times about jury nullification, the little known right of juries to acquit defendants even if the defendant has clearly violated the law, if the jury feels that the law used to convict them is unjust.

We are all familiar with the process by which laws are created. We, the citizens, vote legislators into office. These legislators propose and debate bills. Once passed by the legislature and signed by the elected executive, these bills become laws and that, we think, is the end of the story unless courts rule the law to be unconstitutional. We are now obliged to follow the laws. If we do not like a law, the only option is to get the legislature to change it.
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Has the pandemic second wave begun?

As the death toll goes past 200,000, health experts have been warning that we should brace ourselves for a surge in new coronavirus cases in the fall, especially if people start to let down their guard and not follow safety precautions, either because they got tired of being restricted or they felt that the crisis had passed. Recall that with the 1918 pandemic, it too started in the early part of that year, subsided in the middle, and then roared back towards the end of the year and most of the deaths occurred in that second phase.

This graphic from the New York Times suggests that there has been a recent surge in new cases, which is worrying.

What’s the matter with Delaware Republicans?

Lauren Witzke is yet another QAnon supporter who has won a Republican primary and is going to be the party’s candidate for a federal office, this time for the senate seat in Delaware. But it appears that QAnon is not the only thing she believes in. She also has dabbled with flat-Earth and 9/11 conspiracy theories. She will challenge incumbent Democratic senator Chris Coons.
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This is where anti-science fervor leads

When people have a terminal illness and are confronted with the real possibility of imminent death, one cannot fault them for taking desperate measures in the hope of a miracle cure. This was what we saw in the early days of the AIDS epidemic when people were dying in large numbers and there was no effective treatment. Sufferers felt that the conventional protocols for finding treatments that depended on the usual three phases of trials to ensure safety and efficacy were far too slow and that seriously ill patients should be allowed to try experimental treatments that had not met the standards for approval.
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Nice example of good sportsmanship

This took place on September 13th.

A Spanish athlete is being applauded on social media after he sacrificed a top tier win in the 2020 Santander Triathlon to give it to a competitor who took a wrong turn on the course.

British athlete James Teagle was on course to win third place in the competition in Spain last weekend when he made a mistake metres from the finish.

Diego Méntrida overtook him but noticed the error and stopped to allow Teagle to cross first.”He deserved it,” Méntrida said later.

This is what sports, indeed all areas of life, should be like.

The rise, fall, and rise again of the Brontosaurus

I am not that well-informed of the dinosaur world, being able to name only the better-known ones, such as Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, and of course Tyrannosaurus Rex. So I was disappointed that the first name had, for some reason probably related to the way things get named in biology, been replaced by the name Apatosaurus. My three-going-on-four year old grandson is at the age when dinosaurs are of great interest and recently when he showed me a model of what he referred to as a Brontosaurus, I said, dispensing what I thought was superior grandfatherly knowledge, that it should be properly called an Apatosaurus. (My grandson calls me ‘Parta’, a Tamil word for grandfather and was what I used to call my own grandfather. My grandson thinks it is hilarious when I pronounce the name of that dinosaur ‘a parta-saurus’, as if it is named after me. That joke never gets old for him. He is not that far off in thinking of me as a dinosaur, though.)
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The “surreal goddamn nightmare” lives of QAnon followers’ loved ones

One sure-fire way to see if something is a cult is what happens within their families and friends. If they are so devoted to a group that they cut themselves off from everyone who does not share their beliefs, then they very likely belong to a cult. The responses to a survey of people who used to have relationships with those they knew who became QAnon devotees shows all the signs that it is a cult. One of them said that the best way to sum up the situation is as a “surreal goddamn nightmare.”
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