Monday, January 26, 2015

Google Factoid: "North Carolina Religion"

Google and Bing do a lot more than just index web pages on the Internet. I use them to define words, do simple math (addition, multiplication, etc), get the weather or current time for another location, and convert between different currencies among other things.

Quick instant answers to factual queries can be helpful too - see "confirmation bias" or "operant conditioning" for example:

A search for "united states religion" results in a Google factoid (via ABC News) that informs us that "Eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Most of the rest, 13 percent, have no religion. That leaves just 4 percent as adherents of all non-Christian religions combined — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and a smattering of individual mentions."

And a search on "religion state" usually provides some (questionable) state-level religious demographics as well. For example, "religion north carolina" tells us that "47.51% of the people in North Carolina are religious, meaning they affiliate with a religion. 4.28% are Catholic; 0.81% are LDS; 7.10% are another Christian faith; 0.19% in North Carolina, NC are Jewish; 0.25% are an eastern faith; 0.27% affilitates with Islam."

Note that some states have different Google factoids for "state religion" than for "religion state" - take for example, "texas religion" which explains that, according to the Texas State Historical Association, "The Catholic Church was the established religion of Texas until late in the Mexican era..."

Or try "north carolina religion"- yep, my own state now has its own Google factoid to commemorate the "high-profile religious extremism" (Time) of some of our state legislators...

Or see "north carolina state religion"...
Sorry, nothing yet for "motorcycle vagina"...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in which, granted, the former has a thousand times the chances of success than that of the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.
 - Albert Camus
Not Afraid
My own reading list has included the following pieces that may also be of interest to others...

Jan 8, 2015:
Jan 9, 2015:
Jan 10, 2015:
Jan 11, 2015:
Jan 12, 2015:
Jan 13, 2015:
Jan 14, 2015:

Monday, January 5, 2015

WFAE: Maybe you should have invited a medical professional?

I'm not a medical professional, and neither was anyone on Charlotte Talks this morning. Mike Collins did make some modest efforts to prevent it from turning into an infomercial, but it took 47 minutes into the hour for him to specifically note: "Now none of you are doctors...registered dietitians...or nutritionists. None of you are medical professionals." At one point he also made a passing mention of "critics" of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

On the other hand it took less than ten minutes for someone to mention Deepak Chopra, and Andrew Weil was offered (by Collins) as the token medical expert who apparently condones all this stuff. We also learned that you can apparently get mercury poisoning from dental fillings in which case you may have to have some type of "chelating" therapy (not specified, but my guess is cilantro). Why do we need to detox? "It's just like when you need to clean out your car or clean out the closet....the junk gets built up...sometimes we pack [our bodies] too much, with too much toxins, and the pathways get clogged up."

Collins spoke for his guests on several occasions. For example, he emphasized several times that they weren't talking about the "hocus pocus" stuff but instead: "Most of you are saying don't put bad things in [your body] in the first place, and here are the bad things that you should eliminate, and here are the good things you should try to see what works for you." To the credit of his guests, they did acknowledge that what they are really advocating for is "long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes" instead of "quick fix" solutions (which they also sell as a "great way to get started" on the long-term change). There were no questions about colon cleansing.

When Collins finally asked his guests if there is any "scientific basis" for what they were talking about, one of them admitted: "I think it's true that the research hasn't quite caught up with all that we're saying." I'm inclined to agree, but again I'm no medical expert either. Maybe WFAE should have invited one?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

WFAE getting all juiced up for detoxing on Monday

"Any product or service with the words 'detox' or 'cleanse' in the name is only truly effective at cleansing your wallet of cash."
 - Scott Gavura, pharmacist 
On Monday, Charlotte Talks is hosting a show to answer our questions about detoxing and cleansing. I'm not holding my breath. Their "local experts" include an owner of a local raw juice company, a Yoga instructor, and an "Integrative Nutrition Health Coach" from a local company called "The Whole Tulip" - who pushes Juice Plus+ on their website as a "magical combination of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients" that "has good science behind it...over 30 published studies proving the benefits in preventing disease and improving your health" (no babes required, just green smoothies).

No experts in science-based medicine will be on hand to counter the claims of these companies who are selling snake oil to treat the health issue that WFAE claims to be informing us about. Sorry, but that doesn't sound like public radio. It sounds more like an infomercial. Perhaps someone will call in and ask them about colon cleansing...

  • Harvard Medical: "The human body can defend itself very well against most environmental insults and the effects of occasional indulgence. If you’re generally healthy, concentrate on giving your body what it needs to maintain its robust self-cleaning system — a healthful diet, adequate fluid intake, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and all recommended medical check-ups. If you experience fatigue, pallor, unexplained weight gain or loss, changes in bowel function, or breathing difficulties that persist for days or weeks, visit your doctor instead of a detox spa."
  • Mayo Clinic: "[T]here's little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Indeed, the kidneys and liver effectively filter and eliminate most ingested toxins. The benefits from a detox diet may actually come from avoiding highly processed foods that have solid fats and added sugar. If you're considering a detox diet, get the OK from your doctor first. It's also important to consider possible side effects."
  • WebMD: "They're popular, but they aren't proven to do what they say they'll do: flush toxins out of your system. In fact, they may be risky and even backfire."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Grammar" (capitalization) lesson for "new atheists"

At Salon, Richard Eskow lectures "new atheists" on the proper capitalization of "God" - it should be capitalized when used as a proper name of the god of a monotheistic religion. And "in a 'new atheism' debate* characterized by mutual bitterness and rigidity, I don’t want to pour any more kerosene on seemingly eternal fires," but I would add that the "he" is always lowercase... :)

The Chicago Manual of Style "lowercases such pronouns, but it’s not wrong to uppercase, especially if you are writing for a religious readership or anyone else who might take lowercasing as a sign of disrespect. In matters of style, in contrast to those of grammar, there are few right or wrong answers. Different houses follow different style guides in order to make their publications consistent." **

But some Bibles don't even do it, so why should I?

That said, I'm no grammar*** nazi. So as long as you can spell and don't double space your sentences, I won't yell at you if you slip up on the proper capitalization of monotheistic deity references.

* This particular debate is now happening in the comments here.

** The AP Style Guide also uses lowercase pronouns to refer to God, and "'hell' is not capitalized, but 'Hades' is [and] 'Holy Spirit' and 'Holy Ghost' are both capitalized...[as is] 'Satan'...but not 'the devil.'" I think "God the Father" should also be capitalized - but not necessarily every reference to God as the "father" or "son" should be capitalized.

*** Technically, capitalization isn't really the same as grammar or punctuation as much as it's own separate thing.