Please go to durangofreethinkers.com to read the full newsletter! Some email apps do not display the graphics. The Newsletter is best viewed on a monitor…the formatting as it appears on tablet or smart phone may require a bit of scrolling side-to-side!

Editorial opinions and story selection do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the leadership or members of DS&A.  If you have a news item that you would like to bring to the attention of our members, please send the link and your comments to larrybollinger@comcast.net

Thanks to Kathleen O’Conner, Lionel Di Giacomo, Wray Boswell, Marc Masor, Mark M. Diamond and Ray Polidori for contributing to this month’s newsletter!

The three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.  

from the I, Robot series by Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992)



Next general meeting:


Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main St. Durango

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.

Discussion starts at 6:30


The discussion topic for this month:

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Computerized ‘personal assistants’, androids, machines that learn to play chess and Go, IBM’s Watson, Microsoft’s Tay, self-driving cars and trucks…like it or not, AI is no longer something in the realm of science fiction. AI is here, now. What are the implications? In what ways does AI mirror society’s achievements and its flaws? What happens when interactions with humans turn a machine intelligence ‘racist’? Are machines that are capable of learning autonomously a danger to humanity? ai-004Would the flesh-and-blood robotic ‘hosts’, as depicted in HBO’s futuristic West World, deserve human rights?  What happens when a self-driving vehicle must choose between two bad outcomes? Will future intelligent machines be able to design new and improved versions of itself? The mind reels.

Kathleen O’Conner and Lionel D Giacomo will lead the group discussion to lead off the next general meeting. Ask Siri if you have time to attend!


Here are some links to background with some comments by Lionel:

Current state of general purpose AI: I’m very interested in Google’s Deepmind, and although the following video is long, I think he gets across some of the depth and technical aspects of cutting edge AI in a clear way. The first bit mostly focuses on AI in games and AlphaGo, their go-playing AI. The last 15 or so minutes has a lot of the other applications of the general AI they’re developing.
Demis Hassabis, the founder of Deepmind, Nov. 2016 (~45m): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0NuW1j9RPA

Trusting machines with our lives: Self-driving cars is going to be the first time where most people will find themselves consciously trusting themselves to a machine capable of killing them, in the theory that they are actually both safer than human operators and will safe us time. Here’s a great technical TED talk on the most extreme version of that, where humans are no longer even permitted to drive:
Chris Urmson, head of Googles driverless car program June 2015 (~15m): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiwVMrTLUWg

AI, automation, and the economy: I’m very interested in how the promise of automation and AI has often been to free up humans, but the result is usually just even richer capitalists. For instance, Uber sees driverless cars as a way to no longer have to pay human drivers. Here’s an article about basic income (Elon Musk has talked about this too, but I can’t find a good video):

Singularity Hub, Dec 2016: https://singularityhub.com/2016/12/13/if-robots-steal-our-jobs-a-universal-basic-income-could-help/


AI, WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT WORKS  https://futurism.com/1-evergreen-making-sense-of-terms-deep-learning-machine-learning-and-ai/

AI IS EVERYWHERE (BUT IT’S NOT UP TO WRITING A MOVIE SCRIPT YET  https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/25/ai-was-everywhere-in-2016/

ON AI AND RACIST ROBOTS    https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/24/microsoft-silences-its-new-a-i-bot-tay-after-twitter-users-teach-it-racism/

MACHINE LEARNING: SIRI GROWS UP https://backchannel.com/an-exclusive-look-at-how-ai-and-machine-learning-work-at-apple-8dbfb131932b#.9vxdggc19

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING  https://ethnographymatters.net/blog/2016/06/20/the-human-side-of-artificial-intelligence-and-machine-learning/

HOW AI TO TRANSFORMED GOOGLE TRANSLATE http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/14/magazine/the-great-ai-awakening.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share


“… the Church has ever affirmed that [morality and theism] are essentially connected, and that apart from religious the observance of the moral law is impossible”    –Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913


“The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.”    -Arthur C. Clarke, author, inventor, futurist. (1917 – 2008)


“The most important endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity for life.”                                     – Albert Einstein



Book Club Selection for April 8:

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance


  THE GOP’s BIBI-CENTRIC FOREIGN POLICY http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/12/the-gops-bibi-centric-foreign-policy.html  The Obama administration butted heads with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, but the incoming Trump administration has signaled an abrupt policy change that includes a frosty view of the U.N.trump-heart-bibi

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S RELGION PROBLEM https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/democrats-have-a-religion-problem/510761/  choir-303302_960_720 An interview with President Obama’s former Director of Faith Outreach explores the schism that exists between the Democratic Party and Americans who identify strongly with their religion. The problem, according to Michael Wear, is “religious illiteracy on the part of Democrats that prevents outreach to evangelicals and other voters of faith”.

THEISTS: SHOULD WE ENGAGE OR IGNORE THEM? (Contributed by Wray Boswell) http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/the-conflict-between-theists-and-atheists-has-become-a-godawful-bore-1.2926466#.WHHD9Dz-39M.mailto   “For large sections of the population, Christianity is of no more interest than astrology, flat-Earthism or the tenets of water dousing.ignore It is no longer even worth rejecting. …If you rage against the Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians and snake handlers then you admit their consequence. A sincere expression of unconcern is, for them, more worrying.”

THE TRUMP INAUGURATION WILL FEATURE ‘PROSPERITY PREACHERS’  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/whitehouse/trump-inaugural-to-include-prayers-from-prosperity-preachers/2016/12/28/9830fbae-cd4f-11e6-85cd-e66532e35a44_story.html?utm_term=.893992bea681


Among the Christian ministers attending the Trump inaugural are two preachers who ‘teach that God will make the faithful rich’. Some Christians consider such a precept to be heretical. It will be the first time that speakers who espouse the ‘prosperity gospel’ will be included in the ceremony.      NPR has their own take: http://www.npr.org/2017/01/13/509558608/with-his-choice-of-inauguration-prayer-leaders-trump-shows-his-values


FROM THE FRIENDLY ATHEIST    (contributed by Mark M. Diamond) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/12/26/i-corrected-this-absurd-letter-to-the-editor-complaining-about-a-churchstate-separation-group/   Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, felt compelled to answer a ‘letter to the Editor’ that was published in the Amarillo Globe-News in December. The letter writer, a woman by the name of Mary Chumbley, expounded on the theme of Christian victimization…that is, how atheists (and the Freedom From Religion Foundation in particular) have ‘terrorized’ Christians who attempt to practice their faith. Here is the text of Chumbley’s original letter, followed by Mehta’s annotated response. I apologize if the graphic re-posted below is not legible on your screens…you can view the original post at the above link.

The Letter:

I had promised myself not to submit any letters to the editor in the Amarillo Globe-News for awhile (sic), then this article pretty much eliminated that plan – (Freedom from Religion Foundation criticizes Spur cross, Dec. 9, amarillo.com.)

An atheist woman managed to abolish verbal prayer from schools decades ago, and as the years have passed, atheists have been allowed to chip away at Christianity.

Enough already.

We do not tell them what to believe, or not to believe, so this needs to stop now.

Like it or not, America was founded on Christian principles. The practice of any religion in this country is allowed without question, unless you are Christian. I am personally tired of it.

Organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, probably financed by billionaire atheist George Soros, should be investigated as a domestic terrorist group. At the very least, what they do is harassment.

I wonder what is organization would do if someone were brave enough to complain about Islamists praying numerous times a day in public, as well as private.

And finally, to the person who complained about the cross in Spur, he or she should get a life and move on – you are in the wrong part of the country to be calling the shots on religion.

Mary Chumbley


The Response: lettereditoredited

“Rene Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “Will you have a drink?” Descartes replies, “I don’t think…” and POOF, he disappears.       – Joke by Unknown Author

THE EVANGELICAL SCION WHO STOPPED BELIEVING  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/magazine/the-evangelical-scion-who-stopped-believing.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share    “For Campolo, admitting that he had totally lost his faith was oddly comforting — he could stop living a lie — but also confusing. lost-faithHe loved talking to people, caring for them, helping them. He loved everything about Christian ministry except the Christianity. Now that he had crossed the bridge to apostasy, he needed a new vocation.”



LAKE NIGHTHORSE: FINAL PLAN IGNORES PUBLIC INPUT  https://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/index.html          The final environmental assessment of the uses for Lake Nighthorse has been released. Despite an outpouring of requests to limit recreation on the lake to non-motorized uses, the decision was made to allow motorboats on the lake from late spring through the fall. The Master Plan is posted here:   https://www.usbr.gov/uc/envdocs/ea/pdf/LakeNighthorseRecreationPlanFinalEA_FONSI.pdf

lake-nighhorseRead it and weep.

LOCAL CHIROPRACTOR SUCCEEDS IN PLACING FLUORIDE ON THE BALLET   http://durangoherald.co.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=02c13825e  (contributed by Kathleen O’Conner)  In case you missed the front page story in the Durango Herald, the signature gathering efforts by a Durango-area chiropractor has been successful and the issue of fluoridation of our drinking water will be put up to a vote.glass-half-full Area dentists have been vocal in support of fluoridation which has been a matter of nationwide public policy for decades. Here, for example, is a letter from a Durango dentist defending the practice which appeared in the same issue of the Herald:

Treating children shows fluoridation works

I have practiced dentistry for 16 years and have specialized in caring for children. I have studied the cavity process in great detail. I have researched the physical changes fluoride produces to lower cavity rates, and I have studied common risk factors for high-risk patients. This I have done in three regions of the United States, and in three foreign countries.

As I treat children from all corners of this region, I assess their cavity rate, their diet, their socioeconomic status, their family dynamics, their access to care, and their dental IQ to understand on an individual level why a child has decay. These observations give me great insight into not only what is proven in national journals but what cavities looks like in areas around here.

Please hear this: The level of protection municipal fluoridation has for members of our community is resulting in a decreased risk of decay compared to non-fluoridated areas. Fluoridated water provides a layer of protection that if removed could be catastrophic for our children and the taxpayers whowill have to afford the repair.

Don’t be fooled by the skewed statistics. A 20 percent reduction in cavities does not mean one less cavity in your lifetime. That means 12 cavities in a 4-year-old instead of 16. That means 20 fewer children undergoing comprehensive dental rehabilitation under general anesthesia every year in my practice alone. That means saving taxpayers a $100,000 burden in care costs. A 20 percent reduction may be the difference between multiple visits to the office instead of the risks with sedation.

I do not profess to understand all the statistics, but I can understand that for less than $1 per person, we can save our community hundreds of thousands of dollars. Almost 76 percent of our severe-risk patients do not have fluoride in the drinking water. That is a fact, not a fluke.

For the good of all, leave fluoride in the water. For your decision, should this come to a ballot, educate yourself on the known facts, not the fright.

Angela Pinkerton



OUR HOME PLANET AS SEEN FROM MARS   http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA21260     From the most powerful telescope orbiting Mars comes a new view of Earth and its moon, showing continent-size detail on the planet and the relative size of the moon.


CAN SOME EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS BE LINKED TO CLIMATE CHANGE? HOW CAN WE TELL? https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/yes-some-extreme-weather-can-be-blamed-on-climate-change/   According to Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, the answer is ‘yes’. Advances in recent years in the field of statistical analysis (known as ‘attribution science’) make it possible to determine to what extent wildfires, drought, heat waves, floods and other extreme weather events are ‘forced’ by global climate change. Read an interview with Otto at the above link.


DOCTOR WALKS BACK HIS COMMENTS ABOUT VACCINE DANGER (contributed by Marc Masor) A recurring topic of discussion returns!  Anti-vaxxers got a boost when a doctor at a prominent medical center wrote an opinion piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer questioning vaccine safety. Then the doctor tried to take it all back! The text below comes from the website Medscape.com. Since it requires a password for access, Marc made the entire text available for inclusion in the newsletter.vaccines-shots-or-not  Marc commented: This type of behavior exemplifies why this is still such a controversial area. When someone with legitimate credentials, writing behind the name of a well-respected health organization, makes a statement it gives a false sense of legitimacy to that statement. [This is] a perfect example of why we need to be critical and skeptical thinks when reading these reports regardless of the source. The bottom line is always: SHOW ME THE DATA!”

This type of behavior exemplifies why this is still such a controversial area.  When someone with legitimate credentials writing behind the name of a well-respected health organization makes a statement it gives a false sense of legitimacy to that statement.  A perfect example of why we need to be critical and skeptical thinkers when reading these reports, regardless of the source.  The bottom line is always “SHOW ME THE DATA”!!!!

Executive Summary: a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic wrote on his blog that additives to vaccines pose a danger to patients – babies and children in particular.  After a strong push-back by the clinic and other health professionals, the doctor is scrambling to retract and re-characterize his comments. A deeper issue seems to be the developing of a ‘wellness’ industry that some fear includes medical treatment that borders on quackery. The ‘wellness center’ business model apparently can be quite lucrative and some in the medical profession fear that ‘alternative medicine’ will be promoted as ‘wellness centers’ proliferate. Perhaps someone with a medical background can provide more details about this emerging controversy in a future newsletter?

The complete text:    The medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute has backed off allegations he made in a newspaper column that adjuvants and preservatives in vaccines may be contributing to a rise in autism and the “chronic disease epidemic,” but the physician is still facing disciplinary action by the prestigious medical institution.

The Clinic would not make the physician, Daniel Neides, MD, a family physician, and medical director and chief operating officer of the Wellness Institute, available for an interview, but issued a statement on his behalf.

“I apologize and regret publishing a blog that has caused so much concern and confusion for the public and medical community,” said Dr Neides, through the Clinic. “I fully support vaccinations and my concern was meant to be positive around the safety of them,” he said.

Dr Neides wrote a column that appeared on Cleveland.com, the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s website, on January 6. In the piece, Dr Neides said he had taken ill after receiving an influenza vaccine. He also said that “a toxic burden” — including preservatives in vaccines — was “contributing to the chronic disease epidemic” in the United States.

“Does the vaccine burden — as has been debated for years — cause autism? I don’t know and will not debate that here,” wrote Dr Neides. But, he added, “What I will stand up and scream is that newborns without intact immune systems and detoxification systems are being over-burdened with PERSERVATIVES AND ADJUVANTS IN THE VACCINES.”

By January 8, the Cleveland Clinic had distanced itself from Dr Neides. “Harmful myths and untruths about vaccinations have been scientifically debunked in rigorous ways,” said the organization, in a statement. “We completely support vaccinations to protect people, especially children who are particularly vulnerable.”

The Clinic went on to say that Dr Neides “published his statement without authorization from Cleveland Clinic. His views do not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.”

A Clinic spokeswoman would not say what action would be taken or when.

The column ignited a social media firestorm, with many attacking Dr Neides for his antivaccination views, and others saying the Cleveland Clinic only had itself to blame because it had embraced what some see as nonevidence-based medicine.

“The @ClevelandClinic is trading decades of hard won credibility for a wellness center. Insanity,” said Joel Topf, MD, a nephrologist, on Twitter. Family physician Kent Willyard, MD, tweeted, “They should know better. ‘Wellness’ (as distinguished from healthcare) is becoming a synonym for ‘quackery.'”

Adam W. Gaffney, MD, an instructor in clinical medicine at the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center, tweeted, “It’s impossible to be against ‘Wellness’ as a philosophy. What I oppose is the Wellness-Industrial Complex — the commoditization of Health.” Dr Gaffney, who is also on the board of Physicians for a National Health Program, added, “The nexus of healthcare and capitalism is an ugly place.”

“Far Too Lucrative”

Michael S. Sinha, MD, a physician-attorney and research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Medscape Medical News that it’s no accident that institutions like the Cleveland Clinic have gone after alternative medicine. “There is significant revenue to be generated, either from insurance reimbursement — after appropriate physician referral — or from patients willing to pay out-of-pocket for these services,” he said in an email. Large academic medical centers also appear to be more patient-centered when they offer such services, said Dr Sinha.

The downside? Embracing a wellness center “lends legitimacy to its services, even those services that lack scientific evidence for their use,” said Dr Sinha. “This can, in some patients’ minds, make unproven pseudo-science seem like reasonable or equivalent alternatives to evidence-based treatments.”

Even though the incident with Dr Neides may have been an embarrassment to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s not likely to change the Wellness Institute business model, Dr Sinha said. “It’s far too lucrative for them to abandon”

The episode may lead to fewer public comments by physicians at wellness centers, however, he said. “I suspect fewer wellness physicians — and perhaps fewer physicians in general — will have employer-promoted monthly blog posts in local news sources.”

Sometimes, we try too hard to get to the greener grass…cow-01…in the process, we end up in trouble.

And when you find yourself in trouble and you’re stuck in a situation that you can’t get out of there is one thing you should always remember:

Not everyone who shows up…cow-02

…is there to help you!!!!

Now, your moment of Bug with not one, not two, but yes, THREE Tom the Dancing Bug cartoons!

(I couldn’t decide on just one!)

Tom the Dancing Bug
Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Durango Skeptics and Atheists Newsletter with the permission of its creator, Reuben Bolling.  See more TtDB cartoons at http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug. Help support Reuben Bolling’s “Inner Hive”

Tom the Dancing Bug

Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Durango Skeptics and Atheists Newsletter with the permission of its creator, Reuben Bolling.  See more TtDB cartoons at http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug. Help support Reuben Bolling’s “Inner Hive”

Tom the Dancing Bug 

Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Durango Skeptics and Atheists Newsletter with the permission of its creator, Reuben Bolling.  See more TtDB cartoons at http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug. Help support Reuben Bolling’s “Inner Hive”


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