Durango Skeptics and Atheists NEWSLETTER MAY 2017

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 Robyn Baxendale, Lindsay Baxendale, Rebecca Martinez, Beth Jones, Marc Masor, and Kathleen O’Conner for their contributions to this month’s newsletter!


“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”.     – Richard Dawkins (Dawkins will be in Boulder CO May 22nd) 

Next general meeting:


Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street

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

Discussion starts at 6:30


The topic for this month’s group discussion: The Suicide Epidemic. Discussion moderated by Marc Masor.

In article published in the New York Times in November, it was reported that middle school students are now as likely to die by suicide as from dying in a traffic accident. Suicide is a national epidemic and it has hit Durango hard. A middle school boy who committed suicide earlier this month was the third person to die in 10 days and the ninth this year.


Marc says: came across this article in a blog from the American Academy of Pediatrics: http://www.physiciansbriefing.com/Article.asp?AID=722367 .  And that reminded me about this piece in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/a-river-of-lost-souls-runs-through-western-colorado/2016/11/03/154fd1a0-8651-11e6-a3ef-f35afb41797f_story.html?utm_term=.7fdea9e4fb4d

The suicide rate in Durango & Southwest Colorado is among the highest in the nation.  Just last night (Friday, May 12th) there was suicide prevention summit that drew a standing room only crowd: https://durangoherald.com/articles/157722-suicide-prevention-summit-draws-hundreds .  The speaker pointed out that not only has the suicide rate across the country increased steadily from 1999 through 2014, and not only is it the second leading cause of death among teens, “In the five-county region of Southwest Colorado, the annual suicide rate is 28 deaths per 100,000 people, said keynote speaker Susan Becker, a psychology professor at Colorado Mesa University. Nationally, the suicide rate is 13 deaths per 100,000 people annually.“

Why is suicide increasing nationally?

What is it about our region, our town and our schools that lend themselves to such an elevated suicide rate?

Is it societal, economic, or physiological (related to altitude?)?

Is there anything we can do about it?

Lots of questions arise from this situation.  What are your thoughts?

Member Talk

Book Club MAY-JULY COMBO 2017

The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/opinion/sunday/the-utter-uselessness-of-job-interviews.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share&_r=0    From the New York Times comes an article with a bearing on Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Experiments point to the fact that extensive interviews with a job applicant (or college applicant) do not necessarily lead to the best predictions of who is best suited for the position.  According to this author, interviews are not only worthless, they can be harmful. This article is an interesting introduction to the issues raised in Blink. 


“Surely, God could have caused birds to fly with their bones made of solid gold, with their veins full of quicksilver, with their flesh heavier than lead, and with their wings exceedingly small. He did not, and that ought to show something. It is only in order to shield your ignorance that you put the Lord at every turn to the refuge of a miracle.”

– Galileo Galilei


Measles in Minnesota Thanks to Efforts of Anti-Vaxxers and the Post-Fact Internet https://www.wired.com/2017/05/anti-vaxxers-brought-war-minnesota-came-measles/  Also see  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/anti-vaccine-activists-spark-a-states-worst-measles-outbreak-in-decades/2017/05/04/a1fac952-2f39-11e7-9dec-764dc781686f_story.html?utm_term=.77b3dcc21daa  Measles is making a comeback in the community of Somali immigrants in Minnesota. Measles kills 10,000 people in Somalia annually, but the alarmist message of anti-vaccination zealots has convinced this community of immigrants to forego the vaccination that would prevent this serious illness. “The answer used to be education—the more educated you were on the issue the more likely you were to get vaccinated,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research. Those days are over, he says. In no small part thanks to the proliferation of misleading information on the web. “The challenge is for scientists to be humble and acknowledge that in this day and age facts will not win the day,” he says. Experts say that the current outbreak is still in its ‘early stages’.

MeaslesMeasles in MN chart

Weed and the Aging Brain: The Possible Benefits of THC for Old Folks!  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/marijuana-may-boost-rather-than-dull-the-elderly-brain/     THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, may boost the function of older brains raising the intriguing possibility that it may act as an anti-aging drug. This article from Scientific American explains what biological mechanisms may account for the fact that while pot hinders the functioning of younger brains it seems to enhance the functioning of aging brains. Marijuana and brainsBut don’t rush to light up just based on the results of this research…it’s only been tested on mice so far. But trials on humans with mild cognition impairment are coming soon! It’s interesting to note that this research is not being conducted in the U.S. because research into marijuana is severely constrained by law here. No, these researchers work in Germany far from Jeff Session’s Justice Department.



Durango Skeptics and Atheists March for Science!  DS&A was well represented during the March for Science which took place on Earth Day.

Member Rebecca Martinez commented on her experience: “The Durango Skeptics and Atheists were represented at the March for Science in Denver on April 22. Members of the group who attended were Kathleen (and son), Marc Masor, Beth Jones and Becca Martinez (and daughter). We joined an estimated 15,000 other marchers to celebrate and promote the sciences, critical thinking, facts, reason and science education. Since it was also Earth Day there were many Earth and climate themed posters. We got a nice plug in for our group when we were interviewed by a reporter for the Denver Post. I don’t know if we were mentioned in the Post, but it was fun to identify our group nonetheless. We even rubbed elbows with a few celebrities… Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus and Gandalf! A nerdy time was had by all.”

Beth Jones adds, “I was heartened to see such enthusiastic support in the name of science and rational thinking.    There were people of all ages and backgrounds there including many booths set up to encourage kids to get interested in science.
P.S. when we got back to my parent’s house and were watching the local CBS news about the event, they showed a clip of the march and there we all were.   😀


Alex Jones’ Viewers Sound Off on Climate Change and Vaccines…and, Surprise!  https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/4/20/15295822/alex-jones-fans-climate-change-vaccines-science    Alex Jones, the King of Konspiracy Theories is pretty crazy, can we agree on that fact? But who listens to his ravings, why do they do it and what do they think about major issues like climate change or vaccinations? And why should you care? Well, for one reason, the President of the USofA is a big Alex Jones fan, telling Jones during his campaign that “You have an amazing reputation”…an understatement if there ever was one. alex jonesQuoting from the Vox article: “…Jones’s website (also called Infowars) now attracts more than 6 million unique US users each month, and Jones has a YouTube following of 2 million subscribers, which rivals that of many major media outlets. He can count the president of the United States among his acolytes.” But the responses of a small, unscientific, sampling of Jones’ viewers yields some surprising results…read for yourself.


Money Talks: Investors Urge Trump to Abide by Paris Climate Accord   http://www.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-investors-idUSKBN18315V?utm_source=applenews    In a letter addressed to the governments of the Group of Seven ahead of their summit later this month, investors with over $15 trillion dollars in play urged all signatories of the Paris Climate Accord to abide by their commitments to reduce carbon emissions.  Paris climate accord“As long-term institutional investors, we believe that the mitigation of climate change is essential for the safeguarding of our investments,” according to the letter signed by 214 institutional investors.Climate change action must be an urgent priority in the G20 countries, especially the United States, whose commitment is in question,” Mindy Lubber, head of the non-profit organization Ceres, which helped coordinate the letter, said in a statement…Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change in Europe, which also coordinated the letter, said nations should shift to a low-carbon economy “regardless of what the U.S. administration does”.


Kentucky Coal Museum Switches to Solar Power https://www.cnet.com/news/solar-panels-to-power-coal-museum/    The museum, located in Benham KY, will be installing 80 solar panels on its roof which will generate all the power the facility needs. Excess energy will be sent into the grid for use by the rest of the town. The move is expected to save up to $10,000 per year on the museum’s energy bills. Nationally, 251 coal-fired electrical generating plants are scheduled to be retired as the country switches to more environmentally friendly means of generating electrical power. More solar power came online last year than any other source of energy.

Coal v Solar


Where Does All the Plastic Go?  https://phys.org/news/2017-04-plastic-pollution-arctic.html  Natural currents in the Atlantic Ocean swirl all the world’s plastic into the Arctic Ocean. No ocean on Earth is immune to the onslaught of our culture’s unrestrained use of plastic. More information here:   http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/4/e1600582

plastic pollution


Plastic is Forever…Enter the Plastic Eating Caterpillars   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/04/24/plastic-eating-wax-worm-extremely-exciting-global-pollution/    The wax worm’s capabilities to break down all types of plastic at ‘uniquely high speeds’ might point the way to new technologies to eliminate, or at least reduce, the volume of plastics that languish in our landfills and clog our oceans. Wax_worm,_U,_Maryland,_side_2015-07-13-13.01.17_ZS_PMaxSee also   https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/04/the-very-hungry-plastic-eating-caterpillar/524097/


The Upside of Nuclear Disaster    https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/radiation-resistant-mutants-at-chernobyl-pave-the-way-for-life-on-mars   Scientists have discovered useful mutations in plants and animals in the aftermath of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear catastrophes that may help in the future of space exploration.

A radioactive sign hangs on barbed wire outside a café in Pripyat.


Hope for Sufferers of Chronic Pain – How a Single Gene Could Become A Volume Knob for Human Suffering   https://www.wired.com/2017/04/the-cure-for-pain/    New research into how pain signals are transmitted at the cellular level may lead to therapies that will allow sufferers of chronic pain to ‘turn down’ their sensitivity.  chronic painThis article relates the stories of two people at opposite ends of the pain spectrum: a man who can feel no pain and a woman who suffers from ‘Man on Fire Syndrome’ (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds).  From studying their conditions, researchers believe they have found a gene responsible for allowing (or not) pain signals to be transmitted by nerve cells.


The Universe in Verse    https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/05/08/we-are-listening-diane-ackerman-the-universe-in-verse/  (Contributed by Kathleen O’Conner) Poet Diane Ackerman, protégé of Carl Sagan, writes poetry in praise of Science and the natural world. She is enchanted with “…the way science keeps throwing buckets of light into the dark corners of existence…my work continues to include a lot of what people call science… I just think of it as nature… and it’s my form of celebration and prayer and very much the way that I inquire about the world. universeThe whole adventure of being alive is an extraordinary mystery trip — the world revealing itself, and human nature revealing itself, very often thanks to the sciences, [which] are seductive and startling, and that’s always been fascinating enough to send words down my spine.”   Hear her read her homage to the search for extraterrestrial life, We Are Listening as well as other poets at The Universe in Verse at the above link.



DS&A Member Launches Satirical YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKnvY1r3Mz9SqBm2rY3SI2w  Last month, we called your attention to a video which argued that satire is more effective than conventional journalism at illuminating some of the absurdities that surround us in everyday life. (HINT: It’s because satire can cut to the chase without dithering around being subtle or polite). Cut to member Lindsay Baxendale who has started to post a series of satirical commentaries on her own YouTube channel. She is neither subtle nor polite. Appearing as ‘Faith’, a young woman with metallic blonde hair and a giant cross on chain around her neck, she professes her dedication to the Holy Bible and her dependence upon it to inform her sense of morality. Faith on YouTubeShe eagerly shares some scriptural passages which inspire her. She seems to be especially impressed by Psalm 137:9 which encourages “…dashing babies against the rocks”. (Parents of young children should probably be aware of this before engaging Faith for babysitting services). She muses that maybe if she prays hard enough her cat will begin to talk with her (as animals in the Bible are reported to have done on a regular basis) and tearfully shares her fears that Atheist ‘monsters’ are out to get her. Already Lindsay/Faith has garnered some comments that indicate viewers’ strong reactions to her efforts. Take a few minutes to check out our youngest member’s creative efforts!


Trump Signs Order Allowing Churches to Endorse Political Candidates   http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-signs-religious-liberty-executive-order-allowing-broad-exemptions-n754786?cid=eml_nbn_20170504   The so-called ‘Johnson Amendment’, signed by President Dwight Eisenhower in mid-50’s prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates on pain of losing their exemption. Candidate Trump promised to ‘give churches their voices back’, saying that freedom of speech does not ‘end at the steps of a cathedral.’ Trump signs orderThe Johnson Amendment, named for then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, has never been actively enforced against any church with one exception. In the 90’s, a mainline Protestant congregation lost their tax exemption because they placed a newspaper ad urging voters not to support Bill Clinton. The ad also solicited donations to help with their campaign. As a practical matter, pastors (and, presumably, rabbis and imams) have the right to discuss political matters from their pulpits…it’s only overt political activities which are prohibited. This is, frankly, a sop to evangelical voters who overwhelmingly support Trump’s candidacy for President.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Files Suit Ove ‘Religious Liberty’ Executive Order  https://ffrf.org/news/news-releases/item/29320-ffrf-sues-trump-over-church-politicking The FFRF filed a lawsuit immediately against Donald Trump and the IRS to prevent the implementation of Trump’s EO. The heart of the lawsuit contends that the EO benefits only religious tax-exempt organizations while still holding secular groups to the higher standard. This preferential treatment allows a significant advantage to churches and religious organizations to exert influence over elections while prohibiting secular groups from doing the same. The text of the lawsuit, which contains many interesting details can be found here:  https://ffrf.org/images/TrumpLawsuit.pdf




I give you this month’s Moment(s) of Bug! 

Tom the Dancing BugTom the Dancing Bug

Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Durango Skeptics and Atheists Newsletter with the generous 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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