SGU Episode 412
|This episode needs: 'Today I Learned' list, segment redirects.||How to Contribute|
|SGU Episode 412|
|8th June 2013|
|SGU 411||SGU 413|
|S: Steven Novella|
|R: Rebecca Watson|
|B: Bob Novella|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
|JB: Joshie Berger|
|Quote of the Week|
|It takes a fearless, unflinching love and deep humility to accept the universe as it is. The most effective way he knew to accomplish that, the most powerful tool at his disposal, was the scientific method, which over time winnows out deception. It can't give you absolute truth because science is a permanent revolution, always subject to revision, but it can give you successive approximations of reality.|
- 1 Introduction
- 2 This Day in Skepticism (0:28)
- 3 News Items
- 4 Who's That Noisy? (40:37)
- 5 Questions and Emails (43:42)
- 6 Corrections (47:48)
- 7 Interview with Joshie Berger (51:17)
- 8 Science or Fiction (1:07:10)
- 9 Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:55)
- 10 References
You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, June 5th 2013, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody.
S: Rebecca Watson...
R: Hello, everyone.
S: Jay Novella...
S: And Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening, my friends.
S: (deep voice) Good evening.
J: Hey, Ev.
This Day in Skepticism (0:28)
- June 8 1959: The USPS tries "missile mail" for the first and last time using a Regulus Cruise Missile from a submarine outside Newport, Virgina to a Naval Station in Mayport, Florida.
R: Hey, happy firing mail using a missile... with the nuclear warhead removed day.
J: What? That's not a holiday!
R: It's... you know, I'm petitioning the President to make it official. But, on June 8th, 1959 the USPS, the United States Postal Service, or what would eventually become the United States Postal Service, tried missile mail for the first and last time using a cruise missile from a submarine parked just outside Newport, Virgina. And they aimed the missile at a Naval Station in Mayport, Florida, and successfully shot a load of mail there and it was considered very exciting at the time. The post office really thought that this was the future of mail delivery... is—
S: It was the future of phallic innuendo is what it was.
S: You got a submarine, a missile, mail, shooting our load... I mean, come on.
R: You didn't need to go—
J: (laughing) Oh, my God. That's awesome, Steve!
R: —with the last one.
J: But Rebecca, did they put real mail in there or just test paper?
R: Yeah, they set up a post office on the USS Barbero, the submarine, and they sent a bunch of mail there, which was all, like, commemorative postal covers, addressed to Dwight Eisenhower, who was President at the time.
E: Thank goodness it wasn't junk mail.
R: (laughs) Yeah, it was mostly grocery store fliers and used car dealerships, things like that.
J: So how'd they catch the missile; did it come down with a parachute or something?
R: Yeah, yeah, they just put a parachute on it, but... I don't know; I had never heard of this before and it made me laugh, because what did they try first, like a tank? Like we're just gonna... (laughs) Let's shove all the mail—
J: That's only town-to-town. That's local mail.
R: Right. Let's deliver this mail over in the post office to your house using this bazooka. We'll just stuff the mail inside (laughs) and fire the bazooka across town at your house. It didn't have legs.
S: But this is like one of the classic historical comments that, in retrospect, was a hundred percent wrong. The Postmaster General at the time, Arthur Summerfield, said, "this peace-time employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail is the first known official use of missile by any Post Office Department of any nation" and then he goes on to say, "this is an event of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world". He predicted that "before man reaches the moon, mail to be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India, or Australia by guided missile. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail".
R: Yeah, and that's what we're using all of our muscles for today, as you know. Look out, Russia, here comes some mail from the United States. Don't worry.
E: But isn't this idea 500 years old? I mean, I remember seeing in a movie once about that time period where they would attach messages to arrows and loose the arrows across the fields and deliver messages back and forth.
S: Message for you, sir!
R: That's a good point.
J: Wait, now, why did it fail, though, I mean, if they did—
S: It's not cost-effective. That's it.
J: Yeah, but Steve, what I'm saying is you don't have to launch a missile to actually figure out that it's not cost-effective. Like, a guy in a room with a pencil can figure that out.
R: Well, I don't know... according to the Wikipedia page on it, the Department of Defense saw the measure more as a demonstration of U.S. missile capabilities, so—
E: And postal capabilities.
R: This peace-time employment of a guided missile was more just preparation for war-time deployment.
S: They were just flexing their muscles?
R: Of a guided missile. Yeah.
E: (laughing) You just picture being on the receiving end of that and all of a sudden it's (whistling)
E: Mail's coming!
S: Yeah. And when that didn't work, that didn't intimidate the Russkies, they said, "what do we gotta do, send a missile to the moon?"
S: And hence, the space program was born.
R: Apparently the Russians also tried launching mail from nuclear submarines, but that doesn't appear to be in operation anymore, either.
E: Yeah. They just text now.
S: (laughs) Yeah, right.
Star Trek Into Darkness Review (4:48)
S: So this week we are going to do another movie review. We all watched the movie Star Trek Into Darkness. Now we gave it a few weeks. We figure most fans by now probably have seen it. If you haven't, there are spoilers aplenty coming, so you might want to fast-forward to the end of this segment. So, I know you guys all watched the movie; what did you think?
R: OK, if it hadn't have been—I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it as a brain vacation and if it hadn't have been a Star Trek movie, I would have enjoyed it more. But because it was a Star Trek movie, like after the initial "like that was fun", I just got really angry when I thought of all of the stupid things that didn't work.
S: Yeah. That was my exact reaction. It was fun at the time and I enjoyed the experience of watching it. I just like those characters. I just like seeing those characters interact, but it is one of those movies where the more you think about it, the more stupid and annoying it is.
R: There was like one thing that popped out at me immediately while I was watching and took me a while for me to, like, get over it and once again get into brain vacation mode, and that was the very beginning—okay, so a volcano is blowing up and they're going to stop it from exploding and how are they going to stop it? Using something they call a "cold fusion bomb". And what annoyed me wasn't the idea that cold fusion is suddenly a real thing, but the fact that they only named it that because what this bomb does is magically freeze all of the lava. So somebody writing this script was like, "Okay, so we have this bomb and it makes things really cold. What should we call it?" "Oh, well, let's call it 'cold fusion bomb', because cold." Like, no! That's not what cold fusion even means. Shut up.
J: Right from the beginning, they don't get the idea that they need to talk to someone that gets science. It's a common theme in science fiction. You know, in the '50s, people can get away with anything, but today, the audiences are too savvy and we're going to pick up stuff like that.
S: And did you pick up the name of the planet?
B: Yeah, Nibiru.
B: Yeah. Totally.
E: Speaking of the first thing in the movie, that's—I mean, you slap your head right at that point, I think. Are you serious?
R: Wait, what's Nibiru?
S: Nibiru is the mythical—
E: Planet X.
S: —Planet X that's going to destroy the Earth.
B: Hey guys, was it your sense that it was frozen? My sense was that it was just some sort of wicked chemical reaction that didn't... that didn't... that froze it, but not a cold-temperature freezing, just made it stiff; made it solid.
J: Yeah, looked like cold to me, Bob.
R: Well, I mean, it froze.
S: It was a massively endothermic reaction.
E: The visual effect of something suddenly freezing, like Frozone in The Incredibles.
J: I understand I'm watching a movie; I understand they have to create conflict and danger in all this stuff, but the point is, a good movie—you can't do things that are stupid. Like, you don't need to actually send Spock down into the volcano.
J: And if you're going to do it, you have to make me believe that there's a really good reason why you need to send such an important person down into the heart of a volcano. It's like, send a robot!
R: Yeah, send an intern!
B: Or, send a redshirt. Yeah. Send a redshirt.
E: Plenty of redshirts.
R: OK, and then... then the Enterprise... OK, this one also made me slap my head at the time. The Enterprise lifts out of the water. Like, instead of orbiting the planet and sending a shuttle down into the atmosphere like they do every other time in every situation, they decide to bring the Enterprise into the atmosphere and hide it under the ocean. Like, this is a ship that's built to be in outer space, not to get in and out of the gravity of atmospheres. And their problem with gravity and with the Enterprise in gravity was a major problem for, like, the rest of the film.
E: Well, that's the end of the film.
R: Yeah. Yeah.
J: I totally agree. It was for the script; I mean, they wanted those guys to jump off a cliff and go into the water. Like, why couldn't it just be hovering a mile down the road from where those people lived, or 2 miles. You know, it's a shuttlecraft. The shuttlecraft goes from outer space all the way down to the surface of a planet; why can't the shuttlecraft fly 10 miles to the Enterprise in the atmosphere. Or like you said, orbiting.
B: Guys, you know they were all sitting in a meeting, and somebody was thinking, "I want to see the Enterprise rise out of the water."
B: You know, "let's do that. What can we do to make that happen?" That's why that happened. That's exactly why.
E: It added to the religiousness of that particular scene. You know, in which natives are now praising the Enterprise as a god when something rises out of the ocean—
B: That's true.
E: —and it was definitely meant to enhance that—
S: So, what all this is getting to—there's a couple ways to criticize the movie. One is for the scientific inaccuracies, which we're going to go over all of those, but also just the writing was lazy and contrived. They took really the lazy path to create the situation that they wanted to get to. They needed a situation where Spock was in peril, where Kirk had to save him by violating the Prime Directive. That was a necessary plot element, and they just did it in the laziest way. But what's annoying about that is that there is no thoughtful use of technology. No one is thinking about what the technology would be like in this year, given their portrayal of technology otherwise. So, they have a transporter; they're not making any use of robots anywhere in the movie. You know, like, there's absolutely no reason why they couldn't beam a bomb down into the volcano and the bomb would detonate itself. Really? 300 years from now, they need a guy to manually, in the volcano, get there first, place the bomb—
R: And he's the smartest guy they have.
E: In a magic volcano suit.
S: And then rig it. Yeah. The scientific problem with that is—yeah, we mentioned the cold fusion thing. That's not going to solve the problem! The pressure's just going to build up until it massively explodes.
S: You know, that's actually the opposite of what you should do. If you want—you want the volcano to ooze out over time; you don't want to build up pressure and then explode. They just corked a bottle and then shook it up. You know? It's not going to—
E: "We saved the fleet. Let's go." Meanwhile, boooom!
S: (laughing) Yeah, I know. "Let's go."
J: Steve, are you saying Spock doesn't know what he's doing?
R: At the end of the movie, I was like, you know, it was fun but it really just made me want to go back and watch Wrath of Khan, which was, like, a million times better than that movie.
R: You know?
B: Eh, a million?
R: And I think that was because—yeah! I think so.
S: It was the best classic Trek movie.
R: Actually, I haven't seen it lately but it is on Netflix, so I'm going to be watching it soon.
S: But, but...
E: It's good.
R: I don't know; Ricardo Montalban is definitely dramatic.
R: To say the least. But, I think it works. Like, especially like Ricardo Montalban as an actor, the way he looks and the way he acts is more in line with the, like, Khan's backstory—the whole Eugenics Wars stuff, which they didn't even go into with Benedict Cumberbatch.
J: Yeah, that was weird.
R: Which is a shame, because that's what I think makes Wrath of Khan so much better is because that's actually doing what science fiction does best, which is examining something, like, some serious societal ill, some serious issues and problems that people are struggling with today but putting it in a different context so that we can examine it from a different perspective.
S: On that score this movie definitely tried to do. This movie was an allegory for post-9/11 angst and overreach on the part of the government—you know, militarization, etc.—and I liked the fact—because that is very Gene Rodenberry, trying to use Star Trek as a vehicle for commentary on today's society, using some kind of future allegory. But I just don't think they did a good job with that. You had the Peter Weller character, who turned out to—you know, the admiral—
S: —who turned out to be the ultimate bad guy—what the hell with his motivation? I was annoyed at that during the movie, where... so, he... so, the admiral, after Vulcan was blown up, he was concerned the Federation was being threatened by the Romulans, by the Klingons, and by threats unknown out there in the galaxy—hint, hint, like the Borg—he's absolutely 100% correct in that they did—the Federation did lose one of their premier planets, Vulcan, so he decides he's going to build a Dreadnought, a warship class of starship to defend the Federation. That's perfectly reasonable. That doesn't make him the bad guy. But somehow they had to tie that with him being a warmonger and trying to manufacturer a war with Klingon and that motivation was never made it clear. It just made him into a cardboard villain and it just didn't make... I was scratching my head; it's like, "yeah but they don't recognize that they're being threatened by hostile enemies and that the dreadnought was..." It was looked on like a sinister thing. No! You need warships.
R: I 100% agree with you, but that is... while the volcano sequence I could not overlook, that is what I could, like, happily just accept in the moment and be like, "oh man, I cannot wait for that dude to get killed." (laughs) I was perfectly happy to accept that.
S: Oh sure, emotionally, I agree.
B: Plus, I love that ship. I wanted to see more of that Dreadnought.
E: When that ship came out of warp and popped in like that, that was wonderful I loved that.
B: Did you guys see the Dreadnought on Marcus's desk earlier on?
B: Yeah, I was like, "what the"—
E: No, I didn't notice it.
R: Yeah, I missed that, too.
J: So when you're watching a movie, any movie, and you have this disconnect with the character where you don't get the character or you don't care, right? You ever watch a movie and you just can't connect to. You don't care.
E: Or a TV show or whatever.
J: That comes from a very specific, and it comes from the fact that the zero dimension of a character, right? So if you watch a porno, as an example, you could—if the actors blew up and died on the set, you wouldn't care. Because there's no worse writing than in a porno.
S: You would know, Jay.
J: No, but I'm using it as a really good example, if you think about it.
S: Just an example at hand.
E: Just happened to be clicking around, and...
J: The point is...
R: Talk about a horn kill.
J: ...the character of the admiral—I really didn't care about him at all. He didn't have a legitimate motivation; he was a zero—a uni-dimensional character; he just was warmonger and he was totally blind. You know, all they had to do is justify his fears somewhere. They could have mentioned that, you know, his family was killed by aliens or something. Give him some teeth in the game. Give him something... give us something as his audience to hang our hat on.
R: And that's part of what I think makes Wrath of Khan in many ways better, is because Khan has motivation. You know what he's all about and you're right, in this one, it's like, why is this guy so evil and why is he like magic?
B: I don't think it's necessarily fair to compare it with Wrath of Khan; this was more of a reboot of Space Seed.
R: No, come on.
B: I mean, it was the introduction of Khan. It wasn't decades later, at the end of their careers.
R: No, come on. Like, all of the quote-unquote "nods" they gave included many for Wrath of Khan. Like, they totally deserve being compared to Wrath of Khan. I think.
B: No, I agree.
R: At least in terms of storyline.
B: Yeah, but Space Seed as well, also, is in there. Absolutely.
S: Know what would have been cool? If at the end, Khan got away with the Dreadnought and his crew and just vanished.
B: I thought that's what would happen.
J: That'd have been awesome.
S: That would have been a better ending, 'cause then you have that open thread out there: the thought of what—after everything, that's what they achieved. Letting Khan loose on the universe with the Dreadnought.
R: Yeah. And then you have more time to go into his back-story.
B: That's almost too scary. Imagine what they would come back with in 5 years. I mean, if they were able to—
S: Exactly. It makes you imagine. Good writing.
R: And it wraps up another huge science plot hole, which, like, let's—can we just skip to the end and all of the biology BS that was in this movie? Like, okay, so Khan's blood cures death. Okay?
B: Mostly dead.
R: So now they have him and like 70... no, death! Like, come on. Kirk was dead for several... what, 20 minutes?
B: Not brain-dead, though.
R: Of radiation poisoning. And so, you're basically talking about the end of most death. Like, OK, so somebody... I don't know... implodes. Okay, his blood isn't going to bring them back. But, you know, for diseases and for, OK, radiation poisoning, drowning, probably.
B: It is huge. It's gargantuan.
R: Yeah. Like, how...
S: That's... writing themselves into a corner with technology. That is rife in this movie. So you're trying to tell me that 300 years ago, which is like, now; that's what they're talking about—that we had the technology to create stem cells that can essentially make somebody immortal, or at least cure any injury. They may not be—they may still age to death but, you know, if you can bring somebody back from radiation poisoning death, that's pretty damn good. That's repairing a lot of the cells in the body. And 300 years later, we still can't do it? That tech hasn't been replicated?
E: Should have been a 200-year-old or something.
S: Whatever. Why would... imagine where we're going to be in a couple hundred years that... where the tech is going to be. They I didn't account for where the technology should be, and even just following the paradigm of Star Trek, with a kind of technology that Star Trek has, they create plot problems for themselves with the technology. And rather than thinking of clever ways to dial it back or to—like, the transporter's the big one. Like, you can always—why didn't transport in or transport out or just use the transporter to solve this problem or that problem. Rather than making the transporter—and really building a case for why it's finicky and can't be used except under ideal circumstances, they have Scotty in the last movie develop transwarp transporter technology, where he... You can beam across solar systems!
E: No need for a Starfleet at that point.
R: Which Khan uses at the beginning.
S: Yeah, he transports himself to Kronos, into the Klingon homeworld, with a portable device. Okay, you mean we can have an army with portable personal transporters materialize on any planet we want in our sector, including enemy planets? Like, we instantly put an army wherever we want to?
B: Screw an army. Throw some gigaton nukes. Don't beam people.
E: Cold fusion devices.
S: That has no implication—that has no plot implications?
R: Not even an immediate plot implication—
S: Screw the Dreadnought! We don't need a Dreadnought.
E: Why build ships?
R: Why send the Enterprise to pick him up? Like, just teleport an army there and teleport them out immediately so that the Klingons never know you're there.
J: They're getting themselves to a point where it's kinda like The Simpsons, where at the end of that episode, it's as if the episode had never taken place. Right? So are you telling me that McCoy isn't going to cure death for everyone everywhere with that blood now? Like, he's got it.
B: Tell me he wouldn't be obsessed with that. Even if the government took that information away from him, imagine how frustrated he would be and driven to get it back, because, my god, this is like—
S: You know what, though, Bob? Big Pharma's going to suppress it.
R: Right. Well, regardless, he's got that magic Tribble incubating the blood. And also, Tribbles as human stand-ins for medical research? Come on.
E: You know, they're the rat of the twenty-whatever century.
R: More like the pig, 'cause that was an immediate
J: That was so ham-hocky. Kirk is like, "Hey, Bones! Uh, what are you doing with that Tribble over there?"
R: "I don't know."
J: "Right by this weird place that you have a lab table near the tables where people lie down. What are you doing with that Tribble?"
R: "Just randomly injecting it with blood. Who knows?"
S: Could we talk about—
J: Wait, wait, Steve, I got the next one. This is one of the big ones that just killed me. All right. So at the end of the movie, we have a significantly damaged Enterprise, and don't even get me started about the damaged Enterprise plot again. Bored! Bored of it. Can I please see the Enterprise kick ass in just one movie? Just once! Can it enter a battle and be awesome and have—why can't the Enterprise do something really cool once?
B: I'm right there with you.
E: It did; it rose out of the water.
S: There is a tendency for it to be virtually destroyed early on in every movie. Yeah. It's terrible.
J: So we're at the end of the movie and they come out of warp and they're by the moon, by the planet Earth, right? Our planet. Home world, where Starfleet is.
S: Well, don't skip over the fact that they're warping from Kronos to Earth; they get dragged out of warp within the orbit of the Moon.
E: Lucky shot.
S: That's some fine shooting, Tex.
J: Yeah, because they always come out of the warp that close to the Earth, or planet.
R: Right. Exactly where they want to be.
J: All right, so, guys... Check this out: a known Starfleet vessel appears out of nowhere super close to the Earth and a completely unknown but strangely Starfleet-like ship shows up and there are no other ships anywhere around the moon, the Earth, anything? Where's the hundreds of thousands of spaceships that would be coming in and out of the planet's atmosphere? Where's the space stations? You know, I know the Earth is big, but there would be spaceships all over the place, guys. Think about it.
S: There would be a massive infrastructure. And if these ships are firing on each other and then start descending into the atmosphere—
R: Yeah. Where's the military come to shoot those mo-fos down.
S: Or rescue mission? Beam them off the ship?
E: They got that right in the Star Wars episode.
J: Like, there's no guy at some station somewhere going, "Hey! Two ships just came out of warp near the moon. What's this black ship? We don't know what that is. Oh, look the Enterprise is damaged and here's the distress beacon that would automatically happen if they're damaged." Come on. It was like a ghost planet.
S: Yeah, I know. It was ridiculous. But here's the science thing there. So the engines shut down on the Enterprise, which is apparently in orbit around the Earth and it immediately begins to fall. Like, straight down.
B: Yes. Way too fast. Like, come on; they would have had much more time.
E: The rate of decay would not—oh my gosh.
S: Why would they fall at all? They were in a very high orbit?
R: Yeah, they would just continue to orbit for quite a while.
S: You don't need energy to orbit; it's not like you run out. It's like—
E: I don't know; years? Would it be years?
J: They would have to have been on a trajectory that was going right into the atmosphere.
S: Yes. Or they would have had to have been hovering. You know?
B: That's what I think they were doing. I don't think they were ever in an orbit.
S: But they were pretty high above the Earth, you know? Even then it would take longer to fall. But there wasn't any jets or anything like visibly supporting the Enterprise. And why wouldn't they have entered into an orbit? Why would they be hovering in such a way that as soon as their power goes out, they plummet to the Earth. It makes absolutely no sense.
R: Can we... speaking of moons, can we back up for a second? Because this might have just been something I just didn't understand when I saw it.
J: I saw it, Rebecca.
B: The destroyed moon around Kronos.
B: Yet again, the destroyed moon.
R: 'Cause I was like, what is happening there; that looks like it would be impossible—
E: It's eye candy.
S: It's now become a cliché of science fiction movies, that you need to have the broken apart moon hovering in the sky. It looks cool but it is impossible 'cause it would re-coalesce almost immediately.
B: Well, that's just it; it probably just happened. It just happened. They happened to get there when they busted up the moon, like, 3 hours previously. So that explains that. That's an easy one.
J: Wasn't the broken-moon thing created by He-Man?
E: Thank you, Thundarr, your contribution to science fiction lives on.
J: It looks cool, but I adore eye candy.
R: It did look cool; it looked cool, but I was like, "what the hell is happening?"
S: So then they essentially do a duplicate of the end of The Wrath of Khan, except they reverse the roles of Kirk and Spock—
B: I liked it.
S: Kirk has to go into the radiation chamber to to fix the engine and save the ship, and Spock has to go there and watch him die.
R: You know, I liked the idea of the reversal. I didn't like the idea of Kirk's going to solve this problem by kicking this piece of sensitive equipment.
S: No, I agree. So the warp core, whatever, was out of alignment. So there's a couple of stupid things in there.
E: Wait, it's like taking a hammer to the television set. Darn TV!
R: Kirk is like the Fonzie of Star Trek.
S: I have to say I loved the portrayal of the engine room because, for the first time in any TV or movie of Star Trek, the engine room actually looks like a power plant that could power a starship. It was massive; it was gorgeous. But there's this one chamber, apparently, where the dilithium are or whatever and there's very sensitive alignment and it's flooded with radiation, just I think, all the time, so humans can't go in there. So of course, they have no robots in there.
R: Or no, like, suits just like right there outside the room, as you would in any nuclear power plant.
S: There's no way to fix anything in the chamber except sending somebody to their death.
E: Yeah, right; somebody who can kick.
S: Kick it back into alignment.
E: No one else around.
R: Warp drive repair man is the absolute worst job in the Star Trek universe. (laughing)
S: Worst job ever.
E: Yeah, but it's a union job. Union break!
S: Again, it was contrived, you know? Give us something. Give us something; just acknowledge that it's dumb and come up with some reason why Kirk has to do it because of, whatever, you know. It was just lazy writing. It takes you out of the picture.
B: Yeah, it did. I agree, but I think the end made it worth it. That was a moving scene with Kirk and Spock and Spock losing it, you know? He's like, I can't control my emotions now and him actually crying. I mean, that was a moving scene for me.
J: Oh, God. I hated it. I couldn't hate it more.
E: Did he have to scream "Khan"?
S: That was gratuitous.
R: And I think it was only—I found emotional in the moment, but I think it was only emotional because I already identified with those characters from the previous movies in the series. Like, if you were just going based on this movie and the previous J.J. Abrams movie, there's been no character development in those characters, themselves, or in their relationship to justify that kind of emotional connection.
S: Yeah, he's coasting on the franchise.
J: Guys, think about it: this is before the five-year mission. Spock and Kirk don't really know each other that well. They've only been on one mission together.
R: They still kind of hate each other.
J: Abrams didn't even have the balls to keep Kirk dead until the next movie. He cured him five minutes later!
S: But you knew it was going to happen. There was never a suspense.
R: Right. The Tribble telegraphed it.
B: As soon as he walked into that radiation-filled room, I thought, "oh wait, he's going to die—oh, the blood". You got Sherlock's blood. He'll be OK.
J: Yeah, so when I saw Spock die in the original movie, like, I was sitting there like everybody else in the theater completely crying. I was really, really crying, 'cause it was this character that I loved and he died. And I wasn't sure if he was going to survive.
S: Yeah. We didn't know if Nimoy was going to bring the character back.
B: And here's a quote from Jay that has been told in the family: Jay said: "I've known him my whole life!" He was so upset!
B: Granted, I mean, how old were you, Jay, like 15 or 16? But still, it's a great line that my dad loves repeating.
R: But we have to go back, though, before the scene of it happens. We have to talk about the gravity situation. Like, the Enterprise is falling to Earth—
S: Oh, yeah, yeah!
E: You mean running through a falling spaceship?
R: Yeah, and this is another thing where, in the moment, it's like, "wheeee!" (laughs) But the second I—I had to make a conscious effort to stop my brain from thinking about it too much, 'cause then I would just get angry. Yeah, so the Enterprise is plummeting to Earth and they're running to get to the warp drive and every few seconds, the gravity—like the ship spins or something and suddenly they—
E: Running on the ceiling.
R: —running on the ceiling. Yeah, or like, sideways. That's not how gravity works when is ship is falling, like in free-fall.
S: It's in free-fall; they should have been in zero g. I was annoyed that whole scene.
J: God, I couldn't believe it.
E: They pulled that directly out of Star Wars Episode Three.
R: It looked like a Jamiroquai video, like... (laughs) It's not what free-fall looks like. It should look like the Vomit Comet. It should be a bunch of dummies, like, floating in mid-air, which could have still been cool. It could have still been cool.
J: I agree, Rebecca.
S: Exactly. They just could have had that be a zero-g physical challenge instead of the rolling gravity challenge and it was ridiculous! It was just gratuitously scientifically illiterate and that was unacceptable.
R: I think the reason why they didn't do it is because the challenges of that free-fall would have mirrored the challenges that Khan and Kirk faced when they were trying to jump from ship to ship, which I actually thought was quite good at the time.
E: I thought that was pretty good.
R: Yeah, like so they fire themselves out of the Enterprise at the... what's it called? The other ship?
R: At the Dreadnought and there's all this space debris in between them—
S: That was a good scene.
R: Yeah! And I was really impressed because that took into account the physics and the challenge; it wasn't just a simple thing of them jumping over and hopping in the ship; they had to reach this specific target. So, if they had been running for this room in the Enterprise during free-fall, it would have been a very similar challenge, where they have to use physics, you know, and planning in order to reach their goal.
S: But that space, baby. Your artificial gravity kicks out and you're in free-fall. That should be a recurring problem. I would have had no problem with that.
S: It would have been different enough that it would've been fine.
B: Something they've never really done.
R: One of my friends suggested a possible explanation for this that I don't know if I can quite accept; I'll have to re-watch it to see if I can accept this, but—
B: Acceleration will do it.
R: Well, they were suggesting that the of gravity drive or whatever—whatever normally keeps them stuck to the ground—wasn't just off, but was malfunctioning, and so it wasn't the ship flipping end to end that was making the gravity change directions, but it was the malfunction of their gravity drive.
B: I was thinking of that.
S: That's semi-plausible, but then they should have explained that. They shouldn't have said, "the anti-gravity is out because our drive is off;" they should have that the anti-gravity's malfunctioning.
R: Yeah. See, I'm not sure that they didn't; I would have to watch again.
S: No, no, they said it was out.
R: Did they?
S: Yeah, they said it was out.
J: I remember that.
B: Plus, guys, I always envisioned it as as a gravity plating so that the gravity would always be where you're walking and wouldn't exist in the walls. You know, why would you put it in the walls?
S: I agree.
B: So that's kind of how I saw it. But they never go into enough detail about the technology about that anyway, so...
S: It's really hard to make that make sense. You're really stretching.
S: They also get too... I actually wrote an entire blog post about this, that space ships in science fiction are designed too much to look like sea ships, in that you're standing on a deck. In fact, you should—your head should be in the direction of acceleration, not... you shouldn't be facing in the direction of acceleration. It makes absolutely no sense on a space ship. You can get away with it if you have artificial gravity, but even then, it's just unnecessary.
B: This was a Star Trek action movie and I enjoyed it—I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yeah, afterwards, when I was thinking about it, and I was talking to Steve about it... yeah, it gets more increasingly annoying and a couple of the things you guys have mentioned I didn't think about, so yeah, it became more annoying. But I did thoroughly enjoy it, but now that I think about it, one thing that really kind of upsets me about it is that I miss the whole iconic Star Trek... you know, the wonder and the awe of discovery that we had in a lot of the other series. You know, remember the old crew from the classic series sitting around the table and discussing the key issues of the situation that they were in? I mean, how many times have we seen the principal actors do that? You know, that's not there; I mean, all the techno-babble that I really love... that kind of techno-babble was not there and for me, that's really the heart, a lot of the heart and soul of Star Trek—
S: I agree.
B: And you know, this show, growing up, was pretty instrumental—I know for us guys in getting us into science and science fiction. It was really key; we loved it so much. That awe and wonder—
S: They celebrated competence, intellectualism, intelligence and science.
J: And equal rights and everything.
S: Yeah. We want to see the crew being smart and solving problems with their brains, not just beating up the bad guy.
R: And that's what—that was my point about Kirk and being a characterization. Like, the legend of Kirk today is that he was, like, this womanizing frat boy, but... and you know, I watched the movies and the original series when I was little kid, 'cause my dad was a big fan, and I remembered Kirk as being really smart and thoughtful and compassionate and those traits do not come through in the movie.
B: They definitely show him as being a bright guy. I mean, he has insights that other people do not have and he saves the day.
S: He's clever.
R: He's clever. Yeah, he's clever, not intelligent and not diligent in any way.
E: He's got tools he's not refined yet.
R: His cleverness comes to him—
E: I think the refinement should be coming; you know, movie three might have to do it.
S: Boy, that Kirk; he certainly plays by his own rules.
R: Like, everything comes to him very easily in these. He doesn't fight or work for anything, really.
S: It was still a good movie but it wasn't epic, and the most disappointing thing about it is what it could be. Because it's Trek, because you're starting with a great, rich history with wonderful characters. There is so much background there; there is no excuse for not making an awesome movie and they didn't make an awesome movie.
J: I would prefer they take these actors and everything just make TV shows.
S: I was thinking that! After all, they're on their five-year mission.
E: That's a good point, Jay.
S: This would be a perfect opportunity for SyFy or HBO or somebody to pick it up and just do, you know, a 13-episode season of one-hour episodes. It's perfect set-up for that.
R: Except for they wouldn't have the money, the stars...
J: I like the feel of Star Trek more as a TV show, anyway. I like the slower feel; I like when they can get into more detail, you know? I felt in this movie like everything was rushed. There wasn't enough time, like Bob was saying, to explore in the dialog. It just didn't feel right.
E: The movie felt a little long, too. It was just over two hours; I think it felt a little longer than that, which is usually not a good sign for a movie.
R: It's so frustrating; those are exactly my problems I had with the first one and I comforted myself by saying, "you know what? The next one is going to be the middle in the series, which is traditionally, like, the darker, more brooding and more thoughtful, you know, movie in a trilogy." And so I really thought there was going to be more development. And there wasn't.
S: Don't worry, Rebecca, the next one's going to be awesome.
R: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
S: They're on their five-year mission now. It's all good.
J: Deep space.
E: This wasn't the second movie, Rebecca; this is movie 1-A.
R: Yeah, no, I think you're right. I think it was a clone.
B: Guys, don't forget that very important J.J. Abrams quote. he said: "I never liked Star Trek growing up. It was too philosophical for me."
R: Really? Did he say that?
S: And hire a scientist next time.
J: Every time.
S: Science advisor. Yep.
E: Yep. Come on.
Kepler Broken (37:59)
S: Well we're actually only going to do one news item this week, because of all the other interesting segments that we have. Jay, you're going to tell us about the Kepler telescope.
J: The Kepler telescope. Yeah, we're talking about it because it's broken.
E: Who broke it?
J: Space broke it.
E: Aah. That bastard.
J: Space and time; two dimensions broke Kepler.
R: Those are the worst two!
B: There's three dimensions of space; what are you talking about?
J: Kepler was launched in March 2009 and it was a three- to five-year mission, and its prime mission was to determine how common Earth-like planets are throughout the galaxy. And it did a great job. It did a fantastic job, by the way. There were 2,700 potential exoplanets to date that found and more being analyzed right now, because Kepler gathered a lot more data than has been already analyzed, so they're still going to find more. Kepler showed us that Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones were common in our galaxy. And every star—virtually every star has a planet around it. One or more planets, which is amazing. Now I know that the "ha-bit-able—"
R: I like "ha-bit-able".
J: The habitable... the habitable... the habitable...
J: —zones are... that whole idea is kind of vague. You know how they were like, "you have to be a certain distance" and all that stuff. Kepler did a fantastic job of spotting these planets and it used the idea that when a planet went in front of its star, there was a very small but readable dimming of the amount of light coming from that star. That's how we actually find planets; that's how Kepler was used to find all of these planets that are out there. So Kepler is broken because there's wheels that rotate it in three dimensions; that position it, and at the time, I think, two wheels have failed and they were still trying to get them to come back online, but unfortunately it doesn't look like it's going to happen. So as of the time of my research, Kepler is still not usable and I'm not quite sure if they're still trying to get it working or not. I think they are.
S: They're still reviewing wheel recovery options.
S: That's where they are.
J: NASA did say that they have two years of data yet to look at. So, thank you, Kepler, you did a fantastic job and it's unfortunate that it did break, but it lasted longer than I thought it was, so.
S: Yeah, it's too bad; I really was hoping it was going to last out longer, but. It's not a hundred percent dead in the water yet, but it probably is.
Who's That Noisy? (40:37)
- Answer to last week: J.Z. Knight
S: All right, but thanks, Jay. So Evan, we're going to move on to Who's That Noisy.
E: Okay. Let's do that and I will play for you last week's Who's That Noisy as a reminder.
So I went to the bookstore the following day after this much-involved conversation and the books fell out on the floor in front of me and I picked them up and there're lights all over them. And so this is when I learned about Edgar Cayce and I learned about a few people I'd never heard of in my life and
J: No idea.
E: Could have been a lot of different people—
S: Yeah, it's kind of generic woo nonsense.
E: Yeah, generic woo nonsense; but that is none other than our dear friend J. Z. Knight.
S: J. Z.
E: Yeah, J. Z.
S: A.K.A. "Ramtha".
E: A multi-millionaire as a result of her many books on Ramtha, the 35-thousand-year-old warrior from Atlantis, whose ghost she is said to channel. Knight resides on a huge range and breeds horses when she's not busy grunting out platitudes for Ramtha's adoring fans.
R: Tough life
E: Millions for bad impersonations.
S: It really—it's like horribly bad role playing.
R: It's like, cringy.
R: She's uses, like, a fake accent.
E: It's so put on; it's not even—you know, you couldn't land a role on TV doing that.
S: And what's crazy is you talk to—Evan and I famously investigated a local channeler, similar schtick, just a different persona, and I've seen them on TV a dozen times and the believers almost all say the same thing. It's like, "you just can't fake that!" Really? That? You think that is beyond the human ability to act? It's just mind-boggling. It's motivated reasoning and the desire to believe. It's like, there couldn't be an easier audience than somebody who wants to believe.
R: And Randi proved that Carlos. That's what his schtick was. Was literally an actor pretending to channel. Right?
E: That's right. Several correct guesses this week. Chuck Kistler, we drew your name. You are this week's winner. Congratulations. You're going into the final drawing at the end of the year and, who knows, you may join us for a segment of Science or Fiction.
S: Good job, Chuck.
E: For this week's Who's that Noisy we have another voice for you and I really, really like this one. I'm going to be very interested to read your answers. So let's get right to it, here we go, this week's Who's that Noisy:
We found that she could feel the vibrations of spoken words.
B: It's called hearing!
E: WTN@theskepticsguide.org is the official email.
J: (laughing) WTF!
S: I always think that.
E: (chuckles) It is... yeah. WTN@theskepticsguide.org is the email or go ahead and post it on our forums: sguforums.com. Once again, good luck, everyone.
Questions and Emails (43:42)
Question #1: Small Hadron Collider
S: Well, thank you, Evan. That was an interesting one. We have just a couple of quick emails this week. The first one come from Alan Mills from Bowen Island, BC, Canada. Allen writes:
This one is for Bob.... Was there ever a Small Hadron Collider?
R: In Bob's pants.
B: Oh, boy.
R: That's your pick-up line. "Hey, baby, wanna see the small hadron collider?"
B: This is a fun question. I just did some—little bit of research to refresh my memory... and to actually Google "small hadron collider", and there really aren't any of them that are actually called that, but before I go into it, I think I should just go into what exactly a hadron is. Hadrons are essentially quarks that are held together by the strong force. So this makes them, by definition, groups of more fundamental particles. You've got the baryons, which we all know as protons and neutrons; they're made of three quarks. And then there's the mesons, which are one quark and one anti-quark. An example of that would be a pion. Those are hadrons. The hadrons at the LHC—
B: Huh? Yeah.
B: It's a funny one. The LHC uses protons... the proton hadrons and collides them together and looks at the debris and tries to find things that are interesting. That's pretty much it. For examples, if you want examples of a small-er or small-ish hadron collider, CERN's SPS Synchrotron, which is the Super Proton Synchrotron accelerator. That's an example of a smaller hadron collider. Fermilab's Tevatron, I think, is the second biggest. So I don't know if you'd call it "small", but it's smaller than the LHC. So those are two good examples. And it's also interesting—
R: Then, of course, there's the Dance-o-tron in Geneva, which is well-known for its moves.
E: Dance-o-tron 3000.
B: 3000. But now, on the other side of that coin, though, you've got lepton colliders. Now, leptons are...
E: Like Eskimos.
B: They're fundamental particles; they're your electrons, your positrons, your muons, neutrinos. They're not composite particles.
S: Got your muons, you got your neutrinos.
E: (chuckling) Moo-ons? Cow particles.
B: Now, these colliders are important because they're great for really precise measurements of particles after they're discovered in something like the Large Hadron Collider. So lepton colliders have their place as well, but they're definitely a different type of beast than the hadron colliders, whether they're small or large.
S: And where do the kitten colliders fit into this whole scheme?
R: Only in our imaginations.
E: Large kitten or small kitten?
S: Bob, I also typed in "small hadron collider" into Google, just to see what would come up, and I came up with an article. The headline is, "10-Year-Old Makes Functioning Mini-Hadron Collider in Bedroom". Did you come across that, Bob?
R: Just like Iron Man!
B: I did not. I came across a software company called Small Hadron Collider. That didn't really—
E: "Tony, what are you doing in there?" "Nothing, Dad!"
B: A 10-year-old making anything remotely similar to a hadron collider?
S: Here's the article: "He may only be 10 years old, but Jim Peyton from a small town in Massachusetts has built a fully functioning hadron collider in his bedroom. Now dubbed as the Collider Boy by the media, he is finding new-found fame and world-wide scientific accolades." Now this was published by...
B: I call bullshit.
S: —The Daily Squib, which calls itself "the world's finest new source".
S: Yeah, it's basically the British version of The Onion.
E: The Onion.
S: Yeah, it's fake.
B: There you go. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, 'cause a Squib in the Potter-verse, that's a non-magical... person, right?
S: That's a Muggle. Oh, yeah, yeah; non-magical person born of magical parents.
E: Oh, I see.
R: Jesus Christ. You dorks. Did you just use the word "Potter-verse" without irony?
R: Jesus Christ.
E: We looked it up on Potter-pedia.
B: (laughs) Potter-pedia.
S: All right, well, thanks for that question, Alan.
S: One more. A couple of corrections, actually, from last week. So remember in the Science or Fiction on the Chondrocladia lyra, the heart-shaped sponge.
B: No, I don't. I don't remember that.
S: The rest of you guys remember that?
R: I remember that. The carnivorous sponge.
E: It was one of the best moments ever.
S: The carnivorous sponge. Yeah.
R: ... that didn't exist.
S: This one was the fiction because I said that the carnivorous sponge ate fish and crustaceans, when in fact, the article that I was linking to, the site that was ranking the top 10 species said that it captures planktonic prey items. You know, it eats plankton. Well...
R: Let me guess. One of these mother_____s ate a fish and now...
S: Not a fish.
E: The size of your hand.
R: Now we can ret-con...
S: Ate tiny crustacean. So if you go back to the original paper, they do mention that, and in fact, the picture that's on the site—I think what I'm looking at here is a tiny crustacean caught in the actual sponge—
R: So, those of you keeping track of Science or Fiction scores, please go back and give me...
S: No, but no fish. No fish.
R: Close enough.
S: You're still technically wrong. But other carnivorous sponges do eat fish and crustaceans, but not—this one only mentions crustaceans.
R: If it ate a crab, surely at some point—
S: Not crabs. Tiny—they're called tiny crustaceans. Really small.
R: All right, so if it ate a crab, it's gonna eat a fish... at some point.
Local Pollen (49:20)
S: Now, I think there was some confusion. We never endorsed this notion that eating honey is—
J: Local honey.
S: Yeah, local honey is actually a treatment for allergies. Rebecca, you were describing the rationale I kinda do—
S: —younger and I pointed out there is no actual evidence for it. But a couple people brought up a very interesting point that we neglected, which kind of puts it into perspective. Allergies are caused by... anemophilous...
S: Anemophilous pollen. Anemophilous pollen is dispersed by the wind. This is light, small pollen, where a ton of it is released, because it's just counting on random wind currents to, by chance, land it in another plant. So that's what causes allergies. The other kind of pollen is entomophilous. The entomophilous pollen is what is large and sticky and that's what insects or animals will pick up and carry from one plant to another. And that does not cause allergies, 'cause it's simply not dispersed in any way.
E: Too heavy?
S: It's too heavy. Yeah, it's too heavy. So even if you were getting exposed to local entomophilous pollen through honey, you still would not have any affect on allergies because it's the other kind of pollen, the anemophilous pollen that causes allergies.
J: What about the birds?
S: What about them?
J: That's what I'm asking you. (laughs)
E: We're talking about the bees, Jay, not the birds.
R: Good point.
S: Exactly. So that was a good point. Well, let's move on. We are going to be joined now by Joshie Berger.
Interview with Joshie Berger (51:17)
J: Joining us now is Joshie Berger. Joshie, welcome back to the Skeptics' Guide.
JB: Oh my god this is so exciting to be back on thank you guys for having me again.
S: It's a lot of fun to have you.
J: How you doin'? Brooklyn!
JB: This is the first time Rebecca's actually on when I'm here, so I'm super excited to do this, and, of course, I'm somewhat nervous.
R: Well, you've been avoiding me, apparently, just wait until I'm not in town and then come on the show.
JB: Um, we're going to talk about TAM, right?
S: We're going to talk about the poker tournament. That's right.
JB: We're going to talk about TAM, the poker tournament, all that. But, there's something that Steve, I appreciate you letting me get out here that I really want to talk about. And people tell me all the time, you know, "why are you so fanatic; why are so adamant; can't you just get on with your life; you grew up Chasidic; just move on." I can't explain to people how it bothers me that Orthodox and especially Chasidic Jews have been getting a free pass in society and so many people are suffering because of this. And when I give certain scenarios of things, like you know, before the High Holy Days, Jews take chickens and we fling them over our heads, and like, the fact that this is not even thought about it as animal abuse and there's thousands upon thousands of heaps of chickens all over Brooklyn, New York, in the year 2013, with children grabbing them by their legs and their wings and flinging them around their heads to transfer their sins to them. You know, you would assume that decent people that are animal lovers would be up in arms about it. And then when I tell people about, like, some of the practices, for instance, that affect women; that half of a married woman's life, she can not only not be touched by your husband, and I don't mean touched sexually, but she can't—like, the husband can't even pass objects to her. Like, if they have an infant child—I'm being sincere about this—like, the husband will put the child down on the table or the floor and the wife pick it up, lest he, God forbid, touch his dirty wife that's menstruating and is on her period. And I would assume people that are into women's rights and feminists and stuff would be up in arms about it, but I keep hearing apologies for this. And I keep hearing people saying things like, you know, "well, they're adults. Obviously if they don't like it, they wouldn't be there," as though the woman that's getting beaten by her Taliban husband is there because this is what she really enjoys doing.
But this is a topic that I'm going to raise now, which I think that every decent and sane human being, even if you're religious, should have a huge problem with, and it's called "Metzitzah B'Peh", or the acronym MBP for it. Now I'm not going to get involved in the whole circumcision conversation and, I mean, I think it's horrific and I think it's a testament to how much clout Jews have in the United States that this is not even something that's up for discussion; the fact that you're mutilating your child's genitalia without there being an enormous heap of evidence that there is some benefit—medical benefit to it. I'm not even going to get into that. But there's a practice that's done by Orthodox and especially Chasidic Jews, which is despicable and this going back to thousands of years when the Talmud—the Mishnah and the Talmud, which was written like 1800 years ago, discuss the proper medical way to administer a circumcision, and it was a four-part process. One is the cutting; one to removing of some skin or something, and then the process after that involved the circumciser, or the mohel or the rabbi that's doing it actually takes his lips and he places it on the child's penis and he sucks out the blood. And then they administer and they put some cumin or some spices on it that were supposed to be antiseptics and have some medicinal properties. Now, it's somewhat understandable that back in the day, you know, we had a limited understanding of medicine, and perhaps—I don't know, perhaps Steve, you can tell us better, if sucking out blood, like maybe the way you do it with venom on a snake bite or something—is the most appropriate way to prevent clotting... I have no clue. But in the year 2013, for an old man to wrap his lips around an infant's penis, all in the name of religion, and getting away with it in Brooklyn, New York, I think is disgusting. And the fact that this is not something that everyone is up in arms about, despite this being in the media is... I cannot understand this. I mean, I think that it's...
I mean, let's put it this way. The Jewish Press, which is some rag that literally has every day on it... every week that they put out an article has something like, you know, "Arafat says kill all Jewish babies". It's just a real rag. They had a debate that sponsored the six people that are running for mayors of New York. And the question was asked of them, "last year Mayor Bloomberg imposed a consent form..." Now, again, he didn't say that this should be stopped; he didn't say that this is a barbaric, Neanderthal, primitive practice that's despicable, that should be stopped. All he did was say that parents that want their rabbi to suck their child's penis after the circumcision need to fill out a form, a consent form, saying that we acknowledge and understand that this is a dangerous practice. Why was this implemented? Because New York City has admitted that numerous children have died from herpes and other things because their immune system is not developed well enough by 8 days old, when they have the circumcision, and hospitals have been covering up for it and so on and so forth, but there's documented cases of children dying and getting brain damage because of this sucking process that clearly has no medicinal attributes or values in this day and age. And all they were asked was, "are you okay with Bloomberg's consent form", which incidentally, all the Chasidic people said they will not conform to. All the the rabbis said "this is disgusting; this is a way of implying that the doctors know better than our rabbis know and this is sort of trying to tell our parents that your rabbi not know best" and they were falling all over each other just not to come out and say "this is horrific; this should not be taking place". They're all apologizing for it; they're all saying, "well, this infringes on religious values; we need to reevaluate this matter". Stuff like this pisses me off, when people tell me, "Joshie, why are you so outraged; why do you have to be so loud and boisterous; why can't you just move on?" This is the reason. These are innocent kids that have no one that's speaking out for them, because their parents don't give two shits about it—I'm sorry for editing, Steve here. But I mean... Steve, you're a doctor; what is your take on something like this?
S: Well, I actually looked up the literature on it and there isn't much. There is a review article that does mention that there are a number of documented cases of herpes, HSV, a transmitted through this procedure, although again, the apologists, the defenders say that it hasn't been proven; that they haven't directly connected the... how do you pronounce it; is it "mole"? "Moh-el"?
JB: "Moh-el", yeah.
S: To... as the source of the infection, but come on; you have an eight-day-old infant who comes down with herpes, that it was a bunch of infants all circumcised by the same guy in one case series, so... the clinical suspicion that that was the vector of herpes transmission is very high. So it's been clearly documented but... the reason that nothing is being done about it is just denial in the name of religious freedom. I did find a lot of internal debate within the community—maybe it's not your community, Joshie—but among different sects, if you will, of Judaism, saying that if you want to do this, just do it through a sterile glass tube, you know?
JB: Yes, yes. With all honesty, I have to concede that it's only the strict Chasidic sect of Judaism that still continues it. A glass vial or veil, whatever, is used by Modern Orthodox Jews. And kudos to them for saying, "okay, dude, we gotta stop it. Enough is enough."
S: Right. Exactly. And the other thing is they—one thing that I found very ironic, illogical, etc. is that they justify the practice by saying that, well, when it was developed, whatever, a couple thousand years ago, there is some evidence that it may have been beneficial and that it may have a protective. So if that's the reason for it, if that's the reason for the practice, then why not replace it with better modern medical practices?
JB: Exactly. Great point, Steve, because there was a Talmudic scholar... like, 200 years ago, that in Germany, this became aware to the public and he said, "look, the Talmud, when analyzing and discussing this, clearly mentions it and references it together with the cumin application", which was an antiseptic. So obviously, this was not part of the ritualistic portion of the circumcision, but more as a portion of the medicinal part. And now that medicine is further better developed, why don't we put a gauze on top of the—right; so on and so forth. And the Chasidic interpreters and apologists of today, what they respond to that is saying that Germany was at a point where they were really anti-Semitic back then and they were going to disallow circumcision entirely. So this rabbi only gave this caveat so they should back off, but really he didn't mean it for something that should be incorporated into future circumcision. This is how far and how twisted these people are just not to concede. But there's something behind it; they just can't concede that their rabbis were anything but infallible or their entire structure falls apart.
R: It's particularly frustrating, because... I mean, besides the sect of the most Orthodox people, you know, I feel like, of most major religions, the Jewish people are most well-known for being able to accept new science and to adapt their traditions accordingly. But it seems like the Orthodox sects are stuck in this dogmatic past that is having very real, dangerous repercussions on people today.
JB: Completely, and they're riding the coattails of secular Jews, like Rebecca just mentioned. That's what infuriates me. Every time someone says something improper or against Jews, the Chasidic and Orthodox Jews hide behind the Albert Einsteins and all the great Jews that have won Nobel Prizes and so on and so forth, and pretending that they are of the same ilk when they're not. They are our version of the Taliban and I think it's incumbent upon secular and more liberal Jews to point that out to distance themselves from them and from their practices.
S: Well, Joshie, thanks, you know, for speaking out about that. Obviously, you have a very deep, personal knowledge of all this; we appreciate your perspective. But before we go on, you're going to take over Science or Fiction today, on the show this week. And before we do that, though, let's talk about the Amazing Meeting because you are hosting the 2nd annual SGU skeptic poker tournament at TAM this year.
The Amazing Meeting Poker Tournament (1:03:04)
JB: I am so excited for this; I mean, I've been attending a few—I think this is my 4th or 5th TAM. I'm so excited for this and I'm so excited that poker worked out so well last year and it's going to be even better this year. Seriously, are you guys not freaking excited for TAM?
S: Oh, yeah. I can't wait.
J/B: Can't wait.
E: Aces over Kings excited
E: Poker term.
J: This year Joshie and I... you know, we asked E.J. to expand it to a hundred seats so we did secure a hundred seats at the casino, which means we have the whole floor—the whole poker floor. And Josh is going to be hosting again and he's going to be walking around with a microphone is he's going to be emcee-ing and keeping everyone up to date on what's happening at all the other tables as you're playing. But in essence, the poker tournament is... there's ten poker tables; ten seated people at each table; at each table is going to have somebody that... someone from the SGU or one of the speakers from TAM will stay at that table as everyone else rotates, so you get a chance to meet some of the speakers and sit next to them and ask them questions and joke around.
JB: I cannot even tell you how much fun this is because it's the culmination of TAM, because it's Saturday night and everyone is just, you know, we've been to conferences and all that, which is a lot of fun, but we finally have several hours. And once again, this literally went 'til four in the morning, if I'm correct, last year.
S: Something like that, yeah.
JB: And everyone stuck around, partially because every one of the skeptics really played well. I have to really give kudos; Jay came in third place, but Evan, Bob, Steve, George Hrab, Jamy Ian and everyone played really well. So, literally, I don't think the first noted skeptic got knocked out 'til like in the wee hours of the morning. And kudos to Steve and to everyone; you guys stuck around; you spoke to everyone and we had a great policy, whereas once you enter the tournament, you don't get kicked out of the tournament even if you're not playing any more. We allowed people at a reasonable distance to stick around. It was still open bar and it was just such a fun atmosphere. I'm really excited to be doing this again this year.
S: So you have to register separately for the poker tournament and there are still seats open, but they are probably going to be gone before the conference comes around. The other event I just wanted to mention is the SGU dinner. We are having an SGU dinner again this year. We have 3 hours reserved where the Rogues will be there to meet our listeners, just to spend time with people who listen to the podcast; usually some of our other well-known skeptics join us at the dinner as well. We have some kind of entertainment and we will hold an auction like we do every year and we auction off a coveted Guest Rogue spot, which is always a popular item. Now you do have to register separately for the SGU dinner, so if you've already registered, you can still register for the dinner or do it while you register for TAM. It is Friday night from 6 to 9; that's not yet on the schedule on the site. That's a really—it's one of my favorite events each year at TAM is the dinner.
JB: Yeah, the dinner and poker. Let me just mention one last thing before we move on to the last segment is that we had clinics last year, which I'm proud to say that the person that came in second place and he got an all expense paid trip to NECSS was the guy that never played poker before and he attended the poker clinics. And I will be hosting twice as many clinics this year. That means anytime you have free, by lunch, the afternoon, the evenings, there will poker clinics at TAM. And in addition, I have a gotten Sklansky's Theory of Poker, which is a brilliant book, which is pretty short on poker, that discusses just the theory behind poker. It's really written from a good skeptical point of view. I got the PDF of it—on it and I'm going to link it to the show, so anyone that's registering or wants to take a look can access it and to read up on poker before they show up for an
S: All right. Thanks, Joshie. So now you're going to do a slightly different version of Science or Fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:07:10)
JB: All right-y. So we did "Jewie or Fiction", which was quite popular last time. I was surprised at how many people that were not Jewish or anything were able to relate to it. I got Scientology people, ex-Mormons and everything telling me "oh my God; I can relate to this on so many different levels; that really got me excited". But, I didn't want to do the same thing again. So we're gonna do something a little bit different today, and it's going to be called "Oy Vey or Oh No".
Now. We all know that all of Jewish humor centers around misery; you know the old joke, why Jewish husband die before their wives? Because they want to. And that old Jackie Mason schtick. You know, "you give a gentile anything in a restaurant and he's happy with it; the Jew will complain no matter what you give them. You give them peas and carrots; why are there so many peas compared to the carrots? why is there a draft here?" But aside from the humor, there's really a psychological issue that's involved here which is very, very real. Jews, especially religious and Orthodox Jews, have a need for misery. There is a reluctance on their part, on the part of the Rabbis and stuff, to allow their sheep and their ilk to get into the comfort zone. They can't allow people to think that things are really good or they're scared they're going to lose people to assimilation. And as such, there is constant reminders in an Orthodox Jew's life of how bad things really, are even though you really think it's good. And some of it you can see in Israel where the anti-Zionist people are the Chasidic Jews. Some people wonder why you sometime see pictures of like Chasidic Jews with the President of Iran and stuff, speaking against Israel. 'Cause they can't allow Jews to be comfortable and believe that they have their own state; things are going to be good; you got an army. No. It's terrible; it's going to be terrible; it's always going to be terrible. Let's not get too excited. So. I'm going to give you guys a list of three things that Orthodox Jews do to implement in their lives to remind them all the time that it's not that good; it's miserable, and you guys have to pick which one is not real. Are you ready?
E: Ooh, I love when these have a theme. Yes.
JB: Yeah. Of course I'm going to make Evan go last 'cause he has the genetic advantage, so here we go with "Oy Vey or Oh No". So. The first one is: To not allow people to get caught up in modernity and shallowness and to always remind Jews that we are still mourning, religious Jews, when they build a new home, they leave a portion of one of the walls unfinished, just exposing the brick and making it really ugly. They usually do it right across the main entrance, so when you walk in, every time you're reminded of the Temple that was destroyed and how they want to kill us and even know you got a lot of money and you got a beautiful house, no. It's really miserable. That's number one.
JB: They're laughing at our people, Evan. Evan, how you tolerate this, I don't know. Anyways, number two. Even the most happiest of occasions, like a wedding, everybody knows that the ceremony that happens, people... after they exchange vows and the rabbi says a bunch of stupid things, the husband takes a glass and he smashes underneath his foot and everyone screams "Mazal Tov", which means congratulations and the party commences. But the reason for this is because they don't want to be so happy. Everyone is happy there's about to be a wedding; let's smash something and let's make it miserable. So people say, "oh my God, he just ruined a good piece of China; something's broken" and to just take it down a notch. That's number two. The third one is: every year, religious Jews have 3 days a year that are known as the Three Days of Repentance. These three days are supposed to be the official miserable three days, and they're all concurrent; back to back to back. During these three days you are not allowed to eat any meat or poultry; you can't drink alcohol or grape juice; can't listen to music. You cannot wear any new clothes or you can't even launder clothes; you have to wear old clothing that you wore before. You can't take a shower; you cannot take a bath; you cannot be happy; you can't tell jokes; you can't do anything. These are three days during the year that you must be miserable and people really adhere to this. This is not a Chasidic thing; this is a religious thing. Let's start off with Rebecca.
R: Oh, man. OK. Well... these are good. I mean, good as in interesting and difficult. I've never heard of the idea that you should leave the portion of one unfinished. I love it, though. I love it. I think it's great, as customs go. I like the idea of it. So does that mean, like, the temple that... Like, what temple?
R: My people?
E: Goyim. Goyim.
J: The hippies destroyed it?
E: People from New Jersey?
R: Cat ladies. (laughs)
E: People with glasses?
R: Tear down these walls. I believe my people did something horrible to your temples. (chuckles) I will accept that. Smashing the glass during the wedding... that is definitely a tradition, but is it a tradition that is done because it's to halt jubilation and symbolize loss misery? I did not know that, but it does make sense. Three Days of Repentance... I also am not aware of, per se, but I think every religion does have a period of time in which people are expected to flog themselves in some way or to give up something they love, like the Catholics have Lent. And I am, like, I have a vague idea that something Lent-like happens around, I think, Yom Kippur or something, so maybe it's that? I don't... so that kinda makes sense to me too. So I'm going to have to go with the building one just because that seems—that's the one that I'm the least familiarity with. So I'll say that that is... what are my options?
JB: Oy Vey or Oh No. Trying to make it work here.
R: So I'm going to say that the unfinished brick wall is an Oh No.
JB: Excellent. Jay. Lend us your genius.
J: All right. The first one about the unfinished part of your interior... so, um...
JB: Now, you've been to my interior.
J: I have nothing, but that has nothing to do with your apartment.
JB: Yeah, I went there.
J: Yeah, so I would assume that I've been in many Jewish peoples' houses throughout my life because I don't know ask people what their religious background is. I've never seen it personally. But, there's something about this that does seem to make a lot of sense. The one about the stepping on the glass. Yeah, that's another hugely iconic thing that I've seen a million times and read about it, you know, and everything. I never really heard why it's done. Hold on that one for a second. The third one about every year the religious Jews set aside these three days, these three days of misery. I'm pretty sure that that one is true. I've heard, definitely heard about it. So I'm going to say that the one with the glasses is fiction, is the Oy—
S: Is the Oh No.
J: Is the Oh No. I'm going to say that because every time I've ever seen it depicted in a movie, the guy that's stepping on the glass is, like, laughing and smiling, and then, at the end, after they step on it, everyone is like, "Yeah!"
JB: Mazal Tov!
J: Mazal Tov, yeah.
JB: Stevie! Let's get some intelligence going on here.
S: I don't know about that...
R: I'm pretty sure that Jay and I are insulted. Well, I'm... Jay doesn't understand what's happening, but I'm insulted.
S: So, I like the idea of the unfinished part of the wall... that just resonates with me. I am bothered a little bit that I've never seen it, but I suspect maybe I have and didn't notice it, or I assumed that it was just a architectural fashion statement, because that's actually... you know, a little bit of unfinished work is, like, distressed—that's fashionable now.
JB: Now, yeah.
S: I probably just would have thought, "hey, that's really cool looking; I actually like that look." But I think that's... that's "Oy Vey", 'cause that makes sense to me. The "Mazal Tov"-stepping-on-the-glass—yeah, obviously everyone knows that that happens. Yeah, I don't buy that as the explanation for why it's done; I don't remember what the real symbolism is, but I just have this vague memory that it's something else. So, I think that one is the "Oh No". The three days of misery—yeah, every religion has sacrifice. This, to me, I was thinking what Rebecca said. We were all growing up Catholic. This is Lent. This is like, every religion does this. So that one seems very, very plausible to me. So I'm going to go with Jay and say that the stepping on the glass is the "Oh No".
R: Aw, man. I'm starting to feel less sure about this.
JB: All righty. Bobby, step up to the plate! Let's hear you.
B: The unfinished wall in the house; yeah, that makes a lot of sense. The second one; yeah. God, this one—yeah, of course, breaking the glass, but I never really... I feel like I knew what it meant at some point.
S: Ooh, I used to know that!
B: I used to know that; I forget so much stuff. So I'm not sure about that one. And the last one here; the Three Days of Repentance. I don't know; it just seems like a long—three days? So I'm going to say that this one here with the Three Days of Repentance, I'm gonna say that that is "Oh No".
JB: All right! And now we go to our token Jew. Evan, Krav Maga us on this one.
E: I'm supposed to, right, have some sort of advantage here, but because of my very non-Orthodox upbringing, you know, I find myself very interested to learn some things about to what I'm reading and hearing here.
S: You know just enough to be confused.
E: Exactly. The walls unfurnished. No, never heard of this, Josh; and I haven't... I can't say I ever noticed anything out of the ordinary or strange or... But moving on, I wanna go to the glass and the crushing of the glass underfoot. Applause breakout and everyone becomes, like, kind of very happy and stuff when that moment occurs, but I do think it's just the opposite of that. I think that that is supposed to be a reminder to sort of, kind of, keep things in check, right? Be joyful; don't be too joyful, right? Have fun; don't have too much fun. The last one; Three Days of Repentance. Like everyone else, only three? (chuckles) Yeah, right? I thought they lived... there're more—much more than that. Certainly there's always a ten-day span between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, but having three days of repentance; I don't know if Yom Kippur is just one of those three and there are two other ones. Maybe this is the one that is the "Oh No," because I think we're perhaps being led to believe that perhaps it's the ten days of observation between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, not just three days. So I think I'm going to side with Bob. I'm going to go with him and say that the Three Days of Repentance, that one is the "Oh No".
JB: Let's start with the first one.
R: I would like to change my answer.
JB: Would you like the goat or the car? Let's take it from the top. Yes. This one is "Oy Vey" and true. I'm sorry, Rebecca.
JB: Although, there's a small caveat that this is pretty much not adhered to by all Orthodox Jews, but by Chasidic Jews, the type of which I grew up with. When you build a new house, you can't be too giddy; you can't be too excited, and you would walk into peoples' beautiful three-million-dollar houses in Brooklyn, and then as you walk in, you will see a part of the wall that has brick exposed. Now, not like hipster brick exposed; a wall with a fireplace, but you will see, like, a portion of the wall clearly intended to demonstrate that, OK, look over here; this is an ugly part of the house. I mean, it's so cliche at this point already that it's not even ugly; it's just, like, "oh my God, did you see how ugly his thing was? It was so awesome; he had a mansion with, like, ugly in the middle". So, some people actually put like a little frame around the ugly, to, like, frame the ugly part like that. So it's become like a cliche, but yes, there is a tradition amongst Orthodox Jews; it's called "Zecher L'churban", which translates to—
J: Ha! What the hell?
JB: Zecher L'churban, which means a reminder for the destruction; for the destruction of the Temple. Our Temple was destroyed; here's some brick; it was terrible; all right, you looked at it, get in and let's have a good time. So I'm sorry, Rebecca, but that one is "Oy Vey" and is actually true in Chasidic Judaism.
R: I'll take my defeat gracefully.
JB: Thank you.
R: (mocking) Nooooo!
JB: The second one, which you guys all know about, like in fact, every time we're at a party or somewhere that a glass happens to break, if a waiter will break something by mistake, everyone want him to feel good, so they just say, "Mazal Tov", to make a joke out of it. So the tradition of smashing the glass to be miserable is "Oy Vey" and it is actually something that the Talmud discusses. I believe Popov, one of their great rabbis, or Rav, or one of them. His son was having a wedding and it was too boisterous and he said to himself, "No-no-no-no-no, we're the Jewish people; this can't be this exciting", and he took like an earthenware or something and he smashed it on the ground, so everyone, like, quieted down and it became a tradition since then. And the Talmud has discussed it numerous times since then about the fact that something needs to be smashed to remind us all the time to temper our good moods and our good times. In fact, the ex-chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, actually wrote a decree saying that he is disgusted with the fact that in modern times, like you guys were pointing out, the smashing of the glass is only responded to with "Mazal Tov" and screaming and yelling it only further enhances the joyous occasion and we're all forgetting what the real meaning to it is; that we're supposed to be miserable; we're supposed to be depressed; this is not what's supposed to happen, and he ordered his people to stop stepping on glasses and stop doing that because it only leads to more happiness. So yes, that was instituted initially just to make depression and to not allow us to be that happy.
S: Ah. See, I thought it was more interesting than that.
JB: I'm sorry.
R: Sorry the Jews let you down, Steve.
JB: All we do is win Nobel freakin' prizes.
S: Very anti-climactic.
JB: I'm sorry. That's what she said. Anyways! Which leads us to the third one, which Bob got right, but Evan really nailed, which was there are not three days of misery, but there are something called the Nine Days of misery. Every summer, when we were at camp as kids, which is the most fun part of the summer. You know, you're out there; you have a swimming pool; it's finally—you're out of Yeshiva; you're having a good time. There are nine days where there's no jokes, no music, no swimming, no showers. You can only take a shower if it's cold water quickly dripping on you, so you don't enjoy it whatsoever. Don't brush your teeth; don't eat meat; you can't eat poultry; don't listen to music; no telling jokes; if you smile or anything. These are the nine days of misery. So in a way I felt a little bit guilty because you guys are all assuming, "yeah we all assume you guys are miserable", and I'll be like, "yeah, we're even more miserable", but I'm glad that Evan picked up on it and he said, "the three? No, there's obviously more than that and I think that he's tricking us in that way", so I don't feel that bad. The "Oh No" was on the three because it actually nine.
S: All right, Joshie, we really appreciate it.
R: Thanks, Joshie.
B: Our pleasure, buddy.
S: That was a lot of fun.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:23:55)
S: Jay, you going to close us out with a quote?
J: This is from a listener named Chandra Chandrasekaran, from D.C. This is a quote from Ann Druyan.
B: That's Carl Sagan's wife.
J: Exactly; yeah. And this is her talking about Carl Sagan:
It takes a fearless, unflinching love and deep humility to accept the universe as it is. The most effective way he knew to accomplish that, the most powerful tool at his disposal, was the scientific method, which over time winnows out deception. It can't give you absolute truth because science is a permanent revolution, always subject to revision, but it can give you successive approximations of reality.
E: Ann is one of the executive producers of the new Cosmos being produced.
S: All right; thanks, Jay. And thank you, everyone, for joining me this week.
R: Thank you, Steve.
J: Thanks, Steve.
B: You're welcome.
E: Good to be joined to you.
S: Thanks, Joshie—
S: —for showing up.
R: Thanks, Joshie.
E: Yeah, Joshie!
JB: Thank you, guys.
S: And until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at theskepticsguide.org, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to email@example.com. Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.