It’s not a wash

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Today we will examine a moral panic that peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. The terrifying tales centered on persons being brainwashed and led into cults, crime, or other undesirable destinations. Many times, those telling the tale were the same ones selling or touting the cure: Deprogramming.

The difference between influence and brainwashing is that the latter seeks to have the victims completely dedicate themselves to a cause or position that they previously had been ambiguous to or even opposed. Additionally, washing of the brain is forceful. Someone showing up at your front door to sell you rain gutter protection or asking you to sign a petition to bring back the high school marching band will take no for an answer. Someone intent on brainwashing will not and, in fact, will seek to control most aspects of your life.

Writing for Skeptoid, Dunning noted that even the Hare Krishnas fall short of brainwashing since they attempt influence, not intimidation. He explained, “They convince intelligent adults to shave their heads, wear robes, and forego worldly possessions. That’s pretty radical. And their recruitment methods are absolutely systematic. However, they generally don’t force this onto anyone, so it’s not brainwashing.”

By contrast, he continued, the Scientology organization Sea Org qualifies as brainwashing since it “is notorious for confining and isolating new members, imposing uniforms, and cutting off ties to family and friends. It is radical, systematic, and forced.” Other examples would include Patty Hearst and U.S. POWs during the Korean War.

So it has genuinely occurred, although as we will see shortly, its effects were short-lived. Moreover, most supposed brainwashings would more accurately be called instances of wayward or curious youth trying to find their way and place in the world. 

Questioning a tenet of one’s faith or political leanings that one has been imbued with is healthy and checking out new groups or beliefs is common. Even if one comes to embrace “the other side,” that is part of life’s journey and there is no need to be deprogrammed. In fact, attempting that on an adult who has made the choice may qualify as kidnapping and, ironically, as brainwashing.

According to Dunning, the concept of deprogramming was the brainchild of Ted Patrick, who claimed his son had been consumed by a cult, and Patrick was one of many deprogrammers who were convicted for their activities.

Beyond its often-illicit nature, deprogramming is likewise unnecessary. That’s because brainwashing’s impact on victims is temporary, if it exists at all.

Dunning noted that two experts who studied the U.S. POW brainwashing, psychiatrist Robert Lifton and psychologist Edgar Schein, found that most of the victims had merely gone through the motions of saying and doing what their tormenters wanted so as to avoid further torture. The few who came to believe in communism stopped doing so upon release. Similarly, many deprogramming subjects also just went through the motions and gave the desired responses so as to put an end to it.

In summary, brainwashing is nothing to worry about unless it is followed by a deprogramming. 

“Allergic to the truth” (Benadryl Challenge)

In August, an Oklahoma teen reportedly died of a Benadryl overdose, said to be the tragic result of a social media dare to get high by popping the allergy pills.

Did this happen and, if so, how widespread is the trend? Is this something we should be terrified of or is a more measure response justified?

According to Reason’s Scott Shackford, the Benadryl Challenge has elements of truth. Three Texan teens, being young and quarantined, did have an emergency room excursion after overdosing on the over-the-counter medication. The stupidly curious (or curiously stupid) trio were treated at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. The facility claimed the idea came from a TikTok video whose producer promised that this misadventure would get users high and induce hallucinations. In another case, a 14-year-old girl was treated after popping one pill for each of her years on Earth. 

TikTok officials confirmed to the Fort Worth Star-Telegramthat the company had removed content for encouraging the practice.

Later that month, KFOR and the New York Post reported that 15-year-old Chloe Phillips had died, with a deleted Facebook post from her great aunt blaming the challenge.

However, the reports lack any attribution from medical professionals confirming that as the cause. Further, other than the one deleted post, there were no quotes from family members suggesting that’s why the girl died. KFOR did interview Scott Schaeffer, director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information, who explained how a Benadryl overdose can cause heart problems, seizures, and hallucinations. But there was nothing to tie that into the Phillips tragedy. Schaeffer later told Reason he had no reason to tie her death or any other to any Benadryl Challenge.

That leaves us with two instances in which a total of four youth sought medical treatment for an intentional overdose. None of them died. That has not stopped a moral panic from ensuing about a deadly trend, which by all available evidence, seems to be neither.

“Blown save” (Missing children)

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Each year about 800,000 US children are reported missing. Around 99.98 percent are found safe, ran away, or were taken by a noncustodial family member. About 200 are abducted by strangers. Zero are snatched by billionaire-funded satanic cannibals.

Nevertheless, QAnon and its allies interpret any missing child report to be evidence of another youngster being swallowed into a nightmarish black hole of blood-drinking, flesh-eating, and gang rape perpetrated by members of the Deep State, which once meant Hollywood and Democratic leaders, but now means anyone with whom the believer disagrees.

The panic is a continuation of a perpetual fretting which ignores that the 21st Century in the Western World is the safest ever time and place to be a child. But it adds the sinister twist which allows the proponent to congratulate themselves on rooting out an evil. The conspiracy theory is more than just paranoia and hysteria, it is also having deleterious effects on genuine attempts to #SaveTheChildren.

Any child abducted by a stranger is cause for utmost concern and all available resources should be utilized to get the victim home safely. But this is best done on a case-by-case basis, not through launching baseless assertions that the abducted are now part of a Soros-funded pedophile ring.

Meanwhile, those with such concerns do not extend their passion to combating poverty, funding inner city schools, or reversing policies that cage children and kill Tamir Rice.

They also seem OK with police on campus, which creates a literal school-to-prison pipeline where activities as innocuous as drinking soda in class and talking out of turn leave pre-teens jailed and with a lifetime criminal record. These grave overreactions disproportionately impact minority students.

Focusing in these issues is a much better use of time than promoting QAnon, Pizzagate, and Wayfair conspiracy theories, which hold that President Trump is waging a heroic and solitary battle against satanic child molesters permeating Hollywood,  Capitol Hill, Silicon Valley, and anyone else the proponent despises.

Believers are taking action in the form of vigilante attacks and they are also wasting valuable resources. Crusaders who have spent years working for organizations that fight human trafficking and child abuse have been inundated with theorists touting these absurd claims and demanding that they take action, or else.

One such worker, Brandy Zadrozny, detailed this is a piece for MSN and Rochelle Keyhan, the CEO of the anti-trafficking nonprofit Collective Liberty, has been bombarded with such messages.

Before QAnon adherents took over the #SaveTheChildren hashtag, they invented the conspiracy theory that the furniture site Wayfair was trafficking missing children, using a code whereby overpriced shelves and pillow were euphemisms for specific types of kids.

Collective Liberty, which was inundated with Wayfair tips, put out a statement explaining that the exorbitant prices were due to search engine optimization gone wrong, and not proof of a Satanic cabal. This was necessary because, as Keyhan explained, “The extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the trafficking hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.”

So when QAnon believers post their hashtags and urge action, they are, in fact, doing nothing to help #SaveTheChildren.

“Fright pattern” (Wind turbines)

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Birds often slam into buildings and powerlines but some people consider wind turbines an even more egregious threat, with their enormous blades whirring overhead.

However, these kill far less birds than almost any other contributor, and the strategic placement of wind farms can make the threat even less pronounced.  

Objections to wind turbines largely come from two groups: Well-meaning but misinformed bird lovers; and ill-meaning, informed fossil fuel fans who show an isolated, disingenuous interest in wildlife conservation in this one instance.

The key question is how many birds are being sliced and diced. Are we talking avian apocalypse or a much lower number that represents an infinitesimal fraction of feathered flyers we lose to buildings and power lines? Studies show it’s the latter, as wind turbines are responsible for the smallest number of bird deaths among all manmade causes.

There are about 50,000 wind turbines in the country and they cause an average of five annual bird deaths apiece, or a quarter of a million birds every year. The biggest killer of birds in the U.S. are members of the cat family, who take out a whopping 2.4 billion birds each year. Collisions with building windows cause the demise of another billion.

Crunching these numbers, we find that the percentage killed by wind turbines is so microscopic that it could be rounded down to zero.

Of the relatively few killed by turbines, the vast majority are songbirds, which are experiencing no population issues. Of greater concern are raptors since they exist in smaller numbers, have much lower reproductive rates, and have flight patterns that make them more likely to be near wind turbines.

Wind farm operators can be slapped with heavy fines when their product kills a bird, although since it’s impractical to avoid all deaths, a limited number of the unintentional kills are legally permissible. Whether out of concern for wildlife or the ledger book, wind farm operators embrace technology aimed at avoiding these fatal encounters.

For example, most California Condors are tagged so that when one approaches a wind farm, the turbine detects a radio transmission, which shuts it down.

A similar system employs skyward cameras to keep a lookout for eagles, with a shutdown procedure in place if the birds are in jeopardy. Radar, light, sound, and thermal cameras are additional allies in this ornithological protection plan.

But – cliché alert – an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure. The best idea is to placing wind farms away from bird migration routes and condor populations, and this trend has been embraced.

 

 

“Skies and lies” (LUCIFER telescope)

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The Catholic Church has a sordid history with science, from its maltreatment of Galileo and Giordano Bruno to today’s geocentric seminars headed by Robert Sungenis and the rest of the gang at Catholic Apologetics International.

But according to one conspiracy theory, the Church has embraced the science of astronomy, albeit for malevolent purposes. The hypothesis holds that Rome employs a telescope whose aim is to find aliens that will help the Pope and his minions subdue all Earthlings. The one-sixth of world’s population that the Vatican already lords over is apparently insufficient. The telescope is named LUCIFER, put in all caps as if the name by itself wasn’t enough of a giveaway.

Like the weather-control theory that centers on another all-cap evil, HAARP, the LUCIFER theory takes a few unrelated facts that are true in isolation, then adds massive untruths and eventually arrives at an untenable, easily-disproved conclusion.

The Catholic Church does have a history of dabbling in astronomy. In the 16th Century, it looked to the skies to ensure that Easter was being observed at the correct time. And they do maintain the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) at an international facility in Arizona.

It is the nearby Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) that theorists insist the Catholic Church is using to arrange an apocalyptic rendezvous with E.T.  But the Vatican has no connection to the LBT, which actually refers to two side-by-side telescopes. A pair of instruments that do infrared spectroscopy in conjunction with the telescopes are dubbed LUCI1 and LUCI2. LUCI stands for “LBT Utility Camera in the Infrared,” and these spectroscopic measurement tools were built by a German consortium that has no relation to the Vatican.

The LUCI instruments serve as the source for the name LUCIFER. They were originally named this as a tongue-in-cheek, not-quite-acronym for the beyond-wordy “Large Binocular Telescope Near-infrared Spectroscopic Utility with Camera and Integral Field Unit for Extragalactic Research.”

Beyond the issue of which telescope the Vatican operates is the matter of what the instrument’s capabilities are. Let’s consider the process in reverse. If a search for alien life were undertaken by exoplanet beings who honed in on Earth, these creatures would notice a red edge created by chlorophyll. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning explains that chlorophyll “creates a very obvious jump in the spectrum right around the 700 nanometer wavelength. At the red end of the visible spectrum, chlorophyll appears almost totally black, but then at slightly longer wavelengths in the infrared, it becomes virtually transparent. We call this sudden cliff in the spectrum the ‘red edge.’”

However, even if such an edge were to emanate from an exoplanet, no telescopes owned by the Catholic Church or any other Earthly entity are powerful enough to see it.

In summary: There has never been a telescope called LUCIFER; The LUCI instruments are non-telescopes with no relation to the Vatican; no optical telescopes on Earth are capable of detecting evidence of alien civilizations; and the VATT and LBT telescopes are unconnected and housed in separate locations.

The theory which rejects all those truths stems from the creative minds of evangelicals Tom Horn and Cris Putnam. They outlined their notions of a Rome-Ming alliance in a book with the bewildering title, Exo-Vaticana: Petrus Romanus, Project L.U.C.I.F.E.R. and the Vatican’s Astonishing Plan for the Arrival of an Alien Savior. In this work, the crusading Christian duo claim the Catholic Church plans to recruit a savior from outer space and establish him/her/it as the leader of a New World Order. The book also includes a failed prophecy that this alien’s home planet would be revealed by astronomers in 2013. Additionally, there is the impossible-to-disprove assertion that the telescope’s location serves as an interdimensional portal through which aliens come to and fro Earth.

Another claim, again without evidence but again impossible to disprove, is that the giants referenced in Genesis 6 are demons with whom the Catholic Church is attempting to channel to help with this conquest. Rome’s plan is to unite all mankind under the Pope, peaceably at first, and then by force using this conscripted demon/alien army.

While Horn and Putnam attempt a 21st Century sci-fi twist on their anti-Catholic bigotry, they are tapping into what was once a common theme among evangelicals: That Catholics are confused Christians at best and Satan’s soldiers at worst. Those ideas have largely faded as the line between church and state has become increasingly blurred. We have reached a point where it is de riguer for Republican presidential candidates to declare that God told them to run, while conservative Christians conflate equality with persecution whenever they are asked to follow the same laws and rules as everyone else.

Growing a base this powerful and entitled would have failed if its leaders had continued to shun the country’s 50 million Catholics. This switch has transformed what had once been the robust anti-Catholic industry into a niche market, and books and videos by the likes of Horn and Putnam are reserved for obscure corners of the publishing and online worlds. If only that could be the fate for ​99 44100  percent of  conspiracy theories. 

“Shakespeare Trip” (Macbeth curse)

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My cat is named Hamlet, but had I gone with Macbeth instead, he may have quickly used his nine lives. At least if a longstanding theater legend is to be believed.

The euphemistic “Scottish Play” is said to be associated with onstage deaths, riots, and lesser misfortunes.

Supposedly, performing Macbeth or even uttering the name in a theater, potentially unleashes the curse. The cause is said to be the play’s references to witches, ghosts, and regicide. But those elements are in other Bard productions, so why does only Macbeth carry a curse? That stems from the assertion that for this play, William Shakespeare employed genuine witch incantations, specifically, Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

The story holds that practicing witches saw the play and took great offense at this misuse of their sacred craft, and so placed a curse upon any who might perform the play thereafter.

Supposed manifestations are: Actors being killed or injured during the stage fights when real weapons were used by mistake; natural disasters happening during performances; and accidents and illnesses striking the crew before, during, and after shows.

While there is ample room for selective memory with such claims, there is one documented tragedy associated with a Macbeth production. It took place in 1849 at New York’s Astor Place Theater.

At least 25 persons were killed and 120 were injured, many of them by National Guard soldiers who had been proactively summoned to quell the expected riots. The melee stemmed from two actors playing Macbeth on the same night at two different New York theaters, each representing a different social class. That last part is the key. Economic and cultural turmoil caused the riot, with Macbeth being a bit player.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning explained, “The Astor Place Theater had been built as a way for the well-heeled to have somewhere to go other than the Bowery Theater, which catered to all classes. That the rising American star with a blue collar image, Edwin Forrest, planned his opening on the same night as the upper class’s favorite British actor, William Macready, was largely seen as a slap in the face.”

This caused a long-simmering feud to boil over.

“Unrest had been growing for years between the working class, which included many Irish immigrants, and the Anglophile upper class,” Dunning wrote.  “Irish and American workers planned to express themselves by crashing the opening night of Macready.” They did so violently and the heartbreaking results included a dead child.

While this is one instance of real-life tragedy associated with Macbeth, the play in question could have been Othello, West Side Story, Annie, or a musical based on the Bad News Bears. The competing performances that night in New York were merely what finally lit the powder keg.

In other less-known instances, blaming misfortunes on a curse requires extreme cherry picking.  And when it comes to thinking what might cause the curse, let’s not yield to Tooth Fairy Science. Before trying to explain why something happens, we need first to ascertain that it does.

We are talking about one of the most performed plays in history, a production that has been shown non-stop for close to half a millennium. With so many chances for something to go wrong, it would be more remarkable if nothing ever did.

There is no reason to suspect that Macbeth has a higher percentage of mishaps than any other theater offering. And even if there did prove to be a little more tragedy associated with it, the production usually involves dim lighting, trap doors, flying harnesses, trick scenery, and stage weapons, all of which could explain harmful results without needing to invoke vengeful witchcraft.

Rather than a curse, we have a time-honored legend, which has been told and retold, embellished, grown tangentially, and become part of folklore and fun.

It also represents a chance for veteran actors to spook newbies with stories about when they’ve seen the curse manifest itself. In these cases, it’s not unlike my basic training first sergeant who, during our bivouac, warned us that an escaped murderer was on post.

There was, of course, no such killer, and any deaths associated with first sergeant’s putative murderer were as fabricated as those in the Scottish Play. And it seems that just as made up are real-life deaths associated with one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works.  

 

“On Q” (Q Anon)

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The QAnon phenomenon reverses the usual conspiracy theory mindset. This time, it’s the man on top who is the heroic victim and those out of power who are planning his demise. To ward against this, the president hunts those who belong to the “deep state,” a term so broad and vague that any disliked person can be labeled a member.

According to Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning, QAnon “began as a few random and childishly implausible posts on an obscure Internet message board” and “has grown into a very serious political movement.”

Q was only one of several anons – short for anonymous posters – who leveled libelous accusations at Hilary Clinton and other Democrats during the 2016 campaign and thereafter. Besides the charges, there were promises that Clinton and her cronies were destined for prison, Guantanamo Bay, or CIA black sites once Trump was in power. The posters claimed secret, elite knowledge owing to their high government positions. To state the obvious, none of the supposed promises have been fulfilled.  

While QAnon is almost certainly fabricates his/her/their position, Q clearances do exist, and are the highest classification in the Department of Energy. It’s like Top Secret with a less cool descriptor.

The QAnon theory makes the usual warmongering and corruption charges against its enemies, but also accuses them of a novel insidiousness: A global child trafficking sex ring. These accusations are bolstered by breathless memes sounding the alarm about 800,000 children going missing each year.  The implied message assumes that all these youngsters have been abducted by this roving band of Satanic pedophiles who vote Blue. 

But while the number of missing children does tally about 800,000 a year, the overwhelming majority of these boys and girls are found safe. Further, those who are adducted have usually been taken by a noncustodial parent. There are also kidnappings perpetrated by those who have gained the family trust. Finally, in the least populated-category, are those who have been taken by strangers. And among those who pull off that despicable crime, none have been proven to be fueling a pedophile ring to satisfy liberal elites. There has never been a conviction associated with these supposed abductions, and never in a courtroom have we learned the name of a perpetrator, victim, or recipient. If there is a Satanic child-sex trafficking ring being run, the number of victims wouldn’t even number in the 10s, much less hundreds of thousands.

 

 

As to the person whose writings have stoked these ideas, there has been speculation that it is a Russian, a left-wing troll, or a right-winger trying to keep things stirred up and maintain a focus on defeating the Democrats. Or it could just be someone getting their kicks. What He/she/they almost certainly is not is a career government worker with the highest clearance who continually has access to the juiciest tidbits.

The NSA, CIA, and FBI have vast tools to root out such moles and that a person could elude this for four years strains credulity. One trick is to let a piece of putative information fall into the hands of the suspect – who thinks everyone with clearance has received it, when only he has – and then when  he releases it, is busted. Beyond this, there are bugs and surveillance, and all manner of high-tech gizmos to find the culprit, especially with such a small pool of potential suspects, limited to those with the highest Energy Department clearance. 

This person would be risking that clearance, along with their career and freedom, and would be taking actions wholly unbecoming of someone who had achieved this level clearance. Such persons would be highly unlikely to continually post highly-classified information for all to see. 

Not everyone shares my skepticism. Dunning wrote that dozens of Congressional candidates have voiced support for the theory. One of the most fervent believers took a rifle into a pizza joint, trying to find a non-existent basement housing non-existent child trafficking victims. Another adherent blocked the Hoover Dam with an armored van in order to demand the release of information he believed Q had revealed. At least one murder has been committed by a QAnon supporter acting on his belief, while authorities thwarted a kidnapping attempt by still another deranged fan. Untold death threats have been lobbed at those who type disbelieving words such as these.

Still, there is a person or persons writing all this. QAnon writes in code, though that is hardly necessary when addressing an audience that sees pedophile messages in pizza and Wayfair ads.

“Not cutting it” (Circumcision)

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Circumcision has endured because of tradition, not because of rationale nor medical benefit. Nor has it ever been successful as an anti-masturbatory measure, which is why it gained prominence in the West 150 years ago.

When a custom remains after its original intent has vanished, it has morphed into a ritual. And ritual is one of the kinder words to describe removing highly-innervated tissue from the most vulnerable members of our species, without any benefit in return. The relic rests in the same vein as coming-of-age rituals and other practices that involve cutting, slicing, burning, and flogging.

Furthermore, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in 500 boys experience acute complications from circumcision. Even a .2 percent risk is an acceptable amount when there is no chance of reward.

Still it endures because, to most Westerners, that’s the way it’s always been. But the appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy that, were it rigidly adhered to, would have us still with slavery and without women’s suffrage. 

Imagine if circumcision had never been practiced and someone proposed we begin fondling and mutilating the infant genitals. The collective response would be revulsion.  Yet the practice continues today because, well, just because.

Reasons include ensuring the infant conform to religious norms or so that they will look like their father. But faith should be a personal choice and if a father was missing three fingers, no one would suggest lopping off the digits to ensure familial uniformity. A third reason proponents give is because they think it looks unappealing. But that’s only because they are used to seeing circumcised penises.  Were every male intact, proponents would see circumcised members as the freaky outcasts. 

 

Parents deciding to circumcise their sons is distinct from having them vaccinated or given Vitamin K boosters, as these have identifiable benefits.

Chopping off someone else’s body part would mean prison time under any other circumstance, but exception made for the most vulnerable victim. In a depressing display of bipartisanship, the practice remains prevalent among persons of all political leanings.

Conservatives still go for the religion and tradition angles, which is to be expected. Harder to comprehend is the tepid response from liberals, who should be demanding bodily autonomy over the most defenseless of our species. It has been pointed out that  we should never make Junior hug an aunt just because she’s visiting for Christmas if the child doesn’t wish too. Yet, somehow this mindset does not extend to control over the most private part.

With no medical benefit, circumcision is a solution in need of a problem.  Proponents sometimes cite hygiene, but this is no more logical that lopping off our ears to prevent dirt from accumulating within.

One seemingly more valid reason is the chance of reducing HIV infection. But this is an untruth and based on studies that make such basic mistakes as assuming all transmission was due to heterosexual sex. Also, if the studies were correct, and the practice provided STD protection, there would be a wide difference in infection rates between the circumcised and intact.  

 

“Hosanna split” (Hypoxia)

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An image that makes periodic social media rounds purports to show God’s majestic handiwork in the form of keeping two distinctly colorful bodies of water separate.

In the post, a wowed, anonymous person declares, “The two bodies of water never mix with each other, allowing the Gulf of Mexico to retain its clear, blue color. Simply amazing! That just proves that their (sic) is a GOD!!!! Who else can let WATER meet and touch but NEVER mix together???? #illwait.”

While she is willing to wait, we won’t spend time here imparting a lesson on circular reasoning or affirming the consequent. Rather, we’ll jump right into the science.

The image shows a dead zone, called hypoxia, off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas in 2015. This unintentionally-manmade phenomenon occurs when high levels of nutrient runoff make their way into the Mississippi River. This causes tremendous amounts of nitrogen to be disbursed when the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. These nitrogen levels cause overgrowth of algae and other vegetation that deplete much of the oxygen from the water, kills fish, and causes the adjoining bodies of water to assume different colors.

Don’t plan your vacation around seeing this. Dead zones change each year based on a weather conditions, wind speed, and a water’s nutrient level. This means there is no permanent divide between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

When it does occur, it’s mostly because the majority of the ground in the Mississippi’s watershed is farm land. Seventy percent of the nutrient loads that cause hypoxia result from agricultural runoff that occurs when rain washes fertilizer from the land into a stream or river.

Additionally, urban areas that border the Mississippi continually deposit treated sewage into the river. Between the rural and urban contributions, about 1.7 million tons of nitrogen and phosphorous are deposited, and this is crucial for phytoplankton growth.

However, this also leads to ecological harm. It causes massive phytoplankton blooms to occur, which in turn leads to a large increase in zooplankton that feed on them. Large amounts of dead phytoplankton and zooplankton waste then accumulate on the ocean floor and the decomposition of this matter depletes oxygen in the area faster than it can be replaced. Put another way, if this is God’s doing, he’s displaying his wrath, not his wonder.

“Abrogated battery” (Electric cars)

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During my ninth-grade year, I spied a classmate driving, well, it’s hard to say what it was. Other than to call it a contraption so hideous it seemed a mutant offspring of a golf cart, Yugo, and lunar rover. It looked so bad that he felt the need to offer a proactive apology/explanation that it ran on electricity.

His father had procured a small fleet of them, with dreams of making his fortune from a technology that would render the internal combustion engine as obsolete as the engine had made the horse and buggy.

Even with the much spiffier electric cars of today, such futuristic fantasies have never materialized. There have been issues with a short driving range, few re-energizing stations, and a dearth of mechanics who specialize in the breed.

The cars are also blamed for environmental ails by people who don’t care about environmental ails – that is to say, right-wing types who resist any threat to the oil and gas industries. 

With Tesla Motors now offering a reasonable alternative to traditional vehicles, we should take a closer look at claims that electric cars are worse for the environment than ones that operate on internal combustion.

The central argument is that since electric cars require an oversized battery, whose manufacturing has to be done at a separate locale than the rest of the car, another factory gets added to the mix. Further, the mining needed to procure the battery’s components adds another process. This all requires infrastructure, transportation, workers, and logistical support.

Therefore, the usual car manufacturing, combined with the battery production, more than doubles greenhouse gas emissions. Since the electricity required to charge the behemoth battery comes from a traditional power plant, electric car drivers still stamp their carbon footprint like everyone else, but are worse violators because of the battery production’s consequences.

The infrastructure argument is correct in the short term. But over time, if everyone used an electric car, it would prove beneficial because it would mean humans had moved from a fossil fuel infrastructure to an electric one.

When a traditional car and its electric counterpart leave the factory, the latter’s production has produced more greenhouse gases than the former. But by the time the cars are scrapped or otherwise reach their end, the car powered by an internal combustion engine will have contributed twice as many greenhouse gases to our environment.

The reason an electric car still contributes to environmental damage is because fossil fuel power plants  generate most of the electricity that power those vehicles. So the more electric cars that there are, the more often there is an initial uptick in ecological harm. But eventually that is more than overcome by the lack of fossil fuels burnt.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that having one large power plant fueling many electric cars means electrics on even the dirtiest grid are still far cleaner than internal combustion cars. He added that generating the electricity accounts for about 70 percent of an electric car’s total contribution to greenhouse gases.

The number a miles a motorist has to drive an electric car before he or she has made up for excess greenhouse gases from manufacturing the car varies widely, depending on the vehicle and whether a grid is powered by renewables or fossil fuels.

Dunning calculated that the number can range from 3,700 to 39,000 miles. But whenever a car passes that number, it is more environmentally friendly than an internal combustion-powered vehicle, be it a Tesla beauty or the abomination my classmate dared to be seen in.