Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My 2008 blog output retold in haiku form

January:

Superdelegates
Annoyed me a whole bunch, but
It turned out okay

February:

Snowfall prompts cries of
"Give us a weather device!"
Mayor ignores them

March:

Church graffiti found,
Upsetting many churchfolk
Who cry out for blood

April:

Chuck Owen hates me;
Antivaccinationists
Are friendly, but wrong

May:

People hate trash fees;
I don't much care, I just like
That New York Dolls song

June:

Bech lied about gas;
Other candidates had some
Pretty lame websites

July:

Goofy Segway post
Gets linked from Boston dot com;
Mom would be so proud!

August:

Photoshopped turtles
Fail to become internet
Meme; I weep softly.

September:

A lazy month, when
I didn't write a whole lot.
You lucky bastards.

October:

Daily posts abound!
More than a simple haiku
Can encapsulate.

November:

Obama got votes,
John McCain got some too, but
Not quite as many.

December:

Nobody reads blogs
Without electricity;
Thanks a lot, ice storm!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Channukwanaliamas!

Hey blog-buddies! Happy Mithras's birthday!

Let's all enjoy this traditional carol, shall we?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another movie review: Zapped!

So, last time I wrote a movie review it was for that new James Bond movie. I didn't care for it, though some of my commenters clearly thought I was too harsh, or possibly that I lack the advanced cinematic sophistication necessary to see its true brilliance.

I will now endeavor to prove two things:
  1. My commenters are wrong, and I in fact have the best taste in the world when it comes to movies.
  2. I am not, in fact, an anhedonist who just hates everything.
In order to prove these things, I will now review a movie I just watched over the weekend. A movie I love.

In case you couldn't figure it out from the title of this post, the movie in question is the 1982 Scott Baio / Willie Aames classic "Zapped!"

Let me just get this out of the way at the outset: this is the best movie ever made. Period.

I first saw this movie many years ago on some cable channel, and it has stuck in my head ever since. So much so that when I discovered that Netflix didn't have it available for rental I wrote them an email demanding that they get it. Apparently they listened, because that's how I rented it this past weekend.

It was everything I remembered, and more.

Here's a plot summary from the IMDB page:
Peyton and Barney are fun loving high school students working on a science project with white mice. When one of the mice begins to move food toward itself with out [Sic] touching it, Barney finds he has accidently [Sic] discovered a formula for telekinetic powers. Now, how much trouble can a high school boy who can move things with just his mind get into?
How much trouble? None, actually. There are no ramifications for anything in this movie, and that's part of what makes it awesome!

That's actually a pretty lame plot summary. Peyton (Aames) is definitely fun-loving, but Barney (Baio) might be on the fence about fun.

Also, the mice are a relatively minor subplot (and aren't all white, despite what the racist summary-giver suggests). Mostly they feature in the beginning, when Barney's crazy-ass experiment involves getting them drunk and/or high on marijuana and making them go scuba diving in a fish tank. His reasons for doing this are vague, but who cares? Mice in little scuba suits are adorable!

Indeed, one mouse does become telekinetic after Coach Dexter (played by the incredibly awesome Scatman Crothers) spills some super-plant-growth-formula into the concentrated extract of marijuana and then Peyton adds beer for some reason. Scientist Barney doesn't even know about these people messing with his experiment. Bad controls!

Then things go crazy and Barney gets telekinetic too.

Now, allow me to explain the brilliance of this movie. If you were going to make a movie in which someone gets superpowers, you'd probably want to make them the anomaly in a world of normals. Everyone else would just be your average boring citizen, while super-Barney has this awesome power.

Zapped! does not do things that way, lame-ass!

Instead of Barney being a superhero in a normal world, the whole world he exists in is a big pile of crazy. Peyton is some sort of sociopath photographer guy who is mostly a bad influence on Barney, but is actually really harmless for a sociopath. Yes, he's totally self-centered and lies a lot, but he's actually pretty nice most of the time. Also, he's bizarrely popular with the ladies (mostly through the power of lies).

In fact, everyone in the entire movie is just sort of a dick the whole time. For instance, at one point Dexter turns to the principal and calls him ugly for absolutely no reason. Then he goes chasing after a barely-clothed teenage girl even though his shrew of a wife is standing right next to him. Oh, Dexter!

Another common theme you might see in a superpower movie like this would be the hero having all sorts of annoying reservations about using/abusing his power. Or else he'd just abuse his power and become some sort of tormented supervillian, or a whiny Spiderman clone.

Barney doesn't care for your movie-making conventions or questions about power and responsibility!

He gleefully abuses his power in petty and meaningless ways. Like harassing radio-controlled plane enthusiasts for no reason. Or making some guy on a carnival ride spin extra fast so he gets sick. All done with totally no remorse or ethical concerns.

I bet you can guess what happened right after this shot!

(Maybe this?)

Eventually Barney does get pissed off that Peyton is using him to cheat at roulette, but even this is more because Barney's new girlfriend (not the pink girl above, a bookish moral type) wanted to mess around with him that night and got pissed because he's hanging out with the future Bibleman and abusing his powers instead of smooching her.

So does Barney do the moral thing and refuse to cheat at roulette with his goofy friend? Does he let the ball fall where it may? Just stop using his powers for evil?

Hell no! Instead of just saying "Hey dude, I'm done. Going to go kiss my frigid girlfriend instead. Later." He uses his telekinesis to wreck the fucking roulette table. Awesome!

He later goes to the prom where he reconciles with bookish girl. All is well, right? He's learned a valuable lesson about not ignoring his crush-object and not using his powers for evil, right?

Not in this world, buster!

Instead, he somehow gets hit in the head with a watermelon (I am unclear as to exactly how this happened). This sends him into a crazy telekinetic orgy of insanity in which he proceeds to strip pretty much everyone at the prom naked and send their clothes flying around. Bookish girlfriend seems to be fine with this for some reason.

I should point out that this is also the one and only scene that causes the movie to lose points. Mrs. Unicow pointed out that there was a gender equality issue here (I would have noticed this myself, but got distracted by all the boobies).

See, Barney was making everyone's clothes fly off, but the movie really only showed the dirty bits of the naked women. So I'm docking points for not showing more male genitalia.

That is the first time I've ever written that sentence.

That's about where it ends. Giant naked prom. No lessons learned, no morals. Just crazy shit for 90 minutes. It's brilliant.

Perhaps you're still a doubter. Maybe you have trouble believing that this is really the best movie of all time. Maybe you need more convincing.

I present as my final piece of evidence this dream/stoned sequence. If you can watch this and still not believe this movie is wonderful, you're a lost cause.



I hope that puts to rest any lingering suspicions that you may have that this movie is anything less than brilliant. Go watch it now or you suck.

Score: 4.99 Salami Bazookas out of 5

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't high-hat the monkey!

I'm too lazy to write any real posts lately, but keep finding weird videos. Here is part of Cecil B. De Mille's 1929 film "The Godless Girl." It starts getting really good about 3 minutes in.



Why don't the godless clubs around here have a monkey handing out propaganda? Or oddly attractive 1920s women?

Get on it, heathens!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Take your mind off Armageddon with this video!

Hey Fitchburgers!

Are you enjoying your post-apocalyptic wasteland?

No? Well, take your mind off it with this profoundly stupid video that your tax dollars funded! If you have power, that is (maybe at work?).



I made it a full two minutes into this thing before I decided I just couldn't take it anymore. Can you do better?


ps Biden's puppy is cuter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let's have a letter-writing contest!

Okay, here's the deal.

On November 21st some douchewad going by the name of "Richard Baker" had a letter to the editor printed in the Sentinel (Google cache here).

Here it is in its entirety, but feel free to skip to the end of it.
Local resident believes House Speaker is corrupt
Editorial / Opinion
Posted: 11/21/2008 07:24:17 AM EST

I wonder if many Americans are aware of what our Speaker of the House has pulled on the public?

Nancy Pelosi's home district includes San Francisco, and Star Kist Tuna's headquarters is also located in San Francisco.

Star Kist is owned by DelMonte Foods and is a major contributor to Nancy Pelosi.

Star Kist is also the major employer in American Samoa, employing 75 percent of the workforce there.

Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi's husband owns $17 million worth of Del Monte stock.

In January 2007, when the minimum wage was increased from $5.16 to $7.25, Pelosi had American Samoa exempted from the increase so Del Monte would not have to pay the higher wages.

This would make Del Monte products less expensive than their competition's.

Last week when the huge bailout bill was passed, Pelosi added an "earmark" to the final bill, adding $33 million for an "economic development credit in American Samoa."

Now remember this: Nancy Pelosi called the Bush administration "corrupt," and I guess, she, of all people should know..

Now the Big 3 car manufacturers, Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler are wanting billions to bail them out of their own stupidity, and many big cities are lining up with their hands out for money too.

When will this end with the government bailing out every one who gets in line for their piece of the pie with worthless paper dollars? Of course, the giant companies will have to have their "working seminars" at those posh resorts with the bailout money, and they will not be able to earn more in bonuses than last year, so apparently the normal bonuses of millions of dollars are OK.

I guess we haven't seen the end of this socialist gang in Washington yet, and all I can say is God Help America because we ain't seen nutthin yet.

Richard Baker,
Fitchburg
Total nonsense, of course. Also mostly plagiarized from a chain email. If you like, you can go ahead and compare it to the original as seen (and debunked) on Snopes here.

Okay, so one sack of lies got by the Sentinel's ace fact-checkers! Surely that couldn't happen again, could it?

Of course it could!

In December 10th's letters to the editors we find this letter, also "written" by someone by the name of Richard Baker. Since it'll get archived soon, I'll reproduce it in full here.

Again, feel free to skip to the end...
Reader says taxpayers shouldn't pay for speaker's plane
Editorial / Opinion
Posted: 12/10/2008 10:49:28 AM EST

Madame Pelosi wasn't happy with the small private jet that comes with the speaker's job, no, Madame Pelosi was aggravated that this little jet had to stop to refuel, so she ordered a big fat jet with a bedroom that could get her back to California without stopping, carry her staff, family and friends.

Nancy's big fat jet costs us, the hard working American taxpayers, thousands of gallons of fuel every week.

Since she only works three days a week, this gas guzzling jet gets fueled and she flies home to California, cost to the taxpayers of about $60,000, one way.

Unfortunately we have to pay to bring her back on Monday nights.

Cost to us is another $60,000.

That is $480,000 per month and that is an annual cost to the taxpayers of $5.7 million.

I think of the military families in this country doing without and this woman, who heads up the most do-nothing Congress in the history of this country, keeps fueling that jet while doing nothing.

Madame Pelosi wants you and I to conserve and wants us to buy smaller cars and Obama wants us to get a bicycle pump and air up our tires. And they want to talk about Sarah Palin's dress and what it cost.

What a direct slap in the face to the taxpayers. She can get away with it because no one in Washington has the guts to stand up to her.

Richard Baker
Fitchburg
Here is the Snopes page showing you the very-similar original chain email this came from and debunking this sack of lies.

So in less than three weeks we've had two letters from this one idiot that were mostly cut-and-pasted from a chain email. Both take about 5 seconds to debunk. Both were printed in the newspaper.

Additionally, my copy of the phone book does not list a "Richard Baker" in the city of Fitchburg. That may not mean anything (lots of people aren't listed), or it may mean he's not even a real person.

Obviously, the Sentinel has absolutely no quality-control or factchecking taking place on its letters to the editor.

This is bad for them, but good for us...

It's time for a contest!

Let's see who can get the most ridiculously false and idiotic letter to the editor published in the Sentinel!

Here's how to play:
  1. Write a letter to the editor about your topic of choice. Make sure it's really stupid, though. Think along the lines of "B. Hussein Obama can't be presdent becase he's a Secret Muslin!", but dumber. Or just copy a wingnut chain mail. Whatever.
    Note: Sensible, intelligent, or even well-written letters to the editor may be automatically disqualified. We're looking for crazy wingnuttery only. But it still needs to pass for a real letter! It's a careful balancing act.
  2. Submit it to the Sentinel here. I don't recommend using your real name unless you want everyone to think you're an idiot. Don't impersonate any real people either, though. Stay under the radar.
  3. Either email it to me, or leave it as a comment on this post, but stick the word "sentineleditorialcontest" at the top of your comment so I can hold it up in moderation until after it's in the paper. Email is probably safer, because sometimes my comment system goes wonky. This step is necessary so that people don't take credit for someone else's stupid letter. I need to see the letter before it appears in the paper.
  4. You can swap those two steps above if you want. It would probably make sense to wait at least a few days before trying to get your craziness into the paper anyway.
  5. Watch the letters to the editor section of the Sentinel for your letter to appear.
  6. When it does, laugh derisively. Also, send me a follow up email or comment mentioning it, just in case I'm not paying attention.
  7. ???
  8. Profit!

I think that's it.

Then maybe we can vote on everything that gets printed, and crown a winner. The prize will be nothing but bragging rights. Or maybe a t-shirt proclaiming your awesomeness. Who knows?

If I'm the only one who actually does this (and you can bet I will), then I'll just declare myself the winner and write "I AM AWESOME" on a t-shirt with a magic marker, which I will then wear while sitting on my couch.

But if even one other person does it, I become ineligible for the prize. Which means if you're the only one to do it you automatically win! So do it!

Let's say the contest ends on January 31st at some point in the future (I won't set a timetable or the terrorists would win!). So you have plenty of time to get in there. Maybe even two or three times if you're good.

That is all.

Webster craps all over the First Amendment

The town of Webster isn't particularly near Fitchburg. That's probably a good thing, because it sounds like the town government has zero respect for the separation of church and state.

For instance, check out this article in the Worcester Telegram. Let's quote:
With the three wise men, Joseph and the baby Jesus gone, only the Virgin Mary remains of the Nativity scene that was displayed in front of Town Hall.

Police Chief Timothy J. Bent said police went to Town Hall last Wednesday night, shortly before midnight, after getting a report that some people were knocking over Christmas ornaments. Police discovered that only the Virgin Mary statue was left from the Nativity scene, which has been displayed for at least 20 years in front of Town Hall.
Okay, simple story so far. Some vandals absconded with everyone but Mary from a nativity scene in front of town hall.

Obviously that's not a good thing to do. But this isn't a post about how vandals are jerks. This is more about how the nativity was put up than how it was taken down.
Parks Department workers put up the Nativity scene the day after Thanksgiving, according to interim Town Administrator Joan R. Czechowski. The approximately half-life-size, heavy-gauge plastic figures were donated to the town many years ago, and Chief Bent said they are not very heavy.
Okay, that's not good. The Parks Department is definitely not supposed to put up nativity scenes in front of Town hall! That's about as blatant a violation of the separation of church and state as you can get.

In fact, it's a violation they've been warned about before!
The Nativity scene was the subject of some controversy last year when Americans United for Separation of Church and State urged the town to remove it from the Town Hall lawn. Then-Town Administrator Raymond W. Houle Jr. replied in a letter that any group could put any kind of religious display on the Town Hall lawn.
Houle's a moron.

First off, a big part of the problem isn't that the scene was put up, it's that the scene is put up and owned by the town. The town of Webster pays people to put Christian symbols on town property. If you live in Webster, your tax dollars fund Christian propaganda. Lucky you!

Second, they put up only Christian symbols. No other viewpoints are represented unless someone comes along and puts them up themselves. So the town is blatantly promoting one particular religion.

Third, while it's true that nativities and the like are allowable when displayed alongside other displays, it's not just limited to religious displays. Atheists can put up displays too. (Note: Any commenters who care to remark that "atheism is a religion" will be swiftly eviscerated.)

Fourth, if all this seems like a big mess, you're right. That's why towns should just avoid the whole issue entirely and keep religion and government totally separate. If people want to put up nativities, they can do it at their own houses.

So Webster is totally disregarding both the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment. While simultaneously whining that someone had the gall to swipe parts of their totally unconstitutional display.
“It is upsetting,” said Mrs. Czechowski, who wondered what would make somebody take something that means so much to so manypeople.

Chief Bent said he also was upset.

[...]

Judy Williams, a hairstylist at the Rob Roy Hair Salon on Main Street, was upset about the missing figures.

“I think it’s disgusting,” she said yesterday afternoon. “I hope that’s on their conscience, I really do. There is no reason for doing it.”
Oh, I can think of a reason. Maybe someone out there cared more about the Constitution than your hurt feelings. Or maybe they were sick of the town government promoting religion. Or maybe they were just bored and drunk (this is the most likely reason).

Stealing the crappy statues was still the wrong way to go about things, but I can certainly understand the impulse to do so.

So, have the town's leaders come to their senses and realized that maybe they shouldn't be in the business of promoting Christianity? Hell no!
Last year a selectman, Mark G. Dowgiewicz, offered to donate $1,500 to pay for a manger after seeing a picture in the Telegram & Gazette of the figurines covered in snow. The manger was not on display this year. The manger was never replaced last year, but Mr. Dowgiewicz said yesterday the offer is still on the table.

He said he has contacted officials at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton to see whether students could build another manger, and had offered to pay for the work after it is done. Superintendent David P. Papagni said he would talk to the school’s vocational director about the project.

He said the school would be glad to do the work: “We thrive on things like that.”
Oh, what a great idea! Let's put public school students to work on building religious icons! Maybe we can slip it in between mid-afternoon prayers to Mecca and evening Vespers!

Look, Webster people. If you want a nativity scene, great. Put it up in front of a church, or on your lawn, or basically anywhere except for town property. Also, don't make matters even worse by having schoolkids build your religious crap. I'm sure that if they really try they can find someone willing to accept $1,500 to build a crummy manger.

Also, hey vandals, return the fucking statues. Yeah, they shouldn't be there in the first place. There are other ways to deal with it than swiping them, which will just make the poor oppressed majority-group more dedicated to putting up a nativity. Instead, how about promoting one of the world's less-popular religions alongside it? I suggest this one.

Finally, it occurs to me that I haven't had reason to drive down Main Street in Fitchburg for a few weeks. What sort of displays (if any) are up in Fitchburg?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I enjoy this video

Amanda Palmer is just awesome all-around, and this song has a tendency to get stuck in my head. I only just tonight discovered the video, which she dedicated to Sarah Palin (for reasons which may become obvious).

That's all the excuse I need to post it here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ron Dionne is back in the newspaper!

Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod! I'm super-excited!

Everyone's favorite lovable leprechaun and sometimes mayoral candidate Ron Dionne has a letter to the editor in the most recent edition of the Fitchburg Pride!

It's a nice letter too, in which he tells Mayor Wong that she's doing great and calls some city councilors dorks (sort of). I don't really care about the content, though. I'm just happy to see him in the newspaper again.

Does this mean that 1970s Lincoln will get his wish? Maybe!

As a side note, while looking for a humorous illustration for this post, I did a google image search on "ron dionne" and discovered that I am responsible for making a picture of Mayor McCheese show up for his name.

Sorry, Ron!

Friday, December 05, 2008

S&E Publisher Runs Away!

Dammit, I need to start paying more attention to the Fitchburg Pride. Beyond making fun of the religious leaders they print, that is.

Instead, I had to rely on my time-traveling friend to point out this breaking news!
Sentinel & Enterprise Publisher Rick Thurman is no longer at the job, less than nine months after taking leadership of the paper.

When Thurman took over as publisher in March, he was the fourth person in the job in less than two years. He replaced Chuck Owen, who held the post for five months.

Multiple sources said on Wednesday afternoon that Thurman was no longer at the paper. An assistant at the Fitchburg office said Wednesday afternoon, “We’re not commenting on that,” when asked a question about Thurman’s status.
That's pretty much all you need to know from this article.

There are some quotes from people saying nice things about Thurman, and a lot of non-quotes from people who might actually know something about his departure but aren't willing to talk.

Indeed, Thurman has been wiped off the Sentinel's company directory page. So I guess he's really gone.

This is both disappointing and expected.

Thurman seemed to be helping the paper for awhile. Hell, I even had something positive to say about it way back in March. That's almost unheard of!

For awhile it seemed that the paper was on its way to becoming something better. It had been freed from the tyranny of Chuck "angry assclown" Owen and things were looking up!

For a few months there we actually had intelligent editorials and not just the incoherent and bile-soaked eructations of Jeff McMenemy. Sure, they were mostly syndicated editorials, but they were decent syndicated editorials. Not like the crap they've been reprinting lately.

The reporting also seemed to be more sensible. It wasn't all freaking out about totally sensible money-saving plans, or breathless articles about metrosexual vampire movies. I actually had hopes that it could one day become a respectable paper, and not just the WorldNetDaily of North Central Massachusetts.

Alas, I was wrong.

It's seemed like whatever positive influence Thurman originally had has been waning in the last couple of months. Sort of like McMenemy broke out of his little cell and has been running free again.

This is good for me, because I get easy-to-write posts out of it. But it's bad for the region, and for "journalism" as a concept.

I'm not a journalist, of course. So I'm going to wildly speculate about what happened to make Thurman leave. I've come up with a few different scenarios.

Possibility 1: Since the S&E keeps losing publishers, but somehow keeps the incompetent Jeff McMenemy as its barely-literate wingnut editor, maybe McMenemy is the reason for Thurman's departure. Perhaps he either has some dirt on the big boss or has otherwise curried favor with him. So when the idealistic new publisher shows up he runs into a brick wall when trying to deal with the cancer that is his editor. He sticks around trying for awhile, but eventually comes to realize there's no way to save the paper without getting rid of the cancer, and quits out of despair when he realizes he can't do that.

I consider that to be the most likely explanation. But here are some others.

Possibility 2: The newspaper industry sucks. It's dying. The smart passengers are getting off the ship before it goes under completely.

Possibility 3: I guess maybe Thurman could have been offered a better job. But in this economy? In the soon-to-be-dead newspaper industry? Doesn't seem terribly likely. On the other hand, any job is probably better than the one he had.

Possibility 4: Rick Thurman is an illegal alien and has been deported to from whence he came! This also seems unlikely.

Those are just off the top of my head. If any readers have their own theories (or better yet, know the real reason), please don't hesitate to share.

In the meantime; thanks for trying, Rick! Things were better for like two months!


UPDATE: Hey, it's been a long time since I put up a poll! So I did! About this!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Conservative columnist approaches truth, runs away screaming

Ooh, there's a fun syndicated editorial in the Sentinel today!

It's by the execrable Star Parker, who, along with the similarly braindead Jay Ambrose, is a favorite of the S&E's editorial board when they're too lazy to write something themselves.

It asks the question Are voters moving to the left?. I bet you can guess Parker's answer already, but let's see how she gets there. It's a fun journey!

Might as well start at the beginning:
Now that Democrats have won the White House and have widened their margin of control in Congress, does this signify that American voters have moved to the left?

Many Republicans question this claim. And a new report from the Pew Research Center seems to verify that America is still a right of center as a country.

But the picture gets murky when you look at the details. And this murkiness presents a considerable challenge for Republicans who are trying to figure out where to steer their party.
See, Star, this is why Republicans generally don't bother looking at the details. It just screws everything up. You'd be much happier sticking with your first impression and making up reasons to believe it. Pretend you're Bill O'Reilly, he has this technique mastered.

Still, this "looking at the details" idea appeals to me. So let's see what's up.

Oh, here's the Pew report in question. Just in case you want reference material. I'll stick with Star's column.

First, she finds one bit of news that makes her happy!
According to the just published report, more Americans today call themselves conservative than liberal, and the relative percentages in each category has hardly changed since George W. Bush was elected to his first term in 2000.
Yep, the report does show people self-identify in mostly the same ways they did 8 years ago. So where does it get tricky?
When asked if the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent, only 38 percent of those who said they are "conservative" said yes.

And 50 percent of "conservatives" said they favor government guaranteeing health care "even if it means raising taxes."

Although 71 percent of "conservatives" said they oppose gay marriage, only slightly more than half, 52 percent, said that abortion should be illegal.
Oh no!

Apparently these self-identified "conservatives" aren't conservative in the way this conservative columnist wants them to be conservative! What jerks!

It gets worse!
[P]ro-life initiatives lost in all three states where they were on ballots -- California, South Dakota, and Colorado.
Well, obviously liberal California wouldn't go for it, but South Dakota? These "conservatives" are traitors!

So Star Parker is confused. People call themselves conservative, yet they don't believe the things that she thinks conservatives are supposed to believe? What's a girl to do?

Maybe give some bad advice to Republicans?
[I]t should be obvious from the above, that if conservatives are rooted anywhere, it's more in the social agenda than in the fiscal and limited government agenda.

Where in the world would the party be if the leadership tried to uproot from social conservatism?
That's right, Republicans. In this time of economic we're-all-fucked-ness, you should be focusing extra hard on your dumbass social agenda that will do nothing to help anyone.

That's just common sense!

She then goes on to jabber about some other things for a bit. And ends by.. umm... telling people what to think?
When most Americans say they are conservative, they mean it. Too many, however, are forgetting that this means limited government as well as traditional values.

We need new, energetic Republican leaders to get this message across.
Okay....

Parker seems to have reached the conclusion that most Americans are being honest when they call themselves conservative, and have just forgotten what that word means. Perhaps she's right.

The part where this all turns to crap is that she wants to use it to suggest that people who call themselves "conservative" actually are conservative, in whatever way she defines that word. Which is nonsense.

If I don't know what a kangaroo is, but am convinced that I'm a kangaroo, that still doesn't make me a kangaroo!

Put more plainly, the label people choose to assign to themselves tells you nothing about what they actually think.

The Right has spent the last few decades trying (mostly successfully) to turn "liberal" into a dirty word. Why do you think we liberals have taken to calling ourselves "progressives"?

It's not because we're trying to hide our beliefs, it's just that the word "liberal" has been dragged through the mud for so long that all it conjures in the minds of most people is an image of Ted Kennedy, or maybe some corduroy-jacketed college professor with a ratty beard and a deep love of Marxist ideology.

So yeah, a lot of people aren't going to self-identify as liberals even if everything they believe makes them a liberal. There's too much baggage associated with the word. You find the same thing with people who are actually atheists but will only self-identify as agnostics or "spiritual but not religious".

They believe the same things, they just don't want the label. And who can blame them, when the label has been given a negative connotation? *

See, Star Parker got close to this truth. Somewhere deep inside that lizard-brain of hers she started to realize that just because people call themselves conservatives doesn't make it true.

But since more people call themselves conservatives than call themselves liberals, it's a nice myth to believe. So Parker chooses to believe it. After all, it allows conservative pundits to say "America is a center-right country", which keeps them employed. Never mind that it's not true.

The reality of the matter is that America is becoming a little bit more liberal every day. It's a slow process, especially since the driving principle behind conservatism is to stifle that progress, and conservatives control an awful lot of stuff in this country. But it's going to happen one way or another.

That being said, I totally support Parker's assertion that Republican leaders should firmly embrace social conservatism. I like voting for the winning side.



* Me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Everyone on tv is a moron (except one guy)

Oh man this is depressing.

It's footage from 2006 and 2007 of people talking about the economic forecast. It's from a bunch of different sources, but mostly FOX News. Almost everyone is very optimistic about the economy!

It's pretty long, so if you just want a good gist of it, go to about 3:25 in.



Okay, I knew that Arthur Laffer was a moron. He's the brains behind Reaganomics, after all. I also knew that Ben Stein is virulently stupid, but I thought it was mostly limited to being totally ignorant of science. I didn't realize it extended into his actual field of expertise almost-competence, economics.

What I didn't realize is that so many "experts" were total idiots. Apparently Peter Schiff was the only exception. I also never expected that the other "experts" would be so proud of their idiocy that they'd actually laugh at and mock the one guy who had a clue. Are they all trying to be Bill Kristol?

I'm no economist, but one skill I do have is knowing who to listen to and whose dumb ideas to ignore. This is actually very easy to do.

Allow me to demonstrate via an analysis of this screencap:


Guy on the left: Some sort of bastard hellspawn from the unholy coupling of Mitt Romney and Fred from Scooby Doo. Spends most of his time laughing derisively and being insufferable. Then goes home to his pseudo-Italian villa and masturbates to pictures of starving African children because their swollen bellies get him hot.

Guy on the right: Nerdy, bookish looking type. Unremarkable-looking cross between a generic dentist and a generic accountant. Spends most of his time trying to explain why the economy is fucked up and trying to ignore the scoffing assholes. Then goes home and probably reads a book about economics or maybe baseball statistics if he wants to relax.

Who you should listen to for economic advice: the guy on the right, obviously.

See? It's easy! Now we just need to get news programs to stop putting guys like the jerk on the left on the air and we'll be all set. Any day now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Merry War on Christmas!

Over the last few days, you may have noticed the media talking about Christmas. This is something they do incessantly for an entire month, because it's easier than doing actual journalism.

It generally starts off on Thanksgiving, with a big lie. Namely, the claim that the day after Thanksgiving ("Black Friday") is the biggest shopping day of the year. It's not.

That's followed by the claim that today ("Cyber Monday") is the busiest online shopping day of the year. It's just another lie created by a retailer's association. But it gives media puppets something to talk about.

And really, isn't the whole point of the season to lie? There's the lie about Jesus being born on December 25, which biblical scholars know quite well is not true. And let's not ignore the massive Santa Claus lie that we foist on children for some reason. I don't honestly know why, besides tradition. I guess someone in history thought lying to little kids sounded like a fun time.

There are also all the little pseudo-lies. Pretending you actually like your coworkers enough to attend a Xmas party with them. Ditto for your family. There's the pathetic mask of forced happiness people feel obligated to put on, and the month of pretending that they actually give a shit about their fellow man. It's the season of insincerity.

But the most awesome lie of all is the whole imaginary persecution complex that is the "War on Christmas."

As ridiculously made-up as it is, the far right is nuts about this "War on Christmas." The rest of the country pretty much ignores it and goes on with their lives. Still, we'll encounter idiotic editorials like this one and whatever Jeff McMenemy has brewing.

From the stupidly-spelled Liberty Counsel, we also get this awesome Naughty or Nice list, in which they tell you where to shop based on important factors like whether or not the store yells the word "Christmas" at you repeatedly.

Look how awful these store are!
Circuit City – Web site: Winter snow scene on home page and “Beat the Holiday Rush.” No mention of Christmas.

Honey Baked Ham – Report: “HOLIDAY was written everywhere!! Nothing about CHRISTMAS. I asked and was told the usual ‘we don't want to offend anyone.’”
What assholes! How dare they not use the words the Liberty Counsel prefers? The nerve!

That "usual" statement about not offending anyone is obviously made up. The only people who actually think anyone gets offended by the word "Christmas" are the wingnuts who want to force it down everyone's throat. Nobody else really cares. The fact that there's actually a store called Honey Baked Ham is apparently true, and sort of depressing.

What exactly am I getting at with this overly-long introduction?

Easy. I am going to join the forces behind the War on Christmas, and I want everyone to join me! We will be culture warriors! The best among us might get medals, or ribbons or something!

But we'll never win this war without a plan, so here are some ideas on how best to wage War on Christmas along with me and my army of evil secularists:

Situation: Some Christmas-lover mentions his "Christmas tree."
Response: You might think the correct response is to demand he call it a "Holiday tree." Wrong! The word "holiday" comes from "holy day", which is totally not in keeping with our secular War on Christmas! Instead, demand that he refer to it as his "house tree of probable Teutonic origin."

Situation: Someone says "Merry Christmas" to you.
Response: If the person saying it is unaware that you're in the anti-Xmas secularist army, stick with the standard of getting offended that they used the word "Christmas" and demand that they apologize for their rude behavior.
If the person saying it knows that you're a warrior for the WoC, chances are that they're saying this to try to provoke you. This makes them an enemy combatant, and you are therefore entirely justified if you stab them in the throat.

Situation: You have to go shopping, but don't want to put up with any "Christmas" nonsense.
Response: Use that "Naughty or Nice" list to determine where to shop, but only shop at the places that hate Jesus. Make sure you tell the cashier that you're shopping there because you consider them an ally in the War on Christmas. Cashiers are very interested in such things.

Situation: Your Christmas-loving neighbor has just put up a big ugly nativity scene on his lawn.
Response: Get him one of these:


Then send a letter to the local black churches telling them they should probably watch out for that guy.

Situation: You realize the whole War on Christmas thing is a total scam made up by people who just want to promote their own theocratic vision of America by trying to exclude any non-Christians from being involved in a seasonal celebration.
Response: To hell with it. Christmas is totally a secular holiday at this point anyway. You don't have to be a Christian to celebrate it. So we've already won. Congratulations!

Good luck, soldiers!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Upset veteran writes confusing letter!

As I've said before, I really try not to write about the ridiculous letters to the editor that I find in the Sentinel. It's like picking on the kids in the short bus. Still, some of these letters are just so crazy that it's impossible to resist.

Today's example of that has the fantastic title of Veteran upset by gay and lesbian groups altering flag. And by "fantastic," I mean "misleading." You know how it goes.

Let's quote!
Now I have seen it all.

Not only do they burn the American flag, but on the Channel 5 News this weekend they did a special on that protest in Boston and myself and some of my fellow veterans saw the same thing: a big American glag [Sic] with the stars on it.
What? Channel 5 News burns the American flag? Why do they do that?

And what protest? And why are you offended by American glags flags with stars on them? Why do you hate the American flag, Mr. Veteran guy?
But the red and white stripes replaced with the colors of the gay and lesbian yellow green and red blue.
That's not a sentence, let alone a paragraph.

At least now we can sort of understand what he's talking about. It must have been a gay protest! And as everyone knows, gays and lesbians love "yellow green and red blue."

Huh?

Is he talking about a rainbow flag? Because if so, he's missing a few colors. Could it be that he's failing miserably in trying to describe one of these flags? Perhaps this one?


According to this, that flag apparently even predates the Gay Pride rainbow flag, and started off as more a hippie thing than a gay thing. Here's what it says (in green to differentiate it from the letter to the editor):
The canton of stars represents all of the constellations — united, or the U.S. depending on who you talk to. The stripes of many colors represent all of the tribes of the earth. The symbolism being that all of the different peoples or tribes can come together in peace and harmony. At least in a flag! And hopefully in person. The “Rainbow Family of Living Light”, also known as the “Rainbow Family” is an international, non-hierarchical, non-organized, loose-knit group of hippies.
Damn dirty hippies!

Anyway, back to our upset-but-incoherent veteran. Now we have a pretty good idea of what he's offended by, at least!
If that is not disrespectful to those soldiers who are dying for our country I don't know what the hell is.
Such language! He is clearly upset about his own ignorance of disrespectful things!

To help him, here are just a few things more disrespectful to those soldiers than some hippie/gay flag:
  • Sending them to get killed in unjust wars.
  • Making them jump through hoops for VA care (I guess this applies more to those who don't actually die).
  • Lack of proper supplies/armor/planning that endangers them in the first place.
  • Ignoring the fact that many of them actually are gay, and many more aren't homophobic assholes.
  • Valuing a fucking piece of cloth over human life.

Moving on with the letter:
I am a veteran and have fought in the Vietnam War in the Marines and when I saw that flag, I was very upset.

What is going on with our country today? Then [Sic] they show things like that on television and not hardly [Sic] enough of all the good that our veterans are doing over their. [Sic]
I thought Marines were supposed to be some sort of big tough guys, not whiny little crybabies who get upset over a rainbow flag. Apparently I was wrong. Next time I meet a Marine I will be careful what I say, lest he burst into tears like a 6-year-old girl who just had her favorite doll taken away.

Channel 5 News should be ashamed of themselves for showing this flag! They upset some fragile old sissy Marine, and possibly some of his friends. Don't they know that they're supposed to pretend gay people don't exist so as not to offend idiots?

In conclusion, the person who wrote this letter was too dumb not to make fun of.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Local pastor thinks Obama is the Antichrist?

One of my many bad habits is reading the Shepherd's Corner column in the Fitchburg Pride. Often it's the only thing I'll actually bother to read in the Pride, because it's such a good source of hilarity.

In this almost-weekly feature, we get words of "wisdom" from various community ministers/pastors/priests/whatever. Oddly, I haven't been asked to contribute yet despite the fact that I am an ordained Reverend, and a devoted Pastafarian.

I blame prejudice.

Some of my fellow religious leaders are pretty good, though. Well, one is. I have no complaints with the Unitarian lady. Most of the others are various levels of crazy. Some are just a little crazy, with their bible-quotin' and all. Others are quite crazy.

Into this latter category is where I'm putting Pastor Steve Mayo, the guy behind this odd column. Allow me to quote a bit:
Over the last few weeks, and especially since the election, President elect Barack Obama has been labeled everything from the Messiah to the Antichrist as people try to make sense of what happened on Nov. 4. Is he the great American hope who will make every wrong right in the world, judgment on America for its apostasy, or somewhere in between?
Umm... wow. Where to even start?

Pastor Crazypants is right that some lunatics call Obama the Antichrist, and actually are serious about it. But "the Messiah"? Huh?

The only people who I've ever heard use the term "Messiah" when talking about Obama are right-wing assholes. They're not using that word because they believe he's a messiah, they're using it to make fun of people who are just too deeply into Obama. In fairness, there are a fair number of people who are too into Obama, and they deserve to be made fun of.

Regardless, I don't think there's an Obama supporter out there who thinks of him as the "Messiah" in a religious sense. It's a figure of speech, Pastor!

Also, "judgment on America for its apostasy"???

Apostasy is basically leaving one's religion. America has never had a religion to leave. It's a secular state, and has never been a "Christian nation", no matter what lies you've been told.

It's creepy to talk about apostasy in this manner. It brings to mind Islamic theocracies, where apostasy is often punishable by death. I wonder what "judgment" this pastor thinks America has earned.

Okay, that first paragraph was pretty dumb. But maybe Pastor Steve will now redeem himself by saying how the people saying these things are stupid!
Those who think of him as the Messiah need to think again. Those who think that just moving our country to one political party or the other will solve our problems need to look back at history to see just how false that statement is. Having one party in control of every branch of government has never brought about a utopian United States.
Argh!

Okay, ignore for a moment the fact that nobody actually thinks of Obama as "the Messiah." Why are only those people (who don't exist in the first place) taken to task? What about the nutballs who call him the Antichrist? You don't have any problem with them?

Apparently not, because at no point are they mentioned again. I can only assume that Pastor Steve endorses the view that Obama is the Antichrist.

I do enjoy Pastor Steve's views on one-party government being a bad thing, though. He's quite right that it's "never brought about a utopian United States." Of course, neither has two-party rule. Or anything else. But hell, I can't argue with the facts!

The rest of his column is also wonderfully crazy and idiotic. This is a man who's not at all in touch with reality. For instance:
W blame an outgoing president for our inabilitto see that we are gettininto mortg we
cannot afford and buying things we cannot pay for.
Put a bigass [Sic] after that whole thing.

What it's attempting to convey appears to be that people blame Bush for their own overspending. The jerks!

Except they don't. They might blame Bush for the culture of excessive deregulation that led to banks going all willy-nilly offering mortgages to people they knew couldn't pay for them. That's a very different thing.

What other crap can this guy spew?
We murder and call it choice. Lust is confused with love. We as a society are turning around. Instead of addressing the issues at hand, we are trying to free our conscience and make everything acceptable. I have heard it said regarding different sins that, "I was born this way."
I would very much like to know what "different sins" he's heard people say "I was born this way" about. I mean besides homosexuality, which is obviously what he's referring to. Perhaps he'll tell us?
We were all born this way. We are all born sinful. Left unchecked, we will run towards sin and away from God. We often prefer to create a god in our own image, rather than obeying the Lord "who was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8).
So we're all gay? How am I going to break this to my wife?

Pastor Everyone-is-gay then goes on to ask a very important question.
Where do you stand? Are you going to look to a man to solve our problems, or are you going to look to God? If we don't turn back to God, then even help with the best of intentions isn't going to make a difference.
Well, I can't speak for anyone else here, but I'll give an answer.

I'm going to look not to "a man" to solve our problems, but to multiple men and women. Because the only way problems ever get solved is when people get off their asses (or knees) and do something about them.

God isn't going to fix the economy, God isn't going to stop the war, God isn't going to make sure you have a merry Christmas. God's going to do what God has always done: absolutely nothing.

What is this pathetic form of defeatism practiced by some Christians? If you want a better world, get out there and do something about it. Every minute you spend praying to your god is a minute you're not doing something to improve the world. Yes, you can do both if you really want. But why waste time?

Apparently Pastor Steve just wants you to sit around praying and filling up his collection tin instead of working to improve the world. No thanks!

I was wondering if all Pastor Give-up's sermons are this bad, so I went to his church's website. As it turns out, it's the filthiest thing I've ever seen in my life!

Let's say you want to listen to some of Pastor Steve's inspiring thoughts about giving up on the world. So you go to the Sermons page. Being concerned about computer security, you have Javascript disabled in your browser (perhaps via the NoScript Firefox extension). You're treated to this!

(click to embiggen)

Now, that "Importance of Godly Women" sermon sounds okay, at first.

But how could it possibly compare to "duck hot gay love sex", whatever that is? What do they really sell in "celebrity sex stores"? Why are they saying that "scotland sucks"? These could be interesting sermons too!

Perhaps I should try another page. Hey, that "Megawatt Youth Ministries" thing sounds exciting too!

Wow, it sure is! Corn wives rule!

Virtually every page on the site is like this. A little bit of churchy stuff up top, then tons of links to places you really shouldn't visit taking up the rest of the page.

I was going to send a nice email to Pastor Steve alerting him that the site has been compromised by spammers and that they'll need to have somebody clean it up.

But then I thought back to Pastor Steve's advice. If we rely on humans for website security, we won't get anywhere!

So instead of alerting him to the problem, which would probably result in a sinful human having to clean things up, I'm just going to pray to God that He will use his magic to fix the site and get rid of all the suspicious links to "squirting chicks" and "hentai cat girl galleries".

I figure it should be pretty easy for him, being God and all. And it's the way Pastor Steve would want it.



[Update] - I removed the links to the site. There's obfuscated Javascript involved, and just in case it's up to something nastier than link farming I don't want to send people there and get them infected.

If you really want to see the site, it's at http://www.elmstcc.org. I don't recommend visiting unless you disable Javascript first, though. You wouldn't see the fun stuff with it on anyway.

Also, God has apparently not gotten around to fixing it, so I did alert the contact address on the site. I guess we humans will just have to fix our own problems, again.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What type of blogger am I?

So, there's this thing called the Typealyzer, which you're supposed to plug your blog URL into and it'll tell you stuff about yourself.

That actually seems pretty pointless, since I already know lots of stuff about myself. But it's not like I have anything better to do right now.

So let's do it!

The analysis indicates that the author of http://progressivefitchburg.blogspot.com is of the type:
ISTP - The Mechanics

[ISTP]
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

I don't know what that ISTP nonsense means, but am excited that I'm a race-car-driving policeman (or firefighter)! And I do like things that are fun! This is totally accurate!

I'm not so sure about the avoiding interpersonal conflict part, though.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sarah Palin has no peripheral vision



This is the most wonderful/disturbing video I've seen all day.

It's an interview with Sarah Palin after she pardoned a turkey for Thanksgiving. She does interviews a lot more now that she's not running for Vice President, for some reason.

Behind her a very happy man is murdering turkeys in some sort of terrible turkey-killing device, and draining their blood while they thrash around horribly.

His name is "Joe the Turkey-grinder" and he will feature prominently in Palin's 2012 campaign.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Know your town!

Thanks to Jeffrey Rowland, I have just discovered the wonder that is Wikimapia!

Normally I'm not a big proponent of "Web 2.0" nonsense, but this is an amazing thing! It combines maps with totally unverified bullshit labels added by bored internet goons.

Sadly, most of the labeling of Fitchburg is really dull.

The former location of the Thunderbird Motel has a nice description, at least. But for the most part the local geeks have only bothered to label stuff like Dunkin' Donuts (and spelled it wrong, at that). Like anyone cares about stupid Dunkin' Donuts!

This cannot stand!

I know that my readers are a creative and insightful bunch, and trust that you will take the time to properly label the interesting places in Fitchburg.

Actually, it doesn't even matter if they're interesting. Make up something interesting! It's not like anybody's going to be checking your work!

Viva la Web 2.0!


UPDATE - 2:30 PM: Apparently I was wrong about people not checking your work! Some jerk keeps deleting the hobos, and I keep putting them back.

You can't make poverty go away by ignoring it, hobo-haters! The hobo battle has just begun!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why you can't trust research

Science reporting in the popular press is a terrible thing. You have reporters with no understanding of science regurgitating press releases about studies that may or may not have any validity. Only dramatic or unusual studies get reported on, and if further investigation proves those studies to be false it's unlikely to be reported.

So it's really no wonder that many people don't trust scientific studies. Why should they? Most of the studies that get mentioned in the popular press are wrong anyway. That's why they get printed! Ninety-nine studies confirming that there's no link between vaccines and autism aren't as newsworthy as one study showing there is, for instance.

Unfortunately, the problem here isn't just with the popular press. I've just stumbled across a very interesting paper that purports to prove that "most claimed research findings are false" even in the scientific literature!

Incidentally, you can read the entire paper at that link above. No lame abstracts for us! If you're not in the mood for wading through it (it can be a bit technical at times), I'll basically go over it here anyway.

The paper is actually titled Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, which is a pretty dramatic claim. Many, sure. But "most"? We'll see about that!

Let's begin with some basics, though. To be considered good scientific research there are a few things you need to do. Your tests should ideally be double-blinded, have a good control, have a large sample size, have a solid theoretical grounding, avoid bias, and so forth. Most studies don't live up to all of these, but the good ones at least try to.

Let's say you do a great study in which you attempt to see whether or not masturbation causes blindness. All appropriate controls are in place, and you have a nice big sample size. Now you have to figure out if the results mean anything.

So you compare your non-masturbating control group to your masturbating group and see a statistically significant difference in blindness. Since I'm making this all up anyway, let's say that you discover that masturbation does cause blindness. Interesting result!

You use various statistical techniques to determine that your p-value is below the standard 0.05 mark. What that 0.05 means is that there's only a 5% likelihood that your results are due to chance. You're 95% likely to be right!

That 95% confidence is the standard. Sure, a higher confidence (lower p-value) is even better, but it's at 95% that people will start to take your results seriously.

So now you have a well-done study that shows statistical significance to 95% confidence! Great! The media picks up on your story, religious groups start citing your research to try to get people to stop masturbating, and old wives feel happy with their tales.

The only problem is that even if you did absolutely everything right in carrying out your research (which in a study like this would be nearly impossible), there's a 5% chance that you're still totally wrong.

Even if every study out there was done flawlessly, one out of every twenty would reach a conclusion that's total crap. And unfortunately for you, you just did that study.

So does that mean 1/20th of the studies out there are wrong? That's disheartening, but still not too terrible!

Sadly, no. It's a lot worse than that.

Most research is not well-done. Biases are introduced that screw everything up. Numbers are cherry-picked to support preconceived ideas. Things go wrong. These bad studies may or may not be easy to spot, especially if you only have access to an abstract and not the full paper.

Wait, it gets worse. I've barely delved into the paper mentioned above.

You see, there are other elements at play here. For instance, the likelihood of something being true in the first place. For every hypothesis that's correct, there are a potentially infinite number of hypotheses that are wrong.

Let's say I have five hypotheses:
  • Cigarettes cause cancer
  • Potatoes cause cancer
  • Watching television causes cancer
  • Rain causes cancer
  • Leprechauns cause cancer
Of these theories, only the first is likely to be true (based on a large body of previous research). But I do studies on each of them.

Chances are that I'll discover that cigarettes cause cancer and that the rest don't. Yay!

But instead of just five studies, let's make it a thousand. We'll assume the same ratio of good to bad ideas. So I'd have 200 studies of things that actually do cause cancer and 800 studies of things that don't.

This is where things get really ugly.

Because I am a wonderfully skilled researcher, I do all 1,000 studies perfectly and get my beloved 0.05 p-value. Nobody can find a single flaw with my methodology. Even with the leprechaun one!

What do I end up with? Well, thanks to that 5% of uncertainty, I've just produced 40 well-done studies in which I prove that unicorns, bowties, and the letter Q all cause cancer.

I also have my 200 studies of things that actually do cause cancer, and since I am flawless I've confirmed that they all do so.

This leaves me with about 17% of my research being totally wrong. And that's assuming I did everything right. In the real world I'd likely have a much higher rate of both false positives and false negatives. It's hard to guess exactly how high they'd be.

Chances are the false negative rate would be fairly high, though. It can be tough to prove that something causes cancer even when it does. So let's say I only manage to prove that half of the things that cause cancer actually do. (The other half still cause cancer, I just can't prove it.) Now out of my 140 things that I think cause cancer, I'm wrong about nearly 30% of them.

If I wasn't such a good researcher and screwed up when studying things that don't cause cancer, I'd probably get a higher false positive rate than the idealistic 5% too. Even a piddling little 10% error rate would take me up to being wrong 44% of the time.

Add to that the possibility that I might suck even worse at choosing things to study than in this example. Maybe only one out of ten things I chose actually do cause cancer. Maybe one out of a hundred. Now we're in a situation where the vast majority of my results are total crap.

This is pretty bleak. Science is the best way we have of figuring out the world, and there are all these flaws! I haven't even gone into all the problems mentioned in the paper (and won't, since this is getting long). How the hell are we to know what's true and what's not?

Rest assured, there are ways to deal with the problems here.

First off, only pay attention to studies that are done well in the first place. It's hard enough trying to figure out the facts from good studies, bad ones are just a waste of time.

If a study has a small sample size, poor controls, or an obvious bias, there's a higher probability that it's wrong. Similarly, if it finds only a weak effect (like if something raises your risk of cancer by 2% or something) there's a decent chance it doesn't actually mean anything.

Keep in mind that, given enough time and a large enough number of studies, every crackpot theory in the world will have a research paper to back it up.

Don't jump to conclusions based on a single study, especially if its result strikes you as incompatible with what you've seen before. If something is interesting enough, other people will try to replicate the research. Once you get a fair number of studies into the same thing a clear consensus should emerge. One bad study is easy to come by, a hundred bad studies into the same thing is unlikely (but by no means impossible).

Some fields lend themselves to more false conclusions than others. In physics you're probably not going to find a huge number of totally wrong conclusions. In medicine you're going to find a lot. In the social sciences you're going to find a ridiculous amount. Basically, the more complicated things get the less likely you're going to get any useful conclusions. Few things are more complicated than human psychology.

Don't ever take the press release version of a study as the final word, and definitely don't trust the further bastardization of that press release as presented by the popular news media. Get the original research paper if you can. Try to find a review of it by a knowledgeable source. Even if you can get the original research paper, you may not be knowledgeable enough about its topic to really understand it. Even if you understand it, the paper itself could be wrong.

Everything is worth questioning, and if something really seems wrong then there's a good chance it is.

And please, please, support science education. There's way too much crap out there, and way too few people who know how to interpret it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A movie review!

Now that my month of posting every day has ended, I have become lazy. Politics can get tiring, after all. Sure, I've got a half-written post about how Karl Rove is a whiny little baby and how anyone who thinks he's some kind of political genius is deeply wrong, but I couldn't even bring myself to finish it.

But I did see a movie over the weekend, and I'm going to review it. Note that there may be spoilers. You're forewarned.

Specifically, I saw the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.

This nonsensically-titled movie is the second with the new, "gritty" James Bond, played by gorilla-human hybrid Daniel Craig.


I am told that many heterosexual women (and presumably some gay men) find this mass of steroid-addled flesh attractive. They will be pleased to know that he spends some time shirtless in the new movie. So they should be happy, as long as they don't think about his shriveled testicles.

As you can probably guess, I am not a fan of this bulky, surly, totally humorless, and pretty-much braindead Bond.

It's not that Craig is even a bad actor, it's just that the new James Bond is just another braindead action hero. The exact same movie could have been made calling him "Bruce Meatpuncher" and nobody would ever suspect it was intended to be a James Bond movie.

Sadly, the thing that made the James Bond movies enjoyable (to me, anyway) was all the stuff that they've done away with in this gritty, post-9/11, tedious new world of Bond.

Bond isn't charming, he's boorish. He's not clever, he's heavily-muscled. He doesn't have sneaky ways of doing things, he just beats guys up. He doesn't have interesting technology, he just has a gun. And he sure as hell doesn't have anything resembling a sense of humor.

Yeah, a lot of those qualities of the old Bond got overdone, and a lot of the old movies were ridiculous. But so what? They weren't meant to be realistic, they were basically a comic book superhero version of Bond. Which was okay, because comic book superheroes are fun to watch! Just because they got out of hand and went too far with the gimmickry before is no reason to abandon absolutely everything that made Bond endearing in the first place.

About the only thing left of the old Bond is that the new Bond also has a way with attractive women.


Even then, I don't recall the woman above ever having sex with Bond, which is something I would have possibly enjoyed watching. They might have made out at some point though.

He instead had sex with some forgettable redhead whose role in the movie was ill-defined. It's probably better that this one didn't have sex with him. Bond looks like a giant chlamydia factory to me.

The "villain" is similarly lame. Some smarmy businessman whose evil master plan is to destabilize the Bolivian government and overcharge for utilities? How exciting! That's way more interesting than someone building a weather-control device or awesome space-based laser or something!

Loser.

It doesn't really matter, though, because the plot is just an excuse for blowing shit up. Which they do reasonably well. Lots of shit blows up.

Hell, at one point an entire giant building blows up because someone backs a car into a wall. That's exciting!

Apparently that super-high-tech building (powered by hydrogen fuel cells!) was built without even the most rudimentary fire suppression technology. That seems like a major oversight on the part of the contractor, especially if you're going to have big tanks labeled "hydrogen" scattered about everywhere. Live and learn, I guess.

I think the fight scenes might have been well done, but since the director decided to use the shakiest camera in the world and cut to a new angle every 0.3 seconds or so, I couldn't really tell. It might have been Bond and his nemesis sitting around drinking tea very loudly.

There was some running around too, jumping on rooftops and stuff. It prompted Mrs. Unicow to wonder how Bond's ankles did not end up broken. I postulate that he had some fancy high-top loafers with excellent ankle support.

There were also cars and planes and stuff, which was more interesting than most of the other parts of the movie. Though the car chase suffered from the same "hey let's change the angle every fucking millisecond so nobody can see what's going on" disease. The plane part was pretty decent, at least.

The plot also apparently had some continuity with the plot of Casino Royale. I did see that movie, but that helped me not at all. Casino Royale didn't make any sense to me at the time, and they didn't bother to provide any further explanation in this movie. If you're going to try to have an ongoing plot element, it would help if it were actually memorable.

One thing I will give this movie, though. It was better than "Live Free or Die Hard," which I just saw recently and which was so profoundly stupid it nearly put me into a coma. But this wasn't much better.

Score: 4 "This movie sucked"s out of 5

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jimmy Writes a Newspaper Article: A short play.

Hello readers.

I am taking a lot of cold medicine and have just read the most wonderful article in the Sentinel.

It's about a study! A study that purports to show that kids who watch sexy tv are more likely to get teen-pregnated than kids who don't. It has inspired me to write this short play about the writing of the story.

Keep in mind this is entirely fictitious. It's a fantasy of what may have gone into the writing of this piece of journalistic brilliance, nothing more. Enjoy!



Characters:
  • Mr. Crinchley: The editor of the paper. Known for his conservative social stances and tendency to blame broad social problems on things like rap music or bikini waxing.
  • Jimmy: Cub reporter for the paper. Idealistic go-getter who has not yet been beaten down by the world.
  • Kids #1,2 & 3: just kids, may all be played by the same kid if necessary.
  • Dr. Foureyes: some liberal elitist intellectual.

Scene opens in Mr. Crinchley's office, where Jimmy is getting assigned a story:

Mr. Crinchley: Jimmy, I have a job for you.

Jimmy: Gee willikers, that's great boss! What do you need me to do?

Mr. Crinchley: I have this press release here from the RAND corporation. It says that watching dirty tv shows makes kids get pregnant. I require you turn it into a story so I can write an editorial about it in a few days.

Jimmy: Golly, boss, I don't know much about research methods or whatever. This is going to be a head-scratcher!

Mr. Crinchley: Goddammit son! I don't want boring stories about research methods! That's what the liberal intellectual elitists want you to do, with their fancy haircuts and arugula-sandwiches, and high school diplomas, and ivory egghead towers, and... [goes on muttering for awhile]

Jimmy [interrupting]: But boss, how can I make this a story and not just a press release? Also, why is the RAND corporation doing research on teen pregnancy? Don't they usually deal with national security matters?

Mr. Crinchley: It's all the same, Jimmy! As you'll learn when you grow up to be a conservative newspaper editor like myself, all these things we're upset about are part of the same vast conspiracy.
First there was the bombing of the USS Cole, then 9/11, now it's sexy tv shows that are forcing our daughters to get knocked up by Mexicans!

Jimmy: Mexicans?

Mr. Crinchley: Mexicans! And Muslims too! [quietly] Must never forget the Muslims... Also, probably they're turning our kids gay!

Jimmy: Ummm... I think the Muslims and gays might be outside the realm of this study.

Mr. Crinchley: Good journalistic instincts, Jimmy! You'll be an ace reporter yet!

Jimmy beams.

Mr. Crinchley: Anyway, go out there and interview some teenagers about this research that neither I, nor you, nor they have actually read. That'll get to the bottom of whether or not it's true.

Jimmy: Sure thing, boss!


Jimmy leaves the office and heads to the local mall, or school, or wherever it is he can find teenagers. Upon finding them, he goes up and steels himself for an interview.


Jimmy: Hey kids! Who wants to be interviewed to be in the paper? You'll be famous!

Kids all mumble half-hearted okays.

Jimmy (to Kid 1): Okay, you first. I only actually have one question and here it is: A study by very smart people says that kids watching sexy tv shows leads to higher teen pregnancy. Are they right?

Kid 1: Huh? I guess. I'm only fifteen.

Jimmy: Thanks! [to himself]: Excellent, that's the solid confirmation from a trusted source that I needed!

Jimmy (to Kid 2): How about you? These people did a long and expensive study and say that sex on tv makes kids have babies. Are you going to argue with them?

Kid 2: I guess not.

Jimmy (to Kid 2): Surprise followup! What do you watch on tv?

Kid 2: Oh, mostly PBS and the Discovery Channel.

Jimmy: Ever watch MTV?

Kid 2: Once in awhile, I guess.

Jimmy (excitedly): MTV it is! [chuckles] Oh you kids and your MTV! I know how it is, I used to love it myself!

Kid 2: Whatever. I have to go. [walks away]

Jimmy (to Kid 3): Hey last kid! Will watching sex on tv make you get pregnant?

Kid 3: No, that's dumb. What the hell is wrong with you?

Jimmy: Great! Conflict like this makes for a good story! Is it okay if I quote you and then twist everything around to basically say you're wrong?

Kid 3: No.

Jimmy: Too bad. Now get lost, kid!


Kid 3 walks away looking annoyed. Kid 1, who is still hanging around for some reason, spots Dr. Foureyes and calls out to him.


Kid 1: Hey Dr. Foureyes! Come talk to this reporter guy!

Jimmy (to himself): Hmm, maybe I can sneak one egghead in past Mr. Crinchley, if it makes the story better.

Dr. Foureyes (walking over): Hi there Kid 1. What's this all about?

Jimmy: I have a question for you, doctor. Would you mind?

Dr. Foureyes (cleaning his glasses): Certainly not, my good man. Ask away!

Jimmy: Does sexy tv make people pregnant?

Dr. Foureyes: That question is idiotic. If you're talking about the recent study by the RAND corporation, then I'd need to actually read the article in Pediatrics and examine their methodology before I can speculate on the validity of the study. Do you have a copy?

Jimmy (looking confused): No. Why would I?

Dr. Foureyes: Because you're writing a newspaper article about it. Shouldn't you have at least read the study you're supposed to be reporting on?

Jimmy: You're a wacky one, doc! Could you just answer the question? TV makes people get pregnant: yes or no?

Dr. Foureyes: As I've said, it's impossible for me to adequately critique a study I haven't read. However, since you seem so insistent I will say that I strongly suspect that even if a correlation can be shown there is unlikely to be a causative relationship.

Jimmy: I don't know what most of those words mean. Yes or no?

Dr. Foureyes: I suspect no.

Jimmy: Great, thanks doc!


Jimmy interviews a few more kids, then leaves and returns to the newspaper office, where he writes his story in record time. He presents it to Mr. Crinchley for approval.


Mr. Crinchley: Jimmy, this is a totally biased article. You present almost no points of view except those who agree with the outcome of the study, you mostly interviewed people who are in no way qualified to judge the study, and the few qualified or opposing points of view were immediately discarded.

Jimmy: Does that mean you don't like it?

Mr. Crinchley: Haven't you been listening, Jimmy? I love it!


Jimmy and Mr. Crinchley share a hug. Curtain closes.

THE END