Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There is Only Nonsense in the Stars

I felt the need to put this up as I spent some time expressing my unbounded grumpiness when I saw this post on a mailing list at my office.  For the sake of protecting the innocent, I will leave out the original post and merely describe its message, posting only my rant.

Basically, a certain person had recommended a particular astrologer who offers his readings for an apparently reasonable fee (about 35% less than the average astrologer)...  and described this individual as a "No-Nonsense Astrologer."  Now, to those of you who have a little understanding of my character...  I think you know how I would react to such a description.

Of course, I prefaced the message by pointing out that there was no way I could ever possibly restrain my boundless anger at such a proposition.  What follows is the bulk content of the rant.  Removed are only the points where I preface the message by pointing out the necessity of it, and the closing statements which were more specific to the content of the original post.  The rest is entirely generic in where I eviscerate the very concept of astrology itself, and could apply to any message about recommendations thereof.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eat The New Thing!

Being a die-hard dogged rationalist means that just about everything that human beings do gets on your nerves. It also means that someone is always trying to convince you that their way of thinking is more correct than whatever else other people do.  Diet is an easy target for this sort of warring because practically nobody has a proper diet, and because the ideas of what constitutes "proper" is very poorly understood, so it is easy to find new ideas and new thinking that supplants the old.

I get all sorts of things about diet fads and how this is the thing you should eat.  It's very easy to be fooled by it as well, because often times, there are real studies to back some of what people say about various foods...  the problem is that there isn't much understanding of those studies or even the scientific significance of their results by the people who spin fads out of them.  There are, for instance, studies that show that acai berry is a rich source of antioxidants...  so it becomes the new miracle food.  Problem is it ignores the fact that a berry which is rich in antioxidants is about as rare as a liquid that happens to be wet.

So I feel I have to rip apart at least one of the more current food fads that I keep getting requests and spam about -- that being, the raw food movement.  I don't think I have any limits to how far I can take this rant, but then, the same can be said about a lot of things.  Well, here goes...

The raw food movement is based entirely on partial truths and very limited understandings of food value.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Pitfalls of Rosy Retrospection

Among the few perks of working in films is that you occasionally get to see a handful of them for free, albeit in your office and not at a movie theater with popcorn and soda.  Recently, I got to watch Woody Allen's latest little doozy titled "Midnight in Paris."  Though the film is indeed set in Paris, and the key events are tied to the daily stroke of midnight, that's about the only extent to which the title really tells you anything about the story.  Besides the lovely jabs at Tea Party Republicans, there is a much more fundamental point being made and it is addressing a fallacy that definitely applies pretty well across the political spectrum.  It is one that I deal with a lot because it is also well-underlined in a lot of religious dogma as well.  It's the fantasy that there existed any sort of golden age in the past.

In the movie itself, there exists in the protagonist's mind, a fantasy about the 1920s as a golden age of literature, art, and cultural development.  It only becomes apparent later on in the film the extent to which it was a fantasy.  Although it is easy to point fingers at conservatives who feign to miss the "good ol' days", we all have a tendency to look back at things in a different light in retrospection.

Indeed, there were times past which were comparatively more fertile in some particular way for some particular thing, but that is not the same as saying that those were better times.  But when you look at the past through rose-colored glasses, you aren't going to see every color in the scene...  there never were any good ol' days.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Earn a PhD in TV Astrophysics!

There are a lot of great educational programs on TV these days. Everybody is aware of the kids' stuff like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers et al., though when I was a kid, I particularly enjoyed shows like The Mechanical Universe. This show, for those who don't remember it, was structured to include segments of CalTech's 100-level Physics lectures, but mainly trended down mathematical derivations and a lot of the history leading up to how many "laws" of physics were discovered. When we're all grown up, though, it's easy to look back on it and see it as rather elementary... though seeing some of Jim Blinn's animations of visual derivations of Maxwell's equations, or inverting space-time diagrams even today is striking in its implied significance. Though, that's hardly the reason why I'm now working in the same field as Jim Blinn is. Interestingly enough, that work was done in an era when anything and everything was brand new, and though the majority of new developments nowadays are very incremental in their value and hardly revolutionary in any sense, what he did back then is fundamental enough to be considered pretty elementary today.

Leaving aside the crazy and death-sentence-earning assholery of Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, et al, when you take what the average person knows about evolution, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, and so on... it's most likely to be the kind of stuff they picked up watching random stuff on The Discovery Channel. There is nothing all too wrong with this, but it does beg the question of how closely people really listen. While many of the people who appear on such programs whether it's on Discovery, History, PBS, Science Channel, whatever, are all very capable and skilled scholars in their fields (History Channel's disgusting pandering to cryptozoologists and Ancient Aliens believers notwithstanding), the shows are still pretty much made for the layman or novice in science. What they tell you is more or less true, but not really a complete or thorough picture of how scientists in their respective fields actually understand the pertaining material.

The dark lining to this rainbow is that it makes it easy to make some simple misunderstandings, which ultimately present in the form of burning stupidity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Worldnuttery on Film once again.

After having read WorldNet Daily's reviews of Kung Fu Panda 2 and X-Men:First Class, I was interested in seeing how they would handle a film like Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Considering that the problem they had with KFP2 was that it was basically too "Chinese", what with it being set in China, and all...  X-Men, of course, has, at its core, the very idea of genetic mutation leading to beneficial results, and that rings too deeply of "evolution", which flies in the face of all creationists.  So here comes a film which is a sort of prequel to original Planet of the Apes series titled 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes.'

The WorldNut reviewer, Drew Zahn, had surprisingly few complaints, but it came down to one core Biblical failing.  There's no tree from which chimpanzee Adam and Eve can eat nor were they ever really tempted by Satan.  Therefore, the movie is entirely wrong because the apes grow violent without the need for a fall from grace.

Yep.  That's it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Defiling Touch of a Samosa

The U.S. has a history of truly bizarre laws and incredible examples of frivolous lawsuits.  This is a country where laws exist to prohibit raping a dog underwater...  or firing a shotgun from a moving vehicle when hunting whales.  Wonder how it works when we're on dry land or when we're hunting baby seals instead of whales.  I'm sure there are a few people out there who remember the tale of the couple who sued a manufacturer of ceiling fans for failing to provide a warning label which said "Caution : Do not toss your child up and down beneath a ceiling fan while it is operating."  Apparently, we have a court system which says that people are not at fault for being incomprehensibly stupid.  We also have a weird legal system that tries to weigh feelings and emotions in terms of dollars and cents by having things like "pain and suffering" as factors in lawsuits.

An Indian restaurant in New Jersey named Mughal Express committed what I would honestly consider a rather egregious criminal act.  That crime was to charge $35.00 for a plate of vegetable samosas.  Seriously??!??  $35 is the price for a platter of veggie samosas?!  What are you putting in there that is worth $35?  I'm aware that it's for a large tray suitable for a large party, but still, I can't comprehend it being worth more than $10.  Do they deep-fry in truffle oil or something?

Oh wait...  that's not what they were charged with.  They were charged with the crime of making a mistake and sending the wrong type of samosas to the customer.   The group of 16 that placed the order specifically ordered veggie samosas (they were vegetarians) and got a plate of meat-filled samosas (most likely lamb-filled, but I don't have a source which clarifies this) instead.  This sort of thing happens all the time all over the place.  I, being a vegetarian as well, have frequently ordered something to find that -- oh, wait, this has chicken, or it has bacon, or it has ham, or whatever...  The restaurants always take it back and replaces it without incident, and once in a while, they also tell me my meal is gratis, or at the very least offer some other addition like a dessert or drink for free.  I'm perfectly fine with that.

But then, I'm a filthy unbeliever, so what do I know?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The "Natural" Trap

This is one of those areas that I've been hearing a great deal lately, and I think there's no end to the degree to which I find this brand of mythology annoying.  It's particularly funny because just about everybody "knows" it to be true, and this most disappointingly includes those who have the background knowledge which indicates that they should know better.  It's the fallacy of believing that "natural" products are invariably better than "artificial" ones.  I wish I had a rope to tie people down to a desk and force them to read scientific papers and watch countless videos on biochemistry until they are stripped of this nonsense.

It's darn near impossible these days to find things that fall under the "health food" category that isn't labeled as "natural" on some part of the packaging.  Common supermarket products will be sure to tout their superiority on the basis of having "all-natural" ingredients.  It's well they do, right?  I mean, everybody knows that natural is always better than artificial... right?
Come now, you knew that was coming