Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jon Stewart - Baracknophobia

[Stolen from Saganist]
Jon Stewart does what he does best here: deconstruct right-wing talking points, showing them to be utter absurdities. Watch this.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Baracknophobia - Obey
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


[via Latter-Day Main Street]

I am here in a hotel room in Madison, Alabama literally laughing out loud:

Deseret Book, the LDS-church owned book store chain, has banned Twilight from their shelves.

Yep. A book that in many ways is LDS-church propaganda, or at least propaganda for the worst aspects of the sorts of relationships encouraged by the LDS-church authority (e.g., woman giving up on their personal development to get married as soon after high school as possible; women being completely subservient to their overbearing husband; sex only after marriage and ideally only for propogation; reproducing as efficiently as possible regardless of it effects on a woman's well-being) has been removed from Deseret Book stores.

The church and the bookstore have declined comment, but it's honestly not hard to imagine why: aside from the fact that all that stuff above is completely abhorrent, the books ARE a vaguely sadomasochistic fantasy aimed at teenage girls, as I've noted before. I haven't read the last book (or, to be honest, ANY of them), but I understand things get a little hot and heavy once rings are on fingers.

So, I understand why they've done this, and it's perhaps not all that surprising... It's just a little bit ironic given the criticism the books have received from many non-Mormons.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, and (via The Intersection) here is Carl Sagan, whom the world lost too soon, remarking on just how... well, remarkable, our world is, how precious life is, how gloriously insignificant and yet unique and grand we are.

Beautiful, beautiful words:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Things that make me cringe, Part 1a

Anyone who knows me personally knows that, despite getting worked up about a lot of things here on my blog, I take things pretty easy, and don't get upset about too many things. But there are a few things that I just can't stand.

Here they are:

People who make fake gang signs in photographs. That stopped being clever in 1996. Scratch that, it was never funny. Also, I suppose I should make an exemption for actual gang members. You can keep doing that, if you must.

Here's a typical member of the species, found randomly on the web:
Looks like a fun night... but thanks for ruining the photo, jerkwad!

The word "hubby." I don't know what it is about it. It always bugged me, particularly in Facebook status updates, then Alex (curse you!) got me hooked on the STFU, Marrieds blog, and now my seething hatred of this word knows no bounds. Same goes for "wifey," though thankfully it's less common.

A typical specimen:

Glenn Beck.
Of the rabid right-wing TV/radio show hosts, Rush Limbaugh may wield more evil power, Sean Hannity may be more smugly righteous, and Michelle Malkin more reflexively accuse liberals of colluding with terrorists, nut when it comes to utter dumbshittery, none can match Glenn Beck.

Here' a typical example I stole from Travis. Seriously, watch the whole thing.

.... And that's where I'm leaving this list for today!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rick Warren: lying lieface

[hat-tip to the Friendly Atheist]

Let me just preface this by saying that I absolutely hate pious hypocrisy and pious deception. I hate it when religious leaders think that because they are working for the Glory of God or whatever, they feel they have the right to lie.

Rick Warren, who you may remember from such films as I'm a Bigot, but Don't Tell Anyone! and Saddlebackin' is in the news again.

Warren was notoriously criticized by many for his anti-gay bigotry after being selected to give the invocation.

Last week, Warren claimed on the Larry King show that he had never endorsed Proposition 8. Specifically, he said:
I am not an anti-gay or anti-gay marriage activist. I never have been, never will be.

During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never — never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going. [emphasis added]

Of course, everyone knew this was a blatant lie, so people rushed to the intertubes and tracked down a video of Warren, speaking to his congregation saying:
Now let me just say this really clearly. We support Proposition 8. And if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8.
That sounds like about as unequivocal an endorsement as I can possibly imagine.

Warren responded that this statement cannot be construed as an endorsement, as it was just a pastor takling to his flock. Umm.. What?

But wait! There's more!

Warren felt all picked on for being caught in an obvious lie, so he canceled an upcoming appearance on ABC's This Week.

And it gets even BETTER:

Warren attacked Beliefnet founder Steven Waldman, hardly a hostile interogator for Warren, for tricking him into equating gay marriage with pedophilia. Specifically, Warren said:
I was asked a question that made it sound like I equated gay marriage with pedophilia or incest, which I absolutely do not believe.
So, just how did he do that? Here's the passage Warren's talking about:

“WARREN: The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that [some partnership rights] as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

BELIEFNET: Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

[WARREN:] Oh , I do. For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion - this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews — historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

(Um... Has Rick Warren even read the Bible?)

Now, in fairness, I will say that some of Warren's statement's in the full transcript of that interview are a hell of a lot less virulently anti-gay than what you hear from many religious leaders, but it really seems like he wants to have his cake and eat it to on the whole bigotry issue.

Of Sparkly Vampires and Sleeping Beauty

So, I saw the Twilight film a week or so ago. And since then, I've been trying to work out how I feel about the whole Twilight phenomenon.

NOTE: The film itself is horrendously, hilariously awful. It IS worth seeing, if only for the lawls.

I'm of at least two minds on the Twilight thing. I sometimes feel like people (including myself) who've criticized Twilight for being a bad example for teenage girls don't give teenagers enough credit.

When I was was in 7th grade, I devoured (no pun intended) Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. I remember getting in trouble from by 7th grade English teacher because the book I was reading had 'Damned' in the title. In terms of unhealthy relationships and explicit sexuality, these books went far beyond anything Twilight has ever dreamed of. By the end of the year (remember, I would have been 13 at the time), I was reading Rice's gloriously over-the-top, incredibly sexually explicit BDSM epic Sleeping Beauty Trilogy.

These were, to say the least, not books meant for children. Though I openly read the Vampire Chronicles in front of my parents and at school, I was well aware that the content of the Sleeping Beauty trilogy was not something I "should" have been reading at such an "impressionable age," so I kept it to myself.

But despite the ever-present themes of sexual domination, surrender and sadomasochism (seriously, if you haven't read the books, go check one out. Open to a random page and see what you find), I didn't seek out relationships that mimicked those in the book. I understood that what's in those novels is fantasy. And fantasy is not only okay, it's a good thing, in my opinion.

So, what's so different about Twilight?

Well, I'm not entirely sure there is a real difference, but if there is, this is it:

The Sweerthearts box above isn't a 'shop job, but is an actual product available at your local grocery store. This whole commoditization of BDSM sexual fantasy for teen girls (albeit without the intercourse) is just bizarre to me. Seriously? A sexy-vampire-themed conversation heart that says "lamb" and "bite me?"For kids? Mmm, delicious.

When I was reading Rice's Sleeping Beauty, I knew it was subversive, that it was so enrapturing in part because it contravened society's boundaries. And it wasn't the only thing I read. I was reading works of literature, poetry, news, science and nonfiction. I was raised with values of gender-neutral self-empowerment and principles of free inquiry.

Twilight, on the other hand, has gained a reputation in some circles as a shining example for the nation's children, what with the traditional gender roles stuffed down your throat and the no-sex-until-marriage stuff. Girls are reading this tale of an obsessive relationship where a girl pretty much subsumes her entire character and identity into a guy she just met. A guy who secretly spies on her and sneaks into her room at night to "watch her sleep." A guy who vomits at the thought of their sexuality, and yet draws her in closer and closer. And we're all supposed to accept that this just means he loves her, and not that he's a creepy stalker. Any why? Because they don't fuck until they're married. And that makes it an excellent moral lesson, apparently: If you're going to get into an horrible, abusive relationship that will, quite literally, result in your death, be sure you get married before you find out if the sex is even good.

Like I say, I think we do teenagers a disservice when we thing they're not capable of understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. It's hard to put yourself back into the mindset you were in at 13 or 14, but I know that I wasn't totally ruined by the books I read. To the contrary. I think that nearly anything that gets people -- kids or not -- to read more is a good thing. Twilight is certainly not a shining example of classic literature, but is it going to lead to a generation of girls specifically seeking abusive relationships? No, I don't believe so.

That said, when it comes to empowering, positive vampire tales, Buffy could totally take both Edward AND Lestat with both hands tield behind her back (and no, I didn't mean that as a bondage joke... though I do now).

Monday, April 13, 2009

AmazonFail = QualityControlFail

So, the story of what happened with AmazonFail is in, and it was, indeed, a glitch of sorts. There was no massive conspiracy to exclude certain works from rankings and searches. In fact, it seems the issue had to more with language barriers -- and an unfortunate lack of quality control administration -- than anything else.

It seems someone editing the code for (Amazon's French portal) conflated the word "adult" with the word "sexuality." All of Amazon's portals everywhere are linked, so the local change in France propagated throughout ALL of Amazon.

I can only imagine the PR nightmare this all has been to Amazon. Amazon says it will take some time to repair this issue. I kind of feel horrible for the guy who made this mistake. Once the torches and pitchforks were headed hsi way, his blood must have run cold... But it's not really his fault. This is a great lesson on why multiple levels of quality control are a fine idea. Think of the damage this person could have done if they were trying to be malicious.

SeattlePI has the whole story.

What really happened with AmazonFail? Too early to tell.

The Blogosphere, Twitterverse, Facebookistan and, I don't know, the Metaweb are all abuzz since yesterday about "AmazonFail," the deranking of many items with gay and lesbian themes, such that they do not show up in, for instance in the Amazon Top 100 or search results.

From what I can gather, many books tagged in the "gay and lesbian" category, whether sexually explicit or not, were then also tagged with the "adult" category. And "adult" items are automatically excluded from sales rankings and many searches. I suppose that's so there's never a top ten book called Hot Asian Sluts or something. Exactly what criteria was used to exclude such books in unknown, and seems rather arbitrary (see below).

My initial reaction was that this was due to some sort of error, or possibly a single overzealous employee who wanted to get spectacularly fired by pissing off an entire segment of society at Amazon. It does seem like either of those, particularly the latter, are still possible. Amazon's own take, of course, is that this was due to a "glitch," but has declined to comment on the nature of that glitch.

But it looks like the full story is rather more complex than that. Indeed, Amazon sent letters to some authors who's non-sexually-explicit works were affected by this "glitch," noting that:
In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.
It was only after the firestorm of criticism caught on in earnest that Amazon's story changed to a glitch.

As it stands now, many "straight" sexually explicit books, including straight romance novels and Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds, retain their ranks and show up in searches. But many books with gay themes still have their ranking removed, including non-sexually explicit works, plus award-winning material like Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain, E.M. Forster, Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet, and more.

Science fiction blog io9 reports on how this has affected gay and lesbian sci-fi writers. Author David Gerrold remarked on how this policy/glitch was applied nonsensically to two of his own works:
It's silly. They've removed The Martian Child from their page rankings which was based on an award-winning novelette about how I adopted my son and was the source for a warm-hearted movie starring John Cusack. Meanwhile, they've left The Man Who Folded Himself ranked, which is a far more explicit novel about a man who explores a number of unique sexual possibilities. Obviously, they didn't think this through.
I'm not satisfied with Amazon's explanation of "glitch," particularly when measured against their previous "in consideration of our entire customer base..." statement. Perhaps it was a glitch, but I think it's too early to tell what happened, and remember that these books are still deranked. I can say that excluding material to appease any group's sensitive "OMG teh gay!" mentality, which Amazon has indeed admitted to doing, i's pretty much enough to make me want to start patronizing other online booksellers. Powell's here I come!

P.S., I can't wait to check out my page rankings and see what searches bring people to this post! Along with my last post at Salt City Skeptics, there's some fun search fodder, what with the "hot asian sluts" and the "pig masturbation." Methinks people won't be finding what they're looking for here.

UPDATE: As Neil Gaiman points out, yesterday WAS Easter Sudnay, so it's reasonable that any sort major of error might take until today to get fixed... And also -- and I can't say this any better than Neil:
I mean, a week ago, a search for "Girl Scout Cookie" on produced sexy costumes, speculums, wolf urine and a Morgan Freeman biography as a result. Now the speculums and Morgan Freeman biography have vanished (although the wolf urine is still there). Obviously, Amazon listings are always in flux.
So, there's THAT. :)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Planet of the Dead

This be a nerdy post... Ye have been warned...

Over the past week or so, I've started and abandoned three separate blog posts on Real Issues (such as this ridiculous video full of lies). But for whatever reason, I'm having trouble striking the right tone.

So, instead, here's another post about Doctor Who.

I posted on Doctor Who once before, and it was only recently surpassed by this post about why same sex marriage should be legal as my most popular post of all time.

So, I just watched "Planet of the Dead," David Tennant's antepenultimate episode as the Doc before passing the torch to Matt Smith, the new Doctor. Due to the power of the internet, I was able to check it out just hours after it aired in the UK. Yay! So, what did I think?

Well: Meh...

Some of the imagery was kind of cool, such as a bashed-up double-decker bus sitting in the middle of the desert (most of the ep was actually filmed in the desert of UAE), and... well, that it really. Pretty much everything else ranged from "sigh" to "ugh." (My use of words like that are why I'm not a professional TV reviewer.)

I have to say, as much as I appreciate his reinvigoration of the show I adored as a kid, I'm glad to Russell T. Davies' go at the end of this year and leave the show in the hands of Stephen Moffatt, who has written most of the best episodes of the new series.

Things I won't miss about Davies tenure:
(at least, I hope they're gone.)

Aliens that are just humans with the heads of earth animals stuck on them. Planet of the Dead featured a new one, the fly-headed dudes:

This is in addition to the rhino people, pig people, cat people, and probably many others I don't recall:

Seriously. Knock that off. It's beyond lame, and I feel a little ashamed to like the show every time one of these stupid creatures comes on screen. Maybe I'm spoiled by BSG complete lack of aliens of any kind.

Rose Tyler. Enough with the Rose Tyler already. And furthermore, enough with revisiting the old companions time and time again in general... except for Martha Jones. More Martha Jones is always welcome.

The Final and Complete Destruction of the Daleks for All Eternity I Mean it for Real This Time happening every three weeks. Yeah, I know the Daleks have been the Doc's most notorious villain since their debut in 1963, but they lose a little potency when you see them all the freaking time. Same, to a lesser extent for the Cybermen.

This plotline: There's a massive alien invasion of London that threatens the entire world. The Doctor stumbles upon their plan too late and the entire city and/or world falls to the invasion. The Doctor and friends are taken captive, but eventually gain the upper hand. The Doc kindly offers the evil aliens a choice: leave now or die. They choose die. The next day, everyone goes about their business as usual as if they hadn't just been slaves of an alien race less than 24 hours ago.

Seriously, you could just plug in some alien-sounding names in there and top off some guys in jumpsuits with, oh, let's say shark heads, and you're ready to start filming!

The Sonic Screwdriver. This should just be called "the magic wand" instead, because it can do pretty much everything. This was a problem on the original series too, to the point where John Nathan Turner (the producer for most of the 1980s) had it killed off because the writers relied on it too much instead of, you know, having the Doctor be creative. Time to do it again. Ditto for the once-clever-now-tired psychic paper.

Okay, enough of the geeking out for now. I now return you to your regularly scheduled long spate of silence broken by the occassional long-winded rant.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Amusing typo in BYU's student newspaper

[hat-tip to The Friendly Atheist]

So, Monday's edition of Brigham Youn'g University's student newspaper, The Daily Universe, has a rather amusing typo in it...

Now, this isn't NEWS really. A typo is a typo. I know I make them all teh tiem. It sounds like it's a simple case of clicking the first option that came up on a misspelled word. I kind of feel bad for the editor who made the mistake, because surely there are ridiculous amoutns of unwanted attention on him or her now (and it's not like I'm helping). It would be a complete non-issue... except for how utterly amusing the typo is.

Below a photo of members of the Quorum of the Twelve (no, not that Quorum of the Twelve), a caption was supposed to read:
Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other general authorities raise their hands in a sustaining vote…
Instead it said:
Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostates and other general authorities raise their hands in a sustaining vote…

Monday, April 6, 2009

Glenn Beck is losing it

Bored? Feeling down?

Here's a great family activity that all can enjoy:

Watch the Glenn Beck show.

The man inexplicably had a show on CNN Headline News for some time, but he's recently set up shop at Fox News... And this move has apparently allowed him to completely wall himself off from reality.

I swear to god that he is publicly and spectacularly spiraling inward from being an cloyingly idiotic ass into a paranoid conspiricist, just two episodes away from donning a tinfoil hat and retreating to his underground bunker while the "liberals" plunge the nation into an age of godless, gun-stealing, gay Nazism.

And it's so much fun to watch.

For example, watch this video of Beck making the case that Obama and us crazy godless liberals are on the verge of plunging the nation into and age of -- no, not socialism -- no, not communism -- FASCISM... a road that, according to Beck, we've been on since Theodore Roosevelt was president:

(Video has embedding disabled, so click this link for the video)

Yep, Beck's case started with pointing out that an American coin once featured the "fasces," an Ancient Roman symbol consisting of bundle of sticks bound together with a ribbon (often including an axe), signifying things like "United We Stand" or "strength through unity." This symbol was indeed the symbol of Italy's Fascist party... Unfortunately for Beck, that party wasn't formed until YEARS AFTER this coin was minted.

Seriously? That's his evidence of some secret left-wing conspiracy to establish an extreme right-wing authoritarian dictatorship? A coin used a symbol that was later used by some awful people? Does this make Buddha a Nazi?

And it goes downhill from there. He even pulls a full-on Godwin.

I know I make light of this, because there really is no way to make sense of the crazy except through humor... But it scares me because some people -- a surprising number of them, really -- think this guy is talking sense.