Road Trip

I am about to drive to South Carolina, on Friday, from LA, which will be quite the adventure.  I’m planning on being in SC for the next couple of months, working on some various projects, and hopefully getting some writing done.  Debating pursuing more screenplays or another attempt at a novel, it’s weird though, I find LA to be not a great place for writing.  Maybe that’s not that weird.

Road Trip

DBAD Follow Up

Why do I suddenly have the urge to build a giant phallus out of straw? Tracy

I am getting a fair amount of attention from the skeptic community for my post about Phil Plait’s Don’t Be A Dick Speech.  I don’t really have much more to say than what I said originally.

The really funny thing about this debate is that I suspect the only thing anyone actually disagrees on is whether Phil Plait was clear enough in his definition of dick.  Everyone thinks that being nice to people when you’re trying to change their minds is appropriate, and everyone thinks that being a funny asshole about ideas and to Kent Hovind is appropriate.  It’s just that the Dick Proponents, where I’ve found myself along with PZ and Dawkins, think that Phil should have been clearer about what he thought was appropriate or not, and the Dick Haters think Phil’s point was self-evident and everyone should be able to intuit his exact meaning.

Basically the Dick Proponents would like some evidence, examples and clarifications, and the Dick Haters take it on faith that Phil meant what they think he meant.  Hmm.


I agree with Greta Christina, let firebrands be firebrands, let the diplomats be diplomats.

DBAD Follow Up

SheThought: Pop Psychology and the Media

Super exciting, my first “article” for SheThought is up.  I am writing for like a realer blog than my own .com.  So, go read this on SheThought, there are pictures there: If you want to comment, please comment there.  I’m including it here for those lazy RSSers… you know who you are.

Today I read an article that I found infuriating, but then I’m easily infuriated, because of what appeared to be either really bad methodology in a study or really silly conclusions by the journalist who wrote the piece.  Since I can’t see the study and I can read the piece, I’ll try to avoid pointing a finger in either direction.  It was posted several months ago, but came to my attention today.  It reminded me of how important it is to be critical of the media’s handling of scientific studies.

The piece is called “The Psychology of Knock Offs: Why ‘Faking It’ Makes Us Feel (and Act) Like Phonies“.  The basic premise is that, through a study recently conducted, scientists have concluded that people are more dishonest and cynical when they wear knock off goods.

I’ll be the first to admit that this sort of thing falls well below my normal threshold of caring.  People who wear things because they are a specific brand or because they look like they’re a specific brand are a little alien to me.  It strikes me as fairly shallow behavior, but if it makes them happy, it’s really no skin off my back.  If you can buy something for $5 from a dude on the street in New York and it impresses all the ladies back home because it looks like a $500 purse, good for you, right?  How on earth does a purse cost that much anyway?

In any event, the basic methodology for the study was that they had girls come in and they gave them sunglasses.  Half were told they were super expensive awesome sunglasses, and the other half were told they were cheapo knockoffs.  They were then given a battery of tests in which lying would earn them more money.  They were also given a survey that asked them their views on the world.  The women (and it was all young women, why no guys?) who were told they had cheapo sunglasses were much more likely to lie and be cynical.

From this, the journalist concludes that people who buy knock offs are paying a hidden moral cost that makes them more likely to lie and be cynical.

Wearing counterfeit glasses not only fails to bolster our ego and self-image the way we hope, it actually undermines our internal sense of authenticity. “Faking it” makes us feel like phonies and cheaters on the inside, and this alienated, counterfeit “self” leads to cheating and cynicism in the real world.

That would be a really interesting conclusion if the methodology at all allowed you to make it, but it doesn’t.

I have some questions that aren’t answered in the article.  Did they all get the sunglasses at the same time?  Did they know other people had supposedly real sunglasses?  Were they tested by the same person who told them that the sunglasses were real or fake?  Did they get to take the glasses home, or did they think they would get to take the glasses home?

But there are problems I can see with just the information in the article:

1) The volunteers given “real” sunglasses were told they were authentic, so they’d already been rewarded and were therefore more likely to do what they thought the researchers wanted.

2) The volunteers given “fake” sunglasses had been told, essentially, that they didn’t deserve real sunglasses when the researchers told them they were fakes, and were therefore less likely to do what they thought the researchers wanted.

3) The volunteers had just been cheated, of course they felt more negative.

4) The volunteers were gifted sunglasses, they didn’t buy them knowing that they were knock offs, so it’s impossible to extrapolate the behavior to people who buy their own sunglasses.

5) The volunteers received no benefit from wearing fake sunglasses because they didn’t buy them — the entire reason people buy fake brand names is to save money, in what way is a study that excludes the primary motivating factor at all useful in studying a behavior?

6) There’s no way to be sure that the behavior is linked to wearing the sunglasses rather than linked to being given sunglasses of one kind or another.

The only reasonable conclusion from the study is that people who are given things they’re told aren’t very nice don’t feel terribly good about it.  This is, of course, not a broad and moralistic statement and it doesn’t really make good news, and that’s a big problem with a lot of science reporting.  When something interesting happens in a study, the response is to exaggerate it, make huge claims, and moralize wherever possible.  Interesting patterns are often pointed to as conclusive results and people with pre-determined moral opinions take things and run.

If you want to tell me that “[c]ounterfeiting is a serious economic and social problem, epidemic in scale,” I’d love to hear the whys and wherefores, but I’d much rather hear the facts and figures accurately explained.

SheThought: Pop Psychology and the Media

50 Book Challenge: 36-40

Welcome to Week 34, I’m through 40 books, so doing well.  Just 10 left to meet my goal.

36. Searching for Dragons – Patricia C. Wrede

This is the second novel in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I find it interesting that the books are all written from a different character’s perspective.  It’s a neat trick, and I think it works particularly well for the children’s literature genre.  You get to see the characters you love, but since you already know how they think, you get to spend time in other people’s head as they go along.  Anyway, I highly recommend these books if you like children’s lit at all.

37. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

People are very surprised that I never have read this book and never had to in school.  Considering I grew up in the south, this is doubly surprising.  I moved around a fair amount and I think it was just assigned for one grade in one school district and another in a different one, and so I missed it by switching districts.  In any event, I watched the movie this past year at some point and I really enjoyed it, and I’d listened to some NPR stories about its fiftieth anniversary, so I bought it and read it in a night.  Fantastic book, and it made me all the more impressed with the movie.  I am not generally a fan of Southern Gothic literature, I find it oppressive and kinda icky (I know, technical term) because it’s generally so depressing and twisted.  It usually makes me want to take a scalding shower and spend the rest of my life in a heavily air-conditioned, sterilized and dehumidified bubble.  But I really liked To Kill a Mockingbird, it strangely reminded me of some of the good things about the South, not the least of which is that there are many more Atticuses now than there were then.

38. The Prop 8 Report – David Fleischer

Wow, 500 pages of analysis of the Prop 8 campaigns.  It was a lot to read, and I’m sort of including the Prop 8 decision in this too, since I did read that as well.  Basically, the lesson I got from this is that we really need to get the word out that gay marriage helps children.  The Prop 8 Proponents put out the whole “the children are gonna be destroyed” message and that alone basically lost gays the right to marry.  So, how do we educate people that gay marriage helps children?  I dunno, but it’s really important that we do so.  The fact is that there are children being raised by same sex couples and that those children would benefit from their parents being able to marry.  So, we should encourage a real discussion about children, because the facts are on our side.  And we should stop being surprised that the Anita Bryant tactic of 30 years ago still works.

39. Flim Flam! – James The Amazing Randi

I actually didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.  I love Randi, he’s a great speaker and an all around cool guy, so I thought I’d enjoy the book.  But I just didn’t find it all that interesting.  The book basically debunks a bunch of different woo things like ESP and UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle — you know, National Enquirer stuff.  And, I guess there’s a place for that and all, but I find the whole thing rather tedious.  To me this is like debunking Cinderella or Superman, I guess there are people out there who believe it, but I tend to think they’re people who just need a fairy tale of some kind in their life.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s really retarded (it’s satire!) for people to believe a lot of that stuff, but so long as they aren’t hurting anyone, I don’t really care.  Like, homeopathy, that’s something to rail against.  The Bermuda Triangle?  I just can’t be bothered.  Maybe this is why I identify more as an atheist than a skeptic.

40. The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs

Stephen Briggs has a much different reading style than Nigel Planer, and I admit I like Planer better.  Mostly because I don’t like the voices Briggs uses for the watch in this book.  He’s not bad, not at all, I’m probably just used to Planer.  I think all the rest are read by Briggs so I suppose I should get used to him.  OK, that aside, I did quite enjoy this book.  It’s about Vimes, who I like, and it has vampires fighting werewolves.  It was strangely not as funny or tongue-in-cheek as most of the Discworld books, it felt like an almost straight detective adventure novel.  The plot may be the best constructed of his books so far, though plot has never been the main reason I read his books.

50 Book Challenge: 36-40

Top 5 Buddy Movies

So, from the Podcast, one of the assignments was to come up with films pairing movie characters for a buddy flick, and then to title them.  Since you’re never actually going to listen all the way through the podcast, I thought I’d share here.

6. Hannibal Lecter and Annie in REDEMPTION

5. Daddy Warbucks and Scrooge McDuck in MO MONEY MO PROBLEMS

4. Ripley (Aliens) and The Bride (Kill Bill) in BAD ASS MOTHERFUCKERS

It’s like if Thelma and Louise was fucking sweet, y’all.

3. Hans Gruber (Die Hard), Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood: PoT), and Severus Snape in I AM SO HAVING SEX WITH THIS MOVIE

2. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder) in NEVER GO THE FULL RETARD

1. Macaulay Culkin in My Girl and Jonathan Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire in SAW VII

Top 5 Buddy Movies

Drinking Bleach…

Fantastic, if depressing, write up from a young man diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and the animosity he faced from a forum of fellow sufferers.  Why did they hate him so?  Because he dared to say that the FDA didn’t approve of drinking industrial bleach.

I think the worst thing about alternative (aka shitty) medicine is that it preys on people who are already suffering, many of them suffering from something that they’ll have to deal with for the rest of their lives.  Not only does fake medicine not treat their conditions, it can make them worse, make them sick for other reasons, and apparently make them too insane to accept that drinking industrial strength bleach is not healthy.

As someone who has chronic conditions, I cannot tell you how often I have to tell people to fuck off with their advice that I get stabbed with needles, drink magic water, or eat untested chemical shit.  Seriously.  I have to concentrate not to go Hulk, because it’s just absurd.

Well Meaning Idiot: Oh, you’ve been suffering from [x] for years and are treating it imperfectly with expensive conventional medicine, well, I sometimes have headaches, and [insert woo here] works so well for me.

Me: I think masturbation has more scientifically proven beneficial effects, and it’s free.  Maybe stabbing myself repeatedly in the face will make me feel better.  Is there a cure for dealing with stupid people?

Well Meaning Idiot: St. John’s Wort?

*Shoots self*

Drinking Bleach…

50 Books: A List

So, the reason I started this 50 books thing was because I had so many unread books that I had obtained in one way or another that I really wanted to read and that I hadn’t made time for.  There were, as of January, probably 80 unread books in my house.  Due to me being insane, there are now over that, though they’re not all on my reading list.  It only has 78 unfinished and unread books (I was guesstimating 55 earlier…), not including stuff I have and have no intention of reading or I’ve forgotten to include.

What follows is a list of everything I’ve read in 2010, what I’m currently at least halfway through or have from the library, and what is on my list for the future.  Any thoughts, like if you think a book is awesome or you want to hear my opinion on it so I should read it, are welcome.  Mostly, I just made a list and don’t want it to go to waste just sitting in my Google Tasks.


  1. To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. Searching for Dragons (library)
  3. Dealing with Dragons (library)
  4. 23. Carpe Jugulum
  5. 22. Last Continent
  6. 21. Jingo
  7. 20. Hogfather
  8. 19. Feet of Clay
  9. Asimov’s Guide to Old Testament
  10. 18. Maskerade
  11. 17. Interesting Times
  12. 16. Soul Music
  13. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
  14. A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell 2)
  15. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell 1)
  16. 15. Men at Arms
  17. Godless
  18. 14. Lords and Ladies
  19. 13. Small Gods
  20. 12. Witches Abroad
  21. Snow White, Blood Red
  22. Ordinary Princess
  23. 11. Reaper Man
  24. 10. Moving Pictures
  25. 9. Eric
  26. 8. Guards Guards
  27. Tricks of the Mind
  28. 7. Pyramids
  29. 6. Wyrd Sisters
  30. 5. Sourcery
  31. 4. Mort
  32. The Porn Trap
  33. 3. Equal Rites
  34. 2. Light Fantastic
  35. 1. Colour of Magic
  36. Scopes Transcript
  37. Religious Orgy Tennessee

Currently Reading

  1. The Female Brain
  2. Freethinkers (library)
  3. Lyra’s Oxford (library)
  4. Spindle’s End (library)
  5. Demon Haunted World
  6. Flim-Flam!
  7. 24. The Fifth Elephant

To Read

  1. the thousand autumns of jacob de zoet (don’t own)
  2. A Study in Scarlet (started)
  3. Law 101 (started)
  4. Stranger Beside Me (started)
  5. 25. The Truth
  6. 26. Thief of Time
  7. 27. The Last Hero
  8. 28. Amazing Maurice
  9. 29. Night Watch
  10. 30. Wee Free Men
  11. 31. Monstrous Regiment
  12. 32. A Hat Full of Sky
  13. 33. Going Postal
  14. 34. Thud
  15. 35. Wintersmith
  16. 36. Making Money
  17. The Brethren
  18. Incest
  19. Let the Right One In
  20. My Life in France
  21. Heartsick
  22. The Informant
  23. The Lady Elizabeth
  24. The God Virus
  25. The Professor and the Madman
  26. The Age of American Unreason
  27. The Family
  28. Innocent Traitor
  29. One L
  30. The Politician
  31. Julia Child
  32. Eragon
  33. Reading the OED
  34. Virgin Suicides
  35. Prozac Nation
  36. Irreligion
  37. Coraline
  38. His Dark Materials Reread (3 books)
  39. Nixonland
  40. Asimov’s Guide to the New Testament
  41. The Mind of the Market
  42. Emerging Epidemics
  43. The New Atheism
  44. Good Natured
  45. Evil in Modern Thought
  46. Creationism’s Trojan Horse
  47. Hitch 22
  48. Additional Sherlock Holmes (8)
  49. Works of Jane Austen (6)
  50. Additional Mary Russell (8, only own 2)

If I somehow got through 58 this year (21 more over the next 20 weeks, which is below my average which predicts 62 total) and do the same next year, without adding any additional books to the list (unlikely as I’m already remembering things I haven’t added and know several coming out that I will have to add), I will have just gotten through all of it.

All of this makes my “50 book challenge” feel kind of pathetic, like so what if I’ve accomplished it, I’m approaching an obviously Sisyphean task.  The books are judging me, I can tell.  It will never be enough for you people!

50 Books: A List