Mass-Media Nonsense: The Phoenix Lights

There are, from time-to-time, genuine UFOs. They are, in the most literal sense, objects that are flying and are unidentified. 99% of the time, they become identified. Almost 100% of the time, that isn’t good enough for the UFO nuts.

A few years back, there was something known as the Phoenix Lights. This was a series of lights that…well, just read the Wikipedia article.

So odd lights behaving oddly, and seeming to be interesting. Neat! So very quickly people began to look into this, and discovered that the lights were flares, on parachutes, falling to the earth after having been dropped from an Air Force vehicle. Problem solved. The UFOs are now the lesser-known cousin, IFOs.

So why is it that when the local news, which I loathe, was covering the Phoenix Light anniversary a few days ago, one of the anchors felt the need to point out that there’s never been any explanation? Oh, right, because the local news sucks, and the media really needs to stop playing this up like it’s actually a thing. Since apparently a few million people haven’t gotten the message, let me say this:

They were flares. They were flares. They were flares. THEY WERE FUCKING FLARES ON GODDAMN PARACHUTES! There is no mystery here. There was a mystery, it has been solved, they were flares! They were flares when they first happened, and they were flares when I saw them a year or two ago. THEY WERE FUCKING FLARES. Can we please get over this?!

Mass-Media Nonsense! – The Zombie Apocalypse

Not actually a thing.

This will never happen.

Ok, let me be as blunt as I can at the outset.

The zombie apocalypse will never happen, can never happen, and if you’re an adult who takes it even remotely seriously, you’re a fucking idiot.

Zombies. Possibly the most dull, boring, uninteresting monsters in all of Monster Island (which is a misnomer, as we all know). In the older works of fiction they’d shuffle along, look vaguely menacing and overwhelm by sheer numbers, while occasionally moaning “Braaaaaaaains…”, though the vegan ones possibly moaned “Graaaaaains…” In more modern fiction, ie: everything made after 28 Days Later, they gained the ability to walk faster and/or run. Otherwise they remain basically mindless killing machines. There’s been some attempts to make them (Warm Bodies), or their apocalypse (World War Z), interesting, but they really aren’t. They can’t have any kind of tactics, and all they can really do is a mass-attack which is responded to by a mass-defense, occasionally one involving fire.

God, zombies are boring as fuck, and I don’t understand why anyone thinks they’re at all compelling as a threat. Nothing about them makes sense. Hell, all you’d have to do is wait until a good strong freeze or until summer, and the weather would, you know, decompose the rotting corpses, thus neutralizing them as a threat.

And now, just to make things even more annoying, you have shows like Mythbusters doing an episode about the best ways to kill/avoid zombies, proving there’s no shark they won’t jump, even outside of Shark Week. You have the CDC thinking they’re being “cute” by issuing reports about what to do during a zombie apocalypse. People like to pretend that zombies can actually be a thing, but they can’t; certainly not in the sense of “dead bodies up and moving about looking to eat your brains”.

Almost as bad as people who think zombies are real/could be real are those who sit there and pontificate about how zombies are a metaphor for terrorism/conformity/consumer culture gone mad!!!!!!!111 People who try to approach zombies from an intellectual perspective need to just kind of be smacked.

Then of course you’ll have people who will try to tell you about how the real story with the zombie apocalypse is how people respond to it; how they handle stress and lose their humanity while fighting zombies. Great. That’s not a bad story. But ditch the zombies, set it in the real world, and make it about people dealing with any real war in human history. Goodness knows we have a few of them to work with.

But the worst of all offenders here are news outlets who smile and wink as they talk about things like someone doing some drugs and then attacking, and partially eating, someone and referring to that as a “Zombie attack in Miami? Why this story may be coming to a street corner near you!”

Zombies are boring. They are stupid. They aren’t interesting as characters, as antagonists, or as protagonists. They are terrible, implausible and pointless, and they certainly aren’t scary. Can we please, as a culture, get over them and move on? Thank you.

Mass-Media Nonsense – More Mattress Mayhem!

I wrote some time back about the myth that mattresses double in weight every eight years. I haven’t heard anyone use this claim in advertising lately, so someone must have cracked down on it. However I have noticed that the mattress sellers want you to remember that claim!

So…an “eight year mistake”, eh? Two thoughts cross my mind.

First, if you buy the “wrong” mattress, ie: one that isn’t comfortable for you, why wouldn’t you return it? Most places seem to have 30 day guarantees on their mattresses. Surely within 30 days, you’d know if you got a “bad” mattress.

Second, even if you didn’t realize it until a year later, why would you continue to use it for another seven years? Why wouldn’t you just sell it and buy a new one? Or just toss it out and buy a new one? Mattresses aren’t cheap, but they aren’t that expensive, either, and a really good one can be had for around $500.

Really, this is just a silly ad campaign using the “eight years” thing to try and urge you to buy a new mattress. Unless your current mattress is no longer comfortable, don’t do that. Just relax, and sleep!

Mass-Media Nonsense – Mattress Weight Doubling

Take a look at this advert.

Ok, let’s think about this claim for a few minutes. The ad says that your mattress weight essentially doubles every few years due to the amount of dead skin, sweat and dust mites. I’ve seen it touted in ads, occasionally mentioned on (usually local), news like it’s proven fact and had it told to me by a friend last year when we were both mattress shopping. Is this true?

Well, let’s consider. I went to Ikea’s website and looked up your basic spring mattress. It’s the Sultan Harestua, and it weighs 30 pounds. Now I’m not sure how much sweat and dead skin you personally slough off, but in my case I’m pretty sure it’s not 30 pounds worth (and most of the sweat would evaporate fairly quickly anyhow). Even over the course of eight years I strongly doubt that I’m leaving behind that much dead skin and sweat, and as for dust mites? Yeah, I doubt that even a fairly massive population would contribute that much to my mattress weight, and any population that is large enough would likely be big enough to see.

So these claims (which, tellingly, are from mattress companies and less frequently from pest control companies), never made much sense to me. I did some poking around on the internet and found out from Cecil Adams that, yes, these claims are quite bogus.

I guess the message here is to consider the source. If a mattress company is trying to sell you on the idea of a new mattress, they have every interest in making you think you need to replace your old one every X years. But you don’t, really, unless it’s not comfortable to sleep on anymore. That’s the only excuse you need to replace it and really, it’s the best excuse there could be.

Mass-Media Nonsense! – The Shroud of Turin

The Pope recently stopped in to have a peep at the Shroud of Turin. He apparently liked what he saw, and knelt and prayed in front of it.

For those seven people who don’t know, the Shroud of Turin is a fascinating bit of fabric that appears at first glance to be your basic funeral shroud. These things were quite fashionable and to a point still are (we cover corpses with sheets when nothing else is available, though why white is always used is a mystery to me. I’m sure some of the stains are a bitch to shift).

This particular shroud was apparently made sometime between 1260 and 1390 (which is, conveniently enough, around the same time that it first appeared on the world scene). It’s largely un-noteworthy, aside from being very old, except for one unique property: when photographed in a certain way it shows what appears to be the image of a man. Said man appears to have wounds that might, maybe, be indicative of crucifixion.

“Jesus!” people called when they saw this. “It must be our Lord! His image is burned onto the cloth! Sing hosannas! Pray for the sinners! Give the priests some children to ‘play’ with!”

Well… ok. Sure. I guess it could be the image of Jesus, though why it would only show up when photographed in a certain way is something I’m not quite clear on. I’m also not quite clear as to how a fabric from the 13th or 14th century could’ve wrapped up Jesus’ body.

Besides, there’s a lot of nonsense here. We have no reason to believe this is anything other than a fake and if it’s a real person we have no reason to believe it was Jesus. He’s far from the only person who was crucified by the Romans and others throughout history. There are many, many theories about the Shroud, but no absolute proof.

Yet the media, when covering it, largely treats it as “probably” Jesus’ shroud. Oh, they’ll usually make a few token comments but they don’t ever say anything like, “According to all known science this thing is a fake.” Instead, since they don’t want to offend an audience that largely thinks it believes in Jesus and such, they dance around the issue.

It’s part of a larger problem with the media’s coverage of religious issues in general. They like to pretend, for example, that there’s two equally valid viewpoints as to how life arose in the universe (slow and steady evolution vs “God did it!”), and that both should be given equal weight. Of course, there’s reams and reams of information and evidence showing the validity of evolutionary theory and none supporting the “God did it!” theory, but the media still likes to behave like they’re equal. It’s silly and disingenuous and does a great disservice to the audience.

Anyhow, this shroud is almost certainly a fake. There’s no evidence that points to it being anything else. Sorry, believers. I won’t deny that it’s an interesting archaeological thingamabob, but it’s not really anything else and the media needs to stop pretending it is until there’s some proof otherwise.

Mass Media Nonsense – The Uncanny Valley

We all know that everyone gets very creeped-out by robots that look and act human. We know this, despite the fact that 99% of us haven’t ever seen robots that look and act human, because the media tells us it is true. They talk about the concept of the uncanny valley and how it explains this discomfort.

The concept basically runs like this: things that look almost totally human but aren’t, and things that act almost totally human, but aren’t, are something that’s going to creep us out for reasons we can’t quite explain. This concept was basically just made-up by a Japanese robotics guy named Masahiro Mori.

From what I can tell there’s no real evidence that this is true, but it appears to be accepted without any skepticism from the masses (bearing in mind that these are the same masses who believe in creationism rather than evolution and the lack of understanding perhaps makes sense). Evidence often cited includes poor box office receipts from movies like Beowulf (which I rather liked), The Polar Express, and Final Fantasy – The Spirits Within, (though one of my favorite whipping boys, Final Fantasy: Advent Children, did quite good in sales and is left off the list). What’s not usually mentioned is that these, frankly, weren’t very good movies and that might’ve played a larger role than anything else in their failure.

I think the uncanny valley concept is basically an excuse people like to use for why various products, including those movies, failed. It also doesn’t explain why other products, like Disney’s Hall of Presidents, are a success.

Ultimately this appears to be something that someone made up without any real evidence and that the media now accepts without any question. With the rise of things like Poser porn (you can search for that on your own; I’m not linking to it while at work!), I think this concept is pretty-well debunked.

Mass-Media Nonsense! – Swine Flu

Beware! The swine flu is coming! Yes, it’s out to get you! People have died already, you know, and will continue to die! Maybe even someone you know will die! MAYBE YOU WILL DIE!

Or, possibly, it’s a bunch over-hyped, over-inflated, mass-media nonsense.

Like bird flu and SARS, this is a virus that has seemingly come out of nowhere and people are understandably concerned. I have no problem with folks paying attention or with the media informing us of what’s going on with the disease. I don’t even have any problem with the CDC issuing a warning.

The swine flu's gonna get ya!

The swine flu's gonna get ya!

What I do have a problem with is the media hyping this to death and doing wall-to-wall coverage. All that does is scare the public and, of course, increase ratings, which is the real reason they cover it endlessly. If the news says “watch our program or you will die!” you will watch it.

Keep in mind that swine flu isn’t much of much so far. Yes, as of this writing 149 people have died out of a total of 2150 or so cases. That’s about 7%. That’s kind of high, but we also have to remember that all 149 of those have been in Mexico. Now Mexico is a fine place with many good things to recommend it I am sure, but I rather strongly doubt that a quality medical system is one of those things.

Meantime we also need to keep in mind that according to the CDC, about 36,000 people a year die from the “regular” flu. That’s just under 100 people a day each year or, to think of a different way, about one 9/11 attack every month. The 149 who are dead so far aren’t close to that number. Hell, that’s only a day-and-a-half of normal flu deaths.

It’s good to be aware of disease and it’s good to practice basic hygiene, like washing your hands a lot. But please have some perspective!

Oh, and one last thing. Every time something like this happens, including now, we get pictures of people wandering around wearing medical masks. To anyone out there who might have medical knowledge: does this do any good?

Mass-Media Nonsense! – Flight 1549

Eventually you'll see Christian glurge talking about how people in this pic are walking on water and were saved by God. It's a wing, you fuckers!

Eventually you'll see Christian glurge talking about how people in this pic are walking on water and were saved by God. It's a wing, you fuckers!

This may be the shortest turn-around time ever for me on something involving the media acting like a pack of morons. Yes, I’m going to be talking today about Flight 1549, which ditched into the Hudson River the other day.

First off, let me state that the pilot of the aircraft deserves every bit of kudos and praise he’s getting, as does the rest of the flight crew. Water landings are, at best, dodgy and being able to pull off one where no one is even seriously injured is damn impressive!

So impressed am I by that that I find myself pissed when the media refers to it as “The Miracle on the Hudson” or variations thereof. There’s a couple problems I have with this and the first is, why do we need to brand every story? Why not just tell us about the damn thing without giving it a title?

Second, what miracle? It was incredibly good training and no small amount of luck. If you want to talk about miracles, look at the fact that not one, but both engines of the plane were apparently nailed by birds. The odds against that are pretty good, but no one calls that a miracle. As the recently knighted Terry Pratchett once put it, “Just because it’s not nice doesn’t mean it’s not a miracle.”

Third, of course, we have the wall-to-wall coverage of the story for a full twenty-four hours. Look, CNN and the rest, just tell us what happened, call in a couple aviation experts and then spend some time talking about other things. Unless there’s nothing else more important going on anywhere else in the world, you should not spend this much time covering a story like this. It’s soft news at its most annoying, especially given how many other more vital things are happening.

But I know better than to expect anything to change. I can dream, though. I can dream.

Conspiracy Theories and You!/Mass-Media Nonsense – The Roswell Incident

Roswell, New Mexico - Nothing special happened here, unless you can prove otherwise!

Roswell, New Mexico - Nothing special happened here, unless you can prove otherwise!

On or about July 7, 1947, an experimental weather balloon crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Due to over enthusiasm on someone’s part, a press-release was sent out saying that they had found the remains of a “flying disk”. A correction was issued later that day, everyone realized their mistakes, and that was the end of it.

Well, at least it was the end of it in the world of reality.

The story was largely ignored until the 1970’s when it began to become widely known within UFO fanatic circles. Then it eventually wormed its way into the national consciousness where it has, sadly, resided to this very day, despite the efforts of the media to do basically nothing to dislodge it.

Due to the combination of conspiracy theories centering around this (“The guv’mint covered it up!”), and the fact that the media acts as a willing accessory in this story (“What really happened at Roswell? We’ll give you the official information, then lots of innuendo and baseless statements we’ll present as reality and let you decide!”), this article fits neatly into both the Conspiracy Theories and You! and Mass-Media Nonsense! categories here on my blog. True, most conspiracy theories touch both areas, but this one is especially egregious.

In many ways this is the grand-daddy of conspiracy theories. It ties in the idea of aliens visiting the Earth and shadowy, government cover-ups of this, and possibly other, UFO events. I’d say it’s second only to the Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Theories in popularity and importance.

Of course there’s no actual evidence that it was a flying saucer or a disk or anything other than a weather balloon that was recovered at the crash site. Naturally the absence of any evidence is, to some thinkers, perfect proof that what they say happened, happened. After all, if the government covered it up, how could there be any evidence?

Because of this lack of evidence, all that we have are memories of a few people. Memories which were doubtless corrupted by time, wishful thinking, an eagerness to please, fame and money. This is part of why eyewitness accounts of events are not always reliable; everyone sees things differently. I’m not saying anyone is actually deliberately lying about what they witnessed, I’m just saying that they might not be providing an accurate picture of what actually happened.

The media is completely complicit in this whole thing, of course. If they didn’t talk about it so much, we wouldn’t know about it, at least not the extent that we do. If the mainstream media did their job (ie: “There is no evidence at all of any alien craft or bodies or of any sort of government cover-up of these events” instead of doing their usual wink, nod, spreading their hands, grinning inanely and saying, “Well, no one knows for sure!”), this whole thing wouldn’t have reached the point it’s at now.

Here’s a great example. Check out this video from CNN. Now at one point Miles O’Brien (and I love the fact that at one point O’Brien was hosting a news show with someone named Kira), says, “Are we ever gonna know what really happened?” Well, of course we are. We do. A weather balloon crashed. That’s what all the evidence points to. No evidence points to an alien spacecraft.

Consider also an interview with an old woman in that video. The incident happened when she was twelve. In 1947. Sixty-one years ago! Surely it’s entirely possible that after all that time, with her being told by various people that, oooo, it must’ve been a UFO, she might’ve started thinking, well, maybe, and her imagination began to fill in the blanks. Speaking just for myself I’d have a tough time recalling the details of a warm August night in 1986 when I first had sex. I can recall that it happened, but it was twenty-two years ago. My recollection of the fine details is hazy at best and I’m sure much of what I remember isn’t quite how it happened. That’s a little more than a third of the time this woman is talking about. I’m sure that in 2047 (ooooh! 100 years after Roswell! Coincidence? I THINK SO!), my memories of something that happened in 1986 will be even hazzier than they are now.

Please note: I’m not saying she’s lying. I think she really believes what she’s saying. That doesn’t make it true and it’s a great example of why eyewitness evidence is not the best.

Of course it’s not too late to correct this nonsense. All the media has to do is stop covering Roswell. Just do that until there’s some real, verifiable, hard evidence of anything other than the official government story of what happened that night. Until then, they should be responsible and do their jobs and ignore this idiocy.

As for the conspiracy theorists, you guys need to get a life. There’s no proof of what you say (not that that stops you). If you have proof, please come forward. But you don’t. Instead you come forward with the usual collection of innuendo and half-baked theories that aren’t supported by any evidence.

Also remember this folks: yes, there’s probably aliens out there. I’ve written about that before. But they probably aren’t coming here to observe us. Why would they? What makes us that interesting?

And no, the government isn’t covering up alien contact. Again, why would they? What does it gain them? You can make the usual noises about “national panic” but I think after 9/11 we can all say the public isn’t quite as panic-prone as we might think. On that day there were some uncomfortable moments and bad choices by some members of the public (like my sister who pulled her kids out of school and her money out of the bank), but most people kept their heads and watched the news.

I know this conspiracy theory won’t go away. It makes too much money for the people involved. I also know the media won’t stop covering it. It makes too much money for them. But is it too much for me to want to hold everyone to a higher standard?

Oh, well. I’m sure anyone from the conspiracy crowd will simply say that I’m delusional or in the pocket of the government. If that’s the case, damn it, I want a paycheck! :)

Mass-Media Nonsense – Past is Not Prologue

Do the elections in the past matter today?

Do the elections in the past matter today?

CNN has been saying, about twice an hour, that Ohio, one of the major toss-up states, has voted for the winner in the last eleven Presidential elections. I saw them once saying something similar about Missouri.

Interesting fact: It doesn’t matter.

See, just because a particular state has picked the winner in the last few elections, or because the stock market has done something particular, or because the Washington Redskins either won or loss, or because the groundhog saw his shadow, none of this matters! It’s mildly cute and very slightly interesting, but it doesn’t make any real difference.

What matters, and what makes a difference, is how many votes are cast for each particular candidate. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that Ohio has “picked the winner” in the last eleven elections. If they go for McCain in this election, but basically any other toss-up state goes for Obama, he wins. Hell, all the toss-up states except North Carolina could go for McCain and under current polling Obama would still wind up winning!

So when you hear the media going off on something like this, just ignore it. It’s trite and silly and a distraction, and whatever you do, don’t let it influence you in the voting booth!


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