Mass-Media Nonsense! – Designer Babies

For the record, I think most babies are butt-ugly.

For the record, I think most babies are butt-ugly.

We’re getting ever-closer to the day when we’ll be able to genetically modify babies in the womb to produce children who are, basically, better. They’ll likely be smarter, and far healthier. Hopefully they’ll live longer lives, and be free of many of the problems that have plagued humanity for generations. I see no problem here, especially because I hold out hope for genetic engineering for those of us already alive that will accomplish much the same thing.

But some people out there get afraid of this sort of notion. They talk about how this will mean that people will only have blond-haired, blue-eyed, baby boys, and that worse, only the rich will be able to afford these services, leaving the rest of us out in the cold.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I were to be having a kid and could pick things like their sex, their hair and eye color, their intelligence levels, etc…eh, I might. A bit. I’d want to get rid of the pattern baldness that lingers in my family’s DNA, and certainly boosting the kid’s intellect would be a good idea. But I wouldn’t really care about hair color, eye color or gender, and I’m willing to bet most other people wouldn’t really, either. But even if they do, so what? If most people make their kids blond-haired and blue-eyed, then eventually the people who aren’t those things will be the exotic minority. So not much to worry about here.

But what about the idea that the rich will be the only ones who can afford this service? I can’t think of a single service out there that exists only and solely for the rich and doesn’t have an equivalent that’s affordable by pretty much all income levels. The rich, for example, have iPads. But so do the middle class and a lot of the poor. The really poor who want something like an iPad, but can’t afford that, get something from Coby that does the same basic job. Same with cars. For every Bugatti and Bentley out there, you’ve got hundreds of Buicks and…other cars that begin with B.

The thing about companies is that they exist to make money. I can guarantee you that within five years of rich people getting access to high-level, in-utero genetic engineering, the rest of us will also have access to it. It might not be as quick, as efficient, or as good, but it will exist, and I’m willing to bet that even the poor people of the future will live better, longer, healthier lives and be smarter than the rest of us. I suppose that in theory, the rich could get Congress to pass laws mandating that only they have access to this technology, but…why? What would be the point of that? And, again, companies exist to make money. It is in their interest to sell to as many people as possible.

So really, there just isn’t much to worry about here. Monolithic baby-appearances is a problem that will take care of itself, and the free market will ensure that genetic engineering becomes a reality for pretty much all income levels.


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! – 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?