Feb 18


In the latest Dork Tower strip, the characters tackle one of the classic stupid questions: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Why do I call it a stupid question? Because it is. Fish, amphibians, and reptiles were laying eggs for millions of years before the first bird appeared on Earth. Obviously, the egg came before the chicken. I don’t understand why anyone thinks this question is remotely challenging.

Okay, actually, I do. Generally, when people treat this as an insoluble conundrum, their unspoken assumption is that “egg” really means “chicken egg”. So eggs laid by fish and reptiles are excluded. I see no reason to limit the question that way, but fine. Even if we accept that interpretation, answering the question is no problem. It becomes a simple matter of definition. Here’s how I would handle it:

SILLY PERSON: Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?
ME: Define “chicken egg.”
SP: An egg that a chicken hatches out of.
ME: Okay, by that definition, the very first chicken hatched from a chicken egg. So the egg came first.
SP: No, wait! A chicken egg is an egg laid by a chicken.
ME: All right, then the chicken came first. Obviously.
SP: But —
ME: I think we’re done here. Why don’t you take this amusing quiz?

Dec 07

Delicious for Chanukah

Author NancyKay Shapiro was shopping in Balducci’s (a grocery store in Greenwich Village) a few days ago when she encountered something odd. It was a display of meat items with signs saying “Delicious for Chanukah.” That’s not unusual this time of year, but the meat items in question were hams.

I know, this sounds like an urban legend. But Shapiro has pictures. And despite what one commenter says, they are not Photoshopped; the Balducci’s website is currently offering an apology for the signs (which have since been changed to “Perfect for the Holidays!”).

UPDATE: As another of Shapiro’s commenters points out, it’s a good thing the sign didn’t say “Delicious for Ramadan”, or there would have been riots.
Source: Don Surber

Sep 07

The last one to know

I shouldn’t read comments on YouTube; I really shouldn’t. I’m not sure why the overwhelming majority of the comments on YouTube videos are posted by subliterate morons, but I have seen enough of them to know that this is the case. I know that reading the comments will just infuriate me, so it would be best for everyone if I just refrained from looking.
But sometimes I forget. In this case, I was watching this new music video, a duet sung by Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson. I foolishly allowed my eyes to stray downward, and found myself reading this:
“I didn’t even know Reba could sing, it sounds amazing with her, the original is great too though.”
You didn’t know. . . that Reba McEntire. . . could sing?
I know she’s done a lot of acting, and perhaps you first encountered her in that context. But still — you didn’t know she could sing?
She’s one of the best-selling country music artists of all time: over 60 million records sold. Her first #1 single was in 1982. She’s recorded 29 albums and earned 72 awards. The Country Music Association named her Female Vocalist of the Year four years in a row. And you didn’t know she could sing?
I know a lot of people don’t listen to country or pay any attention to the careers of country musicians. But Reba is a lot more than just a country singer. She’s a crossover international pop megastar. That acting work of hers that I referred to earlier? It included performing on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun, and at Carnegie Hall in South Pacific: classics of musical theatre.
Yes, Reba McEntire can sing.
Good Lord.

May 13

Zero intelligence

I try to pay attention to news reports about zero-tolerance policies in public schools because that’s an issue that has affected my family directly. By zero-tolerance policies, I’m talking about stuff like this and this: the sort of mindless, inflexible bureaucratic mindset that leads teachers and administrators to suspend and punish students for possessing two Tylenol tablets, or writing a story that mentions guns. In one recent case, a student was suspended because he accepted a cell-phone call (during lunch break, not in class) from his mother, who is a soldier stationed in Iraq. I say that this issue has affected my family because both of my children have been penalized for “offenses” of this sort; my son was even sentenced to perform community service as a result.
This insanity is even happening at schools where I was a student. I attended Rawlinson Road Middle School for two years, and my mother taught there for twenty years. Last week, an eleven-year-old student at RRMS was arrested and and charged with “carrying an unlawful weapon” because he had some nails in his pocket (left over from a Boy Scout activity, according to the boy’s father).
I think I am glad that my daughter has already graduated from high school, and that my son will do so in two years. When both of my offspring are out of the public school system for good, I will breathe a sigh of relief.

Mar 30

No rocket scientists here

Look at the comments on this blog post at the FuturePundit site. Have you ever seen so many clueless people in one place? It’s sad enough that they can’t tell the difference between a site that publishes an article about human egg donation and a site that’s actually soliciting human egg donors. And, considering that the main criterion for egg donors is intelligence, it’s rather pathetic that most of these would-be donors can’t even spell “donor” correctly.
My favorite of all these comments is the one from Ricardo Hernandez, who writes, “I’m interested in becoming an egg donor. I dont have a college degree but It doesnt mean that I am not smart.” That’s true, Ricardo, but here’s what does mean you are not smart: you believe you have eggs to donate. Sorry, dude, but being male disqualifies you regardless of your (alleged) intelligence.

Aug 15

Look it up!

I just sent the following e-mail to National Public Radio:

Subject: Error in today’s story “A Brief History of New York Blackouts”

In his report on the New York blackouts of 1965 and 1977, John Nielsen stated that “in 1977, the war in Vietnam was on the nightly news.” Actually, the war ended in 1975. I’m sure Nielsen is right that the social changes wrought by Vietnam were a factor in the breakdown of order during the ’77 blackout — but that’s no excuse for getting basic historical facts wrong.

This may seem like nitpicking, but it isn’t. Journalists are supposed to verify their information before they go to press with it. It took me all of ten seconds to find out when the Vietnam War ended. Nielsen could have done the same thing, but he didn’t bother. And the editors and fact-checkers at NPR didn’t notice the error, either.
If Nielsen and NPR aren’t willing to do simple, easy research like this, how can we trust them with real investigative journalism?

Nov 03

Worry lines

Thanks to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, I finally understand why no one has hired me yet. It’s those darn wrinkles on my forehead. I’ve stupidly neglected to have botulinum toxin injected into my face!
Of course, I’ll still have to do something about the gray in my beard. And my pattern baldness. And the fact that I have sixteen years of experience in my field. Hey, wait a minute, isn’t that a good thing? Why would I want to work for someone who values youth over experience? I think I’ll leave my face the way it is.

Oct 03

Not just a river in Egypt

Perry de Havilland took this picture of the main entrance of Britain’s foremost cancer hospital. In the picture you can see an employee of the hospital standing on the steps and smoking a cigarette.
Like Perry, I find this image amazing. There are several possible conclusions that one might draw from looking at it:

  • Nicotine is so incredibly addictive that smokers simply cannot quit, even when they know that the habit is terribly dangerous. (But people do quit every day; I’ve even known a few people who did it.)
  • Some people are just really, really stupid. (But would they be able to find work at a hospital? Maybe.)
  • Denial — the human ability to ignore the obvious, or believe that it doesn’t apply to us personally — is more powerful that we realize. (I find this one most plausible.)

A picture like this is a sort of moral/political Rorschach test. Some people will undoubtedly look at it and see an innocent victim of the evil tobacco companies — seduced into chemical bondage by their advertising, and powerless to escape from their clutches. I look at it and see a person who has made (and continues to make) a choice that I personally consider foolish. But it’s his choice to make. As Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle pointed out in Oath of Fealty, this is evolution in action.

Sep 10

Not worth a thousand words

My opinion of the news media was not very positive prior to last year’s terrorist attack, and it hasn’t improved in the months since then. One of the reasons is the consistently arrogant and condescending tone that journalists adopt when addressing their audience. Their attitude seems to be that we are ignorant and simpleminded children, and that journalists, who are the only ones who know The Truth, have to spoon-feed us information, using pretty pictures and words of one syllable.
For an example of what I mean, look at this article on the CNN website. The actual text of the article is fine, but the pictures are insulting. The article has a total of three illustrations, not one of which conveys any meaningful information. Yet someone at CNN believed that these works of art would somehow help us comprehend the article, or they would not have spent time creating them.
There was a time when news articles were accompanied by illustrations that were directly related to the topic at hand. Photographs of the actual subject of the article were best, but artists’ renderings of the subject, if they were skillfully done and didn’t take liberties with the truth, were also good. And graphs that interpreted statistical data or illustrated trends were helpful as well. But somewhere along the line, it became customary to include pictures with every article, whether they were actually helpful or not — and if no relevant or useful illustrations were available, then artists would create something eye-catching, even if made no actual sense.
Such as a photograph of a computer screen entirely filled with zeros and ones. If you had never seen a real computer before, you might find that sort of thing plausible. But this is 2002, and we all use computers every day. We know that they don’t display screens full of zeros and ones, because that would be useless. So what is the point of the picture? Does CNN really think we’re that ignorant and naive?
Apparently so.

Nov 15

Media drivel addendum

Retail sales shot up 7.1% in October. Yeah, American consumers are definitely cowering in their basements, all right.
A closer examination shows even more evidence that we’re not the Nation Paralyzed By Fear that the journalists would have us believe. Sales of automobiles and parts skyrocketed by 26.4% in October. That’s the biggest October increase since 1968. And sales of building materials rose 2.8%. A general increase in spending could perhaps be explained away as a fatalistic “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” reaction to terrorism and war. But if people are investing in new cars and home improvements, that means they expect to be around to enjoy them. These sales figures depict a nation that is optimistic about the future.
The article tries to dismiss the increase in auto sales as a response to interest-free financing, and claims that “people told consumer surveys they were miserable, but they were willing to borrow money to pursue a bargain.” But I just don’t believe it. Consumers aren’t that easily manipulated. For evidence of this, look at Japan, where the economy has been stagnant for years and shows no sign of recovering. The Japanese central bank has reduced interest rates all the way to zero, but consumers still refuse to borrow or spend money. They don’t believe things are going to get better any time soon, and prefer to save as much money as possible. This is not happening in America.