Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

WKRP In Cincinnati

May 30, 2009 Comments off

While I’m recovering from surgery, a kindly neighbor loaned me a DVD set of the first season of WKRP In Cincinnati, the 1970’s era MTM sitcom about a little AM rock radio station.  I remember loving the show when it was broadcast, and it’s a real pleasure to revisit.

One episode makes for 25 minutes on the treadmill, which is just about right because I wear out very easily.  A session now is 25 minutes at 1.4 mph, instead of 50 minutes at 3.6 mph.  I’m also doing 5-minute sessions every hour, so it still adds up to about an hour per day, only slower.  Much, much slower.

Anyway, my neighbor described the episodes as “dated” but on watching them again I can see why that show won so many awards.  It doesn’t try to dazzle the viewer with cleverness – they’re just small human stories, often very touching.  Each episode is like a little stage play, in fact.  A few end with hilarious zingers (“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”) but many episodes end with a moment of wry introspection and no dialog.

I’m also realizing how much I enjoyed listening to the radio back in the ‘70’s.  For those who don’t remember, it wasn’t dominated by syndicated conservative blowhards or self-help phonies. There were actual disk jockeys, who played records, cracked jokes, and took requests. That’s an actual human person who kept a microphone live whenever there wasn’t an ad running or a record playing.  They’d even bring in local musicians to talk and jam. The news was often local and immediate, too.  I guess those days are gone forever.

Categories: Media, Reviews

I think I might have Web 2.0 disease

March 30, 2008 1 comment

It’s finally happened.  I was sitting at the table, reading the dead-trees edition of Chicago Tribune, and when I got to the end of a particularly interesting article, I paused.  I felt a vague unease; something was missing, but what?

Oh yeah… there was no place to click to leave a comment. Man, newspapers are so screwed. 

Update: see Coturnix’ post on Generation is a mindset, not age.  Like I been sayin’!

Categories: Media, Reviews

Everybody sign up as “PZ Myers”

March 23, 2008 2 comments

It’s no secret I’m not exactly a charter member of the PZ Myers Fan Club.  But even I have to give him props for this: he signed up to go see a special screening of Ben Stein’s steaming pile of creationist propaganda1, Expelled, and before he could take a seat, they tossed him out!  Pretty funny since he appears in the movie, and the whiny theme of the movie is that “it’s just not faaaair” how creationism in its current guise is tossed out from biology classes.

The Expelled producers have been trying to spin this as tossing a gate crasher, but Myers wasn’t making trouble2 and he signed up to see the movie the same as everyone else there.  And they let in everyone else who came with him, including none other than mister “God Delusion” himself, Richard Dawkins…

That’s right, they let in Myers’ family (including his daughter Skatje, who reviewed the movie) and Richard Dawkins.  Who also appears in the movie so they couldn’t use the excuse that they didn’t know what he looks like.  Here’s a little hint, fellas; if you want to keep famous atheists out of your movie, don’t put them in your movie. 


  1. One might complain that I have not seen the movie and cannot make this statement, but it does contain relentless scene interleaves between Darwin and modern evolutionary biologists and Hitler, WWII, and concentration camps.  That is, to put it in the mildest possible terms, not a scientific argument.

  2. Although Myers can be an absolutely perfect sh*t on his blog, I’ve never seen a report, anywhere, of him being anything but cordial and gentle in person. And I have heard him in a radio interview with a “creation scientist” where he kept his cool despite considerable provocation.  So the producer’s attempt to say he was ‘making a scene while trying to sneak in’ is simply not credible (to say nothing of not making any sense either).
  3. Read Skatje’s devastating review of Expelled
  4. And Richard Dawkins’ review (not to put too fine a point on it); Lying for Jesus
  5. Of course you knew it would go this way: Matt Nisbet of Framing Science thinks Dawkins & Myers should pipe down and let others be the voice of science for a while.  With the predictable two-word response from Myers.
  6. And if you really want to research the whole thing as a sociological phenomenon, Greg Laden has an updated compilation of the whole kerfluffle.
Categories: Media, Reviews

Giving truthiness to falsity

September 10, 2007 2 comments

Here’s a report that’s unlikely to brighten your day.  On The Media relates a study about how the brain tends to cling to the most-heard piece of information as true, even if the actual quote said it was false.  I bet GOP strategists have known about this for a long time.

Categories: Media, Reviews

I guess I just feel like trashing Marilyn Vos Savant today

July 30, 2007 9 comments

Every Sunday Parade magazine features the putative “world’s smartest person,” Marilyn Vos Savant.  People send in questions and try to stump her, and she answers them, often completely missing the questioner’s point.  She has written a number of books, including one about Fermat’s Last Theorem, which I am assured by an actual mathematician is completely off-base.  Her husband is famous, too; he’s Howard Jarvik, the artificial heart guy who is now shilling for some cholesterol medicine.

Today Ask Marilyn was a special issue, “Questions Too Funny To Answer!”  I suppose the “joke” she is trying to make is that the questioner is such a dumbass that they don’t deserve a real answer.  But many of the questions were quite legitimate.  Here’s a sample, along with my answers:

Suppose we could get all living beings on Earth to face one direction and then begin running.  Would this influence the speed of the Earth’s rotation?
- Waterloo, N.Y.

My answer; Yes.  But because of the tremendous difference between the Earth’s mass and that of the runners, the effect would be almost too small to measure with the most sensitive instruments, and normal rotation speed would resume when everyone stopped running.

Where did all the stars go?  In the ‘50’s the sky was loaded with them.
- St. Petersburg, Fla.

My answer; The stars are still there, but because of light pollution, it’s harder to see them.  Your town’s population of a quarter-million people, and location next to Tampa, ensure you won’t see many stars without going out into the country.  Street lights and advertising lamps that spill most of their light up into the night sky are to blame – and better-designed light fixtures would solve the problem.

Do flies ever get sick?
- Riverside, Calif.

My answer; Yes they do.  In fact, some of the parasites they get have been commercialized as non-chemical pest control. 

I see falling stars nearly every night. They seem to come out of nowhere.  Have stars ever fallen out of any known constellations?
- Batesville, Ark

My answer; Fortunately for us, “falling stars” are not really stars, but little chunks of rock or debris burning up as they enter our atmosphere.  You are fortunate to live in a town of less than 10,000, away from big-city lights, where you can see the night sky.  You might enjoy getting a telescope and doing a little stargazing!

I just observed a flock of geese flying in a “V” formation.  Is that the only letter they know?
- Holbrook, N.Y.

My answer; The ‘V’ formation is actually for aerodynamic efficiency.  The lead goose is breaking the airstream for all those following, and if you observe enough flocks, eventually you’ll see them switch off this harder-working position, an example of “altruistic” cooperative behavior among animals.

When I dream, why don’t I need my glasses to see?
- Peabody, Mass

My answer; If you mean that in your dreams, you aren’t wearing glasses yet you can see perfectly well, then your self-image isn’t that of a glasses-wearing person.  Or, that you’re so used to wearing glasses that you’re just not really aware of them.  Have you tried contacts?

Comment: I think a lot of these were serious questions, and all ‘Marilyn’ did was make fun of the people who asked them.  Savant advertises herself as being in the Guinness Book as “Highest IQ” but her talent for missing the point is even greater.  I guess being really smart doesn’t make you a good listener.  Nor is intelligence even something you can just map out on a linear scale.

Categories: Media, Reviews

TV shows online

April 3, 2007 3 comments

I’ve noticed more people lately watching TV on their computers, and it seems to work OK.  Not sure where I first saw this huge TV show site in the United Kingdom (somebody’ll fess up) but it’s really neato.  I have no idea how it’s legal, but there’s also movies and cartoons and other stuff that I don’t even know what the heck it is.

Great, just what I need, more entertainment.  Who was it who said we Americans were “entertaining ourselves to death”?  (clicks on another show, settles into watch…)

Categories: Media, Reviews

Journalists giving lobbyists’ advice to celebrities

January 4, 2007 Comments off

A celebrity is someone who is pretty much famous for being famous.  Being a celebrity doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.  But strangely, it does mean a lot of people will listen to them as if they knew crap from car wax.

Now the reporters at BBC pass on this thought from Sense About Science, a lobby group* with ties to the Genetically Modified food industry: Stars need to check science facts, along with a few examples.

Even considering the source, it’s a sentiment I agree with.  From RFK Jr’s autism-vaccination connection to that movie actor who was elected president and wound up appointing James Watt to a cabinet position, celebrities are often tempted by popularity to believe they know what they’re talking about.

A hilarious example of empty advocacy can be found in Penn & Teller’s Bullsh*t episode on environmentalism, where people attending a rally are enticed to sign a petition to ban the chemical, “di-hydrogen monoxide” because “it is found in our lakes and streams, and even in mother’s milk!.”

The unfortunate result of dimwit demagoguery is that it undermines the credibility of legitimate causes.  This is apparent in the very same episode of Bullsh*t, where Penn & Teller basically dismiss all environmental concerns because of a few people who just didn’t pay attention in high school science class.

Back to those lazy journalists who basically let lobby groups write their copy for them – go sell shoes or something!  Or failing that, at least study general science books on chemistry, geology, biology and so forth so you have a decent chance of distinguishing Public Relations from science when it lands in your inbox.  In other words, what’s sauce for the celebrity is sauce for the journalist.


* Here’s a clue that SAS is a lobby group:

If you are a commentator, medical charity, journalist, employer, educator, information service, local authority, national body, parliamentarian, health care provider, professional association, community group, NGO, lifestyle writer …or any other civic group in need of help or comment on a difficult or controversial area of science, call Sense About Science

Translation: “If you are too damn lazy to read up on a topic yourself, and would like us to hand you a packaged conclusion you can turn in to your editor so you can go to the pub, give us a call.”

For that matter, when a group has a self-serving label like “Sense” in their name, it’s like “Fair & Balanced” on a news show – you don’t take it very seriously.  It also pays to check out lobby groups by reading about them on the websites of other lobby groups. For instance, the anti-GM lobby group GMWatch has all the dirt on SAS.  Some of it may even be truthful.

By the way, it is true that I often link to BBC stories.  There are various reasons for this.  First, not all of them are derivitive; some are solid and connected to original sources.  Second, you can read them without having to “Register” or subscribe to a print edition.  For example, many good stories in Scientific American or The Economist are for subscribers only.  Also, they’re usually concise and well-written.  And I only link to BBC stories that are factually congruent with a wide range of other sources that I do trust. 

.. except the ones I link just to make fun of, like this one.  :smirk:


Categories: Media, Reviews