Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So Help Me God

California atheist Michael Newdow (famous for suing to take the God reference out of the Pledge of Allegiance) has joined with a gang of fellow atheists, The American Humanist Association, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and other atheist groups to sue Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts as well as several other government officials responsible for sponsoring the upcoming presidential inauguration to bar them from bringing up God during the ceremony. The inaugural oath of office is laid out in the U.S. Constitution, but since we have this pesky thing called the separation of church and state, there's no reference to God in it. Only since 1933 has the phrase "so help me God" been added to the oath, but it's still not officially sanctioned. This lawsuit specifically seeks to ban Chief Justice Roberts from adding the phrase himself, since that would constitute a state endorsement of religion. But, of course, Obama will be free to name check the Lord if he so chooses. In other words, Obama will most likely say the thing anyway, so this lawsuit is really a waste of time and money. A more worthwhile effort might be spent toward explaining just what the hell "so help me God" is supposed to mean. Is it a plea for God's help in fulfilling your oath? In which case, is upholding the Constitution really so hard as to require help from the Almighty? More details here.

Sir Terry Pratchett

This is outside our normal realm of coverage, but it's a fair bet that many of you are fans of British fantasy humorist Terry Pratchett. And if you aren't, you should be. Unlike most other seemingly endless series of fantasy novels, his Discworld books are consistently funny, thoughtful, and well worthy of your time. Sadly, Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's not long ago, so his writing days are rapidly coming to a close. Which is why it's especially pleasing to note that his country has honored him with a knighthood for services to literature. This, of course, means that if Pratchett rides into your town wearing a suit of armor and demanding first dibs on your new wife's poon, you must step aside by law or face a horrible, horrible punishment. Serves you right. More details here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fat, Stupid Kids

We all know American kids aren't as bright as some others. In the subjects of math and science, our elementary and middle school students fall in the middle of the scores for other developed countries. And though our math scores have seen a slight improvement in recent years, science knowledge has fallen even further behind. And speaking of behinds, you probably also know from the waist-down b-roll of thunderous bottoms paraded regularly across the nightly news that our kids are a little tubby. Since 1980, the percentage of pleasantly plump children has tripled. And according to Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, there's a link between the two. Programs like No Child Left Behind that are intended to prioritize academics over ancillary subjects like art and P.E. don't seem to be working. In part because of NCLB, only 6% of American high schools have a daily gym class, despite the fact that all that extra time in the classroom isn't improving test scores. (By the way, I would have killed to get out of daily gym class. There's only so many times I can kick a red rubber ball and run around bases before I start to question the whole purpose of this thing called life.) In fact, well-exercised kids have elevated levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine--effectively giving them a double dose of Ritalin and Prozac to help calm them down and maintain focus. Still, it's probably best to not wait on the government to force P.E. back into the schools. Instead, I have a proposal for all high school students: before you take a test, put down your pencil, fold up your cheat sheet, and play a game of dodge ball. Sure, it's a little distracting, but if you end up in the hospital, you have until the end of the year to finish your makeup. It's the law. I'm pretty sure. More details here.

Space Science

And you thought satellite photography was only good for peering into your beautiful neighbor's bedroom window. (I love you, Mrs. Walsworth.) Using high-res images taken from space, archaeologists are now able to scour every nook and cranny of the earth looking for ruins to excavate and Nazis to kill with their bullwhips. Sarah Palcak, who archaeologizes for the University of Alabama, says that the overwhelming new satellite-aided discoveries in Egypt alone suggest that we've only uncovered about 1/100th of one percent of all the archaeological sites there. That's just insane. Who knows what ancient wonders await us? Maybe one day we'll finally dig up the ancient hall of records left by the advanced alien species who came to our planet in days of yore, taught the Egyptians how to use simple tools, and vanished into the night sky. Either that or a shitload of pottery. More details here.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Apparently, Dick Cheney has no idea why he's so unpopular.


I mean...

All right then.

Abstinence, Schmabstinence

Like every single similar study done before, a new study of federal survey data has shown that teens who take abstinence pledges are not any less likely to have sex before marriage than those who don't. They are, however, ten points more likely to engage in premarital sex without using condoms or other birth control methods. In other words, they're still doing it and doing it and doing it, but they aren't necessarily doing it well. I don't want to read too much into this study, but it's probably a safe bet to assume that anyone you meet in college who's still wearing one of those ridiculous virgin rings is probably riddled with STDs and/or owns a human child, which is really the worst kind of STD. Unlike previous studies involving abstinence-only "education", this one compared survey results from teens who took abstinence pledges with those who didn't take the pledges but still professed to have the same opinion that sex before marriage is wrong. So even among like-minded teens, there's no evidence that abstinence programs have any effect. This is probably good to know, since the federal government currently spends nearly $200 million a year funding these useless programs. Who knew stupid rings were so expensive? More details here.

Not so Superheroes

Is there a schlubby manual laborer with a minimal amount of martial arts training and a spray-painted unitard protecting the mean streets of your neighborhood at night? If the current trend of costumed vigilantism continues, it's only a matter of time. Cities all across the U.S. are currently nestled under the watchful eyes of homemade superheroes who wander around after dark looking for muggers or people having trouble getting their cars started. Oh, and they wear spandex. Phoenix, Arizona has the Green Scorpion. New York has Terrifica. Indianapolis has Mr. Silent (pictured here with his partner, Doktor Discord). And all of these people have delusions of grandeur. The biggest blow to a real-life superhero has to be the depressing lack of real-life supervillains knocking over banks and plotting to blow up the moon. Many of these heroes report being too intimidated to confront armed criminals, some arrive at the scene of a crime only to find the cops already there, and even more just wander around all night looking bored behind their spirit gummed masks. Law enforcement officials seem bemused by the whole idea, though they also point out that the notorious Crips and Bloods gangs started as community vigilante groups. So, forming your own ragtag Justice League may have unforseen consequences. After all, who watches the watchmen? Anyway, the Times Online article on homemade heroes is a gem, if only for the gun nut commentator who recommends our would-be protectors register to legally carry concealed firearms. Apparently he doesn't realize that a true hero scoffs at the lethal use of force. Also, there's nowhere to keep a Glock in a pair of tights. Read the whole article here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pink Raygun Roundup

It's been a long time since I rounded up everything we've been discussing over at PinkRaygun.com, your one-stop shop for everything geeky and girly (vagina ownership not required). In the past weeks, I've punctured orgone energy, debased dowsing, criticized Christmas, analyzed the apocalypse, discussed what I know about What the #!$@ do We Know?, faced off with the face on Mars, explained astral projection, examined dog mouths, pierced positivity, and damned Deepak Chopra.  Not in that order.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Celebrities: Idiots

In its annual report, the British public interest group Sense about Science have run down the top anti-scientific, non-evidence-based statements made by famous people in 2008, and we're presented with the regular offenders.  Chief among them is Oprah, queen of the emotionally confused, who jumped aboard the "natural" "detox" diet craze that's sweeping through everyone too busy to actually research facts.  The nonsensical idea of "chemical free" food is cited as the most popular anti-scientific idea of the year (everything we eat contains some sort of chemical, be it naturally occurring or synthetic, and the synthetic ones are often safer than the others).  But the anti-vaccination crowd gets its fair share of celebrity exposure.  In addition to die-hard nutjobs like professional breast owner Jenny McCarthy, even Barack Obama and Jon McCain engaged in a little campaign trail pandering by suggesting that there might be something to the whole vaccines/autism connection, despite the fact that there's no evidence vaccines cause autism, so there's really no connection.  Actress Amanda Peet is praised for her defense of reason in calling those who refuse to vaccinate their children "parasites", but there's no way her star power will ever eclipse Oprah's.  Oprah commands armies, while Peet was in the new X-Files movie.  What, you didn't see the new X-Files movie?  Neither did America.  More details here.

DIY God Playing

It's amazing what kind of obscure disciplines one can learn simply from reading online forums. I always wanted to learn the advanced takedown techniques of judo, so I just registered for a free membership at JudoYouKnow.org, and last week I dropped Vladimir Putin like a dirty habit. (True story. Sort of.) Now, the free flow of information has birthed a healthy amateur geneticist underground. In their living rooms, using equipment built at home for far less than it can be ordered from a lab, would-be biologists are splicing DNA to create designer bacteria, better yogurt, and anything else they can think of to help humanity and/or look really cool. Critics say the lack of safety measures in a homemade laboratory could result in the creation of a deadly virus or some such, but I think those people are just paranoid. The duct tape that's been covering my windows since 2001 keeps superbugs in just as well as it keeps terrorism out, thank you very much. Plus, I spliced gecko DNA with my cocker spaniel's to create a puppy that I can never find. Although I think he's been walking on the ceiling... Anyway, more details here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coked Up Bees

Looks like our tiny wings and bulbous backsides aren't the only things we have in common with bees. A new report in the Journal of Experimental Biology (you know, biology that swings both ways) shows that when bees are hopped up on cocaine, they demonstrate higher levels of altruistic behavior by dancing like it ain't no thang. Sober bees will waggle dance to tell others where food is located. But when out of their minds on blow, this selfless move busting is amped up. By instigating altruistic behavior, scientists can study the biological origins of selflessness, which has been a little tricky to explain through evolution. The working theory today is that providing for others is evolutionary advantageous because it can ultimately lead to increased personal reward, but by examining the chemistry of inebriated bees, we can start to map the biological framework for this theory. Plus, coked up dancing bees are really fun to watch. Until they start to come down, in which case they turn into clingy, annoying burdens that will beg you to borrow, like, five bucks for breakfast. I'm assuming. More details here.

Shuttle for Sale

It's too late for Christmas delivery, but you could always go the douchebag route and wrap up a nice IOU picture of the space shuttle to put under the tree. After NASA finally retires the aging space shuttle program in 2010, the three unexploded orbiters will be up for grabs. Hold your hairpiece, Donald Trump. In order to be considered as a buyer, you have to be some sort of educational institution that can display the shuttle indoors under climate-controlled conditions. Oh, and you have to fork over more than $42 million in transportation costs (they refuse to break the thing down and reassemble it on the spot, so you'll foot the bill for piggybacking it on a jumbo jet). Also, the Smithsonian already called dibs on one. Personally, I'm pretty bummed that they won't come with the main engines. Those will set you back another $4-800,000 or so. Each. $42 million I can manage. My dad didn't steal all that Nazi gold for nothing. But the extra millions might be a little tough to scrape together in these trying economic times. I guess my plan of having my own personal spaceship (The Thunder Road!) will have to be put on hold for a while longer. More details here.

This Story is Sooooo Interesting

Australian researchers have discovered that an inability to understand sarcasm is an effective warning sign of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, in people under 65. FTD affects a person's ability to infer meaning non-literally. Consequently, it's impossible for a patient with FTD to pick up on his caregiver's mood without being told directly, and these patients can come across as unempathetic. Since understanding sarcasm requires a person to pick up on an inferred meaning that's the opposite of the literal meaning of the words being said, FTD patients can't pick up on it. Since most humor depends on double meanings and abstract thinking, people with FTD can't detect that either. In short, anyone who watches and enjoys MADtv most likley has FTD. More details here.

Warren Cleans Up

So, hippie liberal atheists and mouth-foaming Christian fundamentalists are both freaking out that Rick Warren of A Purpose Driven Life infamy will be delivering the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. Granted, Warren is a tool who couches old Bible-based nonsense in the shiny, happy exterior of populist, megachurchiness. And Obama's recruitment of him to deliver an unnecessary invocation just reeks of pandering to those people who would otherwise be shocked that our president-to-be won't swear his oathe of office on a stack of Korans. But it seems there might be a silver lining to all this middle of the road ass kissing, as someone has removed a stated ban against gays from Warren's Saddleback Church website. Previously, gays were homo non grata at the gigantic place of worship/shopping center. Is the good pastor now taking orders from the gay-friendly Obama administration? Or is Rev. Warren simply growing the section of the brain that allows for rational thinking? Only time (or an MRI) will tell... More details here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rom Com Dumb

A study out of Heriot Watt University (safety school!) in Edinburgh has determined that people who consider themselves fans of romantic comedies have unrealistic and potentially harmful views about relationships. Test subjects exposed to heartwarmingly hilarious films such as Runaway Bride, You've Got Mail, Maid in Manhattan, The Wedding Planner, Notting Hill (fun fact: Bob Teague, co-host of our very own Amateur Scientist Podcast, loves Notting Hill because he has a vagina), and just about anything starring Kate Hudson are much more likely to believe that communication shouldn't be necessary with the person you're "meant for" and that true romances have more to do with fate and destiny than getting a job, cutting that ridiculous bald man's ponytail, and learning to wash a dish from time to time. Personally, I blame Love Story for everything. Love doesn't, in fact, mean never having to say you're sorry. That's called being a sociopath. During the experiment, 100 volunteers were asked to watch the John Cusack schlock fest Serendipity, while another 100 watched a David Lynch movie. When surveyed, the former group had a stronger belief in predestined love, while the latter group were more open to the idea that setting up a video camera to record fourteen hours of Laura Dern melting crayons in a microwave could somehow be considered art. More details here.

Gay Teen Sex

Hear that gentle swooshing sound? It's all the advertiser cash that's surely flowing into our coffers after the hit magnet that is this story's headline. But this isn't a porn site. (Sorry.) This is a site for information, and the information is this: A new study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality suggests that teenagers who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual are at a higher risk of becoming pregnant or knocking someone up than their straight peers. Obviously, this sounds a little bit odd, since the only way I'm aware of to get pregnant through homosexual sex is to somehow involve David Crosby's sperm in your bedroom antics. But it turns out that gay teens don't exclusively have same-sex partners for a variety of reasons that are obvious to anyone who's ever been called a "faggot" in school. (Yes, I'm talking about myself. I'm not gay, but I did carry around a Trapper Keeper with a picture of Full House-era John Stamos on it. I found it in the bargain bin. And I kissed it, like, once.) Discrimination, harassment, embarrassment, and confusion could all drive homosexual teens to having more sex partners and less safe sex than their peers. An interesting and encouraging fact in this study is that, overall, teens seem to be having safer sex now than ever before. Teen pregnancy rates are on the decline. Though I'm not sure if these statistics only apply to Canada, where sex education involves something other than giving kids tacky rings to remind them not to touch each other's genitals lest Satan fork their souls. More details here.

Mekong Melting Pot

With so many stories about various plant and animal species going extinct because of human development and global warming, it's nice to hear that the war-ravaged Mekong delta region of southeast Asia has been a treasure trove of new biological discoveries in just the last few years. According to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund, over 1,000 new species have been discovered there in the last decade, including 519 plants, 279 fish, 88 frogs, 88 spiders, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 15 mammals, four birds, four turtles, two salamanders, one toad, and a bloated, confused ex-action hero who answers only to "Rambo" and can solve any problem in Burma by dislocating your head from its insides. Of course, with any batch of new species, there's bound to be another of nature's terrifying horrors, and the Mekong discoveries are no different. Take the Dragon Millipede, for example. It's hot pink and produces cyanide poison, which means it's both deadly and totally stuck in the Miami Vice era of '80s cool. More details here.

All Apologies

Pope Benedict XVI (a.k.a. Joey Ratz) is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of the telescope, despite the fact that the Catholic Church condemned the astronomer for agreeing with Nicholas Copernicus that the Earth isn't the center of the universe. To be fair, Ratzo isn't the first pope to offer and olive branch to science and reason. Pope John Paul II officially apologized for the church's treatment of Galileo in 1992. I know that seems pretty recent for an admission of irrefutable fact, but keep in mind that in 1992, the U.S. dollar was still worth something. See? Now it seems like forever ago. The Rat Man went on to explain that scientific discoveries in general and astronomy in particular offer more opportunities to marvel at the wonders of God's infinite creation. Now if only God would answer my prayers and tell me why He created dark energy and just what the hell that stuff is. Maybe He can't hear me from His home in the gaps of scientific knowledge? More details here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama Elected President For Real This Time

Well folks, it's official: As of Monday, December 15th at 3pm, Barack Tiberius Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States. That was when the 538 electors in our state capitals cast their votes for president, thus deciding the race. What's that? You thought the people decided it back in November? Well, that's only half the story. See, back in 1804 the nation was very young, having just won our independence from the tyrant King George of England. We were a willful, proud new nation. Unfortunately, we were also full of ignorant, illiterate drunks who might accidentally elect King George as president, given the opportunity. So the founding fathers set up what we know as the Electoral College. Basically the people get to vote for whomever they want, and assuming they didn't make a terrible mistake, the electors repeat the vote a month later, then Congress still has to confirm that vote again in early January. Now isn't that much simpler than having a real democracy? But I know what you're thinking: what if the electors are part of the Illuminati and put one of their own in power? The Amero! Building 7! Be still, my conspiracy nuts, be still. Generally this doesn't happen. In fact, in many states it's illegal for an elector to cast any other vote than the one the public decided. However, on 85 occasions in the past, electors have changed their votes just for shits and giggles. Read more about why your vote only kind of matters here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ghost Cop

A burglar in Malaysia who decided to rob a house while its owners were out of town on vacation claims his getaway was held up for three days by a ghost that took him prisoner. When the house’s owners returned home with their digital cameras full and their heads adorned with Mickey Mouse ears (I’m assuming), they found 36-year-old thief dehydrated and hungry and called an ambulance to take him to the hospital. The burglar says that every time he tried to leave the house, a supernatural entity would push him to the floor. Apparently, the ghost also deprived its captive of food and water, which can mean only one thing. Dick Cheney has gone noncorporeal. More details here.


A new study out of the University of Wisconsin suggests that the stronger a person’s religious beliefs, the less likely he is to approve of nanotechnology. Researchers looked at survey results from several countries in Europe and North America and found a correlation between what they termed the countries’ “religiosity” and the general acceptance of nanotechnology. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like religion and nanotech have anything to do with each other aside from the tendency of the highly religious to shun anything having to do with science. But one of the scientists involved in the study brought up the fact that religious people may have a problem with the application of nanotechnology in creating artificial life. After all, no one should be creating artificial life but God in his sky laboratory. But another interpretation is that more religious cultures simply don’t have a firm understanding of what nanotechnology is, since the surveys also showed a lack of religious support for genetically modified food, nuclear power, and other technologies. Maybe these people think all nanotech involves Dennis Quaid piloting a tiny submarine through their veins. In which case, how could anyone be against that? More details here.

Loony Wine

I’m not much of a wine connoisseur myself. I’m pretty sure the stuff with a screw cap isn’t the best, but I’ll drink it anyway. And even then, I’d probably prefer something with NutraSweet. But for those in the know (snobs, I suppose), so-called “biodynamic” wine is all the rage. But as an excellent San Francisco Weekly article points out, many biodynamic wine makers aren’t too willing to tell anyone what “biodynamic” even means. Probably because it’s a marketing tool that tries to ride the organic food wave but really means that grapes are grown using methods not too dissimilar from crazy voodoo. What kind of voodoo, you ask? How about stuffing a cow’s skull with oak bark and throwing it in with the compost used to fertilize the vines. Yeah, it’s weird. Read all about it here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Dream Machine

While it may sound like a cool idea to be able to replay your dreams on a monitor, just try and remember the most hideous person/thing you've ever had sexual relations with in the dream world, and consider whether you'd want to relive that again. Regardless, Japanese scientists are making baby steps toward what they hope will be technology to allow the visual imaging of dreams. To that end, they've been able to scan the brains of people in a REM sleep state and pinpoint which signals are being caused by a dream. The data is really just an abstract image right now, but it could possibly be interpreted visually in the future. Previously, test subjects were shown the letters of the word "neuron", and the corresponding brain signals were successfully interpreted to spell the word on a screen. In the same way, the signals coming from your dreaming brain could be translated into an action-packed nightly sitcom where you play a private eye who shoots people with banana peels and somehow Ringo Starr is there. But it all seems normal to you. And you're naked. More details here.

AWOL Acorns

Once again, a major news organization brings us a story about how scientists are baffled. "Scientists baffled by..." "...baffles scientist." "World famous scientist: 'I'm baffled." How come headlines always have these phrases and never something like "Scientists pretty sure they know what causes..."? Is the world that desperate to think of scientists as the same kind of bumbling goons everyone else is? Anyway, CNN.com says that scientists are currently baffled over an apparent shortage of acorns along the eastern seaboard. Normally, autumn leaves fall from the oak trees, and the ground becomes littered with crunchy acorns, but there are areas in several northeastern states that reportedly have no acorn coverage at all. The lack of crackly acorn shells might be a boon to stealthy games of outdoor hide and seek, but it's worrying some people that the nation's squirrels will starve to death this winter. But what CNN goes on to tell us that these baffled scientists really aren't baffled at all. Last year saw a bumper crop of acorns, so it's not unusual that this year's supply would be noticeably less. Of course, that doesn't do much to help starving squirrels, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing to worry about there either. Like the rest of us, the squirrels are probably hoarding their food supplies for the coming economic apocalypse. In fact, there may not even be an acorn shortage at all. I'm willing to bet some bushy-tailed robber barons have set up underground warehouses full of them. Someone has to profit from desperation. More details here.

Che Chic

For years now his stenciled face has adorned the unwashed chests of America's undergraduate hipsters and hypocritically filthy rich rap/metal bands. But many of those who would hold up the hirsute communist revolutionary Che Guevara as an object of praise probably have no idea that in addition to being a charismatic populist, Guevara was also a brutal, artless murderer. Instead of heading down to the multiplex to watch Keanu Reeves act even more alien than normal tonight, why not check out this short film from reason.tv on the cult of Che? It's cheaper than a movie ticket, and you can BYOB.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Smart Sperm

British scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry have published a study that found intelligent men have a better sperm count than dolts. This might explain why I impregnated so many of my graduate committee chairs... Anyway, they looked at the intelligence tests of Vietnam War vets and compared those to measures of the numbers, concentration, and robustness of their sperm. Previously, it was thought that any relation between intelligence and sperm count had to do with the fact that more intelligent men are less likely to engage in sperm count lowering practices like smoking and sitting naked on hot stoves. But this research suggests that a small genetic mutation that affects something like intelligence could also affect seemingly unrelated traits as well. But while the link between brain power and spunk power was statistically significant, lead researcher Dr. Rosalind Arden was quick to point out that the margin is still very small. "This does not mean that men who prefer Play-Doh to Plato always have poor sperm," she said. I sure hope not, because Play-Doh is one of my favorite snacks. More details here.

More African Idiocy

Self-proclaimed bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya of southeast Nigeria has been arrested for the murders of several children he claimed were possessed by the spirits of witches. While superstitions about witchcraft and black magic have always run rampant in many parts of Africa, the idea that children can somehow fall prey to the dark arts is relatively new. It creates an easy scapegoat for all the troubles that might befall a family struggling to survive. After all, a kid can't defend herself against the allegations, and children are pretty easy to catch and kill. But while confessing to killing hundreds of the "witches inside" children, Ulup-Aya denies that he actually exorcised the life from these kids. An investigation is ongoing. But Ulup-Aya's line of work seems to be growing. Many self-proclaimed holy men are getting into the violent exorcism act. Basically, they walk up to a household, blame all the family's problems on the innocent child, and subtract some money for their "exorcism" services. Kind of like those door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen except with child murder. More details here.

Do the Bartman

Australian Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams is an idiot. Hot on the heels of another case involving the censorship of under-aged cartoon characters getting it on, Justice Adams has decided to uphold the child pornography conviction against a man caught possessing images of characters from The Simpsons having sex. Look, no one's arguing that looking at drawings of a naked Bart and Lisa is in good taste, but it has absolutely nothing to do with child pornography. These aren't children. They're cartoon characters. They aren't even people. They're cartoon characters. Adams acknowledged as much in his ruling. Sort of. He admitted that Bart and Lisa aren't real, have hands with four fingers, and are drawn with faces that are porportionally impossible. But, he added, just because they aren't depicted as realistic human beings doesn't mean they aren't people. Take a moment to let that sink in. The convicted man (I won't reprint his name, since he doesn't deserve the attention) will not be sentenced as harshly as someone who possessed actual child pornography. But he will have to pay $3,000 in fines and enter into a two-year good behavior bond. So, probation. Gotta make sure he doesn't download any hot pics of Pebbles or Bam Bam. Jesus Christ. More details here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama American Born

It’s only a matter of time before the “Barack Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen” conspiracy theories create their own version of the Loose Change 9/11 Truther video. But instead of so many mind-numbingly superfluous shots of buildings on fire, this one will feature about four hundred too many Ken Burns-esque slow zooms on scans of birth certificates. Far less compelling. Still, the idiocy goes on, even as the Supreme Court has declined to hear the emergency appeal of nutjob Leo Donofrio, who alleges that the president-elect can’t become the leader of this free nation because he was actually born in Great Britain. His reasoning? That Obama’s mother was American and his Kenyan father was a British subject, so Barack can’t be a natural born U.S. citizen. Donofrio doesn’t seem to realize that no matter where your parents’ citizenship lies, you’re automatically a U.S. citizen if you’re born on U.S. soil—in this case, the Sandwich Islands. (I’m boycotting the name “Hawaii” if for no other reason than the fact that “Sandwich Islands” sounds more colonial and, therefore, kitschy.) Donofrio is an equal opportunity ignoramus, though, since he also contends that both John McCain and Socialist Workers presidential candidate Roger Calero lied about their citizenship. But even though Donofrio’s been rebuffed, that hasn’t stopped the other handful of legal challenges to Barack Obama’s presidential rights. Pennsylvanian Philip J. Berg, for instance, is claiming in his lawsuit that Obama was born in Kenya. Or Indonesia. He’s not too sure. More details here. And you can read my PinkRaygun.com column on the question of Obama’s birth here.

Kangaroo Cousin

Scientists in Australia have discovered that the kangaroo genome is remarkably similar to humans’. And here you were thinking it was a slow news day. A report out of the Center of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics (really backing themselves into a corner there, as far as research fields go) compared human DNA to the pouched, pouncing pugilists’ and found “great chunks” of our own genetic codes—in order—within the kangaroo genome. By plugging this information into their Ancestor-o-matics, they calculated that kangaroos and humans last shared a common relative at least 150 million years ago. So I guess it’s safe for us to breed. Also, this genetic similarity might go a long way toward explaining the disturbingly anthropomorphic behavior of Kangaroo Jack, though it doesn’t at all explain why anyone ever put up the money to make Kangaroo Jack. More details here.

Poor, Dumb Kids

In what will surely prove to be a totally uncontroversial study, scientists at U.C. Berkeley found that children from poor families tend to have less developed brains than those who are more well off. They hooked a group of nine to ten-year-old children to electroencephalographs. Half of the children were from a lower economic class, and the other half were rich ass bastards. The poor kids demonstrated brain physiology patterns similar to adults with damage in their frontal lobes. They don’t know what could have caused this brain functioning discrepancy, though they theorize that it might have something to do with the stressful and otherwise intellectual stimulus-free lives these children lead. Psychology professor Robert Knight even floats the idea that fewer trips to museums might have something to do with it. Regardless, it’s believed that any brain underdevelopment could be reversed through intensive educational training, though, tragically, such training is too expensive for poor people. (Just kidding. I hope.) Oh, and there’s one more relevant fact here. The sample size for this study was only twenty-six. So it could all be a bunch of bunk. More details here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


If you're anything like me, you would be forgiven for walking out of this summer's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Refrigerators Don't Protect You from a Nuclear Explosion before our beloved archaeologist and his gang of misfits are attacked by an army of computer generated ants. Aside from none of the rest of the movie, it was the highlight of the movie. And, as it turns out, it might have been prophetic. A vicious ant species from the Black Sea region called Lasius neglectus has already taken over many parts of Asia and is now moving north through Europe before it eventually dominates the world. Unlike the similarly horrifying killer bees that were supposed to kill us all somewhere around the last time Ace of Base had a hit single, L. neglectus only seems dangerous to other ant species. And by "dangerous", I mean "deadly". In addition to usurping inferior races, they also breed in much larger numbers. There's really only one solution to this impending menace, and I'm sure you already know what it is. Giant aardvarks. More details here.

Fatties Like Food

There are few more horrible sights than watching people stuff their faces at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Nothing tastes better after several hours of festering under a heat lamp, and it's always sickeningly obvious that many of these people would rather forgo the burden of tongs or serving spoons in favor of a rusty old shovel. But researchers at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab have been doing just this--staking out all-you-can-eat buffets and reporting on the most common habits of the overweight. The goal is to see if certain eating behaviors can lead to obesity, and the results probably won't surprise you if you're not currently reading this while inhaling your fourteenth Hot Pocket of the day. Turns out, fat people prefer to sit at tables over booths. This is most likely an issue of practicality, since booths don't allow to to incrementally back away from the edge of the table as your gut expands. Fat people also prefer to face the buffet while eating. I'm assuming this is simply a strategic measure, as they can determine when the bucket of snow crab legs is about to deplete past their desired fourth helping (which is all the snow crab legs). The obese prefer larger plates to smaller ones, obviously, and they tend to eschew utensils such as chopsticks (which require dexterity) in favor of forks (which can be gripped by any sized paw). Additionally, they more often leave their napkins on the table or tucked into their shirts than in their laps, since their laps are usually hidden to all but the bravest spelunking Sherpas. Oh, and they don't like to chew. The Cornell researchers aren't sure whether these behaviors are the cause or the result of obesity, but they are sure of one thing: people can be disgusting. All the details you care to eat here.

Terms of Service

You've probably read about the recent MySpace suicide case involving a woman named Lori Drew (pictured here looking horrible). The details are pretty grisly. Drew says she believed a teenage girl who lived down the street was spreading rumors about her daughter. So Drew and others set up a fake MySpace account and pretended to be a teenage boy romantically interested in the allegedly rumor-mongering girl. This girl had a history of mental illness, and when the fake MySpace boy insulted and cut off contact with her, she killed herself. Because there's no federal statute against online bullying, an enterprising U.S. attorney in Los Angeles decided to prosecute Drew under anti-hacking laws for violating MySpace's terms of service in creating a fake account. Some of MySpace's servers, it just so happens, are within the L.A. district. This was an unprecedented abuse of anti-hacking laws. There's no arguing against the fact that Lori Drew is a despicable human being who was responsible for a young girl's suicide, but she was no hacker. Millions of Internet users violate terms of service every minute. Try browsing through the TOS the next time you use Google (who hosts this very site, by the way), and you'll see that according to their rules, no one under eighteen is allowed to use their search engine or other services. This is obviously a protective measure, since Google doesn't want to be slapped with a lawsuit every time a curious twelve-year-old looks up "2 Girls 1 Cup". But under the precedent set by the conviction of Lori Drew, any minor who uses Google or Gmail is committing a criminal act subject to up to a year in jail or $100,000 in fines. This is absurd and a clear case of twisting the law to punish someone for being a complete douchebag. And it's another instance where defending freedom unfortunately means sometimes defending the rights of said douchebags. More details here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gays Taking Over, Improving the Place

A Mississippi-based conservative Christian group called the American Family Association (NAMBLA) has released a half-hour documentary called They're Coming to Your Town that chronicles the rise of homosexuals to the city government of tiny Arkansas tourist trap Eureka Springs. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains amongst squealing pigs and a disturbingly sparse selection of modern literature, Eureka Springs has been consumed by the gay agenda and is now a cesspool of sins and villainy, according to the documentary. The evidence laid out includes the institution of a city-sponsored "diversity weekend" and locally recognized unions between same-sex couples. Never mind the fact that the gays have also orchestrated the town's recent booming success. The documentary purports to show how the gays have "maneuvered themselves into positions of power" using "deceitfulness and lies", which, I suppose, is another term for "the democratic process". The AFA claims that the gay-friendly vibe of Eureka Springs has sullied the town's reputation as a Christian retreat known for its famous passion play held every summer near a statue called "the Christ of the Ozarks". What they fail to mention, however, is that this same statue and the play itself were originally set up by cooky reclusive anti-Semite Gerald L.K. Smith, who moved to Eureka Springs to get away from all them Jews. Truly, a proud heritage. More details here.

Gaiman on Speech

I've been to San Diego Comic-Con, and there's a lot about it I don't understand. The Naruto obsession, for instance. And the fact that thousands of people would line up for anything having to do with the weekly crapfest that is and always has been NBC's Heroes. But I do get the throbbing love so many Comic-Con geeks feel for comics writer and novelist Neil Gaiman. He's a walking god in the San Diego Convention Center and for good reason. He's charming, funny, talented, and he can rock a leather coat better than Christopher Eccleston. And he's also a rather eloquent defender of free speech. A manga collector named Chris Handley has been charged with criminal obscenity for owning copies of Japanese comics that depict underage sex, and that has inspired Gaiman to write about the necessity of a free society to defend free speech even when it's icky, horrible, or disturbing. It's a good read, and it even contains the best apology for insane genius Alan Moore's pornographic fairy tale epic Lost Girls that I've ever read. Find it here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Merging with the Kingdom of Yahweh

by Christian Walters

I was hoping to have this space dedicated to a bitchin' interview with John Hodgman, who just came through Atlanta on a book tour. But he decided to get interviewed by Suchita Vadlamani instead, only because she's smoking hot and is also on TV every morning. She almost read his book!

Maybe later.

Instead, I want to warn you all about driving in Australia. Don't do it. The marmite-a-thol they use for fuel attracts sharks, and their spiders are strong enough to steal your hubcaps and smart enough to avoid jury duty. They have mutant cats you can't sneak up on, and cults that disregard traffic laws and have fugly websites.

I would take you on the tour of what this apocalyptic cult says, but it's basically summed up on their timeline. It's nothing you haven't heard anyway (although the red dragon might be new). But this fun bunch of guys* have interpreted scripture to say "you are not subject to the laws of the state of Victoria." So, no drivers licenses, no car registrations, no gun permits, and no steady source of income to pay their fines.

According to some Aussie News Sources, the Kingdom is ignoring traffic laws, making fake tags, and stockpiling weapons. Like it says in the Bible, I guess? The reason so many of us are unsure that Jesus ever existed was because he refused to get a government-issued I.D. and scraped the Mule Identification Number off. The weapons thing is... more of a stretch, but is an old cult favorite, so what the hell?

To continue with their disregard of Parliament, they claim they'll violate the law against booby trapping their license plates with rivets and razor blades. Another entry in the "Are you sure this is okay with God?" pile.

I've never been to Australia, so I can only guess what the net effect on traffic would be down there. If they tried that crap in Atlanta, it would be unimaginable. No one alternating their merges? No one using their turn signals? Ignoring the speed limit? It would be gridlo--... hmmmm.

Okay, so maybe this isn't the scariest cult around for those of us who live in large, poorly designed cities. If you ignore traffic laws in Atlanta, you will be mistaken for a native. Take it to extremes, and you will get capped. (Isn't that just like a cultist? Brings a booby trapped license plate to a gun fight.) But we're talking about Australia.

It took me awhile to look them up, but I found the Australian traffic laws. They are written on the desiccated skin of a dead Tasmanian who came to Canberra wanting to find where "that Hobbit movie" was made, so it took some work. These are the rules the Kingdom of Yahweh are too holy to follow:

1) no more than two dead aborigines strapped to your roof after 10pm except during hunting season

2) spiders larger than 4 meters in diameter have right-of-way at uncontrolled intersections

3) driving without a knife is strictly prohibited (Refer to the Paul Hogan Official Knife Identification Guide for a list of approved weapons)

4) do not ride your alligator on controlled-access roads if your blood-alcohol level is greater than 10.5%

5) a shark on the roof does not count towards your occupancy total for HOV lane access

6) when tracking something, move the animal droppings fully off the road before tasting

I do not know what life in Australia will be like if people cast these rules aside, and I do not want to know. Hell on Earth, and not just because of the vegemite and Fosters and unregulated Yahoo Serious. Yet this is exactly the kind of society in which the Kingdom of Yahweh wishes to live, at least until 2012 when we all die anyway.

After Australian society breaks down, Air Supply will be hunted for their pelts and the aphrodisiac properties of their powdered bones.

So far, the Australian authorities have vowed to persecute the Kingdom of Yahweh lawbreakers just like they would any other violator: strapping an electric eel to their giblets and playing non-stop Midnight Oil videos. (Many objective observers feel this to be overly harsh, at least on the eel.) I hope the Aussies mean it, but those freedom of religion types are always bitching about this kind of thing. Already there are legions of American snake-handlers planning a trip Down Under to show their support, as soon as they can figure out how to drive their El Camino there.

So we here at Totally Overlapping HQ will keep our eyes on this, unless we forget. In the meantime, if you have to drive in Australia, please take recommended precautions: park your car just outside the rental agency, and run screaming down the wrong side of the road.

Happy Holidays!

*I don't have the group's demographic breakdown, but come on. They're mostly guys.

Christian Walters lives, loves, and drives in the Atlanta area. He's a technical writer by training, and a Rock Band Adonis by nature. He has honed his reviewing skills on bad movies, which are as rare as pollen grains these days. He has always been a fan of science, and has studied it as much as he could by flinging a Frisbee around campus while getting a liberal arts degree.

Mormon Backlash

By now, you've probably heard that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. the Mormons, a.k.a. the Osmonds) pumped millions of dollars into the campaign to pass California's Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in the state. This despite the fact that Mormons make up a tiny fraction of the state's population and otherwise have no business doing that kind of overt politicking as a tax-exempt religious institution. Well, it turns out many Mormons are pretty pissed at their beloved church and are publicly tossing their memberships due to what they see as hateful bullying and outright bigotry. But putting aside for a moment the fact that the church itself is one of the most well documented and astoundingly lucrative cons in the history of man, do these people really have a leg to stand on? I'm all for Mormons renouncing their faith if they choose to (maybe if enough of them leave the fold, Utahans will finally be able to get ahold of some decent porn), but since the religion is based on the Bible, it really has no choice but to renounce homosexuality. I mean, God (or his ghostwriters) made it pretty clear that gays should be held in the same esteem as adulterers, shellfish eaters, and women who braid their hair. It seems to me that by fighting gay marriage, the Mormon church is just putting their money where their mouths are. Which, for those of you playing at home, is somewhere inside their own asses. More details here.

George W. Bush: PEACEkeeper

If you read the headline "George W. Bush to be awarded International Medal of PEACE" and thought you'd somehow been sucked into a wormhole and transplanted on Bizarro World, you'd be forgiven. But while that headline is actually true in our own, familiar universe, it's important to note that this is the acronym "PEACE" we're talking about. Not the concept of non-war. The Global PEACE Coalition was set up by fundamentalist pastor Rick Warren, author of one of the claptrappiest doorstops you'll ever not purchase. Warren set up the coalition to fight poverty, diseases, and illiteracy in developing countries, and he's awarding Bush the medal in recognition of our still-president's efforts to combat AIDs in Africa. While it's true that the Bush administration has overseen much needed medical aid throughout Africa, it's also true that they've supported efforts to curb sex education and promote abstinence-only nonsense with a religious twist. And the religious twist is really the kicker when it comes to Rick Warren's Glabal PEACE Coalition, which in addition to spreading health and education, also strives to inject Christianity where it isn't desired or needed. In other words, it's a win-win-lose. More details here.

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