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Things That I Think Are Stupid


The Idea That "Evolution Leads To Eugenics"

Evolution actually argues against eugenics.

One of the (many) reasons eugenics is wrong is that it assumes that it's possible to identify genes that are bad, and eliminate them. Genetics is more complicated than that, and traits that are 'bad' in one circumstance can be literally life-saving in others. For example, a person with two copies of the sickle-cell gene will suffer from sickle-cell anemia and die young. But a person with only one copy does not suffer such ill effects and has a significantly increased resistance to malaria. In a region where malaria is endemic, the risk of having babies die from sickle-cell anemia is offset by the improved chances of other babies surviving malaria. Cystic Fibrosis is another recessive trait where only one copy of a mutated gene apparently affords some protection from Typhoid and perhaps Tuberculosis. A further example is RH-negative blood; there is some evidence that, while RH-negative women are at increased risk of miscarriage, they have an easier time getting pregnant.

This leads into another evolutionary argument against such eugenic practices. Diversity in a population is a very good thing. It helps a population cope with all kinds of threats - disasters, disease, variations in environment, and more. If a trait really is "bad", it will be eliminated in due course without - even in spite of - our intervention.

Not that this idea is new. Expressed long before me (and more eloquently, too):

"We know something about biology. We know a little about eugenics. We have no knowledge of what kind of man would be better than the one that Nature is evolving to fit into the environment which he cannot escape. We have neither facts nor theories to give us any evidence based on biology or any other branch of science as to how we could breed intelligence, happiness or anything else that would improve the race. We have no idea of the meaning of the word "improvement.'' We can imagine no human organization that we could trust with the job, even if eugenists knew what should be done, and the proper way to do it." - Clarence Darrow, way back in 1926


Editing Women Out Of News Photographs

So, when bin Laden was killed, lots of news outlets published a picture of the President and several other officials in the "situation room", watching the raid. the "Ultra-Orthodox" newspaper Di Tzeitung printed that picture, too - with two women edited out. They removed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Director of Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason.

Why would they do that? Well, as they say, they:

"...believe that women should be appreciated for who they are and what they do, not for what they look like, and the Jewish laws of modesty are an expression of respect for women, not the opposite."

But this is stupid. The whole idea of not printing images of women, of keeping them covered up, certainly shows contempt for men. It is unavoidably claiming that men cannot "appreciate[] women for who they are and what they do" if they see "what [women] look like". I have to roll my eyes at that - men are not beasts, and are perfectly capable of treating women like human beings. Perhaps one reason some men don't do that is because they've never been required to.

It also shows disrespect for women. Circumscribing their movements and dress - even, apparently, their existence - because of a problem men have? No. If men have the problem, let them avert their eyes or stay indoors with the shades drawn or only communicate with the outside world by phone and email. We don't ban all alcohol sales to everyone because some people are alcoholics.


'Honor Killings'

These actually go beyond stupid - way beyond stupid, and deep into 'evil' territory. When I read something like this, it fills me with disgust, revulsion, and fury. A religion or culture that doesn't just accept something like this, but actually encourages - nay, demands such horrifying, grotesque perversions - is an abomniation.

It's most common in Islamic countries, but some Hindus 'practice' it, too. (Marrying outside one's caste, the horror!) Don't think Christianity gets a clean bill of health here, though it's a lot less common. Columbia only made killing one's wife illegal in 1980, and Brazil didn't do that until 1991.


Claiming That Evolution Led To The Holocaust Or Communist Purges

Hitler wasn't an atheist. He sure wasn't a traditional Christian, of course, but he was sort of a neo-Pagan para-Christian who explicitly rejected evolution and based his racism on the idea that the 'races' had been created separately. The Holocaust owed far more to the virulent strain of anti-Semitism that Martin Luther embraced and fostered. That was certainly the motivation for the majority who actually carried out the crimes in person.

As to the Communist states under Stalin and Mao - they also explicitly rejected neo-Darwinian evolution and embraced (and enforced) Lysenkoism instead. The resulting crop failures when reality failed to match up to "worker's science" killed millions, accounting for a substantial chunk - possibly a majority - of the death toll from those regimes.

Ironically, the people under Hitler, Stalin, and Mao would have been much better off if those 'leaders' had accepted neo-Darwinian evolution.


Giving Up All Rights In The War On Terror

There are people who argue that "Much present-day thinking puts civil liberties and the rule of law to the fore and forgets to consider emergencies when liberties are dangerous and law does not apply." They seriously argue that the 'War on Terror' gives the President carte blanche to do whatever he wants, ignoring the law.

There may be emergency situations where there could be a moral need to do illegal things to protect large numbers of people. But such "season of 24" scenarios are not exactly day-to-day happenings. You know, imminent destruction, one guy knows where the bomb is and there just isn't time to wear him down, so - reluctantly, but manfully - our hero has to resort to torture...

But present circumstances don't match that. Somehow I doubt that the Bush administration is quietly foiling nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks on the U.S. on a daily, or even yearly, basis. What's the need for warrantless wiretapping, exactly? The (secret proceedings of the) FISA court allows the government to monitor someone for up to 72 hours before asking for retroactive permission. And that's practically a rubber stamp - only four requests (out of thousands) have ever been rejected, and less than 200 were even modified.

I'm not aware of any wiretap request by any police department in the United States that's been rejected since 1997. Can anyone point to some?

This is not exactly a regime struggling with red tape. And imprisoning people without trial? Exactly what imminent threat does Jose Padilla pose, five years after being 'detained' incommunicado? Detaining 'enemy combatants' makes sense, to an extent. But they are still entitled to a tribunal under the Geneva Convention to determine if they actually are 'enemy combatants'. Go ahead, read Convention III, Article 5 for yourself.

And those people in Guantanamo? The majority, by far, weren't captured by U.S. forces. They were turned in by people looking for reward money or to suck up to U.S. forces. But they are treated like they were actually terrorists, without evidence or trial.

Think I'm exaggerating? Then you need to read this. This guy was captured by an Afghan warlord trying to deflect suspicion from himself for an attack on U.S. troops. Then, because they thought he screamed funny, a bunch of United States soldiers "pulped" (the words of the doctor who performed the autopsy) his legs. The other four guys were shipped to Gitmo and held for a year or so before they finally decided they posed no threat. The main reason their claims of innocence were finally believed? People eventually noticed the warlord who'd turned them in wasn't being honest with them.

The soldiers there "know" these are bad guys, and treat them that way, regardless of who they are. You ask how I know that? So, a U.S. soldier at Guantanamo is asked to impersonate an unruly detainee for a drill. Unfortunately, the soldiers sent in to subdue him aren't told it's a drill. He ends up with brain damage and seizures.

All these 'extractions' are videotaped, but somehow, gee, that one disappeared. The army at first even denied that his discharge was due to the injuries he suffered in that beating, but finally admitted the truth. Now, what would have happened if the soldiers hadn't finally realized he was one of them? How badly would he have been hurt? The army's admitted to 27 deaths of detainees in U.S. custody. That's what they've admitted to.

Torture doesn't work in the real world. It doesn't get reliable information. But it's great for keeping people in line. That's why it's so common in totalitarian regimes. But it's not something we want in a free county. If there ever is a Jack Bauer situation in the real world (and I'm... skeptical) then I expect the people who did the torturing to be arrested, tried, and convicted. And then, maybe, if they actually did end up saving lives, they can be pardoned. But I want my police to be really sure that they can justify it, willing to risk prison if they're wrong.

Otherwise, they're just going to do it whenever they feel like it - or even, like in the case of poor Dilawar above, just for fun. Police are human, too.

I think this is so stupid I've written about it twice.


People Who Claim To Believe Noah's Flood Really Happened

Of course it's patent nonsense for a variety of reasons, and other people have addressed that quite well already.

But here's something that's not normally pointed out about such a belief. People don't really believe in Noah's Flood in any concrete sense. How can we know? Because they don't put their money where their mouth is.

Take oil companies. Finding oil is a very important and high-stakes issue for them. Literally hundreds of billions of dollars are riding on it. When the chips are down and they need to find the most likely spots to drill - what kind of geology do they use? Flood geology, or mainstream? Which one actually delivers the goods?

Let's assume the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Where did the oil come from? Was it created in the ground with the rest of the Earth? If so, is there a way to predict where it might be found? Or perhaps it really did form from plants and dinosaurs, but about 10,000 times faster than any chemist believes it could? Any way you look at it, a young Earth and a Flood would imply some very interesting scientific questions to ask, some interesting (and potentially extremely valuable) research programs to start. How come nobody's actually pursuing such research programs?

Why don't fundamentalists put together an investment fund, where people pay in and the stake is used as venture capital for things like oil and mineral rights? If "Flood geology" is really a better theory, then it should make better predictions about where raw materials are than standard geology does. The profits from such a venture could pay for a lot of evangelism. Why isn't anyone doing this?

Update: It turns out some people actually are doing this - or, at least, claiming too. But it appears that deeply-held beliefs are easier to exploit than deeply-held oil reserves.


The Notion That "There Wouldn't Be Any War If Women Were In Charge"

Yeah, I'm calling that stupid. In any situation where people are competing for finite resources, war and violence will turn up. Female animals kill all the time - why would female humans be any different?

I propose a thought experiment. Imagine some time in the past where two groups composed entirely of women and daughters - no males - are wandering in a desert. Let's say they fled across the wastelands after all their males were killed by other tribes. Now, imagine those two groups come across the only watering hole in the area, but there's only enough water to support one of those groups.

Now, you're a mother, and your daughter is crying for water but no tears are coming out because she's so dehydrated. Who are you going to let have that water - your daughter or some other kid from the other tribe? Mothers throughout history have been willing to kill to protect and provide for their children...

You may argue that the whole situation would not arise had there not been a war to drive them out to that extreme. But I posited a battle because it's the most obvious way to eliminate the males from the population, those war-causers. Feel free to substitute a man-killing plague and a drought to get to the situation described above.

I certainly agree that war would be significantly less common if human females were in charge. (I say 'human' because, well, if you look around the animal kingdom, there aren't a whole lot of pacifist females. Does the statment make sense if you substitute 'lionesses' for 'human females'?) Violent agression seems to be much less common in women than men. (Of course, human males are much less violent than the males of almost any other species on Earth. The homicide rate in the worst city on the planet is still thousands of times less than that of the animals in any jungle, even within a single species.)

But war would not be eliminated "if women were in charge", and it's stupid to think that it would be. Women deserve a lot more representation in government than they have, and I think things would be better off if more women got to make more of the decisions, but I don't believe for a second that would eliminate war.


How Some 'Conservative' Types Have Reacted to the HPV Vaccine

So, now there's a vaccine for Human Papillomaviruses, an STD that is frequently asymptomatic but can cause genital warts and cervical cancer (and a very small risk of penile and other cancers, apparently). All the studies show it to be safe and effective.

Seems like a slam dunk, right? Give it to girls when they are young, possibly with boosters later on, and you drastically cut the risk of them getting potentially fertility-threatening and/or life-threatening cancer. Duh?

But nooooooo.

I'm driving home, flicking through the AM stations and I pick up this fellow, interviewing Dr. John Brehany of the Catholic Medical Association. He says that HPV vaccination should not be mandatory for schoolkids because if you behave right you won't get it, and besides, if you just get regular pap smears then you can detect precancerous cells and have them removed before they become cancer.

Now, that's not the real reason he's opposed to it. No, the real reason is all too apparent in the CMA's press release: "[S]upport for the vaccine, and similar vaccines in the future, should not be used to undermine support for efforts to promote chastity and to reduce extramarital sexual activity."

To really see the transparent disingenuousness of Dr. Brehany's statement, let's do a thought experiment. Imagine someone came up with a vaccine that prevented tooth decay. Would he oppose mandatory vaccination because, if you behave right (regularly brushing and flossing) and see your dentist regularly to remove pre-cavity plaque, you can avoid cavities?

No, he opposes mandatory vaccination because he wants to give parents the option of making sex more scary. Saving lives apparently isn't nearly as important as scaring the kids into keeping their pants on. Even going by his own figures, pap smears can't save every woman. It appears he's willing to accept 2.5 out of every 100,000 women dying of cervical cancer. But hey, their deaths will help other souls make it to heaven, right? (True, the HPV vaccine can't save every woman either. But it's not an either/or proposition. What about vaccination plus pap smears?)

And by the way, is 'making sex scary' a valid reason to oppose mandatory vaccination? Again, clearly not. Think about our hypothetical 'dental caries vaccine'. Does it really make sense to avoid vaccinating kids because, without the threat of cavities, they might eat more sweets, leading to obesity?

Oh, and check out these tools, particularly their 'talking points'. I shall quote and discuss a few of the most mendacious ones, that aren't already addressed above:

None of these schmucks point out that, even if their daughter is pure as the driven snow and remains a capital-V Virgin until her wedding night, she can get the disease from her husband who wasn't quite so restrained. She may not even know of his past pecadilloes. In other words, just behaving well yourself doesn't ensure you won't get infected - you have to trust your partner to behave well, as well. To say nothing of things like date rape and random assaults...

The other thing to note is that, according to this, the cost of treating cervical cancer is

"$20,255 for localized disease, $21,678 for pelvic disease and $36,912 for distant disease... We projected 12,800 cases of invasive cervical cancer annually, distributed as 57.5% localized to the cervix, 34.0% with pelvic involvement and 8.5% with more distant spread... the total discounted annual cost of invasive cervical cancer among all age-groups in the United States (i.e., including women aged 25 or older) was estimated at $146.4 million... The average cost of treatment after a new diagnosis of external anogenital warts was $446... Given these assumptions, the annual total direct cost associated with anogenital warts for all age-groups is $167.4 million."
So, since Gardasil is estimated to stop 70% of cervical cancers and "almost all" genital warts, thats ~$250 million per year in savings. Factor that in when you're arguing about costs, and remember that over a third of women who get cervical cancer die from it. How much are their lives worth exactly?

I actually oppose mandatory vaccination, because I'm basically Libertarian-ish. I figure people, even Dr. Brehany, should have the right to make stupid decisions, even for their kids. But I have the right to call those decisions stupid, and reprehensible. And it's important to note that the vaccination is not truly 'mandatory' in any bill that I've seen - parents can opt out. I can see the argument that encouraging widespread vaccination helps with herd immunity, and I think vaccination with opt-out is probably the way to go, when the risks of vaccination are shown to be low.

I don't have any daughters at the moment, but if I did they'd be getting vaccinated. I do have sons, and the vaccine's being studied for boys. By the time they are old enough, I expect the vaccine to be available for boys. And I will have them vaccinated. For very good reasons. I will also discourage casual sex, too... but I'd rather give them a better chance of making survivable mistakes, for them and their partners.


The Big Debate Over Gay Marriage And Homosexuality In General

Laws against gay marriage are stupid and unconstitutional. Fortunately, I don't have to explain the 'unconstitutional' part, because this guy already did that quite well. More recently, libertarian conservative Ted Olson did a great job, too.

Laws in general about sexuality seem to almost compel fuzzy thinking. Take, for example, Orson Scott Card, Mormon and science fiction author, where he writes:

"Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society."

Except that he can't give anything but a religious justification for homosexuality being 'wrong'. I've got no problem with members of his religion excommunicating people they consider to be violating their laws. I do have a problem - a very large one - with them trying to impose their standard of behavior on others who don't share their beliefs or accept the authority of their 'prophets'. At least, without evidence.

And I'm not aware of any evidence that clearly establishes homosexuality or homosexual activity as particularly 'wrong'. Sure, it's non-procreative. So what? We have plenty of examples of otherwise utilitarian biological functions being co-opted for other purposes. Take eating, for example. It's not just there to keep our bodies fueled - it has, and has apparently always had, a very important social dimension.

Consider the phrase "breaking bread together" - a sign of friendship and peace. Consider how important many people consider having a family sit down and eat together. Practically every gathering of family and many (most?) meetings among friends involve eating. Does a meal at a wedding reception serve a purely utilitarian purpose? A professor once told us in class, "In fairy tales, no one ever says 'I love you'. Instead, they give food."

Imagine the kind of 'logic' that people apply to homosexuality being applied to eating. Overweight Christians would be forbidden from taking Communion until they'd gotten their weight under control, or at least would be religiously compelled to adjust their meals to take the bread and wine into account. (I mean, come on - if Communion isn't an example of eating taking on a social and religious dimension, what is?)

And sex is not just a procreative act. Even in a monogamous (and monandrous - how come that isn't a more common word?) marriage, it forms a critical part of the relationship. It's not just for making babies, it is also a vital way of saying "I love you," and a way of giving pleasure to one's spouse, and fun in and of itself.

We have utterly clear examples of sexual behavior forming important social, non-procreative roles in other species - most famously in one of our two nearest relatives, the Bonobo chimpanzee.

So, just because homosexuality is non-procreative doesn't mean it's 'wrong'. What other justifications might there be? What I gather is typical male-male sexual activity does seem to have a somewhat higher chance of passing along STD's, I suppose. Of course, lesbian activities are dramatically less risky on that score. There are only a bare handful - I mean, literally single digits - of documented cases of woman-to-woman AIDS transmission, for example. (Are lesbians the 'chosen people'?)

The notion that homosexuality will 'spread' if it isn't 'condemned' is laughable, too. I honestly can't imagine a set of circumstances where I would ever be sexually attracted to a man. I don't understand why most women are attracted to men - whatever they see, I'm blind to it. I'm grateful for it, of course, but I just don't see it. At least a very large part of 'sexual orientation' must be biological. (I have some other thoughts on that, BTW.)

Looking at things from an evolutionary perspective, repressing homosexuality is the worst possible thing to do if it's biologically-based. Assume it's maladaptive - that there's something wrong with it in some objective sense that has real-world consequences that outweigh any possible advantages. (Sickle-cell anemia has bad consequences if you have two genes for it, but if you only have one copy, it helps protect you from malaria. Go look up what populations have a prevalence of sickle-cell, and whether malaria was common where they originated. Go ahead, I'll wait.)

If homosexuality really is bad, then it will evolve away after a while. Any effort to force homosexuals to breed will just preserve the 'bad' genes longer. (Even if it's only neutral, it'll most likely go away just through genetic drift). So laws against homosexuality are a bad idea in direct proportion to how bad you assume homosexuality is.

But if we assume the converse, that homosexuality is objectively neutral - or perhaps even has net advantages for the population that contains it - then laws against homosexuality are also obviously a bad idea.

If it's not biologically-based - and I can't see how anyone could really argue this, if sex and sexual orientation don't have a biological basis, then what the hell does? - then it's something that consenting adults choose to do. As long as nobody's being hurt involuntarily, what possible (non-religious) justification could a law against homosexuality possibly have in that case?

So, no matter what position you take on the subject, laws against homosexuality are stupid.

For a different perspective, I leave you with the words of C.S. Lewis, noted Christian apologist:

"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."


Trolls

Trolls in newsgroups and chatrooms and forums and so forth aren't trying to communicate, they are playing a game where the goal is to anger someone else. Any response is just confirmation (in their minds, anyway) that they have "won". Best course of action is to ignore them and move on.

What's really sad is that annoying people is easy. It's trivial to do it by accident. Trolls couldn't even imagine how to make someone feel as good as the trolls are aimed at making them feel bad. It's like putting effort into being the world's best sleeper or the clumsiest walker or something... any fool can (and does) match them effortlessly.

Honest communication is much harder, but vastly more rewarding.

I'm not sure why someone would act that way. Honestly, I've not ever been able to really understand it. My best guess is that they don't think they have anything of any value to communicate, and don't think they are really capable of meaningful exchange, so the only outlet they have for any kind of interaction is to annoy others.

Apparently they really fear, deep in their hearts, that they truly aren't worth anything much, and so put effort into disrupting other people so they have something on which to blame their inability to earn any respect.


Intelligent Design

It's no secret that I'm not a theist, but I'm a live-and-let-live kinda guy. I don't mind people living how they want - freedom is the right to be wrong, after all - but I get irritated by laws with an entirely religious basis (e.g. the silly law in Michigan about no alcohol sales on Sunday before noon). And screwing around with the educational curriculum pegs my stupid-meter.

So-called "Intelligent Design" isn't science. To the extent that it makes any kind of predictions or statements, it's flat wrong. I mean, it's just wrong. As in exhaustively wrong. As in wrong from scratch. As in historically wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally okay with people teaching it to their kids... in a private school. Within very broad limits (basically concerned with public safety) I think people should be able to teach any damn fool thing in a private school. If they are wrong, their kids will suffer for it, but who knows, they might once in a while be onto something, as opposed to on something.

But if we're going to have public schools, and they are going to cover science, then they should spend precious class time on actual science. Which, may I remind you, ID isn't.


The Torture of Iraqi Prisoners

It was sick, and evil. No doubt about it. But it was also very, very stupid.

I know interrogation is necessary. And I can understand that, sometimes, people can feel justified to interrogate by extreme measures. (I certainly wouldn't want to be a soldier in Iraq, feeling like a juicy RPG target all the time.) I might even agree that sometimes, torture can be justified. I think such cases (if any) are extremely few and far between, but I'm willing to concede the possibility.

However, a large number of factors strongly argue against using such measures in Iraq. We are supposed to be a vast improvement over the previous regime. From what I've gathered, the techniques used by Saddam's goons were even worse... most of the time, anyway. But that's a difference in degree, and we are supposed to be completely different in kind. (Besides which, if you were an Iraqi civilian, would you be inclined to make such distinctions? "[B]eing more humane than Saddam isn't much to brag about.")

Torture has never been all that reliable at getting information. Any human being can be broken sooner or later, but when they do they tend to be willing to tell their torturers whatever they want to hear, regardless of its truth. (How many people have been freed from death row from DNA evidence, even though they confessed to a crime?) At that point, they may even convince themselves what they are saying is true. If you're going to torture someone, you have to balance the odds of getting useful information against the political risks if you're discovered. (Unless you want to terrorize people, but we're not terrorists, right?)

I'm having a very hard time coming up with potential intelligence important enough to risk the chance of igniting the current political firestorm. Even if by doing all this you head off a couple of terrorist attacks (and I haven't heard of too many cases where that's happened), what does that gain you if you completely destroy any chance of goodwill from the people you're supposedly trying to help?

Less physical means of interrogation are about as effective, they just take longer. Apparently the people doing this were under pressure for immediate results, and they got the impression that the higher-ups applying the pressure didn't care how the results were achieved. Maybe they were hoping to blame it all on civilian contractors. "Hey, we just told them to get information fast! They didn't say they were going to torture anybody! (Not that we asked...)" So they tortured large numbers of people, apparently without much selection, just to see what kind of intel they could get. I'm willing to believe that there may have been a person or two that they had reason to think knew something about a fast-approaching terrorist operation, but apparently they didn't show that much discrimination.

And, finally, if you're going to be evil, for pity's sake don't be stupid! Taking pictures of the torture? It's, it's, it's so stupefyingly moronic that I almost can't believe that anyone would actually do it. If you're going to commit a crime against humanity, when the political stakes are so gigantic, why make documentary evidence of your crimes?

It's like they wanted to make everyone in the world hate them as much as possible... like they intended to create a magnificient public relations nightmare.

It really bothers me that the people running this show are not only (apparently) corrupt and evil, but also profoundly stupid and shortsighted.


Taking Kids To See "The Passion Of The Christ"

It's too damn violent for kids. Period. It's irresponsible in the extreme to take anyone younger than a mature teenager to it. It stuns me that people would even consider it. Most people in the U.S. are way too unconcerned about violence in the media, and way too concerned about sex. (See the 'Janet Jackson' comments below.)

I can understand someone who didn't know much about the film and assumed that it was similar to, I dunno, "Jesus Christ, Superstar". Most modern Westerners simply can't imagine just how how horrific and barbaric the lives of most people were before the current era (and still are, in many parts of the world.) But if you had heard that it was violent (and I'd think almost anyone interested would know by now), what possible excuse could you have for taking children to witness that?

The violence in "Passion" is not unusual for most of history. Jesus (assuming the accounts are accurate) didn't suffer more than many millions of others. (In the neighborhood of 6,000 rebellious slaves were crucified at one time by the Romans in 71 BC.) He also got off fairly lightly, dying after only three hours (Mark 15:44). The link above notes: "As one of the main objectives of this cruel method of execution was its deterrent value, Roman authorities also devised various means whereby the victim could remain on the cross for days in public before eventually expiring."

So this kind of vicious brutality is far from unusual in history. And kids have survived seeing executions before - public executions were the norm everywhere until a couple centuries ago. But no one thinks that kids should really see that kind of stuff, do they? We've gotten past that, haven't we? Haven't we?


The Moronic Janet Jackson Flap (No Pun Intended)

Stupid things about it, in no particular order:

Of course it was planned. It's stupid to claim it wasn't, and stupid to believe such claims.

Ms. Jackson gets censured, but the guy who actually opened the hood, so to speak, gets a pass? And he was simulating a sexual assault - what kind of double standard is that?

Things people should care more about than breasts on TV:


Engineering Non-Food Genes Into Food Crops

Okay, yeah, we have thousands of years of experience in getting high yields for the crops that we eat (corn, wheat, etc.). But why the hell would we stick genes for pharmaceuticals in those plants, when we know that they have a very high chance of spreading to crops intended for eating? Why not mandate that they have to go into plants that we don't eat or otherwise use?

Why not roses or birch trees or poison ivy? Heck, why not kudzu, which we already know will grow just fine without much human intervention? I mean, if we grant that sticking funky genes in plants is a good idea, and we further grant that growing them anywhere but in sealed greenhouses is acceptable, why put them in crops where gene transfer is potentially catastrophic? Imagine if the price of wheat suddenly tripled or quintupled because huge swaths of crops had been contaminated by pollen that made them produce rattlesnake venom or something?


Unnecessarily Bad Science in Movies

Why can't Hollywood make a science fiction movie these days where they make even a minimal effort to help you suspend disbelief? Nearly every one I've seen gets fundamental science wrong, and needlessly so. To take an example, one that really pissed me off:

Total Recall problems, in no particular order:

For a movie that's totally unsalvageable, see "Signs". Essentially nothing the aliens do makes the slightest bit of sense. If the aliens have radio, as the scene with the baby monitor would indicate, there's no need to make crop circles - they can plant radio beacons. Far less likely to be noticed by the natives you're going to invade, right? They don't even have to turn on until the invading fleet arrives.

There's some line about how they don't want to provoke a nuclear backlash that would damage the planet, so the aliens will use ground troops. Even if this made the slightest bit of military sense, aliens (who can go way up high in the sky) can use non-nuclear means to aid their cause - dropping rocks onto military bases and transportation hubs from space. No fallout, and about as much damage as a nuke. Cheap, too.

But all this ignores the biggest problem - why the hell are these aliens trying to conquer Earth, when spoiler alert they can be killed by exposure to water? The majority of this planet is covered in water, and most places it falls from the sky several times a year at minimum. I suppose anywhere it rained had a quiet Invasion Day...

...particularly since these aliens were utterly unequipped to protect themselves from water. Our troops in Iraq had at least some equipment to protect against biological and chemical weapons - gas masks, hazard suits, etc. This doesn't take a genius, and supposedly these aliens are "good problem solvers".

Perhaps one might argue that the aliens are desperate, and have no choice but to go after even a minimally useful planet. But in that case, why would they give up after only one day and one attempt?

I'm aware that the entire movie is a setup for the payoff moment when Gibson's character rediscovers his faith. The entire movie can be seen as an allegory, where the aliens in some ways represent his turmoil over his wife's death, that he ignores, then runs from, and finally confronts. But that's not an excuse; the allegory and the story need to complement each other. The allegory needs to be a layer on top of the story, it needs to grow from the story.

I can think of any number of substances that could be used as a poison to the aliens, retain allegorical sense, and make some kind of rational sense. What about milk, which like water is symbolic of life? Other possibilities include chocolate, caffiene, alcohol, flouride, etc.

Other people share my opinions here, too.