Phone booth prank

March 24, 2021 • 2:00 pm

This is a new version of the old Candid Camera pranks, but better. It involves a Universal Studios phone booth offering free pictures, along with a live human masquerading as a robot voice. To me, at least, this is hilarious.

The “please use less tongue” command at 1:55 made me laugh out loud, which I rarely do. Same with the B&D bit at 9:30!

Do watch the whole thing. Whoever the woman is who makes up these spontaneous bits, she’s very clever.

h/t: Nicole

A Seussian poem by Bret Weinstein

March 13, 2021 • 1:30 pm

By now you know that Dr. Seuss Enterprises has discontinued printing six of his books because they contain “offensive images.” I agree that two of those books are, as they say, “problematic,” but am not quite sure about the other three.  It’s their call, of course, because it’s their books. But I hope that libraries don’t dump them. (Knowing librarians’ widespread defense of the First Amendment staunch opposition to censorship, I think they’ll be kept behind the counter.)

Now comes Dr. Bret Weinstein with a poem about the whole kerfuffle. And it’s a pretty good one, too: written in Seussian style with (generally) proper scanning and rhymes:

h/t: Lynne

The Unhappy Meal

March 9, 2021 • 8:45 am

Here is an idea, which is mine.  I may have mentioned it before.  Since 1979, McDonald’s has sold what they call “happy meals“, which are supposed to cheer up kids. They consist of a main item, like a hamburger or chicken nuggets, a side item, like apple slices or fries (“chips” to you Brits), and a drink, which can be milk or juice. There is also a toy on the side, often connected with some promotion like a movie. (See the latest menu here.)

But not all kids are well behaved! At times when your child is acting up or difficult to handle, you might take them to McDonald’s for what I call “The Unhappy Meal”, designed to disappoint the child rather than cheer him up.  These don’t exist, of course, but it gives me the opportunity to think of what would be the McDonald’s meal that would most put off a tyke.

Here’s one suggestion:

Main course: The McLiver Sandwich®: Fried liver and onions on a bun with Secret Sauce

Side course:  Brussels Sprouts with garlic dipping sauce

Drink: Fresh kale juice

The toy: A folded-up Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle with a miniature pencil

You are welcome to suggest others.

The McLiver sandwich

More about Dr. Seuss, but with humor

March 5, 2021 • 1:15 pm

By now you’ll know that Dr. Seuss Enterprises has decided not to continue printing six of his books on the grounds of racist imagery. Having seen the images, I do think they’re offensive, and so I don’t mind if those who have custody of his legacy stop printing these books. Here are two of the images, and I have to say that while they may have been mainstream at one time, they don’t belong in children’s books any more:

 

 

 

That said, I certainly don’t think they should be removed from libraries!

Here are the six no longer printed:

  • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
  • “If I Ran the Zoo”
  • “McElligot’s Pool”
  • “On Beyond Zebra!”
  • “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
  • “The Cat’s Quizzer”
In response, and according to the Streisand Effect, all of the canceled books have sold out at Amazon and other booksellers, but his other books are doing great business, with 9 of the top 10 books on the Amazon’s bestseller list being Dr. Seuss books. As CNN Business reports, “While Dr. Seuss Enterprises has not announced the discontinuation of any other books, fans and collectors seem to be stocking up just in case.”

As many know, Seuss was also an antiracist later in his life, and one of his books, The Sneetches and Other Storieswas explicitly aimed at showing people that superficial differences in appearance were meaningless. In this case, the Sneetches were birdlike creatures, some of whom had green stars on their bellies. This led to “othering” and a huge fracas. As Wikipedia notes, “‘The Sneetches’ was intended by Seuss as a satire of discrimination between races and cultures, and was specifically inspired by his opposition to antisemitism.” (I presume the green stars were analogues of the yellow Stars of David worn by Jews during WWII.)

But not so fast. Thanks to my colleague Brian Leiter, who somehow found this piece and highlighted it on his website, saying “This is amusing. The anti-Irish racism is indisputable!” Yes, someone has found a way to make The Sneetches not only racist, but anti-Irish as well. Click on the screenshot to read a short and funny parody of Cancel Culture.

 

Here’s a small excerpt of the anti-Sneetch screed. First you’ll have to learn a bit about Monkey McBean; here’s the Wikipedia excerpt of McBean’s behavior in The Sneetches:

An entrepreneur named Sylvester McMonkey McBean (calling himself the Fix-It-Up Chappie) appears and offers the Sneetches without stars the chance to get them with his Star-On machine, for three dollars. The treatment is instantly popular, but this upsets the original star-bellied Sneetches, as they are in danger of losing their special status. McBean then tells them about his Star-Off machine, costing ten dollars, and the Sneetches who originally had stars happily pay the money to have them removed in order to remain special. However, McBean does not share the prejudices of the Sneetches and allows the recently starred Sneetches through this machine as well. Ultimately this escalates, with the Sneetches running from one machine to the next…

Finally, just an excerpt from the post above:

Further, The Sneetches is clearly a swipe at people like [Robin] DiAngelo. After all, DiAngelo, like McMonkey McBean, makes lots of money by offering partial but incomplete solutions to people’s racism. By portraying McMonkey McBean as an absurdly opportunistic sociopath, Seuss is in effect describing DiAngelo as an absurdly opportunistic sociopath. But that’s not fair. After all, DiAngelo strongly encourages us to continue to categorize people by race, while McMonkey McBean’s actions eliminate the possibility of racism by destroying people’s capacity to think in terms of race. There’s nothing more racist than that!

Finally, notice that McMonkey McBean has an Irish-sounding name. As a non-white, Irish person, I’ve notice that Seuss frequently uses the “Mc” prefix in his cartoon names when he wants to make a character seem silly or ridiculous. This reveals Seuss’s own anti-Irish racism–a form of racism which continues to pervade universities to this day, and from which even the high priest of anti-racism DiAngelo suffers. (DiAngelo regards Irish people as white, which means she endorses and perpetuates British imperialism and erasure of Irish identity. It is thus morally imperative that she be cancelled, and if you buy her new book, you are a racist.)  Could you imagine if Seuss used, say, Swahili-sounding names like this in the effort to make someone seem silly or ridiculous? But of course in the United States, a remnant of the British empire, anti-Irish racism is not only permitted, but routinely condoned.

Cancel Dr. Seuss. A world in which no one pays attention to whether sneetches have stars or none upon thars is nothing to celebrate. To dream of a world in which all people sing together “free at last” is a KKK fantasy.

Almost sounds like Titania McGrath, doesn’t it?

New Zealand tourist campaign against social media

January 28, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Count on the Kiwis: they don’t take themselves—or anybody else—too seriously. In this case, they’re mocking tourists who visit New Zealand and spend much of their time taking shots for Instagram and other “socials”. This campaign, mounted by New Zealand’s tourist agency, excoriates those who miss the scenery so they can show themselves in it (and I share that scorn).  As the Guardian reports:

New Zealand’s tourism agency is seeking to edge out influencer-style photoshoots at tourism hotspots with a tongue-in-cheek campaign against “travelling under the social influence”.

In a video, the comedian Tom Sainsbury stars as a lone ranger in the “social observation squad”, chiding tourists for perpetuating tropes such as a hat-wearing woman in lavender field, a man quietly contemplating on a rock, and “a classic one in these parts: the summit spreadeagle”.

Here’s the main ad: “Travelling under the social influence”:

The call by Tourism NZ to skip the cliche social media shots and “share something new” follows the launch in May 2020 of its Do Something New campaign to boost domestic tourism while borders remained closed to international visitors.

Travellers were encouraged to share their creative travel shots with #DoSomethingNewNZ to go into win a $500 domestic travel voucher.

“We noticed that the same pictures or poses kept coming up, time and time again, no matter the location,” Bjoern Spreitzer, Tourism NZ domestic manager, was quoted as saying by Stuff. “There are so many incredible things to do in New Zealand, beyond the social trends.”

Two short supplemental ads: “Man on a rock:

Instagram has driven the popularity of a few scenic spots in New Zealand, including the tree in Lake Wānaka and the day hike to Roys Peak nearby.

In 2018 a photograph of the “social media queue” on the track went viral for showing the behind-the-scenes of the “summit spreadeagle” shot.

. . . and “Run me over risk” shot. I have to admit that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the middle of roads taking pictures like the two at the bottom. But I didn’t intend to be in the shots! Besides, there’s hardly any traffic out of the cities.

Two of my “middle of the road shots”: Kea and Kiwi (crossing)

And yes, a lavender field, not fully in bloom (it’s owned by a member of Heather Hastie’s family). But no fedora!

I can’t believe it’s been nearly four years since I visited! I want to go back very badly.

Jacinda: I’m vaccinated now. Will you let me in?

h/t: Jez

Fatah: London’s Big Ben was stolen from Palestine!

January 25, 2021 • 9:00 am

How about a little levity to start the week? Inadvertent levity, that is, for the perpetrator of this “fake news”, Fatah, is the ruling party in the West Bank, and the levity is meant to be propaganda. Fatah is the biggest of the organizations/political parties under the aegis of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Mahmoud Abbas is the head of both Fatah, the PLO and, of course, president of Palestinian Authority.

If you pay attention to the “news” put out by various Palestinian state media, of which Fatah is one, you’ll find all kinds of amusement amidst the lies. For example, Fatah regularly asserts that Mossad, the main organ of Israeli intelligence, trains animals to attack Palestinians and others. These include rats trained to bite Arabs in Jerusalem, wild pigs trained to destroy Palestinian fields, and sharks trained to attack European tourists in Egypt to damage the Egyptian tourist industry. There’s even a Wikipedia page on this issue called “Israel-related animal conspiracy theories.” It’s hilarious (check out the references).

Fatah also argued that Jews poison their wells, used the disaster in Haiti to harvest human organs for transplantation into rich Jews, and that Jewish archaeologists plant fake “proof” of ancient Jewish presence in the Holy Land.

The thing is (is) that many Palestinians and Arabs believe this stuff. The latest and perhaps biggest whopper is the one below, again promulgated by Fatah: the British stole Big Ben from the British Mandate of Palestine (the area where Jews and Arabs lived after the Ottoman Empire collapsed), and took Big Ben to London, where it now chimes daily.

If you ask how people can believe this guff, well, ask yourself why so many Americans believe in QAnon.? The power of confirmation bias is strong.

Here’s a Palestinian woman who firmly believes the Purloined Big Ben Theory. If you speak Arabic, feel free to translate some of it.

Inshallah!

And here’s the article from the official Fatah news showing the supposedly stolen clock in situ in the 1920s (click on the screenshots to go to the site):

And the entirety of their article. Note the claim that Big Ben was taken to the British Museum!

Well, it takes about ten seconds of Googling to dispel this fiction. According to Wikipedia, the clock tower in England (it’s the bell itself that’s formally known as “Big Ben,” not the whole clock or the tower) was completed in 1859, well before the supposed theft.  And the clock’s movement was finished in 1854, five years before it was put into the tower.

Of course, I suppose you could always claim that Wikipedia was a Jewish conspiracy. . .

We can be thankful that the New York Times hasn’t gone this far—yet.

 

h/t: Malgorzata

Another scam paper published in a “scientific” journal

January 15, 2021 • 9:45 am

I’ve written before about predatory scientific journals: those fly-by-night venues that will publish nearly any submitted paper, however dreadful. Their motive is to get the thousands of dollars in “publication fees” that authors are forced to pay. In return, the authors get to cite their paper on their c.v.s, even though most papers in these journals are worthless. (Those who evaluate c.v.s, however, often don’t know which journals are bogus.)

In April of last year I wrote about a hilarious and deliberately insane paper written by Daniel Baldassare, “What’s the deal with birds?”, published in the predatory Scientific Journal of Research and Reviews (it’s not there any longer).  Its thesis, such as it was, was that birds tending to look like fish (i.e., penguins) occurred in areas most susceptible to climate change, while birds with weird beaks (i.e;, parrots), didn’t live in those areas. But it was a farrago of madness and humor, done on purpose to show that these journals will publish anything. Here are the “data” from Baldassare’s paper:

I guess after Baldassare exposed both the paper and the journal in his Twitter thread, they decided to remove the paper. Baldassare, by the way, managed to bargain the “author’s fee” down from $1700 to zero. Audubon Magazine even wrote a piece about the hoax.

Now we have another of these hoax papers, also dealing with “fishy” birds. This one, published by Martin Stervander and Danny Haelewaters, appears in in Oceanography & Fisheries. It’s still up (click on the screenshot), but won’t be for long (I have a pdf for you if it’s taken down).

The premise and thesis is also bull-goose loony, again on purpose. This time their complex hypothesis took into account no fewer than four biological factors. Here’s how the authors describe the genesis of the hypothesis:

At the time we developed the original idea about fishiness of birds potentially being correlated to absence of poisonous mushrooms, one of the authors (D.H.) was eating pizza with four cheeses, chicken, anchovies, and mushrooms. It was really a good one, and this prompted us to—just like the pizza—integrate all four parameters in this study: fishiness, birdiness, lack of fungal toxicity, and effects of prolonged heating. We note that integrative taxonomy approaches [8], and by extension approaches to integrate everything in research, are being increasingly employed, thus supporting the rationale for the work presented in this paper.

It is important to keep in mind that research has not always been this integrative, or cross-disciplinary. For example, Charles Darwin worked alone [9] and still published a relatively well-cited contribution to the field of theology and some other disciplines. We feel it is natural for humans to dangle up and down between extremes. This is true for scientists, just like it is for politicians (consider the formation of the European Union in the 1990s and early 2000s versus the current wish of some countries to leave again [10]).

All in all, in this study we present the results of our work with fishy birds (fide Baldassarre [1]). We hypothesize that, (1) despite climate change, it is still cold in Antarctica and thus the presumed lack of poisonous fungi leads to fishy-looking birds. Further, with a clear correlation of pizza and lower latitudes [11], we hypothesize that (2) birdy-looking birds (as well as fishy-looking fish) will be more prevalent than fishy-looking birds on pizzas.

Any good reviewer would have spotted this in an instant as a Poe, but of course these journals don’t care about quality, or even seriousness. I doubt the reviewers even read the papers.

Their results, like Baldassari’s are presented in a single bizarre figure, with lots of bogus statements in the text about statistical methods and significance. But what they conclude is that birds that look like fish (i.e., penguins) tend to occur in areas without poisonous fungi (Antarctica), while birds that don’t look like fish (chickens, swifts, etc; they also threw in a flying fish that looks like a swift, an anchovy, and a “Nemo fish”) live at lower latitudes where there’s an abundance of pizza. A remarkable vindication of their thesis! The results in graphic form:

. . .  and in the text:

Our PCA revealed that most of the variation in the dataset was partitioned along the first (59.3%) and second (34.8%) principal components (PCs), with loadings corresponding to poisonous funginess and pizza toppingness, respectively (Table 1). There is a clear bimodality in both PC scores, distinguishing on the one hand penguins (PC1, low funginess) and on the other hand anchovy and chicken (PC2, high toppingness). Plotting the scores for all taxa, a quadratic model explains the two-dimensional distribution of avian species (p <<< 0.05) with low residual variation except for the outlier H. rustica (Figure 1).

They note that while fishy-looking birds occur in areas lacking poisonous fungi and pizza, that relationship doesn’t hold for birdy-looking fish (flying fish).  They also note that the swallow is an outlier.

In the discussion they take up the parlous subject of climate change, and postulate that, with global warming, poisonous fungi may invade Antarctica and “may thus exert a strong selection pressure on penguins to evolve a less fishy morphology,” so that the evolved penguins may, with their new appearance, expand into “pizza topping habitats.”

There are two more immediate clues that this was a hoax: the acknowledgements (which damn predatory journals!) and the author contributions, which cite Darwin:

First author Martin Stervander also wrote an exposé on his own website about the paper, including a positive “review” of the paper for another journal where it was submitted, Journal of Ecosystems and Ecography, published by OMICS International. It’s clear that the reviewing process of all these journals is deficient—to say the least. But if it was rigorous, they’d have no way to make money!

So we have another exposé of  predatory journals, which we all know exist because every scientist gets daily requests for submissions to these journals, even when the journals aren’t remotely connected with the scientist’s research. (I’ve had pleas for my papers from journals in obstetrics and gynecology.) But there’s no better way to expose this nonsense than to publish a loony paper in it.  Sadly, this doesn’t bring down the journals (they just remove the papers), and they continue to serve as citations for desperate scientists.

Is there anything unethical about these hoaxes? Hell, no: there’s no way anybody could be deceived by papers like these, and it’s the best way to show the journals up for what they are.

They also resemble the “hoax papers” sent by Boghossian, Pluckrose, and Lindsay to social-science journals in the famous “grievance studies affair” that now has its own Wikipedia page. As I wrote last April:

One final remark. In the “grievance studies affair“, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, and especially Peter Boghossian got into big trouble for “hoaxing” humanities journals with equally ludicrous papers.  Baldassarre won’t get into trouble (and shouldn’t), for his paper is in a clearly predatory journal.  But what’s the difference between a predatory scientific journal that will publish nonsense and humanities journals like Fat Studies or Gender, Place & Culture that publish nonsense but also purport to be venues for serious research? In effect, they both do the same thing: help researchers fatten their c.v.s with worthless research. Why should Boghossian et al. be excoriated for exposing the same kind of crappy journal standards that Baldassarre did?

Anything that exposes this kind of academic garbage, including clear hoax papers, is to be applauded, so long as the hoaxes are revealed (as they were with the Grievance Studies Trio) or are so palpably ridiculous (as with Baldassarre’s paper) that they couldn’t be anything other than a hoax.

Amen.

h/t: Martim Melo

 

The Infinite Monkey Cage takes on flies

January 11, 2021 • 2:15 pm

After an audience member demanded that the BBC’s Infinite Monkey Cage took up the subject of Drosophila, the show devoted its half-hour slot not just to Drosophila, but to flies in general (dipterans). It features not only the hosts Robin Ince and Brian Cox, but our own Mathew Cobb, Erica McAlister (a curator at London’s Natural History Museum), and “fly sceptic” David Baddiel, a British comedian.

As Matthew said, “It was a lot of fun. Erica is a hoot.”  It is a good show, and you’ll learn a lot about flies, and there’s a lot of laughing. Don’t miss the part about a botfly in the head (sadly, not the one I head).

Bill Maher on Trumpism as a cult

November 21, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Reader Bryan called my attention to this nine-minute clip from Bill Maher’s last “Real Time” show of the season.  After talking about Millerism, the failed end-times faith of the nineteenth century, Maher mentions another group that was disappointed and yet won’t accept their loss either: Trumpsters. He then dilates on cults, sycophants, and the self-promotion of Trump, demonstrating that Trumpism has many parallels with cults that worship a leader.

He winds up with a call to end our gloating and name-calling of our opponents, something that Andrew Sullivan emphasizes in this week’s Weekly Dish column.

“Who are these jellyfish?”: Bill Maher attributes Democratic losses to wokeness

November 15, 2020 • 1:00 pm

We all know that the promised “blue wave” of Democratic victories didn’t occur. While Trump has been given the boot (but got nearly half the vote), the Dems lost seats in Congress, failed to flip state legislatures, and doesn’t look as if it will control the Senate, either. Why, with a President who is so palpably unfit for office that his coattails should have swept many Republicans out of office as well.

In this bit from his latest Real Time, Bill Maher has what I think is a pretty good analysis: he attributes it largely to wokeness. While the GOP may be an unpalatable alternative, so are Wokies to many Americans. And that’s what I was afraid of. While, thank Ceiling Cat, Wokeness didn’t keep Biden from being elected (but might have done so for Bernie Sanders), it didn’t, says Maher, inspire many Americans to vote for Democrats. You may disagree, but we still need an explanation for why so many Americans cling to regressive parties, and why so many members of minority groups still voted Republican.

 

By the way, the New York Times article that Maher mentions has been retitled, and you can access if by clicking below:

 

h/t: Paul, Enrico