Movie Friday: Hari Kondabolu

I got sick this week, and was thus robbed of the motivation to write something. I’ve got a bunch of ideas clogging up the ol’ brain-bin, which SUCKS because I also have a lot of stuff to get done this month. Here’s where you can catch me over the next week:

Thursday, January 10th

Playing a solo gig at the Sunset Grill (Yew @ York st. in Kitsilano)

Friday, January 11th

My first gig of 2013 with Even Handed Odds at the Coppertank (Broadway @ Balaclava in Kitsilano). We’re celebrating our anniversary as their house band, and our first time playing together since mid-December.

Saturday, January 12th

I’ll be in Kamloops, BC, giving a talk about the HPV Vaccine and confronting some of the info and misinfo that’s out there. It’s pitched for a general audience, and will reference the scientific literature without diving into it too heavily.

There is a FB event page here, and an event webpage here.

Sunday, January 13th

I’ll be in Kelowna, BC, giving an extended version of my talk looking at racism in the zombie apocalypse. I felt really rushed trying to cram all that information into 30 minutes, so this longer format (I have two hours, I am planning on talking for the heavy side of 45 minutes, with a Q&A afterward) will be a lot more comfortable for me.

There is a FB event page here, but it doesn’t say that the event will be at the Kelowna Pride Centre on Water st..

And now for the movie! [Read more…]

Movie Friday: RCA, Sony, and big black cocks

Name three stereo types…

Animated gif of a young man shaking his head 'no'

No? Not even a little? All right then, let’s move on.

One of the things that stuck out for me when I was studying cognitive psychology is the extent to which our brains are happiest when they have the least amount of work to do. We have a wide variety of mechanisms evolved specifically to let our brains ‘coast’ and do as little work as possible. Stereotypes, whether about people or groups or behaviours (or anything, really) are one very popular and powerful way of classifying information without having to put a lot of thought into it. Of course, the downside of stereotypes is that they often lead us to make erroneous conclusions based on bad information.

Those stereotypes propagate, and we come to see the entire world through the lens of our own lazy ignorance. For example: [Read more…]


Boy do I wish I was talking about this guy:

No, in fact I am talking about this guy:

As you can see, I’m not an ordinary person. Ever since I realized I have the power to predict the future, I knew that anything was possible for me, and I wasn’t wrong. I can predict things that are about to happen, and I can feel the vibrations of winning numbers in games like roulette or the lottery.

The blood of my Cheyenne ancestors runs through my veins. It has enabled me to predict my own future, and the future of the people around me. As a respected Shaman, I also have the power to transform woes into happiness, problems into solutions, and mysteries into revelations.

I found an ad for this “psychic medium” (a.k.a., scam artist) in the back-channel app that we use to tabulate site stats here at FTB. It was the name that grabbed me initially, but then I saw this:

I’m so confident of the value of what I “see” in your future, and of the advice I can give you, that I’m ready to offer you an initial “Visionary Contact Session” completely free of charge. Use it to take stock of your personal life. You’ll find it a surprisingly accurate study of your personality, of the main character traits that shape your Destiny, and increase the likelihood of experiencing certain problems. And there’s a big surprise in store for you, but I won’t say any more now. I’ll let you think about it. Just don’t think too long…

Now it goes from sad to hilarious. This guy is claiming that he will be able to see into my future, based on little more than astrology (and of course, me telling him what the biggest problem in my life is right now). Here’s the thing: as of yesterday I have a really clear picture of what the next few months/years hold for me. Unless Mr. Tupak is a blog reader (or he Googles me, which would be cheating), there’s very little chance of his prediction being anywhere near accurate. Oh sure, he might get vague things like “you are considering returning to school”, which is a common occurrence for people my age. He might even get “a career change is on the horizon” (which isn’t strictly true, but he could claim it amounts to the same thing), but again that’s entirely common for people in their 20s.

Anyone feel like submitting themselves to Mr. Tupak’s expert wisdom? I’ll bite the bullet and give him my real info, but anyone worth their salt can find out most of my pertinent details inside of 15 minutes. I’d be interested to see what happens if someone whose entire life isn’t on a website makes a request. I’ll let you know what info I get back.

Warning: Tupak is not good with refunds

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Have to laugh, or I’ll cry

Strictly speaking, there’s nothing funny about racism. The existence of racism in our society means that black people are paid less, have poorer health outcomes, are more likely to be harassed or murdered by law enforcement, are less likely to be educated or employed… the list goes on. None of that is a laughing matter, which is why I really don’t care for racist ‘jokes’ that make light of the issue. I think we can derive a lot of humour from pointing out racism, in the same way that we can find humour in pointing out hypocrisy or vice or any other folly of the human condition. It helps us learn about ourselves, and draws attention to issues we might otherwise ignore or misunderstand.

That being said, reading this story made me laugh my ass off:

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull on Wednesday admitted to sending a racially charged email about President Barack Obama from his courthouse chambers. Cebull, of Billings, was nominated by former President George W. Bush and received his commission in 2001 and has served as chief judge for the District of Montana since 2008. The subject line of the email, which Cebull sent from his official courthouse email address on Feb. 20 at 3:42 p.m., reads: “A MOM’S MEMORY.”

The forwarded text reads as follows: [Read more…]

Oh God, Oh GOD, OH YES! Oh no!

There was some very interesting discussion that cropped up in the comment thread of last week’s Movie Friday where I asked you to discuss what the lyrics to Regina Spektor’s “Laughing With” actually mean. Many of you thought that she was articulating a kind of “faitheist” position, or one of arch-deism, where those who disbelieve are hypocritical fools, yet those who profess strong belief are simpletons. My own interpretation was a bit more generous, thinking that perhaps she was talking about God as a concept rather than as an actual entity (either theistic or otherwise). A bunch of others helpfully suggested a bunch of other female artists that I could check out since my iTunes is lacking (for which I thank you).

I am still struck by that line “God can be funny”. For all the misery and general awfulness that religion causes in everyday life (to say nothing of its capacity for breeding hair-ripping frustration), there are a lot of reasons to laugh. Sometimes you laugh because it’s either that or cry, sometimes you laugh because it’s genuinely hilarious, and sometimes you laugh because there’s no other reaction to something so bizarre. Religious people don’t particularly like having their beliefs and behaviour ridiculed, and often claim that anti-theists like myself are waging a campaign intended to discredit and undermine the very foundation of our society. I obviously disagree – I am not putting in nearly so much effort as they claim. One does not have to hold up religion for ridicule, one merely has to hold it up: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Keep it Clean

For new readers: every Friday, in honour of it being the weekend, I put up a movie instead of a long post. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious, sometimes they’re weird. It’s whatever crosses my desk as I wander around the internet, and it’s all for you on a Friday!

As you may know, I am a musician in addition to being a scientist. I began playing violin when I was 6, began singing lessons at 8, picked up the guitar at 14, and have kind of been going strong ever since. My long stretches of 9-5 at a desk are punctuated by weekends full of rawking out. I like to call it my Clark Kent/Superman life – I even take my glasses off.

One of my favourite musicians of all time has to be Dave Grohl. The first time I heard In Your Honor, I nearly lost my mind. I played it on endless repeat, transfixed by the skill and care that clearly went into each song. Sometimes you hear a song that seems like it’s speaking directly to you – every cut on that album (and it’s a double album) did that for me. One By One was also top-notch, and Echoes, Patience, Silence, Grace is a goddamn masterpiece.

This, however, is my favourite thing he’s ever done:

Dave Grohl: epic troll.

I often hear people ask what the best way to deal with the Westboro Baptist Church is. Should we slash their tires? Should we beat them up? Should we counter-protest? Should we point out the errors in their theology? Should we stand up against their hate?

Folks like the loonies in the WBC are like Bobo dolls – no matter how hard you smack ’em, they keep coming back smiling. They are a machine that is fueled by controversy, and the more agitated we get, the more they think they’re winning.

The only sane response to an insane opponent is open, unashamed, joyful and unrestrained mockery. The WBC are a joke. They are self-parody, and the only strength they have is in the anger they can stir up in us. They should be mocked – not because it would piss them off, but because they’re silly! It’s a backwater basement church full of lunatics with weird signs and comically offensive messages. If you put Fred Phelps up on a stage opening for Don Rickles, he’d have the audience rolling in the aisles.

Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters have shown us the truth: once we realize how monumentally silly the Westboro Baptist Church is, all that remains is a bunch of sad, lonely people following a confused and deluded old man in his vain attempt to return to the 16th century.

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Movie Friday: Fear of Numbers

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Here’s why:

When Carl Sagan died, there was a hole left for a science educator that could engage with average people and get them excited by new scientific concepts. I feel like that role has gone to Dr. Tyson, though I’m sure he would forswear the comparison. I had a conversation with a couple of friends and raised the point that like basic math skills and basic language skills (although still not in many cases), it should be a prerequisite of having a career as a scientist that you can communicate your research with ordinary people (i.e., non-scientists). If the scientific community can’t manage to bring the fire of the gods to the people (I am making a Prometheus allusion), then what are they (we) doing this for?

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Movie Friday: Seinfeld

I spent a lot of time talking about the ways in which inequalities – particularly those that fall along racial lines – manifest themselves. I made a point of highlighting those cases where it was clear that the root of the problem was systemic rather than personal; that is, where racism could not be chalked up to personal malice but rather to ordinary cognitive blindness.

However, my thesis has always been that systemic racism and personal racism are simply two sides of the same coin – that the real root of racism is the practice of ascribing group characteristics to individuals, wherein an entire person can be reduced to her/his race. To try and illustrate this point, I am posting this video today:
Danny on seinfeld

(Cannot get embed code to work – Dailymotion is a horseshit server, and I apologize. The clip is worth clicking through to see though, I promise.)

So it is up to you, dear reader, to decide what kind of racism is evinced by the cast of Seinfeld – is this personal animus on the part of Jerry and Larry, or is it simply a brain fart? When a minority character can only be exploited for stereotype laughs (of several recurring supporting characters, I can’t think of a single one on the show that wasn’t white – Edit: Jackie the lawyer), is that a reflection of a hidden agenda of personalized racism, or is it just ‘one of those things’?

I put it to you that this seeming contradiction is nothing more than a borderline case between two definitions of racism that are actually two aspects of the same underlying issue, and someone trying to succeed in the industry has to either play into a self-parody token role that undermines their own credibility, or they don’t get paid.

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Movie Friday: Black White Supremacist

I had an honest-to-Spaghetti-Monster white supremacist show up on the blog this week. In honour of this auspicious occasion, I couldn’t resist posting this classic bit:

Those of you who read through the comments will probably notice that I didn’t strike back with my usual level of vituperation. Chief among my reasons for not engaging is the fact that the supremacist in question has clearly invested a lot of time in his “scientific racism” – nothing I do will disabuse him of his position. I’ve gone up against people whose positions I didn’t think I would change before, but those times were fun. This time I’m dealing with a person who thinks that I am inferior simply because of the genetic group I belong to… I don’t think I could possibly go down that rabbit hole without losing my shit completely. That’s not fun for me.

Anyway, whether they’re as slick and sciency-sounding as Unamused there, or as cartoonish as Mr. Biggsby, white supremacists are worth nothing but scorn and dismissal.

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