Movie Friday: The Job Interview

A reader has started her own blog, and one of her first posts features what I think is quite an interesting and funny video:

There are a couple of things you should know about a video like this. First, it is an abstraction of several actual experiences, somewhat punched up and stitched together to make a point. I’m somewhat in doubt that anyone has had a single job interview in which all of these things have happened. However, I can avow from personal experience that I’ve been on the receiving end of every single one of those comments.

Of course it’s not simply just mindless entertainment – imagine having to deal with questions like this every day, every time you do anything that doesn’t fit with the stereotype. When that stereotype is a negative one, it disincentivizes people from pursuing anything that puts them constantly in a position of having to defend themselves from such stupidity. There’s a lot of tearing down that happens within the community as well, and that’s certainly a problem that must be addressed. It’s fun, however, to watch the interviewer stumble all over his words, knowing he said something stupid but not knowing how to extricate himself. It is partially for this reason that I write about stuff like this – to give people some insight and vocabulary on how to navigate situations like these.

For the record, while I wouldn’t personally respond to a situation like this in the way that Marcus does, I can certainly appreciate his reasons for doing so.

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Movie Friday: Merry Christmas!

There is, underneath all the eye-rolling stupidity, a point to the annual debate in the atheist community about the celebration of Christmas. Yes, it has become so mainstream as to have its religious significance diluted. Yes, it is so pagan in its celebration as to strip it almost entirely of any overt Christianity. Yes, it can be (and has been) rebranded as a holiday celebrating humankind’s ability to be at its best in the way it treats other humans, regardless of any person’s beliefs about a supernatural force.

However, the celebration of Christmas does reinforce the false equation of Christianity with goodness – as though Christianity is a moral system (it isn’t) or that Christians are better people (they aren’t). Christianity may offer opinions on good and evil, but can claim no monopoly of either understanding or execution when it comes to questions of morality. However, thanks to centuries of religious domination, we in the west subconsciously equate Christianity with righteousness (“it’s the Christian thing to do”, “we’re God-fearing people”, “WWJD”).

Celebrating Christmas, no matter how secularly we try to do it, requires the inclusion of Christmas songs. Some of them are simple winter ditties (Frosty the Snowman, Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bells), others are secular (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas), and a great many are explicitly religious (O Holy Night, Away in a Manger, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing). By flipping through those messages interchangeably, we prop up the notion that Christmas is explicitly religious, which in turn equates all the virtues of Christmas with the religious celebration.

Luckily, there’s guys like Patton Oswald who ask us to maybe think about things just a little harder:

Whether you’re celebrating a secular, egg-nog-filled Yule or a Jesus-heavy Christ-mas, I hope you enjoy yourself. Remember, I’m off my vacation starting the first weekend after the New Year, and I look forward to seeing you all in 2011.

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Movie Friday: Act of God

One of the single dumbest things ever birthed by the insurance industry is the phrase “Act of God”. It basically describes any natural disaster, but does so in the most face-palming language ever. Ricky Gervais takes it on:

I watched a Billy Connolly movie not too long ago called “The Man Who Sued God”, in which a lawyer-turned-fisherman sues the Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian and Jewish churches in Australia, as representatives of God on earth. It was a pretty funny jibe at how much those churches really believe in God – either they deny that He exists (and commit fraud) or they admit He does (making them legally liable as representatives of a pseduo-corporate entity). While the ending of the movie was complete garbage, the first 4/5 is pretty good.

It seems to me (and to Billy Connolly’s character) that since the whole point that we buy insurance is to protect ourselves against unforseeable circumstances, the “Act of God” clause is just a filthy cheat. Then again, if you were expecting fairness and justice from insurance companies, maybe someone needs to sit you down and explain a few things.

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Movie Friday: What REALLY happened to the dinosaurs?

Sometimes you can defeat an opponent through superior tactics – predicting her/his strategy and countering it out of the gate. Sometimes you defeat an opponent through brute force, having the sheer numbers to overpower her/him. Other times it’s just dumb luck, then the cards happen to fall in your favour and you end up the victor.

Other times your opponent defeats her/himself:

This is my issue with biblical literalism – that book wasn’t published by someone wishing to lampoon religion; on the contrary, it was written by religious people to demonstrate a system of belief. The fact that this system of belief is unbelievably stupid means that any attempt to build a factual narrative from it will also come out unbelievably stupid. Ron Babcock (the comedian) doesn’t have to do anything aside from just reading the book – the humour is already there.

My favourite line comes at the end:

I grew up Catholic, but I didn’t grow up fucking retarded

This is how I came by my atheism – not out of some kind of spiteful rejection of a God that I knew was there but I didn’t like – but out of using my (God-given) intellect to evaluate what seemed to make the most sense. Either I had to reject the idea that a completely incoherent, non-predictable, non-observable, fundamentally unknowable entity had specific designs for me based on a book that was both internally and externally inconsistent, or I had to essentially lobotomize myself and believe the crazy shit that would be a direct result of that book being accurate.

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N.B. A reader pointed out to me that it’s fairly hypocritical of me to talk about the use of language and privilege and all that other stuff, and then to turn around and use the word ‘retarded’. He makes a fair point, and I apologize for using it here without any sort of disclaimer. ‘Retarded’ is an ableist phrase that is extremely derogatory toward people with developmental disabilities. While I try not to use it in my day-to-day language, I shouldn’t have quoted it here without pointing that fact out.

Movie Friday: 8 out of 10 Cats

Sometimes I wish we had more access to British guiz/game shows. It seems like they have way more fun on theirs than we do on ours.

Part 2/3
Part 3/3

Yes, that really is Uri Geller, amazing spoon-bender who has been debunked publicly several times, not the least of which was on the Johnny Carson show. And yet, people are willing to believe he can do crazy shit like make spoons jump across the room.

The host and guests get in some amazing zingers at Uri’s expense:

  • “If you believe in ghosts, go ‘oooooooh'”
  • “This is one of the biggest benders in the world here”
  • Pretty much the entire first half of the 3rd clip

Uri does a pretty decent job of mocking himself though:

  • Host: What do you think people find scary? Uri: Waking up in the morning and seeing your spouse
  • “It’s awful to be attacked by spoons”
  • “Did you know that the first spoon ever found was in the pyramids?

I also still love Tim Minchin. Also, the line “the worst part about being bitten by a poisonous spider is that you’re probably Australian.” Burn.

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Movie Friday – postitive thinking

Psst… do you want to hear something amazing? There’s an unbelievably simple trick you can use to get everything you’ve ever wanted, without having to work for it, put any effort at all into bettering yourself or your life, or kill off your rich uncle.

It’s called THE SECRET

Anyone’s who’s taken any type of eastern philosophy course knows about the law of attraction. Basically, the theory is that if you put positive energy out into the world, you will reap the benefits of that energy. Hindus call it karma, Taoists call it the Tao, and skeptics call it a heaping pile of steamy bullshit.

Like prayer, or ‘remote viewing’, or psychics, mediums, Tarot and horoscopes, the law of attraction (karma) relies on some fundamental cognitive heuristics our brains use. The first and most important is called confirmation bias – our brains selectively attend to those events that fit assumptions we’ve already made. The second is a logical fallacy called ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc‘ or, ‘after it, therefore because of it’ – we see two events and infer that the first causes the second.

For an example of this, think of what happens when you’re waiting for a bus. How many times have you waited for a bus, got fed up and decided to walk, only to have the bus show up a minute after you leave? Have you ever said “of course, as soon as I leave, the bus arrives.” Your leaving has nothing to do with the bus arriving – the two events are independent, but after it happens 2 or 3 times, your mammal brain puts them together.

So when you send out positive vibes and something good happens, the two aren’t necessarily causally related – indeed, there’s no mechanism by which they could be related. The “Secret” is just an appeal to your mammalian brain and the cognitive shortcuts we all use to get by.

“So what?” you might be saying. “It doesn’t hurt anyone to think positively.” Despite evidence that it absolutely CAN hurt people to have unrealistically positive outlooks, it also leads to victim blaming. People assume that if you can think your way to happiness and wealth, then anyone who is poor just has a bad attitude.

Let’s let Dave Chappelle have the last word here…

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Movie Friday – What up, Ninja?

Seeing as the topic came up on Monday, I thought it would be fun to play this video

I really liked this video. While I’m not sure if the authors “get it”, they do expose some of the risible and arbitrary rules around the use of a word, and explore it using humour. Even if it was offensive, it’s funny enough to be excused.

My favourite part is the last scene, where they seem to have a quick debate to see if the non-eastern Asian guy can use the term without offence. “He counts,” apparently. Hilarious.


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Movie Friday: Billy Connolly

Today’s movie Friday features someone who can literally claim credentials to the title of greatest stand-up comedian of all time. I can’t say he’s my favourite, but I am not the grand arbiter of all things funny. Billy Connolly is a Scottish comedian who may be most recognizable for those of us not into stand-up as “Il Duce” from the dynamite movie Boondock Saints. When he’s not instructing his sons on methods of death-dealing, he’s a wildly funny comedian and actor.

This whole week’s been about race, so I figure I’m okay to let Billy beat up on religion a bit:

The thing about 53 virgins is spot-on. I’ve been with virgins – they’re much less fun than someone who knows what she (or he) knows what she’s doing and is into it big time.

And while we’re at it, let’s rip on “alternative medicine” too:

Interestingly, Billy was in a movie called The Man Who Sued God which is a great indictment of the role that religious superstition plays in secular society. Well, it is until about 4/5th of the way in, at which point it becomes weak dithering pablum. Despite its lackluster ending, I liked the movie and think it’s worth watching. Anyway, enjoy the videos!


Apparently this video went viral, so I’m a bit tardy to the party.

WARNING: he starts openly weeping about 1 minute in.

People often accuse skeptics and atheists of failing to recognize the beauty and majesty of the world because we break things down into their constituent pieces. While I don’t think it’s necessarily true that knowing how something works makes it less beautiful – for example I still love listening to the symphony, even though I’ve played in one for nearly 10 years – even if it did, I’d much rather be impressed by nature than… whatever this guy is. “Double rainbows” are neat, but they’re common. Rainbows are formed simply as light refracts through water vapour. Depending on the incident angle of the observer, multiple refractory patterns may appear. Once, on a plane over the Guyanese rainforest, I was lucky enough to see a FULL rainbow, which is actually a circular refractory pattern. Knowing what it was didn’t make it any less beautiful, but it prevented me from being gobsmacked by a simply-explained event.

My favourite skeptic, Neil DeGrasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York) said something that reminded me of this video. At around 1:30, the narrator of the video asks a question: what does this mean? He is then reduced to tears as his drug-addled brain struggles to comprehend the meaning of a rainbow. Dr. Tyson would have said to this guy:

“Just because you can string together words in the English language and put a question mark on the end of it, that doesn’t make it a real question.”

One of the greatest things about science is that it teaches you to distinguish between meaningful (or useful) questions and those that have no value. Asking “what is the meaning of life” is an example of a question that sounds meaningful (the word “meaning” is even in the question) but it’s in fact just a bunch of words strung together. A better question might be “what is a good way to live life?” or “what do I want to get out of my life?” Asking for “the meaning” is making a fundamental assumption – that there is a meaning. A “double rainbow” doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a really cool thing.

Now this guy was clearly on drugs, and drugs open your mind up to asking speculative questions like that so I’m not going to hold it against him. The Insane Clown Posse has no such excuse:

NONE of the things mentioned in this song are miracles (except ghosts, which somehow got worked in there) – the vast majority of these things are things that have been explained decades or generations ago. If you didn’t watch the video, good instinct. Watch this one instead (it’s seriously genius):

So any time someone tries to invoke the majesty of nature as proof that God exists, direct them to this video.


They mean you should have paid more attention in science class.