September 15th, 2008


Catching Up on Bullshit

bethje and I had fallen behind on watching the new episodes of Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, but we finally caught up on the rest of the sixth season yesterday. In this post, I'll discuss the last six episodes of the season.

Episode 64: Sleep, Inc. - This one was about all the crap that's sold to help people sleep, including special mattresses, mechanical devices, and pills. The main conclusion was (not surprisingly) that most of these things don't work. The pills, they said, just knock you out, and don't really provide a good night's sleep.

Episode 65: Being Green - Like the environmental episode from way back in the first season, this one used some of the same sorts of arguments, like how scientists in the seventies thought we were heading into another ice age (actually, in the glaciological sense, I believe we're still technically IN one), and that the rise in temperatures has little to do with human activity. They also used the line that was common among Republicans a few months ago, about how Al Gore's house uses a lot of electricity. That seems to me to be a bit of misdirection (appropriate for magicians, I suppose), since I thought the point was that it used more energy so it could be global-warming-neutral. I don't recall Gore ever saying that electricity use in and of itself contributed to global warming. But the main point of the episode was how some people use environmental guilt to their own advantage. As I've said before, my own take on the issue is that, while I can't say I know all the science, efforts to clean up the environment are often beneficial even if man-made global warming actually IS a crock (which I don't think it is, mind you). Penn and Teller's take on it seemed to be more along the lines of "eh, don't worry about it," but I guess I can side with them in terms of exploiting guilt being a bad thing.

Episode 66: Sensitivity Training - About how sensitivity training doesn't really work, how the people who conduct mandatory training seminars often lack any real qualifications, and the seminars are held just to avoid potential legal troubles. I guess my main take on the sensitivity issue is that problems really only arise when someone actually mentions they find something offensive, and the offender refuses to stop. That said, I've often found myself surprised by the sort of offhand comments people will make in public without even thinking. And when someone DOES get in trouble, it's often over one of the most innocuous things they've said. The episode mentioned the Don Imus "nappy-headed hoes" incident, and I have to say I would be really surprised if he'd never said anything more offensive than that.

Episode 67: Stranger Danger - This episode addressed how the world isn't as unsafe for kids as the media often make it out to be. It does kind of seem like there's a tend toward making kids paranoid as of late. I know I was a paranoid kid, but I think that might have been due more to my own personality than to anything my parents or the media told me. I know I was terrified of getting my wisdom teeth removed because my mom casually mentioned that some people die of the anesthesia. I don't think she was INTENDING to make me afraid, but that's how it worked out. But then, I also went through a phase of believing that kidnappers might dress up as my parents, so I'm sure I wasn't a normal case.

Episode 68: World Peace - While this one did include some of the typical "let's bash the dumbest members of the opposition we can find" stuff that's common of the weaker Bullshit! episodes, I can't say I particularly objected to it, perhaps because I've encountered plenty of the people who seem to think world peace can be achieved through marches, prayer, fasting, staying silent for a day, etc. They're often nice people, but I think I have to agree with Penn that their protests are usually more about making the protesters feel good than about instituting any actual change. The one part I DID have a problem with was how they bashed socialism with the typical "What about the Soviet Union? And Hitler called himself a socialist, too!" crap. I know Penn and Teller are in favor of free market capitalism, and I think there's something to their idea that free trade is the key to peace. But I think that free trade has to include elements of cooperation as well as competition. Capitalism and socialism both have their good and bad points, and I think it's probably necessary to combine aspects of both to have a truly effective economy.

Episode 69: Good Ol' Days - I've ranted in the past about people claiming the past was better, and while Penn and Teller didn't cover this subject in the same way I probably would have, it was still amusing. They made up clips of themselves doing their show in the eighties, the fifties, and the Middle Ages; and interviewed people who thought the fifties were actually like Leave It to Beaver, and the Renaissance era like a Renaissance Faire. They pointed out that nostalgia is natural, but it's really a personal thing, not a reflection of how the past actually was.

Blessings in Disguise

According to our old money-launderin', deregulatin', bug-sprayin' pal Tom DeLay, Sarah Palin sees babies as blessings, rather than punishments. I'd say an unwanted baby is kind of a strange blessing. I mean, isn't that all a matter of opinion? Some people want kids and others don't. To claim that EVERYONE should see a baby as a good thing, even if they're unwilling or unable to take care of one, is like saying I should see free coffee as a blessing, even though I don't like it. I mean, there are probably more people who do like coffee than don't, right? The main argument used people like DeLay and Palin seems to be, "How could you not want a baby? They're so CUTE!" But hey, some people also think wolves and polar bears are cute, so Palin isn't going to win me over with that kind of argument. A baby can be a blessing OR a curse, depending on the situation. And yet, during her interview with Charlie Gibson, she said that her desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as several other positions, is just her opinion. Well, of course it is, but I think the opinion of someone who has much more potential to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice than most of us is pretty significant. Not to mention that: 1) DeLay's statement about babies doesn't allow for any nuances, and 2) it's really just empty rhetoric. The only thing more annoying than politicians claiming to be "pro-family" is that people are apparently still falling for it.