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Posts Tagged ‘satire’

Hey so I had an actual kinda serious thought about how David Cameron supposedly stuck his dick in a dead pig’s mouth.

I know, it’s not exactly the stuff of serious thought. But I’ve not been that into most of the jokes everyone’s been making about it.

It’s not that it isn’t funny that a major newspaper published a story about how the Prime Minister once put his cock inside the head of a pig as part of some kind of initiation procedure. Obviously that’s hilarious. It’s so obvious that I don’t really need the entire internet to keep telling me how funny it is.

The #baeofpigs hashtag is a stroke of genius (especially in contrast to the laziness of #piggate), but the gags seem to mostly consist of people re-explaining to each other why it’s funny that our hamfaced leader has been outed as a literal pigfucker. And that’s absolutely worth revisiting as often as you want to. I’m honestly not trying to buzzkill anyone else’s joy. I just started wondering what’s next before most people had finished having fun.

So anyway this actual serious thought I had.

Satire has always played a vital role in any society where political power is concentrated in the hands of a few dictators and despots, whether they’re democratically elected or not. Ultimately tyrants can only hold sway if their claim to authority is on some level taken seriously – even if you’re a brutal oppressor, you’ll need some kind of military force if you intend to keep a whole country in check, and they’ve got to have a good reason to consider you worth following. A system has to be maintained where you are adequately feared or respected – either by a sufficient chunk of the general populace to keep voting for you, or so that your advisers and generals don’t decide that your shiny hat would fit them better.

The most restrictive and authoritarian regimes have tended to have the least tolerance and harshest reactions to any kind of mockery or ridicule directed at those at the top. This may simply be because, when someone has the ability to make anyone who hurts their feelings disappear, they’ll use that ability – but it may also be because people with that kind of power understand how tenuous their grasp on it might turn out to be, if actual satire is ever allowed to take hold.

Satire punctures the aura of awe and mystique surrounding the distant stony figures who glare down at us from their jewelled thrones. It allows us to laugh at authority, to see the frail human hiding in everyone who ever tried to persuade a nation to see them as something akin to a god.

And as such, in the Western world in the 21st century, it’s basically redundant.

Or rather, there’s a surplus of ridicule and mockery already in place, intrinsic to society, directed at anyone who dares stick their neck above the surface to make themselves noticeable or remarkable even for a moment. Anyone with a shred of online awareness surely knows that everyone is satirising and laughing at everything all the time these days.

David Cameron never had any aura of awe and mystique around him. People have been taking the piss out of him internationally for years. He’s never been protected from criticism by any hushed reverence around a noble office that deserves respect and veneration. Some people haved talked as if this might be a resigning matter for him, but that would require it to change the esteem in which we hold him. But, these days, there’s nothing there to puncture.

There are people who vote Tory and support David Cameron and his ideas, and have developed a tribal allegiance with the filthy farmyard delinquent, and who might have gone off him somewhat as a direct result of these allegations. There are also people who didn’t like him before, and who are making plenty of hay out of this story, and good on them.

But I don’t think anyone was holding back their show of disrespect, until a news story about ritual bestiality suddenly broke the ice, gave everyone permission to point and laugh, and let forth an outpouring of no-longer-restrained ridicule.

For most people, David Cameron is not much more or less a figure of fun than before we found out that he once face-fucked a pig. His ability to command power will, I suspect, be little shaken. Most of the people who previously respected him will continue to do so, for the same reasons as they always did. The people who didn’t respect him before and hold him in even more contempt now, will continue to concern him as little as ever.

Sadly, for all our fun, I don’t think David Cameron is any less dangerous a tyrant than before.

#baeofpigs #neverforget

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Hi there, thanks for checking out our restaurant. You’ve probably heard a few things about us in the media lately, but before you rush to judgment, let me correct some of the misconceptions and misrepresentations you’ve almost certainly been told about the food we serve here.

This restaurant was founded by people with a noble vision. They wanted to raise concerns regarding the quality of many of the raw ingredients that end up in a lot of meals presented to the public. There are some chefs out there who are buying their stock from sources who’ll do them favours in order to keep their business. These sources are often dubious, and aren’t seeking to provide customers with the most tasty and nutritious meals possible. This is potentially a serious problem in the restaurant business; if the public are getting a higher level of salt or trans-fats in their diet than they’re led to believe, because of some shady and unethical deals going on between kitchen staff and providers of ingredients, then this is a scandal which deserves to be exposed.

We’re driven by serious ethical concerns, and trying to change genuinely problematic behaviour in the industry.

So would everyone please stop describing this restaurant as “that place where they shit in your food”.

That is not what we’re all about. We’re trying to inform the public on things like the shockingly high fat content often found in even prime cuts of meat. But everyone keeps ignoring our true priorities, choosing instead to focus on complaints about being served plates of food that are literally full of human shit. There is so much whining from people who claim that this happened to them, and from do-gooders who are outraged on their behalf, and it just needs to stop.

Now, look, obviously I’m not saying I support anyone shitting in anyone else’s food. Of course I don’t think that’s okay. But this is all a distraction from the important issues that the majority of us, who aren’t taking a shit in anyone’s food, are trying to address.

I’m just a waiter here. All I do is bring diners’ meals to them, and at the same time provide some handy informational leaflets explaining our concerns, and how these concerns affect you, and how you can make a difference, and (most importantly) whose fault this all is. If the order I’m bringing happens to have been mixed with, or entirely replaced by, a steaming pile of human shit, that’s not my fault. My encouragement about healthy eating and ethical trading practices are peripherally connected to those plates of shit at best.

Really, the uproar over some shit apparently turning up in a few people’s food is totally hysterical and out of proportion. Some customers have reported being unable to eat properly for days due to nausea, even in contexts that have nothing to do with our restaurant. This is frankly pathetic. Bodily waste products are an everyday part of life. If you’re going to be the sort of person who eats and digests food on a regular basis, you can’t be so thin-skinned or unprepared to face the harsh realities of fecal waste, whether or not it’s directly in front of you on a plate.

Yes, I’ve seen the pictures that have been shared online, showing dishes laden with the combined excrement of several of our chefs, which had been placed on the table in front of certain individuals who claim to have been simply trying to enjoy a pleasant evening out with their families. I understand that there has also emerged some camera footage from our kitchen, where you can clearly see several of our cooks defecating directly onto the meals recently prepared for our customers while discussing loudly the virtue of the philosophical point they’re making about modern dietary habits. But I don’t just blindly accept the narrative being pushed on us here, and I question the agenda of those doing the pushing.

They’d have you believe that this is proof that shitting in people’s food is all that happens in this restaurant. In fact, there are strong reasons to believe that some of these people have been shitting on plates of food in their own kitchens at home, and maliciously misattributing the footage to make us look bad.

But of course, nobody who’s chosen to side with the customers can accept that any of them would behave like that. So they just lap up the story they’re being fed by the media, and conclude that everyone who works in this healthy-eating-centred restaurant is just constantly shitting on everything, all of the time. Which is palpably ludicrous and impossible, just on a biological level.

More than that, it’s also deeply offensive and derogatory, to an establishment founded on healthy principles, and with numerous decent people like myself working towards an important goal. People who refuse to let their worthwhile aims get derailed every time someone whines and wails about finding another mound of human shit in their dinner.

This restaurant is not going away. We are determined, and we will persist. No matter how many public health bodies decry our practices and brand us a hazard to society. No matter how many so-called experts weigh in and declare that all the efforts of our dedicated staff to educate the public about what they’re eating are tainted by the stink of all the shit people are claiming to find in their food. We will not be oppressed. Our doors will remain open, and we will continue to serve customers as we have always done, with a focus on improving honesty and accountability in the manufacture and distribution of basic foodstuffs.

If you don’t like it, eat shit.

(Not literally. I would never condone or approve such behaviour.)

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Charlie Brooker’s newspaper columns and often bleakly satirical TV spots are among the most valuable and entertaining cultural commentaries to be found in the UK.

But recently he’s had another stab at writing proper drama. After watching two episodes of his dystopian-allegory-warning-thing Black Mirror, I’m guiltily hoping he goes back to what he’s really very good at.

His prose and sarcastic voiceover narratives demonstrate an enviably wry and nimble turn of phrase (“Come, friendly asteroids, and fall on Earth” was one I particularly enjoyed). But as much as he’s mastered the extraction of witty and withering one-liners from the darkness and depravity of the world, when he tries to stretch a point over an hour and a half it starts to seem rather thin.

In the second episode of Black Mirror, our protagonist is one of countless drably-clothed victims of some sort of authoritarian regime, and spends most of his time on a bicycle machine, providing the electricity that powers the world. The only other regular locations of his daily life seem to be a crowded elevator taking him to and from the cycle room, and an only slightly less cramped personal room, containing nothing more than a bed a few square feet of floor, and with television monitors making up every inch of wall and ceiling space.

Cycling earns him merits, which he spends on things like food, toothpaste, and brief reprieves from the string of loud and flashy advertisements that blare almost constantly from every screen. The only products we ever see him being encouraged to consume are a reality show clearly serving as a stand-in for The X-Factor, and pornography.

The message, such as it is, is not unfamiliar. What will happen if we get too enrapt by all this lowest-common-denominator passive consumption, and forget to think? The society of this episode (titled Fifteen Million Merits) has been entirely restructured around keeping the masses dumb and compliant, and providing them with ample mindless distractions to quell any thoughts of questioning the status quo. It’s so on-the-nose it’ll punch you in the sinuses, and Kirsty rattled off half a dozen books and films of which it was very clearly derivative without pausing to draw breath. But at least it does conjure the sense of abject turpitude it seeks to inspire, and if its ideas have been repeated often, it’s because they’re not unworthy of continued examination.

The problem lies in the shallowness of the show’s analysis of our inevitable moral and intellectual decline. The connection between society’s sexual obsessions and misogyny, our fixation with carefully manipulated and manipulative reality TV, and a decline in our capacity for (and interest in) complex thought, is made abundantly clear. But countless other important and intriguing social factors are glossed over or ignored. Surely there must be more going on, for us to have reached such a nightmarish scenario beyond the fever dreams of Huxley, than that we became too emotionally invested in some wannabe singers with tear-jerking personal histories. It starts to feel like the level of critique is dumbed down almost as far as the society we’re supposed to be thinking about.

One aspect of the world that was given less blatant emphasis was the avatars, or “doppels”, which people use to represent themselves when appearing on-screen or in a virtual world – a fairly minor extrapolation of an idea popular with a number of computer game systems today. The doppels are also customisable, and the drones are encouraged by their invisible overlords to spend merits upgrading their virtual characters with virtual accessories. Here, too, the parallel with current trends is not exactly opaque.

But the show’s examination of this phenomenon goes no further than to hurl contempt at the very notion of these unreal goods being a worthwhile form of consumption – and, dangerously, it does nothing to abnegate the spreading of that contempt to the consumers themselves. It doesn’t go any further than pointing at these forms of behaviour and labelling them as stupid, deplorable, reprehensible, and dehumanising. The people who act this way are either equally reprehensible and inhuman themselves, or (the more charitable alternative that we’re offered) they’re unthinking sheep who’ve been manipulated into ignorance of their own pointlessness. Which isn’t just an appropriately grim view of humanity’s possible future; it’s a dehumanisingly ungenerous assessment of humanity itself.

We’ve learned some fascinating things about ourselves and our brains, which relate to what we find entertaining, and the types of rewards we find enticing. What some games or advertising companies choose to do with these facts about human psychology may seem sinister, but they can also be used to improve ourselves. Will we, in the end, opt for self-improvement over low-brow gimmicks that push our pleasure buttons with all the casual ease of an addiction?

I don’t know. It’s a question worth asking, and an answer worth worrying about. But in the world of Black Mirror, there’s not much to suggest that the general mass of humanity are complex bundles of conflicting motivations and interests. It looks more like we’re a homogeneous crowd, doomed to irrelevance by our own flaws and our lack of interest in counteracting them. And it feels cynical in exactly the way Charlie Brooker is usually so good at destroying.

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It’s time for an Ultimate Showdown.

In July 2010, Phil Plait gave a speech espousing a hippie philosophy of universal love and harmony, in which he called for an end to any expressions of anger and aggression, and declared that the one true path allows only peace and tolerance for all our fellow men, no matter what they believe.

Since then, the skeptical community has been riven between two factions: Phil’s followers of the Light, and the dark and menacing hordes of PZ Myers, whose shrill screams of abuse and condemnation against the wacky and deluded echo around the blogosphere.

Allegiances have been made and broken, and now these two armies prepare to determine once and for all which single immutable philosophy shall dominate all skeptics’ interactions with believers and the public in the future.

LET BATTLE COMMENCE!!

…Okay, no.

There is a debate going on here, but it’s nothing like as silly and dramatic as it’s often made out to be. It’s not even especially divisive. Most infuriatingly, it’s not an argument with two clearly divided opposing sides. It’s not about Phil vs. PZ, arguing over some contentious philosophical point on which they utterly and irreconcilably disagree.

From what I’ve managed to untangle of the often garbled debate, almost everyone agrees on almost everything. And everyone’s been banging on about it far more than necessary.

I am now going to bang on about it far more than necessary.

 

Setting the scene

The title of Phil’s talk, and the theme which has carried the ongoing discussion since then, was “Don’t Be A Dick”. Phil has observed that “vitriol and venom are on the rise”, and this has prompted him to ask a certain question of his fellow skeptics. This question generally either resonates profoundly with people, or makes them grit their teeth with frustration at the implicit over-simplification.

A show of hands in the room reveals that many of the audience used to believe in something which they don’t any more – “flying saucers, psychic powers, religion, anything like that”. Then he asks this:

How many of you no longer believe in those things, and you became a skeptic, because somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard?

A few hands are raised again, but not many.

It was somewhat rhetorical, so let’s spell out the points that I think Phil wanted people to take away from that particular question:

  1. Most people aren’t persuaded to change their minds by being screamed at and called idiots.
  2. Therefore, if skeptics want to change anyone’s minds, they should not scream at people and call them idiots.

To the nearest approximation, I completely agree with both of these points, and I think most people would.

But these are not the only things being argued.

 

Only human

Let’s put the skeptical outreach issue aside for a moment here. Is screaming insults directly into somebody’s face ever actually acceptable? Is it ever recommended, a good idea, a productive and worthwhile means of achieving your goals, or even permitted by the rules of basic human decency?

I think there’s a strong case to be made for “No”. The kind of hostility Phil’s talking about is a clear sign of irrational, out-of-control anger. Insofar as he’s simply advising us not to be this unrestrainedly furious, he’s not said anything remotely controversial.

This doesn’t relate to skepticism as much as it does to the kinds of acceptable human interaction that most people should have learned by the age of five.

By extension, this kind of dickishness is not a problem with skepticism, it’s a problem with people. It’s characteristic of our entire species, so anyone who feels compelled to abandon the skeptical movement because some people in it haven’t got the hang of not being an obnoxious ass might as well recuse themselves from the entire human race while they’re at it.

But most humans, and most skeptics, are better than this. We don’t need to be reminded that yelling so much abuse that people are getting hosed down in spittle is bad form. So let’s look at the more subtle points that people have taken from Phil’s talk.

 

Who listens to dicks anyway

The point about screaming in people’s faces seems trivial. But there are other, less comically extreme ways to violate Wheaton’s Law.

The question becomes: When have you ever changed your mind because someone was rude and unkind to you?

The implied follow-up is: By comparison, when have you ever changed your mind because someone was polite and gentle to you?

And the implicit assertion behind it all is: People will be more likely to change their minds if you are polite and gentle than if you are rude and unkind. Therefore, we should be polite and gentle, and we should not be rude or unkind.

The first sentence may well be true. I know that I find myself far less inclined to listen and take on board somebody else’s points in a one-on-one debate if they’re being deliberately obnoxious and cruel. And I’m not alone in this; people do tend to be reinforced in their opinions, rather than receptive to counter-arguments, when coming up against someone who disagrees with them in a combative and hostile way.

Civil discourse seems like a much better way to bypass prejudices and biases and exchange some information, which is surely a necessary thing for any rational person to change their mind. There’s a great deal to be said, when talking about their beliefs to someone who you think is wrong, for not being outright abusive and unkind to them.

But there’s actually a much better reason than this to moderate your dickish abusiveness.

 

The bigger picture

Whoever you’re arguing with, whatever the circumstances, and however reasonable and approachable you’re being, they’re almost certainly not going to have a sudden complete turn-around right in the middle of this one conversation, as a direct and instantaneous result of what you’ve said.

This is actually quite sensible. If they’ve spent a long time believing what they do, and it’s seemed like a viable worldview all this time, then anything new they learn which might shift their position deserves some thinking time. You might have made a lot of sense, and maybe they had to admit to themselves that their arguments didn’t hold up. But at the very least, they should probably sleep on it before entirely reversing a long-held position, and see whether you still seem right in the morning.

It’s futile to engage in personal discussion if you’re going to count any result other than instant capitulation as a complete failure. The effect you have on your opponent might take a long time to materialise.

But, crucially, they’re not the only ones being affected.

If your debate is happening in a public auditorium, or in a series of blog posts and comment threads, or anywhere else that other people can observe it, then other people will observe it. And this is a vital part of the discourse. In many cases, the effect on the spectators will be greater than that on your opponent.

Look at Sylvia Browne. (Not for too long, or your will to live may start to dissolve, possibly along with your eyes.) Robert Lancaster’s site about her is brilliant, thorough, extremely critical, ruthlessly polite, and is in no way a form of direct argument with Sylvia Browne herself. I don’t know of anyone in the skeptical community who would consider such an argument remotely worthwhile. Nobody is trying to change Sylvia Browne’s mind about anything.

Instead, the site exists for the benefit of the people who might needlessly throw away huge sums of money or be severely traumatised as a direct result of what Sylvia Browne does. Trying to persuade her to abandon the industry that’s made her millions and formed the basis of her life’s work for decades is futile – but people who aren’t entrenched in any real delusions, and have just been a bit impressed by what they’ve seen her do, will often be open to reasonable explanations. And there are a lot more of them than there are of her.

Everyone who’s arguing with Sylvia Browne is (or should be) doing so for the benefit of the mass of onlookers.

And something that might benefit said mass is for you not to be a total dick.

Now, there are always going to be people who leap to accusations that you’re being rude and unfair, no matter how carefully you tread. Sylvia certainly has her zealous supporters who seem to take any kind of skepticism as a direct and unprovoked attack, however delicately and reasonably it’s phrased.

My advice on that score is: try to have a better sense of what constitutes needlessly dickish behaviour than Sylvia Browne’s most rabid fans. If you find this difficult, you may be beyond my help.

Some of her followers will be open to changing their minds, but it probably won’t happen overnight. Someone’s opinion of any particular fake psychic tomorrow will be largely dependent on what their opinion was today. But over time, with enough exposure, the message will get through to the world as a whole: this point of view also exists, and isn’t going away, and might just have something to it that’s worth listening to.

 

Mock mock

So we can agree that not coming across as vindictive, petty, abusive, and prone to temper tantrums when anyone disagrees with you is a good way to influence people outside the argument, as well as to make sure you seem more rational and approachable to your debate opponent zemself.

But civility isn’t the only thing that spectators appreciate. They’re a complex and diverse lot, that “third party” you keep hearing about. They’re often put off when you scream in other people’s faces, true, but sometimes they like things that push the boundaries of impeccable politeness. Sometimes they like satire, or mockery, or a good blunt smackdown of some bullshit.

Phil Plait might also have asked: When have you ever changed your mind because somebody screamed abuse at somebody else?

And if you extend this beyond the trivial bounds of cartoonish douchebaggery – replace “screamed abuse at” with “said something curt or abrasive to”, and “changed your mind” with “learned something about some issue which has clarified your position” – then I suspect this becomes a common occurrence.

Certain well-placed sniping, bitchery, sarcasm, and other forms of dialogue with a bit more substance to them than abject obsequiousness can be fun. Both to indulge in personally and to watch from the sidelines. And things that can be enjoyed and laughed at are an important part of any debate which you expect to hold anyone’s interest.

And sometimes, as well as being entertainingly engaging and provocative, potentially dick-like behaviour is simply necessary to make a point. Sometimes it’s not only possible but necessary to call people’s ideas ludicrous, and their decisions ignorant and ill-informed, if you want to retain your intellectual integrity.

The people being criticised in this way might claim that it makes you a dick. But if your criticism is honest and justified, then being this much of a dick is worth it for the ability to make an important point forcefully.

 

Common ground

Here’s what really bugs me about this debate so far, though: I don’t think I’ve actually said anything here which either Phil or PZ would seriously disagree with. Despite the way that some absolute dichotomy between two opposing worldviews is often depicted, I think their positions are virtually identical.

Phil’s message was primarily about being nicer and less aggressive, but with a clarification about the usefulness of well placed scorn and severity. In essence, his proposition amounts to:

Sure, we shouldn’t be totally spineless, but that doesn’t mean we should act like douchebags.

PZ, on the other hand, has defended taking a more assertive and unapologetic approach, but is careful not to be needlessly cruel to undeserving targets. His point, then, is basically:

Sure, we shouldn’t act like douchebags, but that doesn’t mean we should be totally spineless.

There’s more common ground there than the debate often seems to admit. Really, they’re just expressing concerns about different pitfalls to be avoided.

Phil’s “side” of the debate is often being painted as the caring and thoughtful side, which would never stoop to ridicule of anyone, at any time. It’s as if this particular bloc of skeptics are the only ones who understand that mockery will only ever turn outsiders away from your cause, and would never stoop to anything so self-evidently counter-productive.

But let’s be clear: Phil Plait has never claimed to be the goddamn Buddha.

The image of a man whose brain seems to have caught fire, with a caption reading “The Stupid, It Burns”, is a regular feature on Phil’s blog, often appearing when some kooky opinion is expressed by some person or organisation of note. He’s more than once declared the entire state of Texas (it’s usually Texas) to be “doomed” because of some backwards political decision being made somewhere.

He’s also not held back from loudly expressing his outrage over the dishonesty, credulity, and carelessness that some supposed medical authorities have exhibited over the issue of vaccines, and the number of children who die of preventable illnesses as a direct result of irrational non-medicine.

Does any of this really qualify as being unwaveringly delicate and sensitive toward those who disagree with him?

In fact, it seems perfectly in keeping with the advice given by P-Zed in the presentation he gave at 2010’s TAM London. One of the soundbite suggestions he offered as a counterpoint to “Don’t Be A Dick” was: “Be The Best Dick You Can Be”. The line that summed it up best was: “We shouldn’t be gratuitously obnoxious; we should be purposefully obnoxious.”

PZ and Phil are both, to my mind, pretty good at this.

 

In Conclusion

The end.


Further reading which I couldn’t integrate into the above blather itself:

Almost Diamonds
A comment from Dawkins
The War Over “Nice”

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Tragedy struck across the globe today, as members of a science-based internet cult known as 10:23 committed mass suicide, by taking overdoses of homeopathic medications.

The scheme had been orchestrated well in advance of the appointed time, with the group’s website showing a ticking clock for several weeks previously, counting down to the exact minute at which its members were instructed to swallow “an entire bottle” of the chosen remedy at once.

Over three hundred skeptical cultists are reported dead as a result.

“Dr” Manley Nacik, a homeopathic practitioner who has prescribed these alternative medications for over twenty years, was particularly saddened by this mass misjudgment, but said that perhaps now homeopathy would finally begin to find mainstream acceptance among the scientific community.

She also commented on reports that the 10:23 campaign members are, in fact, all alive and well, and were entirely unaffected by the consumption of a large number of homeopathic pills, except perhaps for a slight increase in blood-sugar levels.

“There may be some anecdotal evidence that, in fact, some of the skeptics who took part in this stunt are still alive,” she told reporters today, “but that’s all it is: anecdotal. Reports from friends and family of campaigners that they’ve been seen walking and talking as usual, and the blog posts and Twitter feeds of the skeptics’ themselves, or other members of the public who claim to have witnessed them in pubs countrywide shortly after the event, consist solely of individual eyewitness account and personal testimony. To draw any definite conclusions from such shoddy and unreliable data, and conclude that anybody is actually still alive just because they claim to be, is deeply unscientific and barely coherent.”

Fake medicine expert “Dr” Ana Dullman agreed, and stressed the importance of scientific rigour and drawing conclusions based only on the available evidence, in determining the fates of the campaign participants.

“There’s no solid evidence to suggest that anyone who took a homeopathic overdose this morning now has a metabolism statistically greater than that of a corpse,” he said. “Whereas there are already double-blind, peer-reviewed trials being published in respected academic journals indicating strongly that everyone who overdosed on homeopathy is definitely dead.”

When pressed for details, “Dr” Dullman suggested that interested parties seek confirmation of the results of these trials in the “American Journal of Mumbletymumble” and “The New *cough*cough* Times”.

Meanwhile, regular updates are appearing on the 10:23 event website itself, including numerous photos and videos purporting to depict the overdosers in a state of inexplicable continued good health.

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At a press conference held this morning, self-styled “creator of the universe” God provided disappointingly little new information as to his reasons for causing a devastating earthquake in the Caribbean country of Haiti.

Although the word of God is held by many to be a sacred and unambiguous message given to us directly by the almighty lord of all things, many commentators are expressing a growing frustration with the creator’s vagueness on numerous policy issues, and unwillingness to provide specific details as to his overall strategy.

“Those who suffer now were an abomination unto my presence,” God said at 9:30 this morning, reading from a prepared statement. But when asked by the assembled press corps for details as to why the people of Haiti had been singled out for punishment, the Father became more reticent.

“He actually tried to blame it on the sodomites,” said Dib Snibson, a junior reporter for the Englebert Weekly News, who was present at the conference. “Really! As if Sodom were anywhere near Haiti, or homosexuality had any connection to tectonic plate activity. And like there aren’t much gayer places in the world than Haiti. I mean, Jeez. The guy just keeps re-running the same old excuses that don’t even make sense.”

“Makes you wonder if there’s really any kind of cosmic plan at all beyond the random whims of nature,” he added thoughtfully.

This was God’s first press conference of 2010, and has been widely regarded as one of his most unsatisfactory appearances in recent years. It comes as a particular let-down after his extremely well received Christmas message, mere weeks ago, in which he eloquently explained how it’s fine if people want to wish each other Merry Christmas, equally fine if they don’t, and we should all really stop taking these fiddly details so seriously and just concentrate on being decent to one another.


I know I decided that making The Daily Half-truth actually happen daily was more work than I really needed, but these are still fun to do once in a while.

Anyway, screw you, Pat Robertson. And I’m sure Olbermann’s had his fair share of wacky left-wing moments, but when he does what he does well, he really does it well.

(I know I’m not offering much in the way of actual practical info about helping out those hundreds of thousands of people whose country just broke, but the Skepchicks are on it. Go check them out.)

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Okay… I think we can all relax.

I didn’t watch it the first few times I saw it linked, because I read the summary and it just sounded depressing. Eventually I caved in and witnessed the nightmare for myself.

It really was hideous.

Yes, it’s that video of the American girl sitting down for a chat with “one regular [friend] and one Indian one”, and getting caught up in an extended argument about whether she’s African (and, if not, why she’s so dark) before moving onto religion. The Indian girl, Saraa, is a Hindu, and this fundamental difference in belief is handled with tact and sensitivity by her Christian pals, as they ask searching questions about this unfamiliar faith in order to better understand the worldview and experiences of someone they care about.

Questions like, “Krishna? Is that what you call Jesus in your language?” and “So… you want to go to Hell?”

For a couple of days now the whole internet has been finding it hilarious, in the same way as they might find a fatal traffic accident deeply engrossing. All the obvious stuff has been said, about how worrying it is that someone could be so out of touch with what others think, and so unable to comprehend any alternative viewpoint. And, of course, there was debate as to its authenticity.

I mostly bought it, at first. They all do seem really sincere, and their geographical ignorance certainly plays into my expectations. I was slightly suspicious of the neatness of the comic timing with which they cut away after the “India, it’s an African country in Asia” line, but mostly it seemed depressingly genuine.

Looking at this girl’s profile, she’s also set up an account which seems to be solely for parodying their detractors, in a way which would seem to fit with their image as ignorant, self-absorbed teenagers.

She’s favourited an Edward Current video, but she seems like exactly the sort of person who would entirely fail to spot the satire in his work, and be proudly declaring “Checkmate, atheists!” whenever the chance arose.

But – unless I’ve seriously misunderstood the way YouTube works – the slam-dunk evidence would seem to be in the tags she’s attached to the video. (I’m assuming that they could only have been added deliberately by her when it was uploaded, and not come later from anywhere else.) As people in the comments have pointed out, the tags of interest are “poe’s”, “law”, “Henry”, and “Fielding”.

Poe’s law describes how hard it is to create a parody of religious fundamentalism that won’t be taken seriously, because there are bound to be some fundamentalists who honestly believe even crazier stuff than whatever you can make up. Henry Fielding was a famous 18th century satirist.

So… that has to clinch it, right? Until further analysis explains why I’m wrong, I’m going to assume they’re joking. It’s not the most hilarious parody of Jesus-thumping lunacy I’ve seen, largely because I suspect it’s too accurate a re-creation. The piss-taking is too subtle. But I’m sure I see it in there somewhere. They were lampooning me. It was a simple lampoon.

So, it’s okay everyone. We can all calm down and rest easy, safe in the knowledge that… well, the knowledge that there are thousands of people out there who really are exactly like this, but probably not the ones in this particular video. I guess.

Yay?

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