Just so we’re clear, ok?

If you’re not vaccinating your kids, you’re a fucking idiot — and, worse, you’re not just endangering an innocent for whom you are completely responsible (i.e., your own kid), you’re also creating a public health problem and potentially endangering other people’s kids through your wrongheaded, goofball, crystal-gazing, Jenny-McCarthy-listening crackpot beliefs.

Period. Full stop.

It’s crap like this that points out two things really damning about America today:

  1. Journalism is dead. If there were any still real journalists working, we’d see widespread coverage of just how fundamentally stupid the idea of eschewing vaccinations is, and just how monumentally wrong claims of an autism link are.

  2. People would rather believe some kind of muzzy-headed bullshit than actual science. This isn’t surprising — there’s an astrology column in every major newspaper — but it’s tremendously disappointing.

There’s a real undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in this country that leads people to rely on their own imperfect impressions of complex ideas and concepts that require years of study to actually grasp. Doctors know more than you do. Physicists know more than you do. Your gut feeling that homeopathy probably works is worth precisely squat compared to more than a century of actual science-based, double-blind-tested medicine. From the article:

The rejection of hard-won knowledge is by no means a new phenomenon. In 1905, French mathematician and scientist Henri Poincare said that the willingness to embrace pseudo-science flourished because people “know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is not more consoling.” [...]

Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly. Being rational takes work, education, and a sober determination to avoid making hasty inferences, even when they appear to make perfect sense. Much like infectious diseases themselves — beaten back by decades of effort to vaccinate the populace — the irrational lingers just below the surface, waiting for us to let down our guard.

Before smallpox was eradicated with a vaccine, it killed an estimated 500 million people. And just 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans every year, while rubella caused birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns. Measles infected 4 million children, killing 3,000 annually, and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b caused Hib meningitis in more than 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage. Infant mortality and abbreviated life spans — now regarded as a third world problem — were a first world reality.

How’d we fix that? VACCINATION.

A very succinct and clear discussion of the White House v. Fox News imbroglio

I’ve been very pleased that the Obama White House has called it like it is and declared that Fox isn’t really a news organization. That’s been abundantly clear to anyone with a brain for a long, long time — after all, we’re talking about a group that went to court to protect their right to lie in the news, right? A group that sponsors Teabagging protests, and that was an active cheerleader for even the most egregious Bush-era atrocities. It’s not a point of debate.

What’s been shocking is that the rest of the mainstream media — the parts that are supposedly “liberal” — have basically just started parroting Fox’s own talking points on the subject.

Gawker’s Jezebel has a great summary of the whole affair:

Even if MSNBC does have a liberal bias in its news reporting (as opposed to its opinion and analysis) — for our purposes here, I’ll even stipulate that it does — it’s still comparing apples and rotting, bug-infested oranges. The problem is not that Fox News leans a bit to the right (in my opinion, so does CNN and so does half the “liberal” opinion on MSNBC), but that they consistently violate principles of journalistic ethics as if that is, in fact, their primary goal and they’re systematically working through a checklist. It’s not that they editorialize; it’s that they lie. It’s not that they sympathize with right-wing whackjobs, it’s that they sponsor them. You want to have a conversation about media bias on both sides, that’s fine, but you cannot have an intellectually honest version of that discussion if you begin with the premise that Fox and MSNBC are equally outrageous in their departure from objectivity and distortion of the facts — or, you know, “the fiction that Fox News is a traditional news organization.”

It’s convenient for folks at CNN to pretend that the two are equivalent, since that makes them look like the one cable news outlet that gives a damn about balanced reporting. But such an assertion actually betrays both bias and bull on their part (even if the bias is chiefly toward their own profits). Fox News has consistently displayed such a flagrant lack of concern for facts, balance and integrity, any journalist with the slightest pretension to objectivity should be mortified by the mere thought of defending them.

Fox is not news organization. Period. It’s a partisan extension of the right wing of the Republican party, and it has no right to the courtesy typically extended to nominally fairminded journalists. Their slogan “fair and balanced” is so brazen as to be Orwellian, and to defend them as somehow equivalent to CNN or MSNBC in their slant is to betray your own fundamental misunderstanding of words like “truth” and “journalism.”

The fact that Campbell Brown is whining about the White House’s treatment of Fox doesn’t suggest the Obama Administration is wrong; it suggests that Brown is nearly as shoddy a “journalist” as anyone at Fox. Fox is a major part of the problem, but it’s a problem that extends to all broadcast media today. So-called journalists have abandoned their traditional investigative, critical role in favor of a bullshit “present the controversy” approach that reaches its apotheosis when birthers like Orly Taitz are given airtime to suggest Obama isn’t actually a citizen.

Controversy may sell ads, but the responsibility of a news desk is to present facts. Countering the views of epidemiologists with Jenny McCarthy babbling about vaccinations and autism, and providing no voice of reason, is simply malpractice. And that’s what’s happening with the Fox vs. Obama coverage.

Memo to NickyLou

You know, we Tide faithful are pretty happy so far — no losses, top of the rankings for two years running, by all accounts you’re delivering at a level appropriate to your appalling salary.

But some fucking red zone touchdowns would be nice.

Also, Cody 4 Heisman.

Marketing, Vatican Style

Hey Anglicans! Hate gay and female priests, but strangely untroubled by wholesale obstruction of justice and ongoing protection of pedophiles? The Vatican wants you back!

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican announced a stunning decision Tuesday to make it easier for Anglicans to convert, reaching out to those who are disaffected by the election of women and gay bishops to join the Catholic Church’s conservative ranks.

Pope Benedict XVI approved a new church provision that will allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while maintaining many of their distinctive spiritual and liturgical traditions, including having married priests.

Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal official, announced the new provision at a news conference.

Dept. of Great Photography

The Boston Globe runs some of the best photos on the net, and they magnify the pleasure by presenting them in a sane, simple, way: it’s one long page with pretty large images. No scripts, no Flash, no fancy Ajax or other crap. Just pictures. It’s a clinic on good user experience design.

This time around? World Animal Day.

Posted in Pix

Dept. of Unexpected Sucky Aspects of Aging

In general, I don’t mind getting older. I feel like I get a little smarter — or, if not that, wiser — every year. Consequently, I feel little real trepidation about closing in on 40 next March. There is, however, something really awful about this particular time.

Most of my friends are pet people. Lots of them didn’t get their own animals until they left the chaos of college, so put the average puppy or kitty adoption date at around age 22.

Now, not quite 20 years later, they’re all dying.

In the last year or so, I’ve seen an inordinate number of these faithful companions pass away. Joy’s Katya was probably first, but Frazer’s 20-year-old cat Christine passed just this summer, and then dear Bob, and Laura Sneed’s 19-year-old Tigger slipped away just yesterday.

At lunch, just now, I got an another awful email. In 1994, when I was making friends with the Rice crowd and, eventually, moving over here from Tuscaloosa, one of the Rice folks was also moving back after a grad degree at Georgia. Jamie had a young dachshund named Annie who was smart as a whip and completely delightful. She was ever-present at social events starting even before I actually moved here, and remained so until the late 20s happened and people got old and less drunk and, in some cases, moved away to Austin or the Woodlands.

Annie’s been having a hard time, the mail said. She was hurting a lot, it said. So today she had bacon and roast beef for breakfast, and then they went to the vet to say goodbye.

I haven’t seen Annie in years, and I know this is hitting me harder than it should precisely because it’s so close to the loss of Bob, but it sure seems like there’s been a bit of an epidemic of this lately, and I for one am not at all pleased about it.

Dear science: Please make longer-lived pets. KTHXBI.

And cheers to our forever-loved four-legged friends. They are, to a person, much better people than we are. Hug ‘em if you got ‘em. It turns out 20 years happens way faster than you realize.

Ahem.

Roll. Damn. Tide.:

The Crimson Tide jumped Florida and landed at No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday.

The unbeaten Gators had been in the top spot since the preseason, but the Crimson Tide has been gaining ground for weeks by winning more convincingly than the Gators.

The final surge came after Alabama beat South Carolina 20-6 and Florida needed a field goal in the waning seconds to beat Arkansas 23-20 at home.

The Crimson Tide, which received 10 first-place votes last week, got 39 out of 59 from the media panel. Florida received the other 20 first-place votes.

Texas is No. 3, followed by Southern California, Cincinnati and Boise State at No. 6. The Broncos dropped a spot.

USC, however, is still absurdly overrated. Number four? Really? They rise after barely escaping the notoriously helpless Irish? Whatevers.

In which we discuss buying ANOTHER air conditioner

So, earlier this summer, we dropped a few grand on the Heathenmobile to return its a/c capabilities to a level Stuttgart intended, and figured that was enough HVAC work for the year. It sure FELT like enough.

Oh no. Not even close.

The house unit’s been kinda puny lately — taking a longer time to get the job done, creating higher bills, etc. The unit’s from 1997, so it’s not surprising for it to need some work (it’s been perfect so far), but we were kind of surprised to discover that it had basically failed while we were at the best concert ever last night. Thermostat setting? 74. Household temp? 82. Uh-oh.

It didn’t get below 80 all night, and crept way past the end of the dial during the day today. Ick. The a/c guy finally made it over about 630, and gave a potentially expensive diagnosis inside 20 minutes.

  • The system wouldn’t start up at all at this point. Fix: a $150 “start kit”.
  • It’s now on, but won’t cool. Whups! Out of freon. $125 later, it’s no longer out of freon.
  • Since the lack of freon is certainly because of a leak, let’s add in some dye to help us find that pesky bastard later. $72.50 for the dye, natch.

The story goes a little like: lower coolant -> harder working compressor -> higher bills and overheating -> Profit! Well, for the AC guy, anyway.

The leak diagnosis is a good new/bad news kind of thing. The bad news is that they’re almost always in the coil, and leaks in the coil can’t be repaired. This means we’re about to spend real money.

The good news is that, if we replace the coil, we’ll get an efficiency boost not just because the new one won’t be leaky; SEER ratings for new units are much higher than whatever the rating is on my 1997 unit, so next summer we’ll get equivalent cooling efficacy for fewer kilowatt-hours of work. That’ll help take the sting out of the check I suspect we’ll be writing between now and Thanksgiving. Yuck.

Best realization at a concert, ever.

Last night, during the U2 show at Reliant — which, by the way, was amazing; it really takes something to pull off a credible rock and roll show at that scale, about which much later — Mrs Heathen pulled my arm to yell in my ear:

“When’s the last time we heard this?”

The song was “Beautiful Day.” The answer: January 18, 2009. At the Lincoln Memorial. With about a million of our closest friends, in the cold and wet joy that was the pre-Inaugural concert.

The Cloud is Dead. Long Live the Cloud.

The much-publicized collossal cockup over at Microsoft regarding T-Mobile Sidekick user data reads like an IT horror story, and that’s because it completely is (some are even saying sabotage). And it didn’t take long for some folks to immediately start using the story as proof that cloud-based computing is a bad idea.

However, that’s not the lesson here, and cloud-based services are not the real problem in this picture. Let me explain.

The Sidekick, for those who don’t know, is a clever piece of hardware made by a company called Danger, and sold exclusively through T-Mobile. Unlike most PDA phones, this one came with no sync cable — you put your addresses into it, and it sync’d up to T-Mobile’s servers over the air.

That’s where “cloud storage” comes in. In the IT world, that phrase means “storing your data out on some servers in some data center someplace that you don’t own.” Use Gmail? Your mail’s in the cloud. Rely on hosted Exchange? Same goes for you, except now your calendar and contact data are in the cloud, too. Google Docs? Cloud. Various web-based collaboration tools? Cloud. You get the idea. It’s got power, but it’s also not always a perfect fit. Right tool, right job.

In the phone context, this has strengths, especially for casual users — no software to install on your PC, no cable to lose, and you can get to the data from any browser (like, say, at work and at home) even without your device handy. Changes made on either side get sync’d to the other, and everything’s groovy.

There are some costs, too, obviously. The biggest one is potentially security, as Paris Hilton learned back when the Sidekick was the “It Phone” and some private snapshots from her Sidekick account ended up on every gossip blog in the universe. It wasn’t the work of some nefarious hacker cracking T-mobile’s site; it was almost certainly just some dude who managed to guess Hilton’s password in the privacy of his own home with no access at all to Hilton’s phone. Game, set, match. The lesson here, though, isn’t “cloud storage bad;” it’s “use a real password.” Who wants to bet it was her dog’s name?

The real gotcha of the Sidekick architecture, though, is the one that’s happening now. Not only did the Sidekick not require a cable to sync to your desktop (Outlook or whatever), it couldn’t. There is no easy way (of which I’m aware) for a Sidekick user to get their own backup of their Sidekick data. It was and remains a “trust us; we know what we’re doing” situation — which, as I’ve said before, is never a good idea.

Now that the Sidekick servers are toast, and everyone knows that Microsoft did essentially no backups, that lesson should be clear.

But let’s be specific: The lesson isn’t that using any cloud service is bad. The lesson actually doesn’t have anything at all to do with cloud services. The takeaway for the savvy after the Sidekick affair is bone fucking simple:

Make backups. Lots of them.

If the system someone is selling you doesn’t allow YOU to make your own backups, buy something else. I use cloud services, if you want to call them that, for two different sets of data on my iPhone. Using MobileMe, my desktop calendar and contacts sync with my phone via Apple, with changes automatically pushed from one side to the other whenever required with no cable involved. It works like a charm, and my data is in three places — my phone, my desktop, and MobileMe. And my desktop is very backed up. I do the same thing with my corporate Exchange data, which exists in even more places (since I use multiple computers with multiple installations of Outlook in addition to my normal computer).

I also use other kinds of cloud services. My Nogators.com mail is hosted at Gmail, and Imap’d down to my clients. That’s pretty darn cloudy, and I wouldn’t go back to running my own servers if you paid me. But, again, I also have backups.

So, again: the problem, dear reader, lies not with the cloud, but with our selves — and our ability to measure our backup security in time zones and spindles.

Jon Stewart: Still Our Hero

CNN, for some reason, decided to fact check an SNL skit. And Jon Stewart was there, thank God, to point out just how asinine this is — especially since CNN does essentially no fact checking on assertions made on their network without citation or backup by partisan pundits selling their POV.

Which, you know, used to be considered the function of journalism.

But stay on that SNL thing, for God’s sake.

Search Engine Optimization Is A Waste Of Your Money

Or, at least, it is if you didn’t hire incompetent web devs in the first place. Derek Powazek nails it down for us:

Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned.

It may not be quite that bad — someone probably does have to explain to the masses why semantic markup matters, or why having meaningful links and real site structure matter and, in general, why HTML generated by something other than Word or your brother-in-law is important — but to a first approximation, he’s right.

What’s good SEO? Here’s the key:

The One True Way

Which brings us, finally, to the One True Way to get a lot of traffic on the web. It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to give it to you here, for free:

Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

Today’s random weird fact

Most Heathen are already familiar with the concept of mondegreens, i.e. amusingly misheard music lyrics a la “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”

When you cross languages, though, you can get a whole ‘nother level of weird: Heathen nation, I give you Soramimi. Soramimi are English lyrics that can be misheard as weird Japanese phrases. There are examples at the link.

Whisky Pact Redux

The dust has settled from yesterday’s contests, and the AP rankings are out — and Alabama has jumped Texas to take the #2 spot behind Florida (and got the only other first-place votes, 10 vs. Florida’s 50).

During the LSU-Florida game, the commentators were saying openly that the BCS championship will absolutely include the SEC champ, even if it’s a one-loss champ — IOW, if LSU wins all the rest of its games including a Florida rematch for the conference title, the Tigers will play in the big game despite dropping to #10 in this week’s poll. Obviously, if Florida and Alabama win out and meet for the SEC title, that winner will go to the BCS game undefeated and LSU will have to be happy with Sugar.

For the Gators, playing in the weaker SEC East, the only real challenge left will be the conference title game — that, and staying focused through the rest of the regular season. Their slate includes Arkansas, who played well against an inept Auburn yesterday, as well as Spurrier’s Gamecocks who are playing poorly despite a #22 ranking. The Gators round out the season with their traditional grudge match, but FSU isn’t really even in the same league as Florida at this point. It’d take flukes and mistakes for Florida to drop even one of these games, and even if they do they’ll still play for the conference title. That’s as close to a lock as you get in early October.

The Tide, fresh off a dominating win over Mississippi, face Spurrier next week, followed by the Tennessee grudge match. Neither are sources of concern if they continue to execute, especially on the defensive side of the ball. #10 LSU could be a spoiler, but probably not. Auburn has shown its mettle (or lack thereof) already. Predicting the future is a mug’s game, but if Florida’s essentially a lock on the East, Alabama is only a little bit less wired in for the West. Look for a hell of a game, again, when the two squads meet.

Texas’ picture is less obvious, owing to the Big XII’s tendency to back-load their schedules. Next up for the Horns is a two-loss Oklahoma, newly rejuvenated with Bradford back in the lineup. After that, the only ranked squads on tap for the Longhorns are #16 Oklahoma State and #17 Kansas. If Florida is a 95% lock to play in the conference title game, and Alabama a 90%, then give Texas an 85% to win out and end the year with a ticket to play the SEC champ for all the marbles. (I’m less good at handicapping outside the SEC, so actual chances may vary.)

If all this happens, we’ll have ourselves a football game come January.

How to tell if you’re an Idiot, part 3,205

You think the LCROSS experiment, wherein scientists will propel a spacecraft into the moon to provoke an explosion which they can examine for evidence of water, is a bad idea because of astrology.

Seriously. Screenwriter Amy Ephron — Nora’s sister — had this to say in the HuffPo:

It’s a big explosion. Suffice it to say that any amateur astronomer west of the Mississippi with a home telescope will be able to view it from their backyard.

I could say something scientifically lame and ask, “What if it gets thrown off its axis?” or something funny and suggest something (that I actually sort of believe), like, “What if it somehow throws off the astrology?” Or that we’re not risking — as we have the earth with continued experiments of this kind — sending the solar system out of balance.

Did you not even GO to a science class, Amy? Apparently not, if you “sort of” believe in astrology. 1.5 tons of TNT isn’t all that much in the scope of explosions, and certainly isn’t enough to alter the moon’s orbit. (The moon’s mass is on the order of 7.35 x 10^22 kilograms Dear Luna has enjoyed countless impacts larger and smaller than this in her current orbit.

Sadly, Amy’s little fit here (and resultant Twitter group, I shit you not) is decidedly scientific compared to this reaction to a similar experiment back in June:

In many traditions, including astrology, the moon represents the feminine. It is the yin, the intuitive, the emotions. Women are connected to the moon by their menstrual cycles while they are fertile, and all beings, including the earth herself, are affected by the pull of the tides.

Purposefully crashing something into the moon just to watch what happens is akin to a schoolboy cutting up a live frog to see what makes it jump. It is an example of the domination of the left-brained rational scientific approach over the intuitive.

Did these scientists talk to the moon? Tell her what they were doing? Ask her permission? Show her respect?

American education: FAIL.

Telcos never stop fucking you

Last week, I gave up and ordered Uverse with Internet only from AT&T. I really didn’t want to, and I may still tell them to go to hell, but at this point it appears to be the only way I can get high-speed ( > 5MB) connectivity into my house for less than a couple hundred bucks a month.

The first hurdle was getting them to sell me Internet-only. I have Vonage, and I’m very happy with it; I see no reason to go with AT&T’s phone service. I have DirecTV with a real Tivo; there is absolutely no reason to go with AT&T’s retarded DVR technology, HD be damned. But you can’t sign up for net-only Uverse online; you have to go to the phone, where you talk to an idiot.

Well, that’s not fair. The dude I got might not have been an idiot — but if he wasn’t, he was a liar. You pick.

The point of contention here is that I asked, over and over, will ordering Uverse disconnect my DSL? I have a 3MB down/768 up circuit here already, and I wanted to keep it so I’d have a fallback if the Uverse sucked. Over and over the idiot/liar assured me that yes, I could keep the DSL, it wouldn’t go away, it’s completely separate, etc. Fine; I ordered it, and scheduled Tuesday installation.

This morning, of course, we had no Internet. After lots of local troubleshooting and a phone call to my ISP, it turns out that yes, AT&T deprovisioned my line. Getting it back would be basically re-ordering the service from scratch. I called AT&T Uverse support and explained to them what had happened, and they were of course all about “well, he shouldn’t have told you that, because it’s not true, we regret the error, etc.”

I have one word for that: Bullshit. AT&T doesn’t care. They never care. They’re AT&T, and they will keep screwing customers as long as they possibly can. The call center I ordered Uverse from probably has a fucking sign on the wall encouraging the drones to say anything and everything to get a customer to sign up; if they don’t, it’s implicit in the comp plan. And now, of course, I’m on the hook – it’ll take weeks to get my DSL back, but some dude in a truck is theoretically showing up here tomorrow to set up Uverse. Gotcha!

The not-quite-so-dingy side is that I got them to ditch the install fee ($150) over this, but that’s cold comfort since the Glenbrook Valley types got a no-fee install without even asking.

Here’s the really annoying part: I have two copper lines into the house, only one of which has been active. If ATT had been honest about how DSL and Uverse interacted, I could have ordered the Uverse onto the other line and kept the DSL after all. Instead, because of their incompetent/sociopathic salesjerks, I’ve basically lost a day of work over it.

So, AT&T? Fuck you. Fuck you twice. I tried to avoid you, and when I finally gave in you were right there with a “gotcha” you clearly care nothing about. Die in a fire. Seriously. In the meantime, I’m shopping for non-Uverse broadband. Even at $65 a month, it’s leaving a pretty shitty taste in my mouth.

Dear CBS: You’re Still Doing It Wrong

So, we missed the first ep of Big Bang Theory for whatever reason, and wanted to catch up before watching episode two. We checked Hulu and iTunes and found nada, but managed to snag a torrent in about half an hour.

It occurs to me that it might’ve been on CBS.com, but network-based streams have been, in my experience, even more fail-filled than Hulu. I checked anyway: it’s clips only, so apparently CBS’ opinion is that if I miss an episode, I should just wait until they deign to show it again.

Um, fuck that. I long for the days when TV producers actually understand how data works. Let the record show that we tried to buy it before resorting to torrents. Sigh.

Joe Moe Did Not Read Infinite Jest This Summer

Infinite Summer is a collaborative, distributed book club dedicated to sharing and discussing David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus — as I type that, I wonder if the term should perhaps be retired, given how magnum the opus in question is.

John Moe did not participate, but you should read why he didn’t.

With Wallace, it was reading some of those Harper’s essays and experiencing Shea Stadium Beatlemania and a kind of loving fear all at once. Oh, so that’s a writer, I thought, sweating, screaming on the inside. As someone who wanted to be a writer, it was incredibly inspiring and absolutely soul crushing. Being a writer in a world that features Wallace would be like playing basketball in a world that has Michael Jordan, only none of us even know how to play basketball and we’re all injured toddlers with broken lacrosse equipment.

Here’s something I didn’t know

In biology, some animals have what’s called negligible senescence:

[N]egligibly senescent animals do not have measurable reductions in their reproductive capability with age, or measurable functional decline with age. Death rates in negligibly senescent animals do not increase with age as they do in senescent organisms.

In other words, they tend to live until something actively kills them. They’re still vulnerable to disease or violence, but absent that they just keep living. Examples include some tortoises and — get this — lobsters, who can live 100 years.