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| The Two Percent Company's Rants

...forging the unknown into common knowledge, eradicating bullshit and ignorance, and fighting for truth, justice, and the use of science, reason and logic to further the progress of humankind.

— • —

The Two Percent
2016.11.09 (Wed) 16:21

We lied.

Only once, but we did lie. It was one of those little white lies meant to spare other people's feelings. The kind of lie you hope people won't ever question, because it'll just make things worse and distract from the real point if they know the truth.

The question only came up a few times, but it was one we knew we'd have to deal with, so we put the answer into our FAQ, right at the top. Enough people were curious about the name of our site that we felt we owed them some answer — any answer, really. So we answered.

Well, it started as an admittedly silly joke — one of our members seemed to have this strange 2% phenomenon popping up at every turn. In one day, he got a meager 2% raise at work and a lowly 2% bonus, all because his team missed an EBIT target by 2%, and when he went to the grocery store to get whole milk, all he could find was 2%. Coincidence? Absolutely. Coincidence notwithstanding, this soon turned into the saying "I'm having a 2% day", which meant things could be better. Yes, it was very much a localized saying, limited to about 4-6 people, so we understand if you've never come across it yourself.

The paragraph above is pure, unmitigated bullshit. It's feel-good pap for the masses. The one time we indulged in what politicians and the media do for a living.

The second part of that answer gets a little closer to the truth:

Later, when we first came up with the idea for this site, and started writing down a lot of the thoughts and musings which we had been talking about for quite some time over late night beverages, a question came up: how many people would likely agree with everything we had to say? The answer — blurted out by more than one person immediately — was "Probably about 2%." In retrospect, we certainly hope that it is a higher percentage than that, but we already had the domain name, and a nifty logo, so we figured what the hell.

Yeah, sure; except that this flippant answer wasn't a response to our decision to put the site together; it was the impetus. It was the root cause, not an after-the-fact analysis.

Long before we started the site, we were already growing incredibly irritated by the overwhelming abundance of assholes in the world. We read and watched the news, we read and watched people's reactions, and we poked and prodded to see if we could figure out exactly why our reactions seemed to be at odds with most of those we witnessed. Here and there, we found individuals who seemed to share our reactions — but they were few and far between.

We didn't do any actual math. It was all gut instinct: that biochemical math we all have built in to our brains, like when we do the lightning fast calculus approximations required to catch a ball. We looked around, and it dawned on us that there was a clear and incontrovertible — if only estimated — breakdown of the human species. (If you like the double-meaning there, we're with you.)

So here's the truth.

85% of you are absolutely fucking worthless. We don't think that means you should be "done away with"; we don't think that means you aren't deserving of at least a modicum of pity or empathy. But you're fucking worthless. You are worthless because you are able to, and will, contribute absolutely nothing to our species, our world, or anything larger than yourselves, and even taking care of yourselves is beyond most of you. You are the people who consistently vote against your own self-interests. Many of you are the "working class" folks who believe that a self-proclaimed billionaire who stiffs his contractors has your best interests at heart. You believed it hard enough, and long enough, to create what is likely to be the most disastrous result in the history of American democracy. We're relatively certain that this is not hyperbole, but time will tell.

There's another segment of the population that isn't worthless. You folks can make worthwhile contributions, and in some cases, you even do. When we did our cocktail napkin math without a napkin, we pegged this segment at about 13%.

13% of you aren't a worthless load. You're trying, and sometimes even trying the right thing. You've got some ability to contribute, and when you're pointed in the right direction, you can get the job done more often than not.

For most of you in the 13%, your only failure is not recognizing the presence — and significance — of the 85%. You don't realize that their very existence makes life much harder for you; that they can't be bargained with, they can't be reasoned with, and nothing will sway them from their ludicrous, myopic, self-absorbed journeys through this world as they slog from a warm, lifegiving womb to a cold, desolate grave.

If you realized it, maybe you'd do something about it.

Of course, some of you in the 13% are actively working against the human species. You're not stupid — in many instances, you're far from stupid. But you carry with you the obstinately selfish drives of the 85% — indeed, most of the 98% — and have no interest in creating or improving things for the benefit of others...unless it benefits you both directly and handsomely, and even then you can be petty little shits about it.

The 85% are idiots. The 13% are, in general, unfortunate victims, ineffectual gimps, or raving assholes. Those of you who are mathematically inclined have already figured out just what percentage of the population remains.

Two Percent of us get it. That's what we realized, back then — that was our quick and admittedly rough approximation. Two Percent out of almost seven billion humans — over a hundred million — isn't too bad, though it isn't nearly enough. Hell, we were just a small handful ourselves, and only two of us did the majority of the work here and really stuck with it for all those years.

Two Percent of us know that it doesn't matter if a particular evil or injustice affects us personally — evil and injustice must be called out and (ideally) defeated no matter who they affect. Two Percent of us know that there are no absolutes outside of empirical, scientific study — everything needs to be examined in context. Two Percent of us are aware of how galling it is to have to put up with the 85%, but also know that simply getting rid of them is not a fair, just, or tenable solution.

We were — are, still — in that Two Percent. We fought the good fight — not just here on this site, but elsewhere, in our private and professional lives, whenever feasible.

Despite winning the popular vote, Hillary Clinton — a flawed but hyper-competent and sincerely devoted proponent of human beings and our civil rights, whose tendency towards caution and distrust was the result of years of unwarranted persecution on the part of frothing cocksuckers with nothing better to contribute — was defeated by a revolting, disturbing pile of flesh who embodies everything the Two Percent Company has despised about the last two (or more) decades.

This did not come as a huge surprise. If you were completely caught off guard by this, you weren't paying attention. It did, however, come as a profound disappointment. A sense of aggravation that, no matter how many times we go through this cycle, the 85% will keep dragging us through it again...and again...and again. The assholes in the 13% will keep stirring them up and preventing humanity from making the progress we need to make.

If we'd focused — if we'd paid attention and resources to the things that mattered — we'd have pushed so much farther than we have. We'd have fucking cured cancer by now. We personally know professionals on the forefront of that fight; they're so goddamn close it hurts...but when it comes time to vote, the focus and money don't tend to go there, where it's insanely obvious it's needed.

So thanks a heap, you fucking 98% asshats. Because it's too late for some of us. And I (singular) mean us (personally). So fuck you.

It's been a massively shitty last two weeks.

The worst part, though, is that I can't stop giving a shit. I can't stop trying; I can't stop hoping, and shouting, and fighting when it's possible. Because that's the key to being in the Two Percent: you care about the point, the principle, even if the people who will benefit from it are utterly fucking pointless.

Does this sound elitist? Go fuck yourself. If you think that, it's highly unlikely that I care what you think at all. Everything sounds "elitist" to people who don't give a shit about something outside of their own narrow fucking world view. But we never thought of the Two Percent as a particular brand or type or demographic — it doesn't matter if you're an earthy farmer in the Rust Belt, a dirt-poor peasant in Southeast Asia, an aloof academic in your Ivy League ivory tower, a suit and a combover on Wall Street...or a fucking brilliant guy doing everything for his wife and two daughters who still found the time to give a shit about everything else. Any gender, any color, any walk of life — you could be a Two Percenter from anywhere, and you'd still be a Two Percenter. It's just that, mathematically speaking, the odds are much, much higher that you're not.

No, I'm not starting the Rants up again, which is why comments remain closed. I just wanted to clear the air about that one little lie. And tell at least 85% of you to go fuck yourselves.

And to say goodbye. But not to you.

The Two Percent Brothers: Tom and Jeff

He was so, so much better than 98% of you, and at least as good as the rest.

[  Filed under: % Bullshit  % Government & Politics  % Greatest Hits  % Two Percent Company  ]
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When You Absolutely, Positively Have to Change Your Business Model Overnight
2009.04.06 (Mon) 02:36

Oh, horrors! The United States Postal Service just might have to give up its Saturday schedule mail delivery.

And we should care...why?

The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and is looking at much larger losses this year. Reducing mail delivery from six days to five days a week could save $3.5 billion annually, [Postmaster General John] Potter said.

And what does the House Oversight post office subcommittee have to say about this?

"With the Postal Service facing budget shortfalls, the subcommittee will consider a number of options to restore financial stability and examine ways for the Postal Service to continue to operate without cutting services," subcommittee chairman Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., said.

Lynch said the financial stability of the Postal Service is "critical to the American expectation of affordable six-day mail delivery."

Well cry us a fucking river, but we don't expect that shit. It's wonderful that National Association of Letter Carriers President William Young insists "that the agency is not seeking a taxpayer bailout," and it's thrilling that they don't currently take any taxpayer money, but we're not very interested, either way, in supporting an agency that expected a $1-billion loss last year, and wound up losing a whopping $2.8 billion. What's with this automatic assumption that they'll operate at a loss? Here are a couple of salient words: junk mail.

Will Craven, a San Francisco spokesman for [ForestEthics] -- which penned the legislation sponsored by several S.F. supes -- notes that the United States Postal Service itself admits that 30 percent of all the mail delivered in the world is American junk mail -- 104 billion pieces at its 2007 high (or nadir, if you see things differently).


"When you have a for-profit business -- and the postal service is a for-profit business -- and you don't anticipate being within $1 billion of profitability, maybe you need to re-examine your business plan."

Some sources place the percentage of junk mail a bit higher, at nearly 40 percent. The Post Office has essentially made a business of delivering mail that nobody fucking wants, and now they're expecting any kind of sympathy or support when their business is floundering? Give us a break.

Gee, how will we ever survive if our loads of useless junk mail will only be delivered on weekdays? Wake the fuck up, Congress. Why are you fighting the five-day Post Office delivery plan? Who the fuck really needs mail on Saturday? If you absolutely, positively need to get something somewhere on the weekend, cough up the extra money for a fucking guarantee from a corporate outfit like FedEx.

Personally, we've been inching toward the paperless life for quite a while, opting for paperless billing across the board, wherever possible, communicating almost entirely through e-mail, ordering our deliveries through FedEx or UPS, et cetera. Aside from American Express, which has inexplicably been ignoring all requests for paperless billing (and outright lying about being unable to e-mail our electronic statements to us — we get plenty of your advertisement e-mails, AmEx, so stop pretending), it's been going pretty well. Don't pat our backs too hard, since we're not really in it for the "environmental" reasons; but that's certainly a nice bonus.

Frankly, if the Post Office would simply implement a full-scale Do Not Mail sign-up, akin to the Do Not Call lists, we'd applaud some goddamn effort on their part, at the very least. But this fucking organization has been operating like a blind man on a heavy construction site for years. Getting rid of what has essentially become an industry devoted to junk mail would start to help the Post Office cut itself down to size, and maybe then it could stop hemorrhaging so much fucking money.

For fuck's sake, we ourselves have been dealing with their fucking inept policies for decades. For example, some of us are subject to local "you must have your name on the mailbox or we won't deliver your mail" rules. What?! Like us, you folks probably get tons of mail every fucking week addressed to "Resident," and these USPS fucks dare to say we need to have our own names on the box? In addition, if you live in an apartment, you probably continue to get tons of mail addressed to the previous tenant of your apartment...whose name is no longer on the box. If we really "must" have our own names on the box, then shouldn't that name, printed on the box, preclude the fucking USPS from delivering any mail that isn't addressed to us?

Who are they trying to fucking kid?

(And, for the record: don't ever do anything that a fucking mentally unbalanced postal worker might completely misconstrue as "rude" or "aggressive" — like, you know, trying to point out your name on the mailbox to prove you've put it there — because they can apparently simply refuse to deliver your mail with no notification whatsoever for upwards of two months. Or, with no provocation at all, perhaps, they might inexplicably assume you have died, despite the fact that you are still alive and in reasonably good health — and in fact, the guy in the apartment downstairs is the one who shuffled off this mortal coil — and they'll stop delivering your mail, have it returned to the sender stamped with an undeliverable notice, and refuse to believe you for over two months when you point out — live and in person — that you are still among the living. And these anecdotes are just the experiences of people in our own small Two Percent circle! Nice to know the USPS is particularly accountable to anybody.)

The fucking USPS is a practically useless arm of the government that has far outlived its original mandate. We have no reason to support it any more — at least, not in its current incarnation. We've got e-mail, we've got good (and affordable) commercial delivery services, we're doing just fine with or without them.

Yes, there are those who still prefer sending missives on paper (though we can't really get behind that feeling ourselves), and sending a simple letter by FedEx is prohibitively expensive, comparatively speaking. It's also nice, on occasion, to have free pick-up right at your house, which UPS and FedEx don't provide (though if you live in an urban area, or an apartment, you likely just go to the Post Office when you have something to mail). So, sure, there's a definite niche for the USPS to occupy...but it's not the one they're aiming at right now.

So yeah, cut out the Saturday mail delivery — better yet, cut a few more days off the postal work week. That alone should save a buttload of money. In fact, just off the cuff, we'd say that 1 to 2 at-home pickups per week is more than enough these days. Seriously, how much more than weekly do you really have to mail shit from your house? Even people who pay their bills by mail can certainly do so weekly. We have no idea how much money a move like this would save, but we feel pretty safe in saying it would be substantial, based on their current figures. So why not do it? What's the problem, other than entirely misplaced nostalgia?

In short, they need to scale their current services way the fuck down...they just aren't needed anymore. And, while we're at it...why don't we use the infrastructure they've established to good effect?

The Post Office has already become the "go to" department for passports. Just as an example, why not make them the place to head for Social Security cards? How about other civil government transactions? Perhaps Motor Vehicles could jump aboard, as well!

Why not simply make what was once the Post Office into a general government outlet for all of our civilian needs? In our hometown (though we don't live there anymore), there's literally no place to go, these days, if you need a new copy of your Social Security card (the place the town used to have closed down). Having one office in each town (obviously, some larger towns would have more) in which we could attend to any civil service needs would be outstanding. And cutting out the useless chaff would give us an organization that ran smoothly, effectively, and within budget.

There's no need to get rid of the Post Office — but it's time for the damn thing to evolve into something that will serve the needs of the population today, not the needs of people who lived four or five generations ago. We certainly don't need the Pony Express in 2009, and the era is rapidly approaching where we won't need paper mail at all.

We could even envision the Post Office adapting to modern technology, and — rather than misusing the budget they're given on bullshit operating procedures and massive amounts of unwanted paper mail — setting up a broadband network for E-Post. Every citizen could get an E-Post address (for instance, a usps.net e-mail address), and could make use of terminals at Post Offices nationwide to check these accounts for new mail, send mail to other E-Post accounts, and so on (but not to browse the Web or participate in any other Internet activities). You want a copy for yourself? Transfer a copy of your e-post to a Flash drive. You want a hard copy? Print it the fuck out.

It's a simple matter of adopting modern technology, and adapting to modern needs — something we've recently discussed. It's getting fucking absurd that so many organizations, whether government or commercial, have so much fucking trouble understanding this basic rule of how the world fucking works. Progress progresses, technology improves, and we take advantage of innovation and invention to improve ourselves, our world, and the procedures we use to get by in it.

What does this all boil down to? Just this, really: hey, US Post Office — grow up, and catch up. 'Cause if you don't, we'll leave you and your commemorative stamps far, far behind.

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Really, Catholics?
2009.03.16 (Mon) 16:04

We have a bit of a question for anyone who identifies as Catholic (whether you identify as a "good" Catholic, or a "bad" Catholic who only goes to church on Easter and Christmas). The question has a bit of a lead-in, so bear with us.

We all know about the rampant sexual abuse perpetrated by the Catholic clergy in which scores of priests diddled altar boys (or at least engaged in some "brotherly" nude fondling). We all also know about the church's attempts to sweep that behavior under the Vatican rug.

We also all know that, instead of choosing a more progressive Pope when the last one kicked the bucket, the church went with the most conservative fuck they could find (hell, he was basically the Grand Inquisitor).

In addition, we wrote a while back about how the church was toying with the idea of changing the translations of their masses so that they matched more directly with the original Latin. Internal church opposition to this move noted that the new wording was "very awkward" with a "heavy, ponderous and often turgid style" that uses "irregular, passive and run-on sentences." At the time, we opined (in a Rant we called When "Rearranging Deck Chairs" Isn't Counterproductive Enough):

So go right ahead, Catholic Church — confuse an already pissed off segment of your followers. Some of us grew up Catholic, and in our experience, there are plenty of American Catholics who are about a half step away from tossing the whole religion thing out the window, staying the hell home on Sunday, and doing something actually productive and/or enjoyable with their time. Maybe if you throw a few of those deck chairs at them, they'll make the change. Hell, we can always use more atheists.

Apparently not happy with their as yet unsuccessful efforts to entirely disenfranchise their followers, the Catholic church has upped the ante. The other day, we read about this story on Pharyngula:

The case of the Brazilian child who was raped, impregnated, and then had an abortion has taken a predictable turn. Sensible, rational people saw this as a tragedy, but one with a simple partial solution: the abortion was necessary to save the life of a young girl who could not possibly bear the burden of an unwanted pregnancy. The Brazilian Catholic church saw it differently and excommunicated everyone associated with the decision. Then the president of Brazil took a public stand against the church's unjust decision. Now at last, we hear from the top of the Catholic hierarchy...and the Vatican sides with fetuses over children. No surprise there at all.

Fuck. Seriously? Let's clarify the situation here: nine years old, and raped by her stepfather (for years, probably since she was six), conceives twins which her tiny body isn't even remotely equipped to handle (safe delivery by C-section is possible, but risky as fuck), and because she gets an abortion, her mother and the doctors involved are kicked out of the Catholic church? And the only reason she wasn't kicked out was because she was too young to be responsible for that decision? And when this was kicked up the line from the local archbishop to Cardinal Re, the high muckety-muck for all of Latin America, he agreed with the ex-communication, and had this to say:

"Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian Church is unjustified."

Life must always be protected? Yeah, we agree with that — the life of the fucking nine-year-old girl is what had to be protected, you sick, disgusting fuck, not a clump of fucking cells that threatened her life. How fucking sick in the head do you have to be to take the position that the church has taken here? How do you even get to the point where a statement like this one seems like a reasonable position to take? The attack on the church is not merely "justified" — we have to question the humanity and the compassion of anyone who doesn't think that advocates of the church's move deserve six inch steel spikes through the left testicle as a result of this shit.

So there's the background for you. And here's our question, to any Catholics who are left: After all this, do you really still want to align yourself with the Catholic church? Really? And if so, we have two follow-up questions:

1) Why?

2) What the fuck is wrong with you?

We were just wondering.

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From the Depths of the Woo Mail Bag
2009.03.13 (Fri) 11:12

You know how sometimes you put something on your "to do" list, only to have it slip down your priorities so far that suddenly it's a year-and-a-half later, and you never actually did it? No? Oh. Guess that's just us, then.

At least, it's been over a year-and-a-half since we received this form submission from someone calling himself "vincent" back in June 2007. This guy took us to task for promoting propaganda by writing negatively about "alternative medicine" (a.k.a.: "bullshit"):

what about all the people that die a year from drugs and doctor's mistakes? why, if you want to be so objective, don't you also include all the medical fallacies, such as that most drugs don't even get all the testing they need before going on the market and that most drug side effects are discovered after they are released on the market. how about talking about the fact that cancer treatment via chemo and radiation survival rate has not changed in 30 years i could go on, my point, if you want to REALLY be objective, why not do so instead of promoting propaganda that is one sided?

Ouch. Us? Propaganda? Promoting it? Say it ain't so!

Okay, it ain't so. (That was easy.) As is all too common, vincent's missive was chock full of sound and fury, signifying precisely jack-all nothing.

Here's our reply (reformatted for the InterWebs), which nicely points out the fallacies in vincent's typical woo diversionary screed:


We are promoting propaganda? That's an impressive accusation, but unfortunately for you, it's simply not true. Your points about the problems with the drug industry represent worthwhile topics for discussion, but neither that fact, nor those points, in any way indicate that anything we've been writing about qualifies as "propaganda." Just because we haven't chosen to write about the topics that you would like us to explore, it doesn't follow that the topics that we have written about are any less important, nor that our research on or presentation of them is any less valid, nor that the effort was any less worthy of our time.

Why haven't we written about your pet topics? For the same reason that we haven't written about the atrocities in Darfur, or the possibility of Michael Bloomberg or Fred Thompson throwing their hats into the GOP presidential race; because the mood just didn't strike us. It may interest you to know that we have absolutely written pieces specifically about problems with the FDA — just not the specific problems you mentioned. But then again, it's our site, and we write about what we find interesting.

So, what about the people that die from "drugs and doctor's mistakes"? Do you believe that modern medicine is inferior to alternative treatments? Do you believe that there is a massive conspiracy involving the drug companies? If you have an argument to make, then please make it.

Drugs will always have side effects; part of the point of scientific research is to determine the benefits and drawbacks of different treatments, and conduct our healthcare accordingly. Sometimes the side effects are discovered only when the sample size is increased due to widespread availability, and sometimes the side effects are pretty bad, but that doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming (and we do mean over-fucking-whelming) majority of prescription drugs benefit those who take them. And yes, vincent, doctors do make mistakes. Doctors will always be human and therefore prone to vanity, greed, violence, and error. In science, however, the actions of one individual do not negate an entire branch of knowledge. The mass effort on the part of all participants keeps the body of human knowledge self-correcting — unlike the stubborn and unchanging belief in the healing effects of, for instance, Reiki, scientific opinions change to match the evidence at hand. One scientist can be wrong, but the scientific method remains the most demonstrably valuable tool humankind has ever developed, period. Similarly, one doctor may make a mistake, but this in no way negates the overall benefits of the medical industry. We're pretty confident that you yourself have registered your implicit agreement with our position, simply by turning to doctors and pharmaceuticals whenever you are sick — but that fact has probably escaped your attention.

Our scientific system is far superior to the woo-based systems that we write about (and that you take exception to us writing about, it seems) since the woos proceed without actually testing their treatments to verify their efficacy. Good thing that real scientists have bothered to conduct the tests that the practitioners of these phony remedies have avoided, because now we know that woo treatments have been found lacking in all proper tests. And that's not "propaganda," vincent; it's simply research and experimentation. Try it for yourself — under controlled conditions — and see if your results differ.

In short, if you can refute something that we've actually written, then please feel free to do so. If you cannot, then please refrain from incorrectly referring to our writing as propaganda. Blindly tossing around terms like that is easy; actually refuting our arguments is not. To give you a quick rundown on what we mean by "refuting" our arguments, we'll refute one of your assertions.

You claim, rather vaguely and without any supporting documentation, that it's a fact that "cancer treatment via chemo and radiation survival rate has not changed in 30 years." We'll start by admitting that your statement wasn't all that easy to parse. Cancer treatment utilizes many different techniques and materials today, including surgery, drugs, aggressive screening, and the chemo and radiation therapies that you mentioned. We'll assume that you don't want to look only at survival rates related to chemo and radiation therapy, since that's not the best way to treat all cancers, so such an approach would be myopic and useless. Much more useful would be looking at the survival rates based on whatever treatment or combination of treatments was deemed most beneficial at the time that the statistics were being gathered, whether or not the particular treatment of the era involved chemo or radiation. For the record, even chemo and radiation treatments differ by year and by type of cancer; and we hope you agree that the ultimate goal is to come up with the best comprehensive approach to getting rid of the disease, whatever that approach may be.

So let's look at overall survival rates for cancer over the past thirty years. According to a Reuters UK story published last month [May 2007, that is]:

The likelihood of surviving 10 years after a diagnosis of cancer has doubled over 30 years, charity Cancer Research UK said on Tuesday.

Survival rates vary widely among different cancers, but on average a patient diagnosed with cancer now has a 46.2 percent chance of surviving 10 years, the medical charity said.

That compares with just 23.6 percent 30 years previously.

If you read the rest of this article, you'll see that the improvement in survival rates is in part based on "advances in chemotherapy and radiotherapy." Gee, vincent, your assertion is looking pretty weak right now. They even referenced exactly the same timeframe that you chose to use for your unsupported, incorrect data point.

But hey, we aren't happy unless we can verify our information via multiple sources. What does the NIH have to say on the matter?

Death rates from all cancers combined have been decreasing since the early 1990s. Death rates decreased for 11 of the top 15 cancers in men, and eight of the top 15 cancers in women.

And the American Cancer Society's annual report to the nation?

Death rates decreased for all cancers combined (1.1% per year since 1993) and for many of the top 15 cancers occurring in men and women. The 5-year relative survival rates improved for all cancers combined and for most, but not all, cancers over 2 diagnostic periods (1975-1979 and 1995-2000).

Of course, we're sure that all three of these entities must be part of a vast conspiracy to hide how ineffective modern medicine is. You know, that same conspiracy that instructs us to maliciously avoid writing about these things. Right, vincent?

It seems that your assertion is utterly incorrect and, in fact, completely baseless. If you have some supporting documentation to back up your claim, then please present it. Otherwise, we'd urge you to stop spreading your clueless and unresearched misinformation and, well, propaganda.

To bring this home, vincent: the reason that we write about the harm of so-called "alternative" treatments is because there is nothing at all effective or redeeming about them. They are either scams or delusions; even if they don't relieve their victims of sizable sums of money, they frequently relieve them of their lives or well-being. Yes, modern medicine is an imperfect system, as any human endeavor tends to be (to err is human, so we'll forgive you), but modern medicine provides more benefit to the human race in a single afternoon than alternative medicine has provided in generations of practice. That's the problem, here, and that's why we focus on debunking the woos and not the doctors. It may be an old joke, but do you know what doctors (and other rational people) call "alternative medicine" that actually works? They call it "medicine." There's a reason for that; maybe you can figure it out some day.

The Two Percent Company.

In point of fact, we failed to include the following information which we found in an MSNBC article shortly after we sent our reply:

The other gain is the result of new treatments, which are credited with doubling survival times for the most advanced patients.

In 1996, there was just one truly effective drug for colon cancer. Today, there are six more, giving patients a variety of chemotherapy cocktails to try to hold their tumors in check, said Dr. Louis Weiner, medical oncology chief at Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer Center and a colorectal cancer specialist.

Ouch. This one directly addresses advances in chemotherapy leading to increased survival rates for colon cancer, which goes a long way toward answering vincent's specific gripe. It's almost as if he designed his assertion such that the available data perfectly contradicted him. You go, vincent!

You might even note — perhaps with some minor heart palpatations — that we didn't even swear at vincent in our reply. Us! Yeah, us — not swearing! Shame on all you people who think we're always rude to morons. Sadly, vincent was offended nonetheless, and he shot back an e-mail reply that showed his offense, his last name (which we won't print here), and his inability to refute any of our arguments or admit that he was wrong:

i don't appreciate your cursing and wouldn't do it to you face to face. you sound very angry and i am sorry for that as i would have liked to continue this conversation. for your information i am a health professional and could talk quite in depth on what i mentioned, i simply was inquiring why you seemed so scewed as i have seen many many people hurt by traditional treatments that shouldn't have been done in the first place. your site is stimulating at least.

Ah, the typical "I can't respond to your arguments, so instead I'll feign offense at your potty mouth [which, really, isn't even particularly true in this case!], pretend to take the high road, and slink away with my tail between my legs" approach (with a little "argument from authority" thrown in for good measure). Excellent! Way to cover those bases, vincent.

Our final response this tool:

Let's recap, vincent. You sent us a message in which you referred to our writing as propaganda. You spewed out some "facts" that, upon even a cursory examination, were not, in fact, factual. And you implied that writing about the harm of pseudoscience was not a worthwhile endeavor. In addition, we feel we should note that you never once stated your position on anything, which makes it quite tricky, if not impossible, to converse in any meaningful way. All told, that doesn't sound like the behavior of someone who wanted to conduct an intelligent conversation.

The fact that you are a "health professional" — be it neurosurgeon, night janitor at the free clinic, or Reiki Master — doesn't mean you can acquire credibility or respect by just making things up, vincent. We're fuzzy on how you could talk in any great depth about a fact that isn't even true in the first place; and even if you could do so, we fail to see the benefit, and we aren't interested in participating. Our advice would be to stop spreading misinformation, and instead take some time to research your views to see if they are actually supported by the data, rather than leaning on your exceedingly vague "health professional" title to spread your propaganda.

As a note, the only "cursing" we did in our entire response wasn't even directed at you. We used the term "over-fucking-whelmingly" to accentuate a point we were making. If that's enough to twist you up into a fit of prudish agony, then you clearly have some of your own issues to deal with. Take note, vincent — they're just words, and a rational, confident conversationalist is not deterred by them (or from using them).

Perhaps your feeble response about our "icky swearing" was simply all you could muster. Perhaps you truly cannot refute a single argument we have made on our site; we suggested as much in our reply. To date, you have yet to present a single argument along with supporting evidence, so we feel pretty comfortable with our assertion. If you do ever manage to get past your own incredible misinformation and form a cogent argument, let us know.

Until then, go relax on your "health professional" laurels, and talk quite in depth to the captive audience in your own home, whoever that may be. We, you see, would not like to continue this conversation. It's boring and repetitive.

Most sincerely,
The Two Percent Company.

One of the big problems with the True Believers is that they are ready and willing to accept any piece of information as a solid fact if it looks like it bolsters their beliefs. Rather than fact-checking anything he was saying, vincent chose to spew his bullshit at us in a misguided and moronic attempt to show us the error of our ways. Unfortunately for him, we like to check the facts, and his were all wrong. Of course, a propensity for believing in bullshit that isn't supported by any facts is what gets the woos into trouble in the first place, so it's hardly surprising that this same tendency then compounds the problem to a nearly farcical degree.

One thing we were curious about was vincent's claim that he was a "health professional." While that claim doesn't change the idiocy of his assertions one bit, we had a nagging suspicion that his specialty fell into the field of quackery and woo. Frankly, we were quite curious about his, er, "field of expertise."

Thanks to his e-mailed reply, which contained his fairly-unique last name (along with some other information), we can be relatively sure that we've found him. We won't print his full name or e-mail address on our site, but we will link to the results of our own research. It turns out, and we can say this with a high degree of confidence, that good old vincent is a woo-slinging chiropractor.

So why don't we ask: what, pray tell, has chiropractics done to advance cancer treatments and increase survival rates over the past thirty years? Gee, vincent, we must have missed all those ground-breaking advances in neck cracking that magically cured pancreatic cancer, huh? Fuck, we'll even extend our question beyond the scope of vincent's question, and ask for a single example of chiropractics ever curing a single fucking disease, ever. Just one documented, scientifically validated example.


Got one yet?


Right — there are none. Other than possibly soothing sore joints (or, just as likely, causing a stroke), chiropractic treatments don't do dick, and they never fucking will.

So, vincent, we'll take those admittedly imperfect but scientifically policed doctors and medications over your useless, potentially harmful brand of utter bullshit — any day of the week. Thanks for playing.

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Chalk One Up for the Non-Asshats
2009.03.10 (Tue) 00:15

Okay, this one was a given:

President Obama has signed an executive order ending an 8 1/2-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

"At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated," Obama said Monday morning before signing the order. "But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions."

The President's speech was equal parts hope for the new research and support for the scientists involved in such work.

"Today, with the executive order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research," Obama said. "We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield."

White House officials said Sunday that the president's order will give the National Institutes of Health 120 days to develop ethical guidelines for the research.

"Encompassed in [the executive order] will also be the requirements around guidelines that will be drafted by the NIH [National Institutes of Health] as they ... work with others around the country to make sure we're handling the issue responsibly," said Melody Barnes, the director of the president's Domestic Policy Council.

Well, yes — Obama promised he would lift this idiotic restriction, and he has made good on that promise. It's really a no-brainer — putting science back in the hands of the scientists — but we applaud it nonetheless. We talked in 2005 about how shitty this restriction was, and how it had no basis in actual science. All of those observations still stand.

And what's the opposition up to? The usual fucking dishonest, assheaded lies, of course. In fact, these tools can't even come up with any new material (which, of course, is the absolute hallmark of true science, right?). It's the same shit we heard back in 2005:

But Dorinda Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund points out human embryo research has produced not one cure or treatment for diseases.

"Actually what President Obama is now doing is taking the very extreme and ineffective track of using our tax dollars to pay for obsolete research that destroys human embryos," she says.


Bordlee stresses that research on adult stem cells, which are readily available and do not involve the killing of a tiny human being, has already produced success in treatment of more than 70 diseases and conditions.

David Christensen of the Family Research Council (FRC) offers these comments regarding research on adult stem cells that do not involve killing a human embryo, and the success of those treatments.

"Even in the last week [there have been] three new studies using this very new type of technique to create what they call induced pluripotent stem cells -- which creates a stem cell that's very much like an embryonic stem cell but without destroying embryos," he explains.


As for the successes in medical treatments with embryonic stem cells? "The research hasn't treated any patients," says the FRC spokesman.


And Dr. David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association explains that these continued breakthroughs in stem cell research prove that killing human embryos is not needed.


Funding, he says, should be poured into adult stem-cell research. "These cells have tremendous advantage -- they're readily available, they are easy to reprogram, there's an unlimited supply, they don't form tumors, they're not expensive...and the list just goes on and on."

Wow, that's quite a list of scientifically qualified, unbiased individuals! First we have an attorney from the, uh, Bioethics Defense Fund which, it turns out, is a legal group dedicated to eradicating abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research, and doctor assisted suicide. Then we have a spokesman from the odious Family Research Council, whose slogan is "Defending Faith, Family and Freedom." And based on their anti-gay, pro-theocracy agenda, that slogan accurately portrays the fact that their bullshit faith is meant to trump everyone else's family and freedom. Finally, a doctor from the Christian Medical Association, a group whose stated purpose is to "motivate, educate, and equip Christian physicians and dentists to glorify God...." (Jesus totally gets a shout out in the Hippocratic Oath, as we all know.) Clearly, the Christian Medical Association would never, ever allow their religious biases to overtake their medical opinions. Right?

Huh. You know, now that we take a step back, it turns out all three of these fuckheads are part of bible-thumping religious organizations, and they aren't research scientists at all! Odd, that. It isn't possible that they have an agenda to advance, is it? Or that they would fucking lie to advance that agenda? Nah, perish the thought.

We like the bit about the promise of adult stem cells from the Family Research Council dipshit; he says that they are "very much like" embryonic stem cells. Oh, thanks — so they're "very much like" embryonic stem cells? Clearly, "close enough" will work out just fine in this field of study. Thanks, David Christensen! You know what's also fascinating? To someone who isn't an expert, O'Douls can seem "very much like" real beer. But at the end of the night, one will leave you with a pleasant buzz, and the other will only leave you with a shitty aftertaste. The bottom line, as any competent and honest person will tell you, is that we don't know all the differences between adult and embryonic stem cells, or where those differences will take us in our research. That's why it's important to do the research on both types of stem cells, and not just one. You stupid, dishonest fuck.

And how about that Bioethics Defense Fund flunky joining the same FRC cocksucker in pointing out that there haven't been any successful treatments based on embryonic stem cell research? Wow, that's a little bit like viciously hacking off your boyfriend's hands, tongue, and penis, and then complaining that he sucks in bed. Of course he does, jackass — you've rendered him impotent! You can't rest your opposition to embryonic stem cell research on the fact that it's been stagnant for the last eight years, when the ban that you backed has been directly responsible for this lack of results! Fuck you, you lying, ignorant sycophants.

Finally, amidst all the hand-wringing and ass-puckering from the religious fucks, we once again fail to see any mention whatsoever about those embryos that are slated for destruction — the leftovers from in vitro treatments, which can and will be used to populate new stem cell lines. This oversight is nothing short of willful misrepresentation of reality. As we said back in 2005, we can understand why some people oppose the creation of new human embryos for the sole purpose of scientific research. We don't agree with them, but we can understand their position. On the other hand, opposing the use of already created embryos, currently destined for the trash anyway, is just willful ignorance.

Now that this idiotic ban has been set aside, ethical standards can and will be written and enforced. That's how responsible scientific research is conducted, you fucks — let us get the fucking work done, and the people who understand it can keep it above board. If you're really concerned about how embryonic stem cell research is conducted, then ignore the ramblings of asshats like those we quoted above, and get involved in the discussion over how to best engage in this research, rather than whether or not we should. (Possibility of vastly improving the lives of living human beings versus a handful of fucking cells that will not be developing into a human child anyway? No contest!) If you're too blinded by Jesus Love to do that, then step the fuck aside and let the rest of us get on with the business of advancing humanity. Don't worry — you can still benefit from the phenomenal results, you little fuckers. Just like you always do.

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How to Prevent SkyNet from Taking Over the World (Just Sue It)
2009.03.05 (Thu) 19:09

Kindle is a pretty neat thing — even if it doesn't herald the coming of a real-world Hitchhiker's Guide, it's got some groovy ideas going on. We're talking ubiquitous 3G connectivity for free, so you can search for and purchase new content for your Kindle anytime, anywhere — and all of this in a lightweight device about as thick as a magazine. We'll be interested in seeing where this sucker goes.

Of course, it may not go much of anywhere, if the usual crowd of marketing assholes with a profound lack of imagination has their way:

Amazon.com Inc, responding to criticism that a text-to-speech feature on its new Kindle book reader helps it sidestep royalty payments, plans to allow the audio function to be disabled.

The online retail giant pledged to modify the Kindle 2 so that authors, publishers or any holders to a novel's rights can choose whether to turn on the feature, which takes written text and converts it to human speech.

Wait a minute. So authors and publishers are bitching because — with the old technological model — authors get royalties for the sale of their print book, then again for the sale of their audio book, and so on. With the Kindle 2, you can purchase and download the book once, and then either read it or play the audio. Is that their gripe here?

Go fuck yourselves, you fucking greedy bastards.

What's amazing is that the audio capabilities of the Kindle 2 have nothing whatsoever to do with the audio editions of published books.

"Kindle 2's experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given," the firm said in a statement on Friday.

Translation: This is not an audio book edition, assholes. This is simply a text-to-speech reader — albeit, a reportedly quite excellent one — that will read the text on the screen for those users who are unable to read the text visually, whether because of where they are, what they're doing, or their own visual disabilities.

Yes, if you didn't really get what's going on here yet, they are outright stating that they want to disable the accessibility features of the technological device — screwing an entire portion of the population out of the use of a device and the products available for it. People like Jeff's grandfather, an avid reader of everything from mysteries to spy thrillers and adventure stories, who — at 96 years of age — is completely blind, but still entirely in possession of his sharp mental faculties and dying for some fucking entertainment. (The widow two floors up just doesn't do it for him, as he's related in some highly amusing anecdotes.)

Desktop operating systems have text-to-speech capabilities for the same reason: to grant visually impaired users the same access to a range of applications that any other user might have. Certainly, it would be a bit pointless to implement visually-impaired accessibility features for video editing (like Final Cut Pro or Premiere), animation applications (like Flash), and a variety of games, but in what world is it fair to deny visually impaired users the right to use text-based applications, which only require that a text-to-speech feature be put into play?

That is, in a nutshell, what assholes like Roy Blount Jr., president of the Author's Guild, are trying to do. Hey, Roy: fuck you, you myopic dickhead. And that's coming from authors (and yes, with real-life, published work — not "just" a blog).

Unfortunately, Amazon is caving to the pressure.

"...we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat."


On Friday, Amazon said rights-owners will be allowed to decide -- title by title -- whether to enable the function.

This is bullshit. It's one more example of people simply not getting that technology marches on. Either get with the program, or end up like the fucking RIAA, fruitlessly and futilely suing their own consumers in absurd efforts to try to stop the march of technology, a march that they have literally no hope of stopping.

We just watched an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher the other day that exhibited the same asinine misunderstanding of how the fucking world works (not that this is anything new from Bill — we agree with him on some issues, but he's an incredibly fucking misguided blowhard on many others). Bill and his panel discussed the "newspapers are dying" issue, where newspaper publishers are shutting down left and right as they realize they just can't maintain the sales they once commanded, and therefore can't demand the advertising fees they once enjoyed.

Listen — sure, every city used to have at least one daily paper. They also each had an extensive network of horse-drawn carriages to get people around. But then we developed those wondrous horseless carriages — you know, cars — and the horse and driver simply became obsolete. Fuck, if that culture had held out a bit longer, and the advent of automobiles happened today, the fucking Horse and Driver Union would be bitching about unfair labor practices, vociferously angling to ensure that cars aren't allowed access to the same infrastructure and locations they have a stranglehold on.

And that's fucking ridiculous. Technology innovates; society advances. We help ourselves by increasing the means and methods available to us that enable the accomplishment of any and every human undertaking, whether it is getting from point A to point B, or simply reading the goddamn news.

The newspaper organizations are shutting down? No they're not — at least, not the smart ones — and they don't have to. It would be utterly asinine to figure that, because people aren't buying newspapers anymore, they aren't interested in the news. And, of course, that asinine assertion isn't even close to what's actually happening — people are simply finding other outlets through which to learn what's going on in the world.

Bill Maher complains of bloggers not being "real" news sources, because they find their news from other sources. (We'll forego the obvious retort, that "unofficial" press are, in fact, barred from many events that would give bloggers such direct access to news — it's true, but irrelevant to our point.) However, what does Bill think is happening? Is he implying that bloggers are heading to the corner, patting an adorably bucktoothed kid in a checkered cap on the head, and swiping a thick newspaper from him, before heading back home to peruse the paper and type on their Magical Computing Machines about what the printed news has to say?

Come on. Bloggers, like most modern folks these days, get their news from the Internet. Not the paper, not television, not radio — those are supplements, to be sure, and you could certainly find some news there. But all of the major media organizations operate websites, often with subscription services, and offer the same exact news, reported in the same exact articles, on this incredible, newfangled Internet thing. The only terrible drawback to the online versions is that, instead of having the early edition or the late edition being delivered at specific times — which leads to stories missing deadlines, research being incomplete, and some news otherwise falling through the cracks — the online news can be updated continually, all day, as events warrant, in real time. Oh, wait — that's a good thing. A really, really, really fucking good thing. Our bad.

Who cares if they stop making hard copies of the news? Why do we need them? Environmental concerns aside, we know that we personally are in the process of digitizing everything in our lives: from old photos, to elementary school projects, to VHS tapes, to handwritten notes that have particular meaning to us. We're utilizing technology to scan, convert, and otherwise preserve the contents of media which have a very finite lifespan. The fact that some of our VHS tapes have even survived this long is incredible — we're certainly not going to wait much longer and lose the contents on this easily destructible medium forever. With all of our memorabilia in JPG, PDF, MP3 and AVI form, we'll be quite happy. And if we ever want a hard copy — it does occasionally happen — we'll simply print it the fuck out (or write it to DVD, or whatever the appropriate hard medium happens to be, by content and at the time).

The point is, this technology is for our benefit. And the idea of a world where Jeff's grandfather has to pay extra for a book because of the fickle whim of fate that struck him blind in his senescence is not only absurd, but maddening — it pisses us off.

Excuse us, Roy Blount Jr., you impeccable prick, but what exactly is the difference between our buying a Kindle book to read for ourselves, and then playing it through the text-to-speech reader for Grandpa...and buying a book to read for ourselves, and then reading it out loud to Grandpa? Other than the fact that we spend over $300 to grab the technology, which then gives us some more free time since we aren't required to read the book for Grandpa ourselves? (Hey, we like spending time with Grandpa, but we also have those pesky "earn a living" and "raise a family" things to take care of.)

The difference is that you are pretending that there is any difference. You are pretending that completely separate technology, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the publication or sale of your books, is something you can and should control to the detriment of your consumers. And that, motherfucker, is what makes you an asshole, if not a downright Luddite.

We want Amazon to stand up against this shit (though they aren't). We would love to see the court case on this one — and we'd love to see Amazon's defense attorneys question assholes like Roy Blount Jr. on the essential difference between a wheelchair ramp allowing disabled people access to a movie theater and a text-reading feature allowing disabled people access to printed material — or better yet, the essential difference between closed captioning in movies for the deaf, and text-to-speech book reading devices for the blind. Because that kind of challenge would serve Roy's gang a big, steaming pile of shut the fuck up.

The whole point of text-to-speech is to allow those who can't easily (or at all) see the printed word to enjoy it just the same. They're not buying audio books — books that are performed by an actor or the author, for which more resources are put to use (including the expense of paying the reader and the sound engineers), and which justifiably command another expense on the part of the consumer. They're not creating a "derivative work" — and the fact that we have to point this out at all betrays a glaring ignorance of copyright law on the part of these jerks. (What, are we creating "derivative works" every single time we read Where the Wild Things Are to the kids before bed? Fucking morons.) And it's not like the text-reading technology is going to replace audio books — there's no "performance" being given, and the folks who enjoy audio books (we've enjoyed some ourselves) aren't necessarily listening because they can't see (though that was one of the few limited options up until technology offered text-to-speech), but rather because they want to hear David Ogden Stiers's stentorian tones narrating Jack Ryan's adventures. The automated text-reader isn't going to be able replace David Ogden Stiers. Hell, it couldn't replace Larry Linville.

People using the text-to-speech feature are simply enjoying the printed edition itself in the only way available to them. (And don't start in on Braille — plenty of folks, like Grandpa, don't go blind until they're much, much older, and don't have the time or resources to learn Braille. Besides which, that would still make it virtually impossible for us to share a copy of a book with Grandpa.)

It's time for the marketing assholes, and product creators that just don't get it, to get a big dose of reality. If your business model doesn't seem to be working in a newly technologized industry — whether in news, as consumers head from paper to digital, or in books, when manufacturers provide easier access across a range of markets (including the disabled consumer) — then it's not the technology that needs to be changed. It's your fucking business model.

A business that should survive, will. The people in charge will embrace technology, and adapt to it — adopt it, even. By understanding and accepting what technology is, and what it does for all of us, these smarter folks don't fight against the technology, but realize how they can work with it and still succeed in a thriving and ever-growing marketplace.

And that's your only choice. Authors like Cory Doctorow (a pretty progressive futurist) and others get this. You can't sit still and expect the old paradigms to hold true in a world that no longer resembles the old one on any but the most superficial levels. You can see this in the slow but sure evolution of pages on the Internet: once upon a time, everything was as static as the printed page. Bit by bit, interactivity has increased and exploded to the point where, while the content and the intent in delivering that content remain the same, the mode of delivery — the medium — is growing more and more alien to what we would see on a piece of paper.

Hasta la vista, Rosebud...
You can't avoid technology by legislating against it; and you can't make your business succeed by legislatively bullying new technologies. Come on: who do you really think would win in a cage match between William Randolph Hearst and the Terminator?

Just because Guttenberg invented the printing press, it doesn't follow that you have to clamp down on mass-produced copies, disallowing them for fear of robbing a creator (or the creator's fucking middlemen) of their livelihood. You adapt; you grow; you understand the differences, and you exploit them just as easily as you exploited the original model.

Anything else simply demonstrates your complete lack of imagination. And coming from the president of the "Author's Guild," that's pretty fucking pathetic.

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Breaking Diet News: Someone, Alert the Media!
2009.03.02 (Mon) 21:25

In a shocking surprise that shocked and surprised nobody (except people who really, truly believe that fad diets work), the results of a surprisingly shocking research study published in the New England Journal of Medicine came to this shockingly surprising conclusion:

Conclusions Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize. ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00072995 [ClinicalTrials.gov].)

Wait, what does that mean? Maybe this excerpt from an AP article will spell it out a little more clearly:

Low-fat, low-carb or high-protein? The kind of diet doesn't matter, scientists say. All that really counts is cutting calories and sticking with it, according to a federal study that followed people for two years. However, participants had trouble staying with a single approach that long and the weight loss was modest for most.

As the world grapples with rising obesity, millions have turned to popular diets like Atkins, Zone and Ornish that tout the benefits of one nutrient over another.

Some previous studies have found that low carbohydrate diets like Atkins work better than a traditional low-fat diet. But the new research found that the key to losing weight boiled down to a basic rule — calories in, calories out.

"The hidden secret is it doesn't matter if you focus on low-fat or low-carb," said Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which funded the research.

Limiting the calories you consume and burning off more calories with exercise is key, she said.

Sweet, tangy Jesus with a small side of corn bread, who would have ever foreseen this outcome? Oh, wait — we would have. And did, years ago. Our brief entry on fad diets in the Score says the following:

Fad diets come and go. Right now, the Atkins Low Carbohydrate diet is all the rage. However, the simple truth is that in order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. Period. Nothing else will work in the long run. This means that you either must exercise more, or eat fewer calories, or both. Many fad diets work for the short term, but will fail in the long run, either due to the dieter's inability to stick with the program, or the fact that the short term weight loss is based on water weight dropping, or some other short-lived impact.

And the fact that we unraveled this "hidden secret" years ago doesn't make us unique, special snowflakes — this is a basic and obvious concept that fucking fad diets simply ignore, in favor, of course, of encouraging people to waste their money on "secret" weight-loss techniques, equipment, supplies, or other fatuous and vacuous assistance. Losing weight is about consuming less calories and/or burning more, period. Everything else is just window dressing. Quite expensive window dressing, in many (if not all) cases, but window dressing nonetheless.

What else did the study find? That restricting only calories instead of entire classes of food (like carbs, or fats) leaves more leeway to design a diet that will satisfy a person's individual preferences in the long run. In other words, someone is more likely to stick to (and therefore derive useful results from) a low calorie diet that allows them to eat smaller amounts of their favorite foods than a diet that doesn't allow them to eat one or more of those favorites at all. Again, this information hardly boggles the mind. This can be extended culturally as well. If you're hazy on what we're talking about there, go discuss it with an Italian-American who has tried to stick to the Atkins diet despite the fact that Italian-Americans are, practically from birth, force-fed pasta on a daily basis. It's like saying, "You know, you should really cut down on the smurfberries, Handy Smurf."

The article also takes a jab at a certain crappy fad diet that will remain nameless (though not linkless):

The study compared high quality, heart healthy diets and "not the gimmicky popular versions," said Katz, who had no role in the study. Some popular low-carb diets tend to be low in fiber and have a relatively high intake of saturated fat, he said.

But let's get real. In defense of crappy fad diets, if the people pushing these diets admitted the truth (that their silly little schemes and plans and bullshit rules are really totally useless and beside the point), then there would be nothing at all to differentiate their bullshit diets from the scores of other bullshit diets. As such, no one would buy their foods, supplements, books, DVDs, clothing, and skin care products, and no one would enroll in classes teachings their useless methods. So we feel their pain. Really.

In fact, we'd like to offer our own secret weight loss formula. If we weren't semi-anonymous, we would post some before and after pictures of Jeff who, in six months during 2007 (after some unfortunate medication-and-lifestyle-induced ballooning), lost about 80 pounds. What was his trick? Scratching Ass.

That's right, every day (more or less) for those entire six-plus months, Jeff had, at least once a day, scratched his ass, and the result was that he lost a whopping 80 pounds (and has kept it off). What could be more scientific than that?

Oh, a few disclaimers. Our statements haven't been evaluated by the FDA, and Jeff's results were not typical so your weight loss may vary. In addition, his approach was effective when coupled with a decrease in caloric intake (while still eating the same crap he loves — "sweet tooth" doesn't begin to describe the bastard), and an increase in caloric expenditure (that would be exercise, folks — quite a good amount of it). But we're pretty sure that last bit — lowering caloric intake and burning more calories — is totally incidental. Really. Totally. So if we designed some "Ass Scratching Diet" T-shirts and bottle cozies, how much would you pay for them?

Listen, we know that the fad diet companies are selling something — everything from those weird-ass giant rubber bands in 1950s newsreel footage that shake your belly fat away to the African weed that kept hunter-gatherers' minds off their hunger during tough times (but was not used for fucking weight-loss, you lazy-ass New Romans — and when hunger isn't the only reason you eat, a hunger suppressant is not going to help you lose weight). And, though we're not big fans of the practice, they naturally mislead folks in order to make their money, while "staying inside" the very hazy lines of Truth In Advertising.

All we're after is an educated public. Will that put asshats like the fad diet folks out of business? Sure, if we're successful, but that's peripheral. More importantly, it will make for a population that, even if they're still obese, won't be placing false hope in false methods. They'll know that if they're still fat, it's because they're eating more than they should, and exercising less than they should. And maybe, just maybe, they'll start taking responsibility for their own goddamn problems.

But then, that's our fad: personal accountability. And we've been fanboys of that franchise for quite a while. Just don't ask to read our slash fic.

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The Thin Rainbow-Colored Line
2009.02.15 (Sun) 02:13

It all started with a rainbow.

You know, you'll just be sitting there, minding your own business, and they'll come marching in, and crawl up your leg, and start biting the inside of your ass, and you'll be all like, "Hey! Get out of my ass, you stupid rainbows!"

Wait, no. Not one of those. An actual rainbow. Our mistake.

More specifically, it started with Orange County Register's Sciencedude, who posted a photo taken by Jason Erdkamp of a rainbow astonishingly touching down right in front of his car on the freeway. Right behind an Escalade.

In Jason's defense, he took a picture of something pretty fucking cool. In Sciencedude Gary Robbins' defense, he's a science editor and writer...and we've found no place where he claims to be an actual scientist.

But there's simply no defense of the inane stream of shit coming out of everyone's mouths, including Jason's and Gary's, in the thread over at Sciencedude's blog.

See, the raving stupid over there comes in three varieties, and it drives us fucking insane.

Raving Stupid Flavor #1: The Miracle Gawkers

For fuck's sake, people. How can you keep believing utter bullshit no matter how many times it is explained to you?

Throughout the thread, you've got the people we'd expect to chime in on an unresearched, rather silly article like the one Gary Robbins wrote — they gush on and on about how they've always been told they couldn't find the end of a rainbow, but they totally did, and that's how cool they are, and they share in the coolness of the finding the end of the rainbow wonderfulness, ooh, isn't it gushy, and wonderful, and cool? Or, if they haven't had the experience themselves, they enthusiastically embrace this rock-solid, earth-shatteringly convincing point of evidence "that not everything in a textbook is accurate and not every instructor is right."

Except, of course, that rainbows are pretty thoroughly fucking understood, and these asshats are wrong. Rainbows aren't precisely a physical object, folks — they are perceived due to the particular alignment of specific physical objects and phenomena. You cannot walk through a rainbow, because it doesn't exist in a physical location. (You can, however, walk through the path of light coming from any source, direct or reflected, and you will see the effects of said light reflecting off of your person.) If you really don't understand, at this point, how rainbows are formed based on the angle of the sun, water droplets in the air, and your eyes, then there's not much we can do for you...beyond recommending that you head back to junior high and try to pay attention this time.

What's incredibly sad about this brand of raving stupid is that it clearly comes from a desire to Pursue the Magic — these are people who want to find something breathtakingly wonderful in life, and they are willing to ignore reality in order to delude themselves into thinking they've found it.

The saddest part to us is that while other, smarter folks explain that, no, it is a physical, reality-based impossibility for this picture to actually be of the "end of a rainbow," the real reason why we think the miracle gawkers are so fucking abysmally stupid is because they simply can't appreciate the beauty in what it actually could be, and how incredible that explanation might be...if they'd just fucking listen to it.

People want magic. They don't want truth. And they ignore the fact that the truth is frequently, in many ways, magical. That, to us, is incredibly fucking sad.

But then, this brand of raving stupid is based on a lack of education, or comprehension, or ability. And while it's sad, it's sometimes correctable — you can inform people — and such stupid can be cured by a good dose of reality and patient understanding. (Note that while we do a brisk trade in reality, here, we're not so interested in patient understanding — that's not the purpose of this site. Go elsewhere for that, or catch us in our offline lives, where we're much more apt to patiently explain cool concepts that we're aware of.)

Raving Stupid Flavor #2: The Mock Experts

Then there are the schmucks, like Gary Robbins himself, who have outright declared: there is no way this photo was altered in any way, shape or form! This group heavily overlaps with the first, of course, since the miracle gawkers have a major stake in declaring the photos "not photoshopped" — that declaration, if said loudly enough and authoritatively enough (with or without any actual evidence, apparently), will preserve the magic they so desperately crave.

The idiots in the Sciencedude thread spouting off proclamations like "No, I can tell by the pixels it's not photoshopped" should be fucking shot. Let's provide them with a quick course in, well, obviousness.

Fact: It is possible to tell "by the pixels" (we'll pretend they actually said something intelligent, there, about realistic contrast and color, digital softening to hide discrepancies, and repetitive patterns from a clone brush) when an image is photoshopped, by the artifacts left behind.

Fact: It is not possible to tell "by the pixels" that an image is not photoshopped. If you can't find any artifacts of photoshopping, it means one of three things:

  1. the image wasn't altered;

  2. the image was altered, but you can't see the tell-tale artifacts, because you aren't that fucking awesome, so shut the fuck up;

  3. the image was altered, and so expertly that nobody could discern any tell-tale artifacts, because there aren't any, so shut the fuck up.

The problem with mock experts — including those who invoke experts, which seems to be Gary Robbins' only marketable skill, judging by this thread — is that they've decided they're too fucking awesome for 2 or 3 to be true, so therefore it must be 1.

Again, we may, perhaps, be able to cure this brand of stupid — but since these folks are working off of their own overinflated sense of infallible sensory analysis, it's a much trickier knot to untangle.

Raving Stupid Flavor #3: The Expert Mockers

Finally, we have the asshats who are just plain abominably, butt-crunchingly, abysmally stupid. These are the ones arguing against the miracle gawkers, explaining that "Rainbows Do Not Work That Way!" and, by the process of elimination, the picture must have been photoshopped.

This, of course, leads to the retorts from miracle gawkers and mock experts — like Gary Robbins — that the photo isn't photoshopped, that it's been gone over by experts, and that it is totally genuine, and therefore, you know, the end of the rainbow really, really, really did touch down on the tail pipe of the Escalade right in front of Jason's car.

This third brand of raving stupid consists of people who are so hot on being the cutting-edge, "Bright" (ugh), outside-of-the-box, shake-up-the-paradigm thinkers (and probably use all of those terms, too) that they take skepticism to the extreme, and rather than actually analyze what is put in front of them, they simply look for the quickest, easiest skeptical viewpoint and slap it down on the table.

And that's just fucking asinine, too. If the claim is that it's not photoshopped, then okay — accept that claim for a moment and look into possible explanations for what you're witnessing, because there are many possible explanations, and some of them are perfectly valid. Don't simply stick your fingers in your ears and keep shouting "Photoshopped! Photoshopped! Photoshopped!" Because that's just as dumb as the mock experts saying "I can tell it's not photoshopped!"

Which, of course, devolves into a ridiculous playground argument of "Uh huh!" — "Nuh uh!"

Amid the din, what gets drowned out are a few actually intelligent people in the thread, who make two strong and correct points: one, we can tentatively accept as truthful the claim that the photo has not been photoshopped, because science and critical thinking are about accepting claims provisionally until we have reason to believe they're inaccurate; and two, rainbows, as defined, can not touch down on the road in front of your car. Working from these two accurate statements, the smart folks then take the correct critical thinking approach and look for explanations that fit the evidence (the photo) and our current model of the universe (what rainbows are and how they work). In so doing, these folks come up with a variety of creative explanations, and we'd be happy to place money on any one of these being an accurate description of what happened in front of Jason Erdkamp's car that day. (Of course, it's just as possible that it was photoshopped — but we're giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

In the end, we're sick of ignorance, pedantry, and raving stupid no matter which flavor it comes in.

To the expert mockers: stop giving skepticism a bad name, motherfuckers.

To the mock experts: don't fucking make shit up to cover for the fact that you're complete morons.

And to the miracle gawkers: rainbows are awesome, folks — isn't that enough? They're fucking gorgeous, and the science behind them, if you take the time to learn it, is fucking fascinating, and opens up a multitude of other branches of knowledge for your perusal if you've got the intellectual curiosity and are so inclined. Jokes about pots of gold and leprechauns aside, why do you have to find something "magically magical" when the actual magical universe is all around you, just waiting to be observed?

Every rainbow, by definition, is your own rainbow. It is the personal rainbow created by the reflection and refraction of light as it hits your eyes, and while the person standing right next to you may see something awfully similar, if not virtually identical, your rainbow is your unique rainbow by virtue of being constructed of the photons of specific wavelengths that specifically hit your visual sensory apparatus.

If that's not magical enough for you, then we really don't feel like sharing this fucking brilliantly awesome universe with you. Go find one that bends to your whims. There are no pots of gold. There are no leprechauns. You can't walk in, or walk on, or slide down a rainbow. After all, as we all know, rainbows are simply the T1 lines of ass gnomes, communicating with gnomes in asses throughout the world as they organize their inevitable takeover of Planet Earth. Personally, we welcome our new ass gnome overlords — do you have any idea what kind of terabauds you can get through a rainbow?

The ass gnomes are working overtime...
Go ahead...tell us it's photoshopped.

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NCCAM Improperly Inflates CAM Usage in Survey
2009.01.26 (Mon) 14:47

Take a look at the leading sentence of this article (found via about.com's alt med section):

An estimated 38 percent of U.S. adults and 12 percent of children use some type of complementary and alternative medicine, a new U.S. government survey finds.

Wow. We knew the problem with bogus "alternative medicine" was bad in the US, but we didn't know it was quite that bad. The thought that almost 40% of the population uses nonsensical treatments like acupuncture and homeopathy is a frightening prospect. And hell, if a US government agency says it, then it must be true, right? Oh, wait — that's not correct at all (eight years of Bushco are a hell of a hands-on education). And that's really not correct when it comes to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

A closer look at this article shows the following:

The most popular alternative techniques are deep breathing exercises, meditation, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, massage and yoga, the survey found.

Adults use CAM most often to treat pain, including back pain, neck pain or problems, joint pain, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions.

Wait just one motherfucking minute, here. Setting aside chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation for a moment, the other "most popular alternative techniques" are "deep breathing exercises, meditation, ... massage and yoga"? Other practices considered "alternative medicine" for the purposes of this survey include pilates and vegetarian diet.

Well fuck, those aren't necessarily alternative medical treatments at all! Plenty of people engage in one or more of the activities on this list for perfectly rational reasons. For example, many people get massages to soothe their aching muscles. There's nothing wrong with that. A good rub down can be quite soothing, and that is in no way, shape, or form an example of using "alternative medicine." Calling that a use of alternative medicine is a bit disingenuous, at best, and an outright fucking lie to over-inflate your figures at worst. (Take a wild guess which side of that fence we stand on.) Getting a foot massage in order to cure your acne, on the other hand, would be an example of someone using massage as an "alternative medicine" treatment. The same divergent scenarios can be created for all of the other examples as well — people could engage in deep breathing or yoga for relaxation and stress relief, and there would be nothing "alt med" about that at all. And as the next sentence in their own article shows, the most frequent use of these treatments is combating general musculoskeletal pain. In fact, of those who were counted in the 38% who use "alternative medicine," just over 34% do so to treat musculoskeletal pain. And if you add in people looking to treat stress, anxiety, and trouble sleeping, we find that 40% of that 38% could be using these treatments for simple, rational, non-CAM purposes. What a load of horseshit!

We would add that chiropractics, while based on total bullshit and while presenting possibly serious health concerns, can be effective at helping musculoskeletal pain as well...when it's used like massage and physical therapy (and when the "patient" isn't looking to treat something that chiropractics simply cannot treat, which is to say, the majority of the problems that most chiropractors say they can treat).

Just to make sure we weren't missing something, we checked the survey results, and read the actual questions that were asked. As we suspected, the questions were as simple as "During the past 12 months, did you see a practictioner for massage?" Sure, the survey asks if other treatments were also used (medication, surgery, and so forth), but that part of the data — along with the perfectly rational uses of many of these practices — doesn't seem to have entered into the NCCAM's 38% statistic.

Seriously, take a look at that list of included "treatments." Based on this incredibly loose and seriously fucking flawed interpretation of what constitutes "alternative medicine," we're fucking shocked that the number was only 38%! For fuck's sake, we would have had to answer "yes" to some of these questions, as would everyone we can think of among our family and close friends. Talk about intentionally misrepresenting the results of your survey.

Q: Do you eat apples?

Apples are delicious, bitches

Mark down two more for "Yes, I use apples as alternative medicine."

If you live in the US, remember that you are funding the NCCAM — it's part of the National Institutes of Health, and your tax dollars are hard at work providing stellar scientific "surveys" like this one. If President Obama wants to find some places to cut federal spending, we've got a fucking candidate for him: first, shut down the useless, frequently deceptive NCCAM so we can stop watching these asshats use our money to justify their own existence through the use of lies and bad science; then, tell people that, whether they want to hear it or not, "alternative medicine" is just fucking bullshit.

This lovely, bile-inspired Rant goes out to the asshats who constantly ask "Well, the NCCAM has supported the particular brand of alternative medicine I subscribe to! Do you think they're wrong, too?"

Yes, asshats. We do.

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Sole Mates
2009.01.25 (Sun) 23:13

We like to check up on some of our favorite spots on the Internets once or twice a week. We found Jessica Hagy's Indexed a while back (we're pretty sure it was through one of our Usual Suspects, but fuck if we can recall which). Jessica presents a comic strip in the form of a new humorous graph, chart, or other diagram each day, and she's consistently funny, witty, and concise. Sometimes the day's index card just isn't in our wheelhouse — we can appreciate it, but it's not up our alley. Sometimes, we see minor flaws in Jessica's interpretation or presentation of the data, but since it's humor, that's all subjective anyway — no big deal, and we still think she's pretty awesome.

Of course, Jessica is also, apparently, an atheist (which is how we found her in the first place, back in the misty mists of time), and she does some great cards in that respect. For instance, she once explained the indirect proportion between the belief in magic and the success of science.

We saw a bit of a scuffle in the comment thread on that one, and it could have sparked then the line of thought that inspired this Rant now. The dispute was over too many damn people complaining that "magic" was a rainbow, or a baby's smile, or a puppy dog, or whatever-the-fuck poetic image gets them off psychologically. It was pretty fucking ridiculous, frankly, because the meaning behind Jessica's card was clear: the more that science explains, the less we need to invoke magic as an explanation. Personal opinions on how "magical" a quark is, or how giddy one gets when one sees a nebula, have nothing to do with it. One gets the distinct impression that some of these people, upon hearing of the magical evening a girl spent with her beau, perk up and inquire: "What tricks did he do?" Which is pretty pathetic. Seriously, morons, give it a rest. We've been down this road before, but this one isn't even hard to parse.

A few days ago, Jessica put up another card...and the shit hit the fan. Why? Well, go read the thing. We found it pretty damn funny and on point. And, in all honesty, it doesn't even have to be taken as a "slam" on religion — though, predictably, it is.

Normally, Jessica gets a few dozen comments on each card, at most. Reading this one a mere two days after its publication, we found that there were already 111 comments. Holy fuck, we wondered for a brief instant before we remembered what planet we live on, why would this one launch such a lengthy discussion? Four milliseconds later, we came to our senses, sighed, and started perusing the thread. It was, of course, kind of pathetic.

It didn't take long to get word from the "I'm a scientist and a believer!" contingent. On a personal note, as people who respect the fucking written language, and are capable of using it effectively: ever notice how these types write in only nominally comprehensible English, with boundless capacity for misspellings, grammatical errors, run-on sentences, and a complete disregard for the communicative power of the written word? It's almost as if they've never strung together two words of two syllables each, let alone the multitude of highly technical polysyllabic words required to put together a peer-reviewed paper. Sure, plenty of intellectuals team up with a decent editor or three, but if we were the kind to doubt someone's profession despite their spelling it out (sometimes even correctly) on the terribly authoritative and always stunningly honest and accurate World Wide Web, we might almost find this awfully suspicious.

But no more suspicious than their need to say "I'm a scientist" as if that's going to fucking impress us. It's actually quite easy to see why some slightly cleverer religiosos might head into scientific fields: like all religiosos, they've developed this ridiculous notion that personal status (by dint of profession, political power, money, fatherhood...whatever) determines one's veracity, accuracy, and/or validity. That's how it is in religion — you're right because you're revered (whereas in science, it tends to work the opposite way: you're revered because you're right). So these poor souls, desperate for some validation, become scientists (if they're telling the truth) or say they're scientists (if they're not telling the truth), because in their misguided way of thinking, that will magically make their opinion more valid to those who respect science and the scientific method.

Sadly, they never stop to think why we respect the scientific method, and it is precisely because the personal qualities of the scientist simply don't enter into it. Only the evidence, and its consistency, contribute to the strength of a theory. And also: they're fucking asshats. We very much enjoyed this response from Stephen Maxwell:

One of the nice things about science is that it's not about who says "I'm a scientist," it's about who _shows_ that their _idea_ is reliable. In religion, being religious will give you more credence in arguments, but science doesn't work that way.

Take that silly scientists. Or, religionists. We're getting confused as to what you are. Of course, when you keep referring to fictitious and/or debunked studies "proving" that prayer has any fucking measurable effect whatsoever, that'll happen.

It's all well and good that there are folks defending the card, and milquetoast milksaps trying to play the politically-correct (read: fence-straddling) middle road, but then we get to the usual back-and-forth craziness that makes next to no sense. And it's a funny thing. In response to all of them — from the numerous supporters 'shipping Jessica (and possibly starting their "Harry Potter Fucks an Index Card" fanfics), to the number of whining asshats declaring that they are "Leaving forever, so there!" — Stephen again nails it:

And thus, we see how any regular commentary (blogs are now pretty much the standard for this) eventually is only read by people with almost identical viewpoints as the author. Everyone who significantly disagrees is "quitting forever" Everyone who really agrees is "so happy to see the really smart post." But many of those same happy people will, someday, be "really disappointed" with the unfortunate turn for the "stupid," leaving Jess with only the people who agree with this _new_ opinion (plus newer readers who haven't been offended by anything yet). Even the most innocuous blogs will eventually become subject to this effect. How sad that the human brain is pretty much programmed to ignore anything that it disagrees with.

Agreed. How many times have we seen this complete bullshit? "I totally agreed with you until you stepped on my pet stupidity, so now you utterly suck across the board."

Or perhaps it's possible to disagree with another party on one thing, and still understand the reasoning behind it, even if your opinion differs; and then you will not only have no problem continuing to agree with the other stuff you already agreed with, but maybe you can even give some more thought to your own position and possibly even end up agreeing with this one, too.

Fuck, we do that all the time. We've made it pretty clear that we don't agree with the overly Libertarian slant that Penn & Teller sometimes fall back on in certain episodes of Bullshit, but that doesn't make us stop watching — and liking — the shows where they debunk the paranormal. The same goes for Bill Maher — we've written about his silly beliefs concerning germ theory and animal rights, but we still watch and enjoy much of what we see from him.

It's this "hive mind" group mindset that is driving us up the fucking wall. In politics, ontology, everything — too many people seem to think that you must find a group to join and agree with every member on everything. Hey, we're just a tiny group of extremely similarly-thinking people, and we disagree on plenty of issues. It's fucking insane to think you can get a few hundred, or thousand, or million, or billion people to all agree on everything across the board.

As a caveat to this whole discussion, we have a confession to make. A few months back, we excitedly put up a Rant about James Randi's appearance in New York City, and our enthusiastic intent to be there when he spoke. We even promised to write about it afterward, as soon as we got a chance. A few days later, Rockstar Ryan pointedly inquired how it went...and our complete response (from Tom) was "It was good."

Here's the thing, folks: it was wonderful to see Randi. It was great to hear him speak. It was cool to hear some stories of his we hadn't heard, and see him do a few conjuring tricks, and to watch the footage of his appearances on the Johnny Carson show immediately followed by Randi's own recollections of the events.

But we'd gone there with another aim, as well — a sort of experiment...on ourselves. We've written in the past about how we don't think you can really group atheists together, as atheism itself is merely one minor facet in the lives of most atheists we know. We've often expressed that, perhaps, we could see more of an argument for grouping skeptics together. We wanted to see if our opinion on that was genuine, or if we still were uncomfortable about the idea of grouping ourselves with complete strangers on the basis of one key — even overwhelming — similarity.

The answer to Ryan's question, and the reason behind our reluctance to go into it, are the same: we were a bit embarrassed by what the audience exhibited at Randi's talk. Not one of the audience questions or comments after his lecture was interesting, thought-provoking, or original. Several of them were self-congratulatory — either a kind of "I get you, Randi" thing, or a more "I'm blowing the skeptic horn loudly in my public life, as well" kind of comment. A few betrayed a deep misunderstanding of what Randi had said in his talk, or written on many occasions (and Randi's bemused confusion was evident). At least two (both of those from the same guy) demonstrated that the querent hadn't even been paying attention to the lecture Randi had just given (his questions were not only answered, but discussed at length in the course of the evening).

And we thought to ourselves — and discussed on the way home — "Is this what we would group ourselves with?" It was pretty disappointing.

We realized that we were right all along: grouping yourself with people you don't know at all and have never even met in any meaningful sense of the word is inevitably setting yourself up for disappointment. And we realized something about ourselves. You see, we're not antisocial; far from it, in fact. However, what we truly want out of human contact is to interact, not to "associate." In the long run, actual interaction, rather than association by something abstract like "we agree on this, and disagree on this," seems much more meaningful (and, therefore, satisfying).

This, it seems, is our staunch opposition to groupthink. Because, of course, the biggest curse of groupthink is that, no matter how many tick-marks you can make in the "Agree" column, all the way down the list...eventually, because we are human beings, there will be a difference of opinion between any two individuals. And those who crave being part of a group are going to be disappointed by that time and time again.

So at the end of the day, we support the New York City Skeptics, who brought James Randi to town for his speaking engagement. We extend a hearty thank you to them, and we wish them all the best in their skeptical endeavors. But we'd no more want to join their ranks than we would anoint Bill Maher our flag bearer for rational discourse. To be sure, there are certainly members of the NYC Skeptics that we'd actively be interested in interacting with. To be equally sure, there are certainly members of most groups that we'd like to interact with, including religious groups. But we'd no more join one than any other. To us, it is about the individual, not the group they profess membership in.

It's an odd but very human tendency toward tribalism, and there's a mistaken (as far as we can see) belief that, the bigger your tribe, the more "right" you must be. A large group somehow justifies your opinion. We wouldn't deny that, somehow, in some way, we Two Percenters — as, you know, human beings — might be falling prey to this attitude, too. But whenever we think about it rationally, carefully, and logically, we see every time how poorly it turns out, grouping yourself with people you've never met and really worked things out with. It leads to disappointment, it leads to dissent, it leads to No True Scotsman, and — in many cases — it eventually leads to seeking new groups.

It seems as if, a thousand years from now, as religion is breathing its last, the few billion remaining religiosos will finally set aside most of their theological differences and agree on a singular theology and set of tenets and mores, and they will join together in one über-powerful church.

And then, a thousand years and five minutes from now, the church will splinter like wooden Protestants over whether chocolate is better than vanilla. Because with their distinctly group-craving religious mindset, they will think if you have different opinions on any one thing, you are a fucking infidel.

Us? We'd rather meet other people, have a good discussion, agree on some items, disagree on others, and all the while expand our knowledge — just like we do right here, with so many of our regulars and even the more infrequent visitors. We want to walk into town, pitch our tent, swap a few stories, then pack up and move on the next day. We're certainly not looking for some place to build a house and settle down. Meeting skeptics for drinks, because they're skeptics, feels a bit too much like heading out on a blind date where all you know is she's got huge...tracts of land. Sure, you might get a nice view of cleavage, but the odds are fifty-fifty that she's a bit skanky. (Ladies and gay men, you can easily switch the gender here, and we'd be happy to do it for you, so no cries of "Sexist!" And lesbians — you know just what we mean. We wear comfortable shoes, too.)

It's conceivable that some might confuse our reason for not joining groups with the reason we ascribe to group-seeking individuals for leaving groups. "Aha!" you might say. "You complain that others leave because of disagreement on one point — while you don't even join, for fear of disagreement on one point!" However, this misses the idea behind what we're describing. See, we aren't hesitant to join groups because we might (or already do) disagree with the members — we simply aren't interested in assigning ourselves an association with people we don't know. If we don't know them, we have no idea what they're like. We can't "vouch" for them, and wouldn't like being asked to on the basis of any association.

We're not interested in signing on with any group on the basis of a few key agreements, only to find that the members are all (or mostly) people we don't want to interact with at all (for whatever reason!). We'd much rather interact with a variety of people, and get to know them, and then continue to interact with those whose opinions and views we value (whether their views agree with ours or not). From what we've seen, simply being a "skeptic" or an "atheist" means precisely zilch when it comes to our respect for your opinion. Folks like Francois Tremblay and Larry Darby illustrate this quite well. On the flip side, there are religious people whose opinions we certainly value, even though we have major points of disagreement with them within our opposing world views.

But we wouldn't want to "change" their views. We don't want you to sign up whole-hog for the Two Percent Manifesto. We constantly and consistently point out to detractors and more positive querents alike that we aren't interested in having you agree with us, we would just like you to understand our position and, if you wish to refute it, we'd like you to do so intelligently (that way, rather than agreeing with us, you might even convince us to agree with you). Hell, even amongst ourselves, we have disagreements, and we've known each other for over two decades (nearing three, rapidly). That's a lot of time and interest spent figuring each other out. That's a lot invested, and that investment pays off in a decent amount of confidence in associating ourselves with each other. Despite our disagreements (some small, some big), we would certainly "vouch" for any member of our group, and we would feel no distaste at being associated with one another in the minds of other individuals. But that true association came about after years and years of interaction on various levels.

In short: we want to interact with intelligent human beings of all stripes. But when it comes to associating ourselves? Signing up? Making a (shudder) commitment? No offense, but you'll have to do a lot more than just buy us a metaphorical drink first.

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AFP Misreports the Point
2009.01.25 (Sun) 01:30

The AFP put up a little ditty on the (by now) famous atheist bus campaign in London — those large signs reading: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." They look a lot like this:

There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

In fact, an awful lot like that. That's one of the actual signs, on an actual bus. Unfortunately, the AFP reporter seems to have missed the real point. From the Atheist Bus official website, we can clearly see their reason for doing this:

Our aim is to raise the profile of atheism through innovative and exciting advocacy projects, starting with the Atheist Bus Campaign.
[our emphasis]

Whereas, the AFP article oddly decides to print:

An atheist drive to persuade people that God doesn't exist is catching on in a surprising fashion
[again, our emphasis]

What? No, AFP, that's not the motive or goal at all. In what possible way are these signs meant to "persuade people that God doesn't exist"? Far more accurate would be to say that it's meant to persuade people to just chill the fuck out about it, really, or even more accurate would be to simply refer to the Atheist Bus organization's stated motive: to get the simple fact that atheists exist (and don't eat babies or strangle kittens) a little more exposure. Reporter Prashant Rao's take on the purpose of the signs suggests either an agenda driven by religious leanings (which we're not inclined to suspect), or the fundamental problem with how atheism is generally perceived by the religious contingent (which is to say, as "pushing" our lack of god-belief rather than declining participation in theirs).

The sign itself doesn't "persuade" anyone of anything — and it's not intended to. There's no evidence or reasoning presented on the sign, so how the hell could it persuade anyone of anything? The imperative phrase is simply advice, and that advice is founded on the likelihood of the declarative phrase, which is, unfortunately for the religiosos, 100% true (thanks to the inclusion of the word "probably," actually; which is funny, since so many atheists — including us — are not big fans of that inclusion).

The implied, but never outright stated, "third phrase" in this thinking is: "...because there's a whole lot of great stuff you could be doing if you weren't preoccupied with this religious shit, and if there were a god, he'd probably be happy you did it!"

In other words, no one is trying to persuade anyone of the truth of the first phrase — they're simply trying to interest them in the value of the second. The Atheist Bus organization's obvious reasoning for that value is founded on the accuracy of the first phrase...but readers are free to get to that imperative second phrase any way they like, and it will still hold great value.

The same logic would hold with any variation of this sign, in a number of different contexts. Try this one on for size:

Smoking will probably give you lung cancer. So try to quit, or at least cut down.

The implied third phrase here would be: "...because your chances of cancer go down, and your life expectancy goes up, which is good for you and your loved ones."

Or this one:

Drunk driving will likely ruin lives. So don't drive when you're fucking blitzed.

With the implied third phrase: "...because then you'll be less likely to kill or hurt somebody, or damage any property, and you won't go to fucking prison for it and ruin your own life as well."

Or how about:

People tend not to enjoy it when you kick them in the face. Try to avoid that.

Implied third phrase: "...because they'll be very cross with you, and may attempt to kick you in the face back. Accompanied by several large friends."

It's an easy exercise: you make a statement of pretty certain fact (the perceived certainty is, admittedly, helped by qualifiers like "probably" and "tend not to"). Expanding on that — with the understanding that it is pretty damn certain — you give some advice that naturally follows based on that fact. The conclusory implication is that the advice will help you lead a fuller, happier, less problematic life with your fellow human beings.

Play the home game. It's fun and informative. And you can pester the neighbors.

And that's all the bus signs are doing — having fun, informing, and pestering the neighbors.

Said neighbors are, of course, that particular brand of religioso who find the slightest suggestion that their beliefs are not shared by all to be horribly offensive. Despite the fact that the suggestion to "just enjoy your life" should be a pretty universal thing, when you get right down to it.

It's always strange to us that the folks who believe in God might think he wants them to waste so much time bothering him and other people. If nothing else: he gave you a really cool place to hang out — you know, the world — and you should put more effort into checking that out than into sitting in a stuffy synagogue muttering platitudes. But, more to the point, the apparently random nature of...well, nature should tell you that praying or not praying, piety or the lack thereof, religious demographics, and all that crap simply make no difference in how you are being treated by the cosmic forces around us. So even if you are right, and those cosmic forces are, for lack of a better word, "God," then perhaps you're simply supposed to happily believe, occasionally say, "Hey, nice one! Thanks for that!" — and go about your life without any more fuss over him than that.

As usual, whatever floats your boat, just do it, as long as it's not sinking someone else's. We can't imagine the appeal of wasting so much time at churches and taking shit like that so seriously, just as the religious folks can't imagine the appeal of living in a godless universe with no magical superdaddy to protect them and offer them licorice and badminton after they croak. Well, rock on, kids. Of course, in that light, the message you should be gleaning from this whole experience is simple: if you don't like it when other people's world views are paraded around in front of you, maybe that should give you a hint as to why we're not overly fond of your world views invading every aspect of our lives.

Perhaps that, in itself, would look good on a bus.

Don't you hate it when people throw their beliefs in your face? Yeah? Then cut it the fuck out.

[Original image copyrighted by Jon Worth / British Humanist Association, used without permission but with gratitude, via the Atheist Bus website itself.]

[  Filed under: % Media & Censorship  % Religion  ]
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The End of an Error
2009.01.20 (Tue) 15:58

A little over four years ago, we launched the Two Percent Company. We did so in order to confront a host of disturbing trends that seemed — to us, anyway — to be sweeping like a wave of rampant asshattery across our nation.

To be honest, the impetus had more to do with our growing realizations than with the actual events unfolding. We had only semi-recently learned that there really are people who doubt the veracity of evolutionary theory, and who want to teach silly bible stories in public schools, and we discovered that somewhere between 50% and 90% (depending upon the form of idiocy) of the people we share the planet with harbor the ludicrous, asinine beliefs that we'd abandoned as the make-believe shit they are way back in grade school (or never bought into for even an instant)...but these trends had apparently been rolling along for quite some time, despite our being unaware of them. Beyond our forehead-smacking enlightenment regarding the abundant existence of morons in the world, however, there was one actual event that lined up quite precisely with the creation and launch of our site, and it was no coincidence: the re-election of George W. Bush.

Prior to Dubya's first election (if you can call it that), our involvement in politics was about as minimal as it gets. We were certainly aware of what was going on, but we were too busy with our lives to care much. In 2000, we weren't big fans of Gore or Bush — we either voted for the "more science-y guy" (you get two guesses, and neither counts until you stop fucking around and just say "Gore!") or sat that one out (like it matters who you vote for in an election decided by judicial committee). Over the next four years, though, we realized what inaction could mean as we watched Bush's administration piss all over the aspects of our country that are most important to us — you know, piddling stuff like civil liberties, economic stability, education, and scientific progress.

By the time the 2004 campaign rolled around, we'd had quite enough. Despite a passionate ambivalence toward John Kerry, we steadfastly supported that "Not Bush" ticket, and dove into the issues so that we could counter bullshit arguments from people whose views just didn't ring true to us, whether due to a lack of evidence, logic, consistency, fairness, compassion, or — frequently — all of the above.

In the end, Bush won re-election (perhaps even legitimately), and we were so fucking pissed off that we didn't know what to do with ourselves. Despite what seemed to us like an obvious choice between an incompetent ass (who'd royally fucked up the nation) and a semi-competent schlub (who, well, hadn't), approximately half of the country voted for the incompetent ass. What could we do?

Our decision was pretty basic: instead of continuing to bitch privately within our group of friends, we would bitch publicly for all the world to see. Our bitching had always been accompanied by a high level of research and analysis, so backing up our rants wouldn't be difficult. And hence the Two Percent Company was born.

Right from the start, Bush's influence on us was evident. Our second post ever (the first was our obligatory introductory post, written only hours earlier) was about the need to combat Dubya's abuses of the Constitution. Over the years, we wrote about federal funding of harmful abstinence-only sex education, federally funded bribes to get the media to back administration policies, the silly beliefs of the Bush family, and their open dislike of atheists, his horrifically inappropriate appointments, his restrictions of civil liberties, his intrusion into the personal lives of others, his social ineptitude, and his general incompetence.

So, in a way, we owe Dubya a debt of gratitude for getting us started. He wasn't the only reason we launched our site, but he was the proverbial straw that got uncomfortably shoved up the camel's ass.

And now, as of mere hours ago, President Dipshit is no longer President of the United States. Today he goes back to being a regular guy — just Joe Dipshit, so to speak. Well, Joe Dipshit with scads of money and Secret Service protection, but you get the idea.

The man has delivered speech after speech declaring that history will remember him fondly; that time and reflection will paint his words and deeds and decisions in a new light, and the world will see just how effective and successful he really was. Does anyone really believe that? First off, it's pretty rare that a despised public figure is "redeemed" a few generations down the road; more often, the noble heroes are proven to have feet of clay (which just means they're human).

But more importantly, to the former President, settling into his new life, we would humbly offer the following:

Go fuck yourself, you ignorant, incompetent fuckhole. The damage you've done to this country will take generations to repair. You have left a legacy of lies, corruption, debt, death, and oppression, and that is what you will be remembered for, in perpetuity, for as long as you are remembered at all. So long, you malignant fucking cockhammer, and fuck you.

And to President Obama, we say:

We're glad you're here — but we aren't in love with you, as some people seem to be. We've seen some of your shortcomings, and before too long, we'll surely see more.

Still: we're counting on you. See, even though anyone is a step up after Dubya (well, almost anyone), it will take an exceptional person to even start to clean up the shitbox he's left behind. And we believe that, whatever your shortcomings, you certainly qualify as an exceptional person — a refreshing change after eight years of the bottom of the barrel.

We don't expect miracles — and we hope that most average Americans don't, though we suspect otherwise.

We don't expect the road to be short — and we have a sense that most average Americans understand that pretty well, though we could be wrong.

But what we do expect is progress. Steps taken to get us back on track. Advancement to becoming a nation, and a world, based on liberty, honesty, and reality.

In short: don't let us down. Show us what you've got.

President Barack Hussein Obama has some hard work ahead of him — and, judging by his demeanor and words, he realizes this. We'll watch and react, and see what he can accomplish in the next four years.

Obama Sweeps Up
The clean-up has just begun...

[  Filed under: % Bush Watch  % Civil Liberties  % Government & Politics  % Two Percent Toons  ]
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