The latest trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has hit the net.

And suddenly I’m 9 years-old all over again. For all I know the movie might be as bad as the prequels, but for the moment I couldn’t be more excited.

The three questions I try to live my life by.

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ferguson3It’s actually surprising how often the answer to all three questions is “Yes! Yes, goddammit, yes!”

 

My brother-in-law is in a movie.

Aral on the red carpet at the premiere!

Aral on the red carpet at the premiere!

I married into a wonderful family that included at least one aspiring actor in the form of Aral Basil Gribble II. For years I teased him about how I was listed in the Internet Movie Database and he wasn’t. I can’t tease him about that anymore as not only is he listed (and has been for years), but he’s in a real movie with other known actors. The movie is called Dial-A-Prayer and stars Brittany Snow and William H. Macy. It’s a small independent film that was shot here in Michigan and it may just be the break Aral’s been working so hard for.

Here’s a small clip that he’s in rather prominently.

This sort of movie isn’t my normal fare as there aren’t enough explosions and car chases, but I’m happy to read from some of the initial reviews that it isn’t your typical cheesy “faith based” movie either. Reviewer Roger Moore says of it:

“Dial a Prayer” doesn’t tread the straight and narrow and reaches few predictable conclusions about Cora’s journey. But Kiley has created a pretty engrossing and somewhat moving story of a selfish, self-destructive drunk who finds, if not faith, at least the willingness to look outside of herself to try and help others and the chance to actually join the human race.

Being an indie, it’ll see limited theatrical release, but it is available on iTunes as of tomorrow. Alas, I don’t use iTunes, but I’m sure it’ll show up on one of the services I do use soon at which point I’ll be checking it out. If it shows up at a local theater I’ll have to go see it there just for the weird experience of seeing my brother-in-law on the literal big screen.

At last, my plans of achieving fame and fortune by riding on the coattails of a more successful family member are close to being achieved!

John Oliver interview with Edward Snowden.

John Oliver has been knocking it out of the park ever since he left The Daily Show to start his own comedy news show on HBO. Last Week Tonight manages to both entertain and inform and, in some ways, is a better show than TDS. Best of all, HBO and Oliver makes full length segments of the show available on YouTube so you don’t have to pay for HBO to see it.

Each week Oliver picks a topic and does a deep dive on it and this week he’s tackling surveillance and Section 215 of the Patriot Act and how we’re not having the debate we should be about the NSA and domestic spying. It’s a great segment, but it’s even better because he managed to score an interview with the man who arguably made it possible to have this debate, Edward Snowden, and he doesn’t pull any punches with his questions:

Once again I have to marvel at how a comedy news program manages to do better journalism than the supposed news channels. It also breaks things down into a context that is not only funny, but which the average person can comprehend.

As Oliver points out, part of the reason we’re not having this debate is because the subject matter is so highly technical and hard to understand for most folks. It’s doesn’t help that too many people barely pay attention to what’s going on around them. Ask them who Taylor Swift is and they can recite lyrics from her latest single, but ask who Edward Snowden is and too many don’t have a clue. These programs need to be seriously revised and given more transparency, but that’s not going to happen so long as we don’t bother to talk about them.

Finally, this gives me a chance to make use of this:

Would've been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.

Would’ve been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.

The Gamification of everything has gone too far.

bullshitmeterRemember when you were a kid and your parents saddled you with some boring as hell thing to do like mowing the lawn and when you complained they told you to try making a game out of it? Well over the past couple of years that idea has gone from being a stupid way for parents to try to get kids to do something they don’t wanna to do to being a way to motivate adults to do something they don’t wanna do. It’s called Gamification and has been used for everything from getting folks to exercise to “check in” on apps like Foursquare. Now it’s showing up on healthcare websites like United Healthcare’s Wellvibe program.

I mention this because I have UHC myself and it’s not half-bad health insurance, or at least it wasn’t until last year when the company I work for changed things so that instead of having a handful of plans to choose from we were all forced into a single high-deductible plan. I went from having a co-pay to having a $3,000 deductible and a health savings account to try and offset those out-of-pocket costs until the deductible was met. That was annoying enough, but they also introduced this Wellvibe nonsense that requires you to jump through hoops to qualify for an annual contribution from your company to your HSA.

Every year we have until September 30th to complete a number of activities on the Wellvibe website our we won’t get the company contribution to our HSA. These activities include things like watching a video to learn how to pick a Tier 1 doctor that UHC feels offers excellent service at the best price. My doctor is not considered a Tier 1 doctor because, while she is considered to offer excellent healthcare, apparently she costs UHC too much money. The problem is I’ve gone to the same doctor for over 15 years and I trust her decision making so I’m not going to switch unless I absolutely have to. Luckily, I don’t (she’s still considered in-plan), but that won’t stop UHC from making me go through an activity pointing out she’s not what they consider to be the best value.

They also have a system in place on their website that helps you to find the cheapest applicable drugs for whatever is it your doctor has prescribed. My doctor already tries to make sure we’re taking the generic equivalent of whatever it is she thinks we need so that part of the site is of limited use to me, but I still have to watch the stupid video each year and answer a bunch of questions about it with multiple choice answers. I never watch the videos because the right answer is so blindingly obvious that you’d have to be an idiot to not be able to figure it out just based on the choices in front of you. I hit play and then race through the questions and get it right before the video has a chance to get past the cheesy porno-music opening.

There’s also a health profile you have to fill out where you have to get a UHC Annual Biometric Checkup done. You print out a form and take it to your doctor and they run blood tests and report your sugar levels, cholesterol, etc. and stamp it with an Official Doctor Seal and you send it back. You cannot fill this form out yourself. Then there is a redundant Health Assessment form you have to fill out that asks for the SAME FUCKING MEASUREMENTS YOUR DOCTOR FILLED OUT ON THE OTHER FORM. I can only assume they’re checking to see if you’re lying about the condition of your health.

All of that is annoying and insulting enough as it is, but this year they’ve tried to Gamify the entire process by putting in an Xbox-style achievement system where you can earn badges and “leaves.” Logging into the site for the first time since last year when I completed the previous activities, I got a popup announcing I had earned a “Here I am!” badge and 10 leaves for completing registration, logging into, and visiting the Wellvibe homepage.

I boggled at it not sure what the hell it was, but I went ahead and did one of the activities and got this badge as a result:

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Holy shit! You did something! HAVE A FUCKING COOKIE!

That’s when it dawned on me they were trying to make it into a game of sorts. Oh joy. It’s not enough that they insist on holding my hand when I didn’t need their help before, but now they want to give me meaningless rewards for grudgingly complying with their stupid requirements. I got another badge by accident when I checked my profile and saw that I didn’t have a phone number listed. It was the much-coveted “THIS IS ME!” badge earned for updating your account profile and granting 10 more leaves.

If you poke around long enough you eventually will find the “Wellville” page where you can see all the badges you have earned along with those you still haven’t acquired. It’s here where you finally found out why you’ve been earning “leaves” with your badges. It’s for your Health Tree! The more leaves you earn, the healthier your tree becomes! Isn’t that amazing?

Welcome to Wellvile. Where patronizing you has been taken to an entirely new level.

“Badges?? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!!”

As you can see, my tree is in pretty piss-poor health at 14%. Some of the other things you can do to earn a badge include: Complete your first Optional Activity (if it’s optional, I’m not going to do it), print out your first “bar code scan form activity”, email your “bar code activity” (which I did last year and it nearly cost me my company’s HSA contribution because it didn’t work right), login once a week for 3 months straight (that’s so not going to happen), and — I shit you not — reset your login password. That last one is called: “I FORGOT, BUT IT’S OK!”

Fuck you, United Healthcare. Seriously. It was bad enough having to do all this bullshit for my company to put $500 into my HSA every year, but now you’re insulting my intelligence. I will never have my tree to 100% because I will not do any more of the activities on your website than I absolutely have to in order to qualify for the employer contribution. This is the sort of bullshit that if I had any reasonable alternatives I’d probably be dropping you like a hot potato. Lucky for you my company doesn’t offer any alternatives and what they do offer is considered good enough that it would cost me more to go through something like Obamacare.

Needless to say, I don’t appreciate you trying to turn my healthcare into some sort of game.

Phil Robertson uses a straw man argument to make a stupid point.

strawmancardPhil Robertson, for those of you who don’t watch Duck Dynasty, is one of the darlings of the Religious Right for his very conservatives views on everything from gays to atheists. You might of heard about him back when he got kicked off his own show for some bigoted comments about homosexuals he made in an interview with GQ magazine only for A&E to turn around and reinstate him before the show resumed filming. It had everyone on the Right in an uproar and A&E decided the show’s ratings were more important than having principles.

Anyway, he’s still giving interviews where he says awesomely stupid things. His most recent was on Friday over at “Trunews”, a Conservative Christian website run by Rick Wiles. While discussing healthcare insurance Robertson veers off into a tale of an atheist whose daughters are raped in front of him, his wife is decapitated, and his dick is cut off to make a point about right and wrong:

“I’ll make a bet with you,” Robertson said. “Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”

Robertson kept going: “Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’”

“If it happened to them,” Robertson continued, “they probably would say, ‘something about this just ain’t right.”

via Phil Robertson Hypothesizes About Atheist Family Getting Raped And Killed | Right Wing Watch.

The problem with this — other than it’s somewhat disturbing the sort of things Robertson fantasizes about — is it’s a straw man depiction of what atheists think. About the only thing Robertson gets right is the fact that atheists don’t think there’s a God or Gods that’ll judge the killers for their actions. To suggest that that means we don’t think there’s such a thing as right and wrong is simply not true. I’ve yet to meet an atheist who has espoused the sincerely held belief that there is no right or wrong.

It’s not difficult to come up with a moral system that doesn’t rely on edicts from God(s) to establish right and wrong. There are several different systems of Secular Morality already. Ranging from Secular Humanism to Freethinking to Consequentialism. Personally, I tend to fall in the Freethinking category, but there are aspects of Secular Humanism I adhere to as well.

On top of that, the morality depicted in the Bible is not only questionable at best, but God himself has a hard time adhering to it. At various times he’s commanded his followers to break any number of the Ten Commandments he supposedly considered so important he wrote them down for us. Apparently it’s OK to break the rules when God commands you to. In fact, if the fictional killers in Robertson’s twisted tale were acting under the orders of God I’m willing to bet that Robertson, had he some reason to believe that were indeed the case, would consider them perfectly justified in following through on them. It wouldn’t be the first time God had ordered his followers to wipe out people He considered bad (see the tale of Vengeance on the Midianites in Numbers 31: 1-47 for a great example).

religionhorriblepersonPeople like Robertson who believe that without God to tell them right from wrong there’s no reason for them not to go around killing and raping worry me. One would hope that there’s more than just a book of fairy tales keeping these people from being monsters. Considering the truly heinous things a large number of Christians are capable of in spite of their belief that God has defined an objective morality and the threat of eternity in Hell, it would be a nightmare if they could be convinced that those things don’t exist.

Every so often on Facebook I’ll see an image macro come up that says: “I am a Christian. You can ridicule me. You can torture me. You can kill me. But you cannot change my mind.” All I can think when I see it is: Given what some of you think is OK if God doesn’t exist, it’s probably for the best you’re so closed minded.

I can so relate to this.

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Comic by: Depressed Alien

This is my ever eternal struggle illustrated…

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Tacos are just too damned tasty and when I eat them, I eat far too many of them. Still, I strive to do better.

Managed to have a small streak of blogging going and then ran out of steam so here’s what I’ve been up to instead of blogging: Apartment hunting. Which is just a shitload of not fun.

Our lease is up at the end of May and we’re anticipating that they’ll raise our rent by another $100 which we just can’t afford. Our rent has gone up by almost $300 in three years and I’m almost paying as much for our two-bedroom town home as I did for the three bedroom we initially moved into. So we’re looking around to see what’s available out there. Right now it’s looking like we will have to leave Ann Arbor as all of the more affordable apartments are either in bad neighborhoods or at places that are in need of some serious renovations.

We’ve found a promising complex in Whitmore Lake that’ll give us two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a washer/dryer in the unit (stacked, but better than nothing). Pros are it’s a newer complex (about 10 years old), cuts my commute time in half, will allow us to keep our 2 cats, and is about $200 cheaper from where we are now (and probably even more assuming our rent is going up). Cons are it’s in Whitmore Lake which is a much more Conservative community than Ann Arbor is. And we have to pack up all our crap and haul it to the new location which doesn’t have a basement like our town home does.

Looking back, we probably should have followed through on our plans to buy a house last spring seeing as the alternative plan of using the money to try and get healthy has had very (very, very) modest success so far. That said, any of the places we were looking at would’ve been as difficult to afford on just my income as the place we’re renting now so I would’ve just been trading one financial difficulty for another.

Still, we trek on through this thing called life doing the best we know how.

A new meta-study shows Homeopathy is still bullshit.

It boggles the mind that in 2015 there are still people out there who buy into the idea of Homeopathy.

Homeopathy demotavational poster.

That’ll be $150, kthxbai!

As a refresher, it’s an “alternative medicine” predicated on the belief that “like cures like” and “water has a memory.” In short, if you take something that causes the same or similar symptoms in an ailing patient and dilute it in water and then feed it to them it’ll cure whatever their ailment happens to be. Here’s the best part though: The more diluted the solution is the more powerful it becomes.

I shit you not. Here’s an explanation of the dilution process from the Homeopathic “Educational” Services website:

Each substance is diluted, most commonly, 1 part of the original medicinal agent to 9 or 99 parts double-distilled water. The mixture is then vigorously stirred or shaken. The solution is then diluted again 1:9 or 1:99 and vigorously shaken. This process of consecutive diluting and shaking or stirring is repeated 3, 6, 12, 30, 200, 1,000, or even 1,000,000 times. Simply “diluting” the medicines without vigorously shaking them doesn’t activate the medicinal effects.

It is inaccurate to say that homeopathic medicines are extremely diluted; they are extremely “potentized.” “Potentization” refers to the specific process of sequential dilution with vigorous shaking. Each consecutive dilution infiltrates the new double-distilled water and imprints upon it the fractal form of the original substance used (fractal refers to the specific consecutively smaller pattern or form within a larger pattern). Ultimately, some type of fractal or hologram of the original substance may be imprinted in the water.

If you have half a brain you should already be questioning the intelligence of the people who dreamed this bullshit up just based on this little snippet of nonsense from this one website.

What all of this gobbledegook boils down to is this: Homeopathy is a way to sell you expensive water that isn’t going to do shit to heal whatever you problem is. If you get better after using Homeopathic medicines then you would’ve gotten better regardless of whether you had used them. This has shown to be true in study after study, yet these cranks are still out there peddling their bullshit and trying to weasel their way into being covered by insurance plans and health organizations.

Now Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council along with an independent company (to ensure there was no bias) has done a meta-study that involved analyzing over 1,800 scientific papers and more than 225 medical studies that determined (emphasis added):

There was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered: no good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment.

For some health conditions, studies reported that homeopathy was not more effective than placebo. For other health conditions, there were poor-quality studies that reported homeopathy was more effective than placebo, or as effective as another treatment. However, based on their limitations, those studies were not reliable for making conclusions about whether homeopathy was effective. For the remaining health conditions it was not possible to make any conclusion about whether homeopathy was effective or not, because there was not enough evidence.

And their conclusion was:

Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.

Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner and should keep taking any prescribed treatments.

In short, the shit don’t work. When you sit down and read what promoters provide as the explanation for how it supposedly works this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For starters, they love their buzzwords: Fractals, holograms, nanopharmacology, the Principle of Resonance, the list goes on and on. The idea seems to be that if you toss enough buzzwords at people they’ll assume you’ll know what you’re talking about simply because the have no idea what you’re talking about.

Alas, that works and you can find all manner of Homeopathic products at your local drug store as proof. Why do the stores carry them if they don’t work? Because they make decent money off of people who don’t know any better. Capitalism at its finest!

For those of you interested in reading the study for yourself you can find it here. *PDF File

 

Jesus Christ tells man to steal an ambulance. Man complies.

Jesus Christ, what a kidder. Whether it’s drawing crude artworks of himself in bakery products or telling folks to do something really stupid, he can’t seem to stop yanking people’s chains.

His latest jape was to convince some poor idiot down in Houston, Texas that he should steal an ambulance:

Jesus was my co-pilot! And co-conspirator! And the brains behind this operation! It's all his fault! Really!

Jesus was my co-pilot! And co-conspirator! And the brains behind this operation! It’s all his fault! Really!

Suspect arrested: ‘Jesus Christ told me to steal an ambulance’.

The Houston Fire Department said the ambulance was stolen from 2121 Main Street near West Gray Street around 10 a.m.

The ambulance was recovered about 30 minutes later at Waugh and Gray Street, where it crashed into a 3 Men Movers truck.

“I was upstairs working and I heard a loud bang,” said Randy Bingham, a witness. “I’ve never seen an ambulance involved in a collision like that, especially the way that it happened.”

[…] “Lord Jesus Christ told me to steal the ambulance,” he told a KHOU 11 News photographer.

The article is brief and doesn’t mention where Jesus told the man to take the ambulance or what he was supposed to do with it once he got there, but when the Son of God tells you to do something then, by God, you do it.

No word on who the suspect was or what they’re doing with him, but I suspect he’s probably undergoing psychiatric evaluation right about now and therein lies the point I’m about to make for the upteenth time: Why would anyone who believes in God automatically assume this guy must be crazy to think Jesus would tell him to steal an ambulance?

definitionofreligionThe Bible contains several examples of God instructing his followers to do some pretty crazy things like drag your kid up the mountain and slit his throat and build a big fucking boat and load up two of every kind of animal because I’m about to piss all over humanity’s parade like you’ve never seen before. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for God to ask some random dude to steal an ambulance, but it probably didn’t make a lot of sense to folks watching Noah at the time either. Who are you to say God didn’t command him to steal an ambulance? How would you know God didn’t demand it? What kind of divine punishment will you be bringing about by stopping this guy from stealing that ambulance?

That’s the problem with saying you buy into the nonsense in the Bible. You lose all credibility in situations like this where someone lays claim to acting on divine instructions. You can’t prove that his isn’t. You can’t know for certain that whatever stupid thing he claims God demands he do isn’t something God wanted him to do. If an action dictated by God is good by the very nature of the source then punishing him for stealing the ambulance would be wrong. How can you justify it given the nature of the stuff that God has asked people to do in the past?