Minor things

First, this column at Slacktivist is amazing.

Second, tomorrow is Wednesday, January 27th. At 10:00/9:00 Central is the mid-season premiere of Psych on USA Network. I’ve been planning to write up a full post about Psych for some time, but every time I pop in one of the nifty DVDs I got for some recent winter gift-giving festival, I get a little distracted. I hesitate recommending the show only because it sometimes feels like it’s targeted directly at my weird ’80s-reference-based sense of humor, and I don’t know if that works for many people. It certainly doesn’t work for a lot of the people who hear my weird ’80s-reference-based attempts at humor. In any case, the relevance to this blog is that Psych is one of the best skeptical shows on TV. Now, it’s not hard science or skepticism like Mythbusters or anything; it’s more skeptical in the vein of the original Scooby-Doo. For those who don’t know, it’s a mystery series following a fake psychic detective who works with a somewhat credulous police department. The protagonist is hyper-observant, which serves him both in the over-the-top psychic pantomime and the whole mystery-solving routine. Despite having some potential rooting in woo-woo, the show has tackled “real” psychics, ghosts, mummies, and other “paranormal” topics without ever giving credence to the supernatural. In the end, it always turns out to be the dude who owned the abandoned amusement park.

To recap: tomorrow night. Catch it!

Finally, I never quite managed to write up my review of They Might Be Giants’ newest album, the absolutely incredible “Here Comes Science.” Had I done so, I would have mentioned that my only real problem with the entire album was that their video for the song “Put it to the Test” used the word “theory” when they really meant “hypothesis.” See for yourself:

Simply fantastic. If you like science and quirky music, the album comes highly recommended, and you should pick it up. If you don’t like quirky music, then the album comes highly recommended, and you should pick it up for your kids!

Gosh, this post comes across sounding like a commercial, doesn’t it? I hope my corporate paymasters are paying attention.


1. If you don’t know already, They Might Be Giants recorded a song in the ’80s called “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas).” It was a cover of an educational song from the ’50s, and they rerecorded it for “Here Comes Science.” The cool part is that, recognizing how much we’ve learned since 1951, the next track on the album is a follow-up called “Why Does the Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma).” Not only do they update and correct the earlier tune, but they manage to work the line “that thesis has been rendered invalid” into verse.

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What the fuck, Discovery Channel?

You know, I realize that the Discovery Channel isn’t exactly a bastion of critical thinking and good science. It’s pretty much “Mythbusters” and the occasional special, and then everything goes downhill. Much like the History Channel, which seems to be about ghosts, Nostradamus, UFOs, “Bible history,” and conspiracies any time it’s not Nazis.

But “A Haunting”? Really? I’m watching their notoriously unreliable Urban Legends show, which is bad enough (interviewing “self-proclaimed Psychic Twins” about mistaken identity? Really?), but then this dreck comes on. Now, I’ve heard about “A Haunting” before–it’s the show that tells hour-long “paranormal” anecdotes entirely through voiceover, dramatization, and interviews with the anecdote presenters–and I knew it was terrible, but I had no idea.

And this is speaking as someone who grew up on “Unsolved Mysteries;” at least they told multiple stories per episode, some of which may have had some element of truth. This? This is ridiculous. It has an opening segment that would be better suited for “The Outer Limits” (or better yet, “Tales from the Darkside”) and sound cues stolen directly from “Torchwood.” A kid gets scared at night in the woods surrounding his house, and he’s “a very logical person,” so it can’t possibly be something normal. Gosh, strange noises and sights in a house surrounded by forest? I would never have expected such a thing. They hire a priest, a “paranormal investigator” who goes on about gravity and vortices and “impossible,” and then a “respected psychic” who tells them that their house was the site of several murders, where bodies were kept in the crawlspace until they could be buried. It seems to me what they need is an exterminator, a babysitter, and a psychiatrist. The “logical” kid is our token skeptic, but if the reenactment is any indication, he’s jumpy and dumb. Oh, and he saw “orbs of light in the trees.” Fucking fantastic.

I came into this episode in the middle (I was on the phone for the beginning), so I can’t say much about it, but it’s pretty clearly written by someone who’s seen “Poltergeist” and “The Amityville Horror” a few too many times. Oh noes, things stackeded in middle of room! I must haz a ghosts!

Sigh…it’s a trainwreck, and I can’t look away. If it’s on again tomorrow, I think I may liveblog it. Because, you know, I’m a glutton for punishment.

On an unrelated note, why is Discovery Channel using “Gimme Shelter” to advertise their show about going into space? Specifically the line “war, children, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away”? I mean, it’s catchy and upbeat, but you really ought to listen to the lyrics before you use the song.

I’ve been playing a lot of “Rock Band” lately with some friends, and let me tell you, it’s weird as fuck to sing that song. It’s a little hard to belt out Mick Jagger’s upbeat “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away” several times in a row.


Edit: Another episode of this crap showed up while I was doing dishes. Not even a token skeptic in this bunch. We have a family who hired the Nick and Nora of paranormal investigators–a “religious demonologist” and his ancient clairvoyant wife–and their student, a worthless fucking tool who claims to believe in ghosts “the way most people believe they’re breathing air. It’s not even a question.” The family is beset by the most mundane of hauntings, with strange creaking noises and a “loud crash” that “couldn’t be natural.” I suppose “falling branches” are now an impossibility. Daddy has a bad dream where he’s covered in bugs, and it “felt so real,” therefore ghosts. Gosh, if I’m stressed and easily scared, I can’t possibly expect to have (ridiculously common) nightmares. When the five-year-old started choking, our worthless tool decided that the proper course of action would be prayer and salt and threatening the ghosts with Jesus; I don’t know, I think my first inclination would be the goddamn Heimlich Maneuver.

But the best bit is when Nick and Nora decide that they need to do an exorcism, but first they have to get permission from the Vatican. Oh great, not only is there an imaginary threat, but there’s imaginary bureaucracy. The whole bit reminded me of this example of imaginary protocol:


I think two hours W.O.O. would be appropriate punishment for these dipshits too.