Crazy Crackpot Claims

Smart Mofos edited

Yeah…you know who else sounds like crazy mother *#!@ers?  Crazy mother *#!@ers.

Besides the unnecessary profanity, here’s the problem with this meme: saying that dumb people think smart people sound like crazy people does not prove that you are smart, even if somebody has called you crazy, nor does it make your critics dumb.  Here’s an argument tactic favored by people with ideas that sound…well…crazy.

Person A: I say the Moon is inhabited by purple unicorns!

Person B: What?!?  There’s no evidence for purple lunar unicorns!  That’s crazy talk!

Person A: Of course it sounds crazy to somebody as uneducated as yourself.

If Person A’s claims hold any water, then they should stand on their own merit.  Person A should be able to convince Person B of the reality of purple Moonicorns™ without calling Person B’s intellect into question.  Person A is making an extraordinary claim.  He should be aware that the burden of extraordinary evidence is on his shoulders.

In 1992, mathematical physicist John Baez of the University of California, Riverside, devised the crackpot index – a guide to ranking the often-pseudoscientific claims made by people seeking to revolutionize science without the worrisome burdens of evidence or common sense.  Baez awards each claim (and its respective claimant) a -5 point starting credit, then adds points for each statement made by the claimant that comes straight from the Crackpot Playbook.  For example, a claimant might earn 10 points for comparing himself favorably to Einstein (or, say, using a picture of Einstein in his meme), or he might gain 20 points for bringing up ridicule – real or imagined – afforded to his previous “theories” by the scientific community.

I mention the crackpot index because the statement made in this meme is strikingly reminiscent of things crackpots say when attempting to deflect skeptical criticism of their ideas.  “If you think my ideas are crazy, it’s only because you’re too stupid to understand them.”  While many scientific revolutions have been started by ideas that initially sounded crazy (relativity and quantum mechanics, e.g.), the difference between these revolutions and crackpot claims is that the authors of the scientific revolutions came prepared with evidence.  They did not resort to attacking their critics, but instead sought to convert their critics by patiently explaining their position and supporting evidence, as many times as needed.  Their ideas eventually took hold because they (A) made sense on their own, and (B) fit in with the wider field of understood facts.  Einstein never complained that his earlier theories were ridiculed by the “established orthodoxy”.  Feynman never grumbled that Big Science was suppressing his ideas.  Heisenberg did not call his critics imbeciles.  The real revolutionaries won by persistence, not petulance.

Being called crazy does not immediately make you right, nor does it make your critics dumb.  That’s an intellectually dishonest way of looking at things.  As noted skeptic Michael Shermer puts it in his 1997 book, Why People Believe Weird Things:

They laughed at Copernicus. They laughed at the Wright brothers. Yes, well, they laughed at the Marx brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right.

Sometimes people call an idea crazy because it really is crazy.  If people constantly scoff at your ideas, you might take a moment to re-evaluate your beliefs.  Are you really the lone beacon of truth in a world clouded by wrong thinking?  Or are you the crackpot?  Only an honest evaluation of the evidence will tell you for sure.  The key word is “honest”.

Quick Memes, Part 2

Last August I wrote a post called “Quick Memes“, in which I discussed a few memes that didn’t merit an entire post.  It was a smashing success moderate success thing I did, so I’ve decided to do it again!  Here is another round of memes that are irritating, but not irritating enough to spend at least 500 words ranting about.

Pepper Bumps

This Internet myth has been debunked numerous times; nevertheless, I see this meme being passed around incautiously.  I figured I would add my voice to the dissenting mix.  All peppers – including the bell variety – belong to the Nightshade family, Solanaceae, a family that includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.  One characteristic of all nightshades is that they produce perfect flowers.  A perfect flower has both male and female parts; in other words, it is hermaphroditic.  All nightshade family flowers contain both pistils and stamens.  Consequently, the fruits that arise from those flowers are neither male nor female.

Some plants do have distinct male and female flowers – sometimes on the same plant, sometimes on different plants.  It is possible for some plants to produce gendered fruits, but peppers do not.  The number of lobes on a pepper, its taste, and its seed content are due to environmental and genetic factors, but not to gender.

Verbal and Physical Abuse

A couple of things: there’s a distinct difference between cursing and verbal abuse.  If you drop an F-bomb after stubbing your toe, I doubt very many people would consider it abusive.  Also, you can be verbally abusive to somebody without ever uttering a single swear word.

The best advice is not to be abusive at all – verbally or physically.  If you’re not beating somebody up, good for you.  It still doesn’t excuse your physical abuse.

Conspiracy Theorist

Do you believe that they’e discovered a simple, cheap cure for cancer and/or AIDS, but Big Pharma is suppressing it so they can continue to make billions by pushing pills?  Do you think the Moon landings were faked on a sound stage so the United States could beat the Soviet Union in the space race?  Do you think that President John F. Kennedy was actually assassinated by the CIA, the FBI, Vice President Johnson, or anybody other than Lee Harvey Oswald?  Do you think the government is spraying poisonous chemicals as chemtrails for the purpose of population control?  Do you think that vaccines cause autism?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are probably a conspiracy theorist.  In that case, the rest of this section is going to make you angry.  Sorry.

The problem with conspiracy theorists is that their starting position – their baseline for evaluating the world – is cynical distrust of authority.  From there, they evaluate everything they see with a severe confirmation bias.  The only evidence they accept is that which can be contorted into supporting their viewpoint; they reject as “bullshit” anything that disproves their ideas.  They fancy themselves experts because they have read the slanted testimony of other conspiracy theorists, but what happens when somebody – perhaps a real expert – weighs in with contradictory evidence?  Conspiracy theorists view these experts are seen as being bought and paid for by the Forces of Darkness.

The mindset of many conspiracy theorists disallows contradictory viewpoints, which is a shame.  I’ve had a few discussions with conspiracy theorists, and I know that asking a conspiracy theorist to consider alternate viewpoints is like asking a river to flow up a steep incline.  Evidence is entirely useless; conspiracy theorists seem to be enamored with the idea that all evidence can be faked; yet they fail to apply that logic to the “evidence” that seemingly supports their own conclusions.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not some naive Pollyanna who thinks that the world is hunky-dory and everything the government says is true.  I like to think that before I put an authority figure or organization on blast for hideous crimes against humanity, I have honestly evaluated the evidence in my corner.

If you believe that conspiracy theories are pretty convincing, ask yourself why.  Then ask yourself if the evidence could be wrong.  Ask yourself if there’s any way your theories could be disproved.  If there isn’t, then your ideas do not fit the scientific definition of the word theory.  If you cannot be reasoned out of an idea…did you really use reason to get into it?

Also…I’m pretty sure the “chains” on the person’s wrists in this image are made of paper loops.

Lover or Lesbian

Here’s another nugget of wisdom from Justin “Master Chim” Garcia, that visionary who taught us how to avoid police brutality (while neglecting to admonish the police not to use brutality).  This time around, Master Chim deploys his world-famous sensitivity to determine whether you are a real man or a lesbian.  According to Master Chim, the Casanova of our age, real men shouldn’t do all that romantic girly stuff that women seem to like, such as spending time with them, or being helpful around the house, or, you know, thinking about them.  A real man, Master Chim might say, is neglectful to his female companion.  He goes out with his buddies when he wants to, regardless of her plans or wishes, and he never lifts a finger to help around the house.  Shared responsibility is for wusses, he might continue.  If you go all out to make your woman feel special, then you might as well be a woman yourself, right?

Now I’m not saying you have to do all the things on this list; that’s between you and your lady friend (and besides, flowers can get expensive!)  I’m just saying that if you do these things, you shouldn’t be cowed by men like Master Chim.  Justin “Master Chim” Garcia is not the authority on manliness that he purports to be.  Each man (and woman) must decide what is appropriate for him (or her) to do.  The last thing this world needs is more men trying to emulate Master Chim’s example.

ISIS Green Screen

I…really don’t know what to do with this.  What exactly is the meme saying – that ISIS doesn’t exist?  That ISIS has never executed prisoners on a beach?  That ISIS doesn’t execute prisoners at all?  If the meme’s author believes that ISIS fakes its executions in front of a green screen, why use this image as “evidence”?  There are no active executions being depicted, and the image doesn’t strike me as one that is clearly fake.

So yeah, there’s something vaguely conspiracy-theoristy about this meme, but it doesn’t do a good job of indicating what it’s real message is.  In failing to make its point clear, the meme fails at the only function a meme has: to express an opinion or idea in a pithy, easily digestible manner.  If I have to guess what claim the meme is making, then not only is the meme Stupid and Bad…but Pointless as well.

WhatIsAGoodWoman

Who the hell thinks that a good woman doesn’t get angry?  Does anybody make that claim about men?  Seriously, this meme reeks of Stupidity.  Here’s another meme expressing the worn-out idea that a woman must be emotionally tough at all times, and she shouldn’t let anything upset her.  Seriously, I don’t know anybody, good or otherwise, who doesn’t get angry from time to time.

Dress vs Building

This meme gets one thing right: people should be very concerned about the alleged off-the-books “black sites” used by the Chicago Police Department to interrogate suspects without due process or public record.  Very concerned.

But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t talk about anything else.  As one of my Facebook friends pointed out, memes like this assume that people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.  That stupid dress may have caught the public’s attention, seeming drowning out any other discussions, but it will fade from memory soon enough.  In the meantime, if you want to draw attention to a troubling news story, there are ways to do it without painting your friends as out-of-touch shallow idiots.

On Hitlers, Rothschilds, and the Fed

Hitler's Heritage

This meme is full of outright lies, factual contortions, and unsupported speculation.  In other words, it’s perfect for Stupid Bad Memes.

Let’s start with the United States Federal Reserve System, also known as the Fed.  The U.S. Fed is the central bank of the United States.  It was created in 1913 as part of the Federal Reserve Act.  While the Fed’s responsibilities have evolved over time, its basic function has always been to provide a measure of stability to the United States economy. (Obviously it has been more successful at some times than at others.)  The Fed monitors and controls the supply of money, supervises and regulates the nation’s banks, and ostensibly keeps a thumb on interest rates and prices, all in the service of protecting the financial interests of Americans.

It should come as no surprise that an institution neck-deep in America’s finances has become the subject of numerous conspiracy theories.  Some of the most impressively bizarre and convoluted theories ever devised focus on the shadowy organizations allegedly controlling the United States Federal Reserve, including the Illuminati, the New World Order, and, of course, the Jews.  All of these conspiracy theories play on a common fear: that our wealth is not really under our control; instead, back-stage deals between (usually foreign) billionaires are subverting our hard-won paychecks to their nefarious purposes.  And what purposes might those be?  Why, nothing less grandiose than the control of the entire world’s financial system, and all the politics money can buy.

I’ll admit: these theories do have a certain paranoid appeal.  After all, how many of us really understand the intricate workings of upper-level finance management in the United States?  How many of us are privy to the goings-on that decide the value of our money, or who can and cannot control it?  Just as a dark room or a bump in the night inspire us to conjure images of ghosts, the apparent opacity and complexity of our nation’s highest tier of financial control cause us to dream of sinister puppeteers that run the entire show.  I understand the appeal of these theories, but the rational mind must not allow itself to be seduced by them.  At some point we must resort to critical thinking.  Our judgments must be based on evidence.

Before we examine that evidence, let’s take a look at the Rothschild family.  The Rothschilds (Rothschildren?) are the descendants of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a German Jew who opened a bank in the 1760s in the Free City of Frankfurt.  He did quite well for himself and bequeathed his wealth to his fives sons, who spread the family business and established the seeds of a dynasty.  At the height of their influence, the Rothschilds were a formidable economic force.  During the 19th century, they possessed one of the world’s largest private fortunes, and several members of the Rothschild clan held positions of nobility in the governments of Europe.  Today, the Rothschilds’ fortune and influence have dwindled somewhat, the family’s wealth having been divided among hundreds of descendants; even so, they are not hurting for money.

The idea that the Rothschild family controls the United States Federal Reserve probably stems from the work of authors Gary Kah and Eustace Mullins.  According to Kah, the U.S. Fed is directly owned and operated by foreign interests, including the Rothschild Banks of London and Berlin.  Kah alleges that the Rothschild banks – and other Jewish-owned foreign financial institutions – are “Class A shareholders” of the New York branch of the U.S. Fed.  Never mind that the U.S. Fed does not have “Class A shareholders”; its stocks are classified as member stocks or public stocks.  Also, in order to believe this, you’d have to ignore legislation incorporated into the formation of the Fed which specifies that only American banks can be shareholders.

Mullins (who passed away in 2010) claimed that the New York branch was 63% owned by a cohort of eight American banks, which were in turn owned by foreign interests.  Chief among these foreign controllers, according to Mullins, is the London House of Rothschild.  Mullins’s claims are slightly more plausible than Kah’s, in that they do not require an overt violation of the laws that were created to govern the Fed, but they still lack evidential support.

Both men’s sources are elusive.  Mullins claimed that the Federal Reserve Bulletin listed the Rothschilds as share owners, but that simply isn’t true.  The Federal Reserve Bulletin has never published a list of shareholders for any of the Federal Reserve Banks (there are twelve altogether).  Gary Kah’s sources are unnamed Swiss and Saudi associates.

Mullins’s and Kah’s assertions both hinge on the idea that the entire U.S. Fed can be manipulated via its New York branch.  According to an article published by Policital Research Associates, that simply isn’t true.  Each branch of the Fed answers directly to the federal government, with no branch having more control than any of its siblings.  Also contrary to the claims of Mullins and Kah, any profit generated by the U.S. Fed devolves directly to the United States Government, and not to foreign organizations.

Whatever influence the Rothschild family has in the United States, they do not own or control the U.S. Fed; ergo, the second sentence of this meme is entirely false.  It should therefore be of no concern to the average American citizen (or to anybody else, really) whether Adolf Hitler was a Rothschild descendant.

But just for the sake of thoroughness…was Adolf Hitler a Rothschild descendant?

There’s no good evidence to suggest this.  Here’s what the meme does get right: Adolf was the son of Alois Hitler, né Schicklgruber, who was the illegitimate son of Maria Schicklgruber and…somebody.  The identity of Alois Hitler’s paternal father is not known, although speculations are rampant.  Among the more believable hypotheses is that Adolf’s paternal grandfather is Johann Georg Hiedler, the man who would later marry Maria Schicklgruber and raise Alois.  In an 1876 testimony before a notary and three witnesses, Alois claimed that Johann was his paternal father and officially claimed the surname Hiedler, which was probably regularized to Hitler by a clerk.

It’s also possible that Adolf Hitler’s paternal grandfather is Johann Nepomuk Hüttler, brother to Johann Georg Hiedler, and Adolf’s maternal great grandfather, was also Alois’s biological father.  Since Alois’s birth certificate is mute vis à vis his biological father, we may never know for certain.

It seems highly unlikely, however, that Alois’s father was one of Maria’s Jewish employers.  The legend of Maria’s employment in a Jewish household arises from the testimony of Hans Frank, Hitler’s private lawyer.  According to Frank, Hitler asked him to research Hitler’s genealogy in the 1930’s, following an alleged blackmail letter from one of Hitler’s relatives.  Frank claims to have turned up evidence that Maria Schicklgruber, Adolf’s paternal grandmother, was employed at the time of her pregnancy by Jewish household in Graz named Frankenberger.  Allegedly, the 19-year-old Leopold Frankengruber was the one who impregnated 42-year-old Maria Schicklgruber, and Alois was the result.

Historians largely discount Frank’s account of Hitler’s paternal heritage, largely because it doesn’t fit with historical facts.  Maria Schicklgruber never lived in Graz, and even if she had, the Jews had been expelled from Graz since the 15th century and would not be allowed to return until Alois was nearly 30 years old.  At no point did Hans Frank draw a connection between Maria Schicklgruber and the Rothschild family.  The Hitler-Rothschild connection is purported to have started with an Office of Strategic Services psychological evaluation of Adolf Hitler, one aimed to smear Hitler, if you believe the modern Hitler supporters.  (In general, I don’t, but I agree that the evidence for a Hitler-Rothschild connection is flimsy at best.)

So let’s summarize all the ways in which this meme goes wrong:

  1. There is no good evidence that Adolf Hitler is part of the Rothschild legacy.
  2. There is no good evidence that the Rothschild family controls or owns the U.S. Fed.
  3. In fact, the U.S. Fed was set up specifically to prevent dabbling by outside interests.
  4. There’s no good evidence that Alois Hitler was Lionel Rothschild’s son.
  5. And even if he was Lionel Rothschild’s son, he was never claimed by Rothschild.
  6. Hitler was not Alois’s mother-in-law’s maiden name; it was the surname of his adoptive (and possibly biological) father.
  7. Alois did not adopt the name Hiedler (or Hitler) until he was fully grown, and after his mother had already died.  By that point, his illegitimacy was no secret.
  8. Evelyn de Rothschild does not control the United States.
  9. I sincerely hope that none of our elected officials believe this tripe.  (Although considering some of the other things they seem to believe, it wouldn’t surprise me.)

It took a good deal of research to write this post, and that meant reading a lot of conflicting opinions.  The difficult part about researching a controversial topic is that you must always be mindful of an author’s agenda.  That’s hard work, I admit.  It’s much easier to just take the word of a meme, particularly when that meme sort of confirms something you already believe, but come on, conspiracy theorists…it’s time to wake up.

Further reading:

Struggling to Fly

If It Wasn't For Me

Really?  Personally, I would leap at the chance to live a life on Easy Street, even if it meant owing a debt of gratitude to somebody else.  Sure, it’s annoying when somebody trots out all the ways you should be grateful to them, but  you know what’s even more annoying?  Struggling to survive.

I’m going to paint you a metaphorical picture.  Your life…is an airplane.  An airplane’s purpose is to fly.  Your life’s purpose is to be successful in some way.  There are many ways to evaluate success, from the tangible (material wealth) to the abstract (self-actualization), but for now, let’s evaluate success strictly through a financial lens.  For our purpose, a person is successful when he is capable of providing for his own needs, and for the needs of his family, if he has one.  When a person can make himself and his family comfortable, without having to worry about the crucial details of survival, then that person is up and flying.

An airplane needs two things to fly: thrust and lift.  Thrust is the force that pushes the airplane forward, and lift is the upward force of the onrushing wind against the airplane’s wings.  If the airplane is incapable of producing thrust, it will not fly.  If the air is not dense enough to provide sufficient lift, the airplane will not fly.  That’s why a single-engine Cessna cannot fly into outer space; above a certain altitude, the air simply becomes too thin to provide the lift needed for the little airplane to go any higher.

In this metaphor, thrust is represented by determination and hard work.  In order for one to take wing, one must be willing and able to apply a sleeves-up nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic.  But that’s not all one needs to be successful.

Lift is represented by the support of the society in which you live.  Without social support, all your hard work and determination will be fruitless.  A man can work his fingers to the bone in pursuit of the American dream, but if there’s no social support for his advancement, he cannot rise.  A man’s success depends not only on his determination, but also on the willingness of the society in which he lives to allow it.

In the United States we tend to heroify the “self-made man” – that rugged individual who takes his fate into his own hands and claws his way up from humble beginnings to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  But the self-made man is a myth.  He is invented, like Uncle Sam, to represent what we want to be instead of what we are.  There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to the mythical icon of the self-made man, but we should be cautious not to start believing the myth.  Believing in a self-made man is like believing in an airplane that can fly on the Moon.

The self-made man exists in a vacuum, independent from social forces, but we do not.  We depend on the footholds, opportunities, and yes, handouts from our fellow humans to get where we want to be.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  Part of being successful is learning to take advantage of the opportunities that are provided to you.  And, if I may say so, it wouldn’t hurt for you to express your gratitude to the people who gave you those opportunities.  It doesn’t make you weaker or less important; it shows that you are a social creature, like us, and therefore worthy of the trust that has been given to you.

I almost hate to change tones so abruptly, but this is a perfect opportunity to discuss another social aspect that helps or hinders somebody’s prospects for success: privilege.  I know that word causes many peoples’ sphincters to tighten, and perhaps we’d like to pretend that privilege doesn’t exist.  But privilege does exist, and it’s a key determining factor in what kind of air your airplane gets to soar in.

For those of you who don’t know what privilege is all about, John Scalzi constructed an excellent role-playing video game metaphor for privilege (specifically, white heterosexual male privilege).  In Scalzi’s explanation, being a straight white male is like playing a video game on the lowest difficulty setting; it doesn’t mean you’ll win, but you will level up faster and have more opportunities opened to you with less work than somebody playing on a harder setting.

To port Scalzi’s analogy into my own, being a person of privilege (more on that in a moment) means that your airplane has nice, broad wings and that you’re flying in a dense, supportive atmosphere.  You can still crash through incautious piloting or simple bad luck, but it’s altogether less likely.  A person flying without privilege is trying to succeed in a rarefied atmosphere, like that of Mars.  He’ll have to thrust much harder just to generate the same lift.  In Scalzi’s metaphor and in mine, you don’t get to choose which airplane and in which atmosphere you fly; these variables are assigned to you at birth.

I’ve been working on a concept I call the American Star of Privilege; a tool for determining how much privilege you can expect to wield in American society.  First: simply being American gives you a slight advantage, but there are five other attributes that will give you, the citizen, a leg up on your path to success.  In no particular order, the five points of the American Star of Privilege are:

  1. Being white.
  2. Being a cis-gendered male.
  3. Being heterosexual.
  4. Being Christian.
  5. Being relatively wealthy.

If all of these points apply directly to you, then congratulations!  You occupy the pinnacle of American privilege.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – especially not for you.  It means you won’t have to work as hard to achieve the bare minimum standard for success, and that your efforts to surpass that baseline will find more traction.

Now let’s be clear: you can still be successful even if you start out as a poor trans-gendered homosexual person of color who doesn’t believe in God, but it won’t be easy for you.  Society’s cards are already stacked against you.  You’ll have a much steeper climb to reach a place of financial comfort.  It will be harder to procure people’s trust – to get that all-important chance that is granted freely to others.  Strangely enough, if you are one of the above-described under-privileged people, and you do make it to the top, you will have come much closer to achieving the mythical status of “self-made [insert preferred gender identifier]” than the person who made this meme could ever hope to.

Do You Swear To Tell The Truth?

Honest Criminals

Way back in 1995, a singer-songwriter named Alanis Morissette released a song called Ironic, in which she described a series of disappointing events and then cajoled us, the listeners, to agree that these situations really were ironic.  An army of literary pedants arose from the reeds to inform us that the situations described in Miss Morissette’s song were not ironic; they were merely unfortunate.  This prompted a second wave of pedants to correct the first wave, not because they thought that Alanis Morissette had perfectly summed up the concept of irony, but because they thought the first wave had botched it as well (which I suppose is sort of ironic in its own way).  When the dust settled on Ironic-gate, the general public was just as confused about the meaning of irony as they had been before Miss Morissette’s song hit the airwaves.

Due in no small part to the kerfuffle surrounding the song Ironic, I am generally hesitant to use the word.  My fear is that I will mislabel something as ironic, and therefore earn the scorn and derision of all my former English teachers.  When I venture to call something ironic, then, it is because I really feel that it’s an ironic slam dunk.  Before I will say the word ironic when describing a situation, it has to be so in-your-face ironic that Alanis Morissette, the alleged Queen of Misunderstanding Irony, when presented with the same situation, would say “Ah, now I see!  Now I get what irony is all about!”

Friends, dear friends, I believe that this meme is…ironic.

Why, you ask?

Well, the meme says that human behavioral studies suggest a link between potty-mouthedness and truthfulness.  That’s not the ironic part, although I do want to address it later.  But the image that accompanies the meme – the picture that the meme’s author thought perfect to complement this message about honesty and trustworthiness – is that of one William Stanley Moore…a criminal.

You see, Mister Moore was arrested on May 1st of the year 1925, on charges of being “an opium dealer operating with large quantities of faked opium and cocaine”.  Faked opium and cocaine.  That’s right, folks: not only was Bill Moore completely untrustworthy in the eyes of the law, but his own criminal associates would have been wise to regard him with a skeptical eye as well.  Moore was the very epitome of a dishonest, not-to-be-trusted human being.  Now I’ve no idea if Mister Moore swore a lot (My gut tells me that he probably did.) but the fact remains that the meme’s author, for whatever reason, chose to accompany a message about honesty with a picture of a man who rates a zero point zero on the Trust-O-Meter.

Let’s move past the hilariously inept image choice and talk about the message of the meme itself.  Is it true?  Are potty-mouthed people more deserving of trust than the people whose language is good and wholesome and pure?  Is that a common perception?

It’s hard to say.  My research turned up several articles that mentioned the swearing/honesty connection.  They all pointed to the same source, a 2012 piece called The Science of Swearing, written by Timothy Jay and Kristen Janschewitz for The Observer, which is published by the Association for Psychological Science.  It’s worth noting that Jay and Janschewitz do not claim that people who swear are more honest, or even that they are perceived to be more honest.  In fact, they say precious little about the personality characteristics of those who pepper their prose with profanity, until the very last paragraph:

Swearing is positively correlated with extraversion and is a defining feature of a Type A personality. It is negatively correlated with conscientiousness, agreeableness, sexual anxiety, and religiosity.

And that is the extent of the authors’ divinations regarding the personalities of the potty-mouthed.  Jay and Janschewitz even distance themselves from these claims by reminding the reader on several occasions that these conclusions are drawn from observations alone, and that further psychological research is needed.

So really…these studies that show a connection between profanity and honesty?  Yeah, they don’t exist.  If you want to cuss like a sailor, go for it – I guess – but know that the scientific community doesn’t have your back on this one.

Sergeant Stupid

Goat Humpers

Happy 2nd Birthday to Stupid Bad Memes!  I can’t believe we’ve been around the Sun twice and I’m still doing this!

First, a gripe about spelling: in this context, the word is properly spelled “losing.  Not “loosing”.  It’s actually easier to spell it correctly.  You have to hit one extra keystroke to be wrong.

Here’s a fresh-off-the-griddle racism pancake for you, served with a side of douchebag (the meme’s author, I mean, although apparently actor R. Lee Ermey is a bit of a douchebag as well).  The phrase “goat humper” is a slur often targeted at Arabs.  So, if I read this meme correctly, the delightfully sophisticated author believes our nation is being overrun by Arabs (Actual percentage of Americans that are of Arab descent: about 1%).  He challenges us to “grow a pair” and act like Americans.

With all due respect, angry Drill Sergeant sir, I already have a pair.  My pair and I don’t want to act like the kind of American you’re talking about.  I don’t want to be an angry, bitter bigot, in other words.  Yes, that’s what we’re talking about…bigotry.  Let’s just go ahead and acknowledge it: this meme is one steaming heap of racist, bigoted, hate-filled, spiteful, ugly, paranoid nastiness.

At least the meme’s author acknowledges that his message will be perceived as racist.  I’m not sure whether he deserves credit for that acknowledgement.  He’s not actually owning the racist mantle, but he has essentially declared war on tolerance.

I would love to have a conversation with the person that made this meme, or with somebody that agrees with it, because i have a couple of questions.

  1. Just to make sure: when you say “goat humpers”, are you referring to Arabs?  I want to understand which brand of ignorant, hateful racism you’re spouting.
  2. In what way are we losing (one “O”) the United States of America to Arabs, considering that Arab descendants make up a tiny percentage of Americans in general and have very little representation in local, state, or federal government?  (And before you even say it, no…President Obama is not a Muslim – just in case you’re conflating Muslims with Arabs – nor is he from Kenya.  And his Kenyan heritage on his father’s side does not make him an Arab, since Kenya is not considered an Arab nation.)
  3. In your opinion, what exactly does acting “like Americans” entail?  It sounds like you’re calling for some sort of ethnic genocide.  We’ve done something like that before, and it’s a sad chapter in our nation’s history.  Maybe we could try something new.  You know, something like tolerance and understanding.  We talk about liberty and justice for all – and those are lofty ideals; now let’s stop poisoning the well and strive to implement them in real life.
  4. Do you even care how others might feel about this meme?  Stop and think about it: What if you were a good, law-abiding Arab American citizen and you came across this meme on one of your friends’ Facebook wall.  How would it make you feel?  Does it bother you at all that you might be making other people uncomfortable, perhaps a bit frightened?  Is that what you think a real American should do?   Or is your mind poisoned by the notion that every man is an island who shouldn’t be affected by the words, ideas, and actions of others?  Are you one of those “It’s not my fault if you’re offended” jerks?  Yeah, you are.  I can tell.

Look, if you want to be a jerk, I can’t stop you (obviously).  But I can rebuke you, and I shall.  Because you know what?  Your sentiments are not those of an American patriot, buttercup.  They are the thoughts of a person consumed by bigotry.  It’s not the “goat humpers” that have no place in America; it’s people like you.  I suggest you have a Scroogian turnaround double-quick, or else find a lonely island to inhabit by yourself.  There you can be just as racist and hateful as you want to be, and nobody else has to read or hear about it.  It’s a win-win.

What’s In a Name? A Mental Wellness Evaluation, Apparently.

Names of Crazy People

What kind of crazy are we talking about?  There’s the fun kind of crazy (“Hey, if Mark ever asks you to hang out at his house, you totally should.  That guy is crazy!”) and there’s the dangerous, possibly homicidal kind of crazy (“Hey, if Mark ever asks you to hang out at his house, you totally shouldn’t.  Instead, you should change your name and move to a different town.  It’s probably best not to even make eye contact with Mark.  Seriously.  That guy is crazy!”)  And there are all sorts of crazy in between (“Mark is talking about buying a winter home in Colombia.  Isn’t that crazy?”)

I have a small problem with the word crazy.  Too often, people use it as a comprehensive term for the mentally ill, and that’s just not fair.  The word carries connotations of wildness or aggressiveness that simply aren’t characteristic to all (or most) mental illnesses.  If you use the word crazy to describe a mentally ill person, you’re doing a disservice, not only to the person in question but to mentally ill people in general.  You’re painting a picture of the mentally ill that is neither flattering nor accurate.   So yeah, we have to be careful when we use the word, lest we come across as insensitive.

That’s not actually my main problem with this meme, though.  My big problem is that this meme suggests a connection between a person’s given name and their eventual mental state.  This is one step removed from astrology, in which proponents claim that the relative (and transitory) positions of the planets and stars at the moment of your birth has an abiding effect on your personality.  Of course it’s utter nonsense, and this meme isn’t much better.  How could a name – particularly one as vanilla as the names on this list – given to you upon your nativity, possibly have an effect on your future mental health?

I decided to check up on the relative frequency of the names on the crazy list.  Here are the ranks of each name in the United States, as reported by Mongabay.com:

Female Names (with rank)


  1. Ashley (63)
  2. Shannon (123)
  3. Melissa (30)
  4. Allison (228)
  5. Rebecca (34)
  6. Mary (1)
  7. Christina (70)
  8. Kelly (67)
  9. Victoria (116)
  10. Stephanie (41)
  11. Tiffany (110)
  12. Elizabeth (5)
  13. Lindsey (301)
  14. Andrea (81)
  15. Heather (53)

Male Names (with rank)


  1. Nick (64, for Nicholas)
  2. Mark (14)
  3. Adam (69)
  4. Jeff (120)
  5. Tyler (198)
  6. Travis (119)
  7. Frank (31)
  8. Bradley (128)
  9. Brandon (68)
  10. Mike (105) (Michael (4))
  11. Scott (32)
  12. Eric (33) (Erik (231))
  13. Ryan (49)
  14. Tommy (161)
  15. Matthew (25)

The interesting thing here is that the top crazy names picked by the meme’s authors are among the top names in general.  In other words, if there are more crazy people named Mark or Rebecca, that’s only because there are more people named Mark and Rebecca in the general population.  Assuming that mental illness (or craziness, if you prefer) strikes people named Mark and Rebecca with the same frequency that it strikes everybody else – and I see no reason to believe that it doesn’t – then it only makes sense that there would be a higher number of unstable Marks and psychotic Rebeccas than there would be of crazy people with less common names.  If you’re wondering why you’ve never met a crazy person named Irwin or Manville, ask yourself this: how many non-crazy Irwins or Manvilles have you met.  Not too many, I’m willing to bet.

(If you have met a person named Manville who also happened to be bugshit insane…well, statistical anomalies happen, I suppose).

So if we’re going to give the meme’s author any credit at all – and in my opinion, he or she doesn’t really deserve any – then we can do so only because statistically, the author is likely to be at least partially correct.  You’re more likely to meet a crazy person named Mary because you’re more likely to meet a person named Mary.  There’s no other reason to assume that the mental health of an individual would be correlated to his or her name.