Archive for the 'Urban Legends' Category

Smoking and Obesity – a Boon to Saving Health Care Costs?

In a refreshing breath of academic honesty, a study debunks the nanny state myth that smoking and obesity increase government health care costs.  So it may be time to dispense with this oft repeated myth.  A myth that has long been used as a major justification for governments’ intrusions into these health aspects.    

This should have been simple common sense, but unfortunately common sense just doesn’t work with bureaucracies hell bent on arbitrarily stamping out things they don’t like.  So a formal study was required.  The not-so-surprising findings and conclusions?  Smokers and the obese die earlier and thus have far less overall lifetime health care costs than the otherwise “healthy.”  Moreover, smokers actually provide the added government “benefit” of paying extra taxes. 

Of course, as anyone who has ever watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” knows (“Zuzu’s Petals!”), when a person dies early (or as in the movie, ceases to exist) there are actually costs that are intangible, difficult to quantify, or impossible to know, so purely looking at lifetime health care costs in itself may not be a true measure of overall cost; but it is at least a start down the road of academic honesty.  An honesty that is sorely needed as governments seek to regulate more and more aspects of peoples’ private lives and behaviors.

Keeping Health Care Costs Down (Part I)Keeping Health Care Costs Down (Part II)

At Least He Made the Planes Run on Time

El StupidoTaking yet another page out of Mussolini’s play book, President Bush is hoping to encourage and then to take credit for making the planes run on time

Although El Stupido’s (Bush’s) and El Duce’s mode of transportation differs, the general method remains the same: 1) Distract the populace from the real issues of the day 2) Do something empty and meaningless in regard to this distraction and then 3) Take credit for something you have absolutely no control over.

Interestingly enough, you can add the tale of Mussolini’s Making the Trains Run on Time to the scrapheap of historical urban legends because he too had absolutely nothing to do with this (although like any good politician he did take credit for).  In 70 years, after much of today’s Fatherland of Homeland Security and other claims have been sifted through the filters of history and reality, most of today’s claims will no doubt similarly end up on an Urban Legend Debunking Site.  For instance, the claim that we ever got actionable intelligence from this guy…

Waterboarding

The US Space Pen and Russian Space Pencil Urban Legend (Well Sorta)

We are so accepting of Urban Legends because they usually conform quite nicely with what we already believe.  So nicely in fact, that there is hardly any need to doubt them or bother checking the facts.  So we believe that Pop Rocks and Coke are lethal, people are desperate enough that they steal kidneys, there are bodies hidden in the matresses of our hotel rooms, and so on.

For me, such was the case with the NASA Space Pen.  The tale, repeated on TV, the Internet, and by most Russians I’ve ever met goes something like this:

The US Space Program spent millions of dollars developing a Pen that could be used to write in zero-gravity.  The Russian Space Program opted for another solution to this problem: they simply used a pencil.

The only problem with this perfect metaphor of the two space programs is this: it too is an urban legend.  Well, mostly anyway.  You see a company (Fischer) did spend $1M (of its own money) to develop the pressurized, zero-gravity space pen.  It sold the pens to NASA for $2 a piece (NASA bought 40 of them) but went on to become an enormous commercial success.  Who else uses them?  Yep, the Russian Cosmonauts.  You see a pencil could too easily break and pose a FOD hazard.      

As Urban Legends go, this one mostly sticks to the facts:

  1. The US Military and Space programs do like to waste a lot of money
  2. Someone did spend a million dollars (of 1960s money) on this
  3. They did use pencils in space until this nifty invention came along  

So I think I’m going to stick to this Urban Legend, it is a heck of a lot simpler to explain at cocktail parties.  And then I can use this to segway into how to use a microwave to dry your pet and perhaps the latest sightings of bat-boy.

Jesus and the Parable of the Wii Sports Boxing Game

“Two men went up to the video console to play;
one was a gamer, and the other was a ….”

…pretty good likeness of Jesus Christ. That’s right, while watching my son play the Wii the other day, I could swear that his boxing opponent was the splitting image of Jesus. Not the look and build of your typical boxer.

 Wii Jesus “Mii” in a Boxing Match

I might otherwise believe it was pure coincidence except when the virtual boxing opponent knocked him down I thought I heard him mutter “I smite thee Pharisee and tax-collector!”

Now, before Nintendo sends a team of lawyers over to my house, I should acknowledge that I am only kidding about this last paragraph (the boxer could be any Renaissance-era Italian and I believe he merely speaks in grunts).

But seeing such potential controversy in a simple video game reminded me of how easy it is to see religious symbolismand metaphysical machinations in the most banal of objects and images – from a grilled cheese sandwich (on sale at my ebay store) to a plague of locusts (OK, maybe that’s not a good example).

It also harkened me back to the nascent, innocent days of the web when viral urban legends would propagate in my email’s inbox like so much pathogenic paramecia.  For instance, remember the Wingdings “NYC” fonts controversy.

NYC “Symbolism”

At the time of the controversy, as usual, professional debunkers Penn Jillette and Barbara Mikkelson(Snopes.com) assured us that there was no animosity or sinister plot lurking in the arrangement of symbols in the Wingdings font (although Microsoft acknowledged there was forethought into the earlier Webdings arrangement).  

Now if I could only be similarly assured that this Wii boxing opponent wasn’t Jesus, I might be able to fight back without fear of eternal damnation.

Please forgive him, for he knows not what he does...