Here is one of SHAMland's staple tactics and a deceptively effective con:
The guru says, "My colon whistles The Star-Spangled Banner."Studious types will recognize the foregoing as an artful dodge and a perversion of the scientific method. The guru who says, a la Rhonda Byrne, "Such-and-such works every time!", has to prove that it works every time; he or she must be able to demonstrate that the argument holds under all possible conditions. The skeptic is burdened with no obligation to disprove it. On the contrary, the skeptic is fully within his or her rights to demand proof that "it works every time" (or, in the situation at hand, that the guru's colon can indeed whistle on cue) and in fact can prevail in this debate by finding just one case where "it" doesn't work. Whereas the guru, again, must produce positive findings in every conceivable case.
The skeptic replies, "I seriously doubt that your colon whistles The Star-Spangled Banner."
The guru replies, "You have no proof of that!"
The burdens of proof are in no way equivalent. Yet the gurus often get away with arguing that they are.
Why do you suppose that is?
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Here is one of SHAMland's staple tactics and a deceptively effective con:
Monday, September 27, 2010
Rhonda Byrne may have been a tad late getting to her own party, but the positive-review-athon for The Pow-errrrr appears finally to have kicked in with a vengeance (no doubt with Amazon looking studiously the other way, if not actively participating in the conspiracy). All three of what we used to call "spotlight reviews" for the book are now glowing 5-stars, as are all 10 of the most recent reviews featured in the sidebar.
My negative review has been kicked down the stairs to the cellar...along with a thoughtful and quite-literary take from Kathryn Price that once held sway among the spotlights with a helpful rating of over 70 percent but can no longer compete with the recent slew of 100-percent-helpful 5-stars.
Speaking of unwarranted hype, last week I finally saw Michael Moore's highly engrossing logical quagmire, Bowling for Columbine. As far as I can tell, here is Moore's thesis:
The words racism and violence have almost the same number of letters, give or take, so draw your own conclusions... Not a single black person ever shot anyone in Detroit before the slave ships began arriving in the 1600s... If rich insensitive white folk didn't like fudge as much as they do, little black kids wouldn't have to take guns to school and shoot their classmates... If you use hairspray, you are probably not a sincere person. (ED. NOTE: On the other hand, if you wear a baseball cap...) The problem is that there are way too many guns around, except in Canada, where there are plenty of guns but the late Charlton Heston never owned a home, so there!... Poverty, meanwhile, is much, much worse when you don't have a lot of money....Wow. And this film has not only been hailed as "brilliant," but boasts an enviable 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes?
Hey, how come you don't see Jon Stewart and Bill Maher ripping Moore to shreds? Maybe I just missed it....
Monday, September 20, 2010
The downside of e-marketing (and mail-order in general) is that there are no longer any real penalties for being an insolent scumbag, if you're on the seller's side of the equation. A CSR in Bangladesh could care less about your problems or your anger. (Have you called PayPal customer service lately?) That was far less true in the bad old days, of course, when a merchant knew that an unhappy customer was likely as not to stroll back into his store with a shotgun. Even leaving the shotgun out of it, the prospect of having to face your customers—literally—made merchants a bit more circumspect, a bit more humble, a bit more sensitive to their buyers' needs. A bit less cavalier. A bit less likely to shrug and say, "So sue me [yawn]...."
I'm not advocating violence. Really, I'm not. I've become a relatively placid individual in my old age. Really, I have. But sometimes violence, though regrettable, has its place. It keeps people in line; it keeps them from thinking (and acting like) they're repercussion-proof. It reminds everyone that there are direct consequences in life. Or there ought to be.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
UPDATE, Friday, 9/17. Speaking of women's magazines and their collective assault on female body image and the like...check this out. So if you buy Elle's explanation, their depiction of plus-size black actress Gabourey Sidibe in such a radically different format from the other three (white, underfed) cover models was totally random? On another day, they might've been just as likely to show Sidibe the same way they show, say, foxy Megan Fox? Riiiight. And Bill Clinton did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky...
I have two levels of reaction to this article, "When the Quest for Self-Improvement Kills," now out in Self magazine. The piece is about James Ray and, more generally, the dangers of reckless and/or ill-conceived self-help programs. I'm quoted briefly.
One reaction I have is along the lines of an email I received from a contributor: "It's good to see that someone is keeping the story alive." It's an important story, and not just about one man's sins. On the contrary, it's about a major area of the zeitgeist that isn't taken nearly as seriously as it should be.
My other reaction is, Are you freakin' kidding me?? Man (or maybe in this case, Woman), is the pot ever calling the kettle black! I say that because Self is part of that very zeitgeist.
The simple truth is that women's magazines have done as much damage in the name of self-help as any other segment of SHAMland. For Self and its sister publications to be wringing their hands over James Ray is more than a bit disingenuous, and is as good a definition of irony as any I've seen, considering the subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) destructive themes that emanate from women's magazines on a monthly basis. I talked about this at some length in SHAM, and we've discussed it a number of times here. If you don't want to take my word for it, I refer you again to Myrna Blyth, former capo-di-tutti-capi at Ladies' Home Journal. In her confessional 2005 book, Spin Sisters, Blyth repents her role in her erstwhile industry's $7 billion assault on the dignity and self-worth of its audience.
The most tragicomic aspect is, for magazines with names like "Self," they're pretty un-self-aware. It's not as if Self is suddenly waking up and smelling the coffee, and intends to pursue an entirely different editorial mission. No. They see James Ray as totally separate and apart from what they do. They're on the side of the angels. I'm reminded of my January 2007 item about a GMA appearance by Self's editor, during which she and Diane Sawyer sighed and shook their heads over all the negative self-talk with which today's gals are plagued. Where could women possibly have gotten all those messages?
How 'bout from your stupid magazine, for starters! Check out the material currently on Self's site. Look at the cover of the issue highlighted there. ("Gee, how is it that all those young girls learn to feel so bad about their bodies!?") You tell me what the overall message is to readers. And in fairness, Self is hardly the worst offender.
It's as bad in its way as if Oprah herself were to announce that she's ending her historic run with a series of shows on the dangers of the New Age.
NOTE TO SELF: It shouldn't be that folks actually have to die, and in dramatic fashion, before you start doing damage assessments. Your industry has been inflicting the death-of-a-thousand cuts on women for decades.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Here's a new book that caught my eye. Look, I'm all for helping guys get it up/on. But I have to be skeptical about this book's promise: Is the good doctor really going to help you "treat" your erectile problem at home via "appropriate self-help measures"? In other words, is the final solution in the book? Or is he merely providing a wealth of information about your problem, thereby enabling you to have a more productive conversation with the person who actually will correct the problem (like, say, some urologist, one of which he happens to be)? If it's the latter—and though I haven't read the book, I tend to think it mostly is, based on the bulk of what he says in his release—then both the release and the book's title are misleading. I'm not saying the book is useless. I'm saying that a more truthful, appropriate title might be "Everything You Need to Know About Erectile Dysfunction." Not quite as catchy or marketable, huh?
So we're back to the same-old-same-old: 5 Keys or 7 Habits or The Secret or The Pow-errrrr turn out in the end to be little more than general-purpose observations that can't really be depended on to fix anything for any specific buyer/user, and often leave you right back where you started, except perhaps a little poorer, albeit with a bit more clarity about precisely what's wrong.
Gotta love that cover art, though.
By the way, doc, if you're out there reading this, feel free to correct me if I'm miscasting your work. Just tell me straight-up.
* Apologies for the sophomoric humor. In my defense, I just watched Anchorman again the other night.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Here is a fascinating compilation that contains some remarkable "color" with respect to this most tragic date and anniversary. I was struck in particular by the item listed under 6 a.m., "Bush Interview or Assassination Attempt?" Don't ask me why, but I'd never heard anything about this before...and I find it chilling, especially because the circumstances do indeed parallel the (successful) plot against Afghan Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Massoud just two days earlier.... And wouldn't that have been the coup-de-grace!
I guess there's little left to say on a day like this, nine years later, except perhaps to quote the memorable caveat from the watch commander on Hill Street Blues: "Let's be careful out there."
Friday, September 10, 2010
UPDATE, Friday afternoon. By the way, here's a streamed version of an Irish radio show I did last night ("Culture Shock"). My segment starts at around the 12:30 mark. The host, Fionn Davenport, strikes me as a really bright guy. As for yours truly, I got caught up in my own thought process a couple of times, and a frog crept annoyingly into my throat at one point (ahh, the joys of live media!), but overall it's not too bad.
Once again, it's nice to see this stuff getting ongoing, mainstream coverage, especially in a must-read* like The New Yorker. Still, the writer, Kelefa Sanneh, sounds oddly credulous for the most part, and almost seems to go out of his way to avoiding quoting Byrne at her most idiotic and outré. He sets the piece up as if the "juicy" story line here is Byrne's split with Esther Hicks, fails to mention the lawsuit by Secret DVD director Drew Heriot, gives short shrift to the whole James Ray debacle (and what it implies for the genre), and describes Joe Vitale, uncynically, as "an ecumenical healer," providing no further insights into Vitale or his background. Though I'm not entirely sure what an ecumenical healer is or does, I can think of far better phrases to capture the essence of our pal Joe. In passages like the following, Sanneh even sounds sympathetic to Vitale and the rest of the displaced cast from The Secret, none of whom appears in The Pow-errrrr:
Unfortunately for the likes of Vitale, The Power does away with teachers altogether; this time, Byrne is the sole guide....So now Vitale is not only an ecumenical healer but a "teacher" as well. And the rest of us are presumably missing out on the further wisdoms he might have shared....
I have to feel that I could have done a better job. And yes, without doing a total hatchet job.
* Well, to New Yorkers, anyway. But seriously, The New Yorker is read faithfully by large numbers of opinion leaders everywhere else, too.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
While we're on the subject of ads and their intonation.... I was all geared up to gag over this Verizon spot (from their "rule the air" series)...when I suddenly realized that I like it. OK, it's a bit hokey, and I still don't see why we should be implying to today's young women that there's any reason to doubt their intellect and/or influence in the first place. To me, this is in the same category with (though less objectionable than) all that contemporary coursework from elementary school forward that immerses kids in the horrors of slavery. I realize that it's part of history, so it must be taught, but that's a damn shame: If children have little concept of such horrific race-based evil, then why put it in their minds and risk creating schisms and enmities that didn't exist before? Similarly: Do girls still grow up feeling like second-class citizens? That they have less power, specifically brainpower, than men do? I fail to see why. Honest. Especially since the entire educational experience nowadays unfolds as a celebration of women and, in too many cases, a repudiation of maleness. (See also SHAM chapter 10, as well as the book's conclusion, "A SHAM Society.") And then of course we have all those male-bashing messages in pop culture.
But at least this ad isn't just more feel-good palaver trumpeting hollow self-esteem. On the contrary, it contains lines like "my ideas will be powerful...if they are wise" and "infectious...if they are worthy." [emphasis added in both cases] Now that's a nice message to be selling: that approval is merit-based; that you have to earn self-esteem. That is, instead of this nonsense we've been hearing for decades about how we're all special and wonderful and equally entitled to be president of the United States...
Sunday, September 05, 2010
For a while now, AOL has been using this sign-on screen (which I cut and pasted above because for some reason, when I click the link, it doesn't always take me to the screen I have in mind, so it might not take you there either. For the benefit of those who worry that I'm violating some copyright here, I claim an exemption on the grounds of "fair use and comment").
Under the ad the following caption appears:
Safeguard Your Child's Online ExperienceLet's scrutinize the atmospherics here, shall we? We've got a too-cute tweener girl in the foreground, smiling (in an innocent/engaged/subtly flirty way?) into her computer screen. A couple, presumably Mom and Dad, are behind her on the couch, some distance removed. Mom is keeping an eye on the daughter, her expression clearly betraying some unease. Dad, however, seems oblivious to the girl, and is more intent on the wife. (If you click on the above photo, the resulting enlargement will enable you to better analyze the facial detail.) His smile, which to my eye is part rakish and part patronizing, says one (or both) of two things to the woman: 1, "What are you worrying about, babe? She's just bein' a kid. She's fine." And/or 2, "So, am I gonna get laid later? Cuz if so, I'll take the pill..."
Protect your family from inappropriate content online with the AOL Safety Toolbar.
I don't think I'm being paranoid in what I'm about to say, or "reaching" too far, because the visuals in that ad had to have been put together by design. Right? So why use that imagery? Why not have both parents watching the girl with unease? Or why not have them both be oblivious? Ergo, what's the intended takeaway? That fathers are clueless when it comes to their daughters' welfare? That they're far too casual about it? That they spend most of their time thinking exactly the kinds of prurient thoughts that force mothers to have to take full responsibility for their daughters' welfare?
Curious to know others think.
Friday, September 03, 2010
Consider this a further UPDATE on my post of August 24. Leaving aside conspiracy theories, I suppose it's just "one of those things" that all three headline reviews of The Pow-errrrr are now positive. Mine seems to have been bumped from the front page.
There is, however, some diversity of opinion among those three reviews: Two of the reviews are 5-star, and one is 4-star.
© Copyright by Steve Salerno at 12:36 PM
Thursday, September 02, 2010
This is shaping up as a banner season for debunking mindless Happyism. Gary Greenberg's cover story, "The War on Unhappiness," anchors the current (September) issue of Harper's. And the forthcoming (October-ish) issue of Skeptic will feature my own similarly inflected cover piece, "Ignorance of Bliss." I have two reasons for loving that title, aside from its delicious swipe at the familiar aphorism. One, it really nails the current state of knowledge (or lack thereof) regarding "happiness and its causes" (as a popular conference on the subject is known).
Two, I actually thought it up. :) *
Hmmm. Wonder if all this has Gretchen Rubin's panties in a wad?
"When asked if his actions had helped prepare him for what he was doing, Lee said, 'Oh yeah. Everything I do in life, everything one does in life, prepares you for what you are going to do.' "
—quote from coverage of yesterday's Discovery Channel hostage crisis, which ended when police sharpshooters killed hostage-taker James Lee.
(Just being a smart-ass here.)
* SHAMblog historians (to the extent that any such species exists) take note: To the best of my own knowledge and recollection, that represents my very first use of an emoticon in a front-page post. It seemed appropriate somehow.