So vaccines, autism and other developmental issues.

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Anti-vaccine people claim that there are two substances used as preservatives that cause – not can cause, not might cause, but absolutely will cause – autism or other developmental issues if given to infants, toddlers and children. Those two substances are mercury and formaldehyde.

Mercury:

Consumption of elemental mercury at a young age has been found to increase the chances of developmental problems and cellular-level brain damage. While it is possible that it can increase the chances of autism, it is not known for sure.

However, elemental mercury is not found in any vaccine in the world. One of the preservatives used in some vaccines is Thiomersal (also known as Thimerosal in the states), which is a mercury-containing compound.

**There is a big difference between elemental mercury and a mercury-containing compound in the same way there is a big difference between elemental sodium, which reacts with water in an explosively violent manner, and salt, which is a sodium-containing compound.**

There is no evidence, even of the anomalous variety, supporting the possibility that Thiomersal could, in the amounts present in vaccines, cause any kind of developmental problems or cellular tissue damage in the brain.

Formaldehyde:

Yes, many vaccines use formaldehyde as a preservative. The amount used, however, is a small fraction of the what is necessary to be even remotely toxic.

Further, formaldehyde is constantly being created naturally in your body as a byproduct of 1 carbon metabolism. Your body is producing formaldehyde as you read this. Really, it is. Because it is constantly being produced in your body, your liver is pretty damned good at cleaning it out, too. It metabolizes out of your system at a rate of about 22mg per minute. For comparison, the body removes alcohol from your system at a rate of about 15ml per hour, which equates to about 190mg per minute. One drink of alcohol, be it a can/bottle of beer, a shot or a glass of wine, contains around half an ounce, or about 11.4 grams, of alcohol, hence it taking about an hour per drink to work itself out of your system.

Meanwhile, the highest formaldehyde content of any vaccine currently on the market is around 90mg. If you, as a grown adult, were to receive every vaccine on the market in a 5 minute window, not only would it not be enough formaldehyde to be even remotely harmful to you, but it would all be cleaned out of your system in less than 2 hours.

And then there’s the fact that you can request preservative-free vaccines for yourself or your child. Allergies to the preservatives used are common enough that all vaccines are required to have a preservative-free version available upon request in basically every nation that has an FDA counterpart. Are there shortages of these? It happens. Will it take a little longer to get the preservative-free versions? It can if demand has been high for them recently. Can you inform your doctor ahead of time so that they’ll have it when it’s time for vaccination? Definitely.

This is the point where it becomes unquestionably obvious that people who refuse to vaccinate their child/children because of these non-existent “risks” are really just ignorant fools who are endangering our children for no good reason. 

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The Devil’s Advocate Fallacy

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Playing the Devil’s Advocate, in the overwhelming majority of situations, is an intellectual fallacy.

The goal of playing the Devil’s Advocate is to get someone to consider the logic found in a position they disagree with. However, in any instance where this is necessary, it means that the person being spoken to has narrowed the field of positions to 2: (A) “The position I agree with” and (B) “the position I disagree with”

In an A-B only situation, there are 4 possible positions:

1) Agreeing with Position A
2) Agreeing with Position B
3) Lacking an opinion due to lack of concern or lacking the necessary information to form an opinion.
4) Refusing to have an opinion.

If you refuse to have an opinion on a topic, you have no rational right to push someone to consider that their opinion may be wrong. You abstain, courteously, and therefore forfeit judging or influencing the opinions of others.

If you lack an opinion due to lack of concern, why do you care enough to make someone else consider that they might be wrong?

If you lack an opinion due to lack of information, how do you suppose yourself capable of properly questioning someone’s rationale for their opinion?

If you agree with position A and are arguing position A, you are arguing for the position you agree with, and as such are not playing the Devil’s Advocate; you’re simply arguing your own opinion and claiming to play the Devil’s Advocate to be a dick.

If you agree with Position A and are arguing Position B, in an attempt to play the Devil’s Advocate, all but the most mentally astute will degenerate any logic that may exist within Position B down to stupefied verbal diarrhea and insist that it is entirely logical because that is what they perceive Position B supporters to do. Afterall, you have already determined that position B possesses inferior logical merit, or else you would not have chosen to personally agree with position A to begin with.

If someone tells you they’re “just playing Devil’s Advocate”, exit the conversation immediately. All they’re really doing is stroking their own ego or trying to make themselves look morally or intellectually superior.

On the origin of nerddom

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The notion that “I’m a nerd, so I should like this” is a misconception about what being a nerd is – one that comes from not having been a nerd until after the end of The Dark Times, when being a nerd was the cool thing to be.

Being a nerd isn’t about which things you love, but about how you love those things and how you express that love. The misconception comes from the fact that there was a time before. Before Robert Downey Stark Jr. made everyone with $10 think they’re a huge comic nerd. Before Halo and COD made literally anyone with hands and a Microsoft XBox think they’re a “1337 hardcore gamer”. Before Wizards of the Coast turned D&D into Pen and Paper WoW so anyone with a 3rd grade education could play it. Before being a nerd became “cool” and really just meant you owned a t-shirt.

See, there was a time when being a nerd meant that anyone who wasn’t also a nerd would either avoid you entirely or treat you like shit just because you openly and exuberantly loved something they thought was stupid or weird. In that time, the social ostrasization by non-nerds created a social obligation among nerds to be more than somewhat knowledgeable about as many areas of nerddom as possible, regardless of how much you enjoyed them. You didn’t have to like what other nerds liked, you just had to know enough about it to be able to have a conversation, because if nerds didn’t do this, their already limited social circles would get even smaller.

Fast forward to the mid-2000’s, when it started to become “the cool thing” to be a nerd, and suddenly you have shitloads of people who don’t even understand what it means to be a nerd, but call themselves nerds because they finally let themselves experience something they once considered “nerdy” and realized it was actually pretty cool. Those would-be nerds look back at the nerds they used to ridicule or just avoid entirely, and they remember how that guy/girl who wore nothing but Marvel t-shirts could have a 2 hour conversation about the fundamental social and philosophical differences between TOS, TNG and DS9, and they get it in their head that that means if it is part of nerd-dom, they must like it…and then they start telling other nerds how “you’re not a real nerd because you don’t like <insert franchise here>” or “you’re not a nerd because you don’t know about <insert tidbit of information here>” exacerbating the whole thing…

…the point is, If someone tells you “you’re not a nerd because you dislike/don’t know about…”, fuck them. They don’t even understand what it means to be a nerd.

Love what you fucking love and love that thing the best way that you can love it, and don’t try to force yourself to love things you don’t. THAT is what being a nerd is all about.

Movie heroines: They work.

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So whenever the topic of a Wonder Woman movie comes up, particularly why one hasn’t been made in the new golden age of comic book movies, there’s one thing that always gets said that really bothers me, because it’s patently a bold-faced lie.

“Movies with female protagonists don’t sell well enough to be worth it.”

This is bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.

As evidence, I give you the following:

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). The writing on this movie was so-so. Not bad, but not anything special. The acting was bad enough that Jolie was nominated at the Razzies for Worst Actress. In spite of that, as of last August this is still the single highest box office grossing video game movie of all time. The sequel, Cradle of Life, had the same quality of acting but took a notable drop in the writing quality and STILL did well enough at the box office to justify Paramount agreeing to fund a third movie with a bigger budget. The only reason it didn’t happen is because Jolie refused to do it.

The Resident Evil movie franchise. The first one was pretty good. Not well written, not well acted. The second one was around the same quality. After that, the franchise’s quality of writing and acting started a nose-dive it has yet to pull out of. Let’s be honest: It’s pretty obvious to anyone who has seen them all that the only reason these movies keep getting made is because Paul S. Anderson REALLY loves his wife and wants her to keep having work…

…oh, that and the fact that every single movie has been a major box office success, with each one doing better than the last (in spite of being worse and worse each time), and the franchise as a whole has had a total box office gross of $916M versus the total production budget of $248M. Let me restate that: The Resident Evil movie franchise has had an average *profit* of 111.3 MILLION DOLLARS PER MOVIE with an average production cost of 41.3 Million Dollars per movie.

The atrocious Charlies Angels movies? First one did $264M box office with a $93M budget. Second one did $259M box office with a $120M budget.

And the Holy Grail of heroine-driven movies, The Hunger Games? $691M box office sales on a $78M production budget. Cathing Fire? $863M box office with a $130-140M budget (depending on the source of the number)

FFS, even non-established and/or poorly advertised franchises can be successful.

The first Underworld movie did $95M box office on a $22M production budget. The other 3 movies in the franchise have all totaled $363M box office sales from a total production budget of $155M, and there’s a 5th one on the horizon.

Columbiana finished it’s box office run with a $20M profit on a $40M budget. That’s not the massive earnings of Iron Man 3, but a 50% return on investment before you even include post-box office sales is still pretty damned successful. How many other investments can you make that will return a 50% profit in less than a year? (production began August 2010, movie hit theatres July 2011)

Salt (2010): 110M budget, 293M box office

The Kill Bill movies had a combined budget of $60M and a combined box office gross of $860M.

And let me be completely clear about something: THIS IS NOT NEW. This was not some mystical paradigm shift that came out of nowhere starting in the early 00’s. This has been happening for a while.

Alien Franchise, anyone? Those movies were so successful that they inexplicably convinced our country that Sigourney Weaver is sexy. (Sorry, she looks like a man) The first movie, in 1979, had a production budget of $9M and has grossed a total of $200M at box offices. Aliens (1986) had an 18.5M budget and brought in $131M at box office, in spite of a 7 year haitus between the movies. The third (1992) movie had a $50M budget and pulled $151M at box office, while the fourth (1997) had a $75M and brought $161M at box office.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer made $16M Box Office on a $7M budget.

Now, do keep in mind that on the movies I’ve mentioned, the production cost does not necessarily include advertising costs (some may, others may not).

However, the box office numbers I’m listing are explicitly that: Box office sales numbers. They do not include Blu-Ray/DVD/VHS sales, tv licensing, rental licensing, streaming licensing, etc. (all of which are basically pure profit) For the non-established franchises, it also does not include profits from other media that wouldn’t have existed without the movies: merchandising, video games, comic series, books, and Buffy’s insanely successful tv series that even led to it’s own spin-off.

So. Stop with this bullshit about how action movies with heroines as the lead aren’t profitable because people aren’t interested in seeing it.

We are interested, we always have been interested. It just needs to be done right, advertised well and, most importantly of all: Not be Catwoman *shivers*

Life lessons from the internet of the 90’s

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When I was young…

…web pages took 30 seconds to load, minimum. If it had pictures, go take a nap. It taught patience and that if something isn’t worth waiting for, it isn’t worth anything.

…logging on made the most horrendous noise I could have imagined. It taught me that all things have good and bad to them. It’s just a matter of whether or not the good outweighs the bad.

…the best graphics you got on a computer screen looked like it was all drawn with a connect-the-dots book. Console graphics were even worse. It taught me that content, not beauty, is the most important thing.

…if someone in your house made or received a phone call, your internet turned off until they hung up the phone. Whatever page you had loaded was gone, whatever game you might be playing was over. It taught loss and acceptance…and more patience.

These are some of the things that the internet taught me and other nerds raised with the internet.

From an old, lost friend

Several years ago, when I visited a friend in the hospital after the heart attack that eventually lead to his passing, he imparted to me a piece of wisdom that I believe only a dying man can fully grasp.

He told me that when all is said and done, you don’t judge the quality of your life by what you have accomplished or acquired but by the caliber of people you shared it with; Not just romantic relationships, but all the company you have kept, be they friend, colleague or mere acquaintance.

He said that the quality of your life is, ultimately the collective quality of the moments within it and that when you gauge the quality of a moment, it is not so much about how much money you had, what you were doing or what good or bad you were doing for yourself or others, but rather the quality of the people you shared that moment with.

This was not the only wisdom passed on to me by the late Austin Ruiz-Esparza, but of all the things he taught me, this has had the most profound and most positive impact on how I live my life.