July 31, 2011

July Newspaper Front Pages - Complete Cloud

While we're here, I thought I'd add the word cloud for all front pages words for all newspapers covered*:
Murdoch and Hacking were the order of business, with the Norway killer and Amy Winehouse's last week domination showing some strength (click to enlarge)

So now we see that the UK papers found to be the most important topics of the month of July.

*words excluded: {"free", "inside"}

- don't forget, the raw data is available for free download by clicking here

UK Front Pages Analysis - July 2011

I'm going to try something new and "exciting" - this month. I've been gathering data from all the front pages of the UK papers. I type up all the words from the front pages that I can clearly read when the front page image is about 230 pixels wide. I also include any main image captions, as the picture is also a big part of the front page punch.

The idea is to get a feel for the character of each paper and how it focusses its coverage, based on how it shouts at its audience. I will try and do this at the end of every month and see what each paper focussed on and found most imperative to sell to its audience.

I will try and build on my analysis over the coming months, but to start with I decided to create some word clouds using the software at worditout.com. In case you are unaware, a word cloud builds an image from the most common words used in a store of text; the more common the word, the larger the word appears. I'm going to show these clouds below the fold, as they will take up some space:

July 28, 2011

Why I Can Stand Jeremy Clarkson

I like Jeremy Clarkson. Sort of.

It's a tricky thing to justify, as he's part of the right-wing hysterical journalists and media types that will bark up any tree that looks remotely like it might be pulped to produce the Guardian. Much like the likes of Littlejohn, Platell, Phillips, Fawkes et al, Clarkson enjoys smugly vomiting out whatever reactionary opinion his pancreas squeezes into his brain. Like the others, he has his pet peeves that he barks on about in an endless cycles (in particular, he hates traffic safety devices and climate change prevention) without ever reviewing evidence contrary to his own immalleable opinion.

But, gosh, I just can't despise him in the way I do the others. I think part of it is that I enjoy Top Gear and don't want to spend the entire time scowling and swearing at "Jezza" the whole hour long. Whenever Clarkson says something stupid or sexist, yes, my wife and I look at each other and shake our heads in disapproval. We're not ignorant of his dickheadedness, not by a long shot. The way he treated Olympic Champion, Amy Williams, was detestable (frankly, she should have slapped him).

But... when mouthing off, I really don't think he takes himself seriously. He operates under the character of 'Jeremy Clarkson, moron' in the same way that Warren Mitchell worked the avatar of 'Alf Garnett, furious bigot'. Whether he uses the character as a comforting shield from which to assert his own opinions, or whether the character's opinions are entirely artificial and used for flamebait - I don't know. Either way, his potency as a force for hypnotising his audience are greatly reduced, compared to someone who takes themselves very seriously, like Bill O'Reilly, who still has a massive following despite twice saying no one knows how the sun goes up and down every day. Clarkson is a clown. He knows he's a clown and he plays up to it. Hopefully the rest of his audience know he's a clown, too.

He delivers his hyperbole with a cheekiness and a swagger deliberately engineered to make his audience chuckle and facepalm and to manufacture a faux-argument between the co-hosts who often call him a 'completely idiot' and a mindless petrol-head. His co-hosts on Top Gear operate similarly, behind the character of grinning-hyperactive-teenager and comely-Warburton-eating-uncle, neither of which you'd trust to even recommend a car to you.

And Clarkson isn't always wrong: he's a big advocate of science and engineering, for example. He once punched Piers Morgan. He's not all bad. Yes, he suffers from the syndrome that a lot of columnist have which I have called I'm-not-an-expert-but-I've-been-spouting-my-opinion-for-so-long-I-must-be-right Syndrome. The name needs work, I'll admit.

A simple Google search for "Jeremy Clarkson column" leads you quickly to this column, which begins:

Call me a spoilsport but I’m glad my dad wasn’t a lesbian

When it comes to sweeping generalisations, I am the daddy. All Germans have no sense of humour, all instruction manuals are pointless, all cruise ships are ghastly, every single American is fat, all golfers are boring and all Peugeots are driven by people you wouldn’t have round for dinner

I really don't think he expects anyone to take him seriously. At least I hope he doesn't.

Oh god, what if he does?

July 27, 2011

Stephenie Meyer: Desperate Satirist?

*note: post contains spoilers for Twilight series

*note2: Twilight contains spoilers for your state of mind

The more time I spend thinking about Stephenie Meyer's unaccountably popular Twilight series, the more I start to wonder if the whole project was an exercise in satire gone horribly wrong.

It is a story of love-at-first-sight snowballing out of control into a train wreck of an abusive, chauvinist relationship while the friends and family of our heroine look on in horror, unable to step in and save her from herself. It is a tale of two desperately selfish people who force everything to go their way at the expense all all other, including the lives of hundreds of innocent people. It's about how people so easily self-rationalise the utterly evil and contemptible acts committed by their peers; acts of murder, paedophilia, deception, enforced vampirisation, kidnap and casual violence are all given barely the disdain they deserve. It's about a young woman who is so self-absorbed that she wraps her friends, family and infatuated hangers-on around her finger, leading them on and guilting them only so that she might kick them to the ground when they become expendable.

And that could be a terrific, terrific tale, right? A tale about the dark and horrible side of love, told through the eyes of detestable protagonists, in the same way that gangster stories work. Could Stephenie Meyer have been trying to tell this tale from the beginning?

Book 1

Bella establishes herself as a complete bitch right from the start. She's ungrateful for her dad's hospitality, his gift of a van and the roof over her head. Everyone at her new school likes her immediately, but she's irritated by their enthusiasm and attention from all the boys. Then she meets a dude called Edward who immediately appears to dislike her vehemently. She must have him.

Magically and inexplicably suddenly, they fall in love and Edward reveals he is a vampire. There is literally nothing interesting about either of them. They have nothing to say about anything except a) how they feel about one another, b) how humans and vampires are different and c) how dangerous Edward is. They can't even get their raunch on as Edward might accidentally kill her or something. Boring.

So Bella starts to ignore her friends and shun her crushes to hang out with boring old Edward. Fuck knows what they do if they can't kiss and they don't have anything to talk about. God, they're like heroine addicts, high on their own love and ignoring everything and everyone. Part of loving someone is sharing a part of you with them: your interests, your ideas. But they have nothing to share - they are a pair of blazé hipster noirs stuck in a perpetual loop of 'no, you hang up first.'

So nothing happens for 90% of the book until some nobody turns up and tries to kill Bella, but that's not really important.

Summary: Book 1 is a book about the dystopian nature of the concept of true love. It's about how love stories are stupid, true love is nothing without friendship and a social structure and how these two fucking idiots deserve each other. The end.

Book 2

So, slightly perturbed that people took the first book seriously and heralded it as OMG they are, like, the couple of the century, Meyer took the risks even further with Book 2, hoping to wake a few people up and make them realise that she was poking fun at stupid love and idiotic, narcissistic teenagers.

The first thing she does is takes the love interest out of the book. Bella and Edward are separated for 90% of this book as Edward leaves because he's afraid his family might accidentally eat her (an allegory for 'rapey Uncle Albert', if ever I heard one). This leaves mopey, miserable Bella and the reader alone. Stephenie Meyer even stopped writing what Bella does, instead she just labels single pages with the months going by. She's screaming: look at what I'm doing, you stupid fuckers - my character is so shit, I have literally nothing to write about her! Wake the fuck up!

So, after blank months of ignoring her friends so hard that they literally hate her and screaming so hard in the night that her dad things she's insane, Bella starts hanging out with the son of a family friend, Jacob. Now Jacob is everything that Edward is not. He's warm, charming, chatty, interesting. He has opinions about the world. He brings a little life out of Bella. He's totally infatuated with her, possibly because she's the only girl he knows, but we'll let that slide. Meyer is tricking us here - she's making up believe there's hope for the stuck-up bitch of a protagonist we've grown to hate. Is there hope for Bella after all? Can she find a real boyfriend and be a normal human being?

No. Meyer is fucking with you - c'mon, people! See, Jacob turns out to be a werewolf; not just a werewolf, but a werewolf with inbuilt anti-vampire bigotry. And Bella will never stop loving the cold, dull-as-dishwater, can't-sex-her Edward. Never. Meyer gives us an example of a potentially wonderful romantic partner and rips him away cruelly, because love is a terrible force, people. Meyer is trying to put yo' ass back in the real world, here.

Through a contrived set of circumstances, we learn Edward thinks Bella has killed herself, so he tries to kill himself too but Bella finds him and they fall in love again, the end.

But wait, did I mention the fact that, while they were holding hands and walking into the sunset they let an entire crowd of innocent tourists get eaten by vampires without giving a shit? Did I mention that? How big a fucking clue do you need - Meyer hates these characters. She wants you to hate them too!

Summary: Book 2 is about showing you what a real boyfriend/partner should be like before hitting you around the head with the reality brick that says 'some people just can't help falling for assholes'

Book 3

You still love them?? You still wish you had a love as pure as Bella and Edward's? So Meyer has to write another book to make you simpletons get it? Okay...

This book is mainly about Jacob and Edward fighting over Bella's affection. There's some side plot about an entire army of vampires munching their way through Seattle, but there's barely touched upon really. No, this story is about how Bella has firmly made her decision that Edward is the man she wants, but all the menfolk ignore her and fight amongst themselves. Because no one cares what women have to say.

See, of the two loverboys, Bella has picked the asshole. This is mostly because she's a massive asshole herself, but more importantly - it's her choice. Unfortunately, Jacob doesn't see it that way and Meyer chooses to crush our hopes and dreams by turning him from all-round nice guy into fierce kiss rapist. He forces himself on Bella, causing Edward to insist that Bella always return to him 'undamaged' next time. Yes, Bella is property now.

Meyer really ramps up Edwards misogynistic sexism in this book, desperately trying to make you realise how much of a dickhead he is. He doesn't let her do anything or go anywhere. When he has to go and hunt, he makes his family kidnap Bella and hold her against her will for two days so that she doesn't see Jacob. The family play along with this without a hint of giving a shit. These people are sick bastards. Meyer is putting the rat among the pigeons and her readers are seeing confetti and gumdrops.

The vampire family, Edward and Bella spend a great portion of the book aware that there is a massacre happening in Seattle due to crazy vampires on the loose. They really don't want to get involved though as they don't want to cause a fuss. The only time they start thinking about maybe putting a stop to their savagery is when they're worried that the Vatican vampires might turn up and get mad. Bella and the vampires don't give a shit about human lives. They don't. Stephenie Meyer isn't even doing this subtly - she's not good enough of a writer, for a start. She's saying, 'my characters stand by and watch innocent people get murdered over and over again; please stop rooting for them, they are clearly antiheroes.'

Anyway, blah-blah-blah, last minute action as always, Bella and Edward get engaged and Jacob is sad.

Also there's a bit about how Edward won't have sex with Bella. Partly because he'll kill her and partly because of something about having sex before marriage is immoral or something. The killing is fine, but sex is a big no no. Edward's just a nervous virgin is all. When I was a virgin and scared of getting naked with someone, I too was all, 'Oh, yeah, er... I would totally sex you, baby, but I'm so powerful I might kill you! So, you know. Better safe than sorry.' Then I got my pubes (at last!) and felt more confident.

What was I talking about, again? Oh yes:

Summary: Book 3 is about how men can objectify women, treat them as property they own and try and forcefully steal them away. It's also about how women can use the infatuations of men to get them to do what they want.

Book 4

Stephenie Meyer is clearly at her wit's end by this point. She's made Bella a miserable, self-abusive, selfish, heartbreaking, submissive, horny wretch of a woman. She's made Edward a controlling, boring, sexist, racist, violent, dispassionate, objectifying asshole of a man. She turned the lovely Jacob into an abusive, offensive, chauvanist, melodramatic drama queen. What more do I need to do, I can hear her sobbing to herself over the first blank page of her soon-to-be Breaking Dawn manuscript. All I wanted was to expose the darkness of obsessive, emotive behaviour and reflect the prevalence of sexism and societal antipathy for human death on a mass scale.

So now she pulls out the big guns.

1) Bella gets married against her will (sort of). She only gets married because Edward wants her to, and so she can have sex. Edward's family hijack the wedding and turn it from the small ceremony she desired into some Sweet-16 style wedsplosion.

2) Bella and Edward have unprotected sex that is so violent they destroy the bed and Bella gets cut and bruised to shit. If Bella turned up to work after her honeymoon looking like she does after sex, I'd be calling the police on Edward immediately.

3) Bella gets pregnant and Edward seriously considers forcing an abortion upon her. As Edward and his posse are vampires, they really could easily overpower her and rip that fucker out if they wanted to. Edward is a bastard, need I say this enough?

4) Bella gives birth and Jacob immediately falls in love with the baby. Like properly in love, in love. Apparently its part of being a werewolf, an attraction to soul mates that can't be helped so it's OK. Oh wait, it's not OK. He's in love with a baby. Why are all the characters fine with this? A paedophile may not be able to help his feelings towards kids, but it's still not OK. Take the baby away from him, you insane people!

5) Some other vampires come to help Edward and co., and these vampires still eat humans (unlike Edward, the one good thing going for him) so they let them hunt humans as long as they don't live nearby. This is the third straight case of turning a blind eye to the murder of innocent people. These people aren't the good guys!

6) Did I mention the vampire baby eats its way out of Bella's vagina? Meyer is just pissing about now - she's probably aware she can do almost anything and her readers are so hypnotised that they'll see it as the sweet beauty of love.

Ultimately, after the biggest anti-climax in the history of anti-climaxes (climices?), Bella and Edward and their baby and Jacob live happily ever after. Because they deserve each other. Because they are all horrible people, even the fucking baby.

Only an idiot would write this as a serious love story, believing her characters were virtuous and deserving of their wonderful fate? Only a moron would write this plot, with these characters as anything but an anti-heroic, satirical noir, right? You're not saying Stephenie Meyer is an idiot are you?

July 25, 2011

Harry Potter, Faith and Scepticism

I'd been thinking about writing a post about this for a while, and then Jen McCreight started beating me to it. Luckily she was suffering from sleep deprivation at the time and couldn't expand on her thoughts, so now is the time to leap in with the post I've been planning!

A Theme of Faith

Before the final book was released, JK Rowling had been questioned on her religious orientation. She declined to discuss it in any detail as she said it might give people ideas about where the series might turn. Looking back, this was a bizarre thing to say as I don't think anyone would have guessed that the seventh book would be based around the idea of faith, even after reading it.

After the publication of The Deathly Hallows, JKR revealed she was a quasi-churchgoing Christian and that the seventh book represented (to a degree) her struggle with faith. Harry, Ron and Hermione battle through a very challenging period in which unrelenting exposés on Dumbledore's past wear away at his infallible sheen. The trio start to question his judgement: can he be trusted; did he know what he was doing; why did he hide critical information? This leads Harry to start chasing the deathly hallows, instead of following Dumbledore's explicit (but frustrating) instructions. After much trauma, Harry has a change of heart and decides the only way they are going to succeed is to trust in Dumbledore and complete their mission.

You can probably see why I have a problem with this. Dumbledore has (deliberately, apparently) withheld masses of information, hoping their ignorance will keep them from straying from his plan. In the meantime, the trio are presented with mountain upon mountain of evidence that Dumbledore wasn't always such a nice guy. He colluded with dark wizards; he preached intolerance of muggles; his family died suddenly under curious circumstances; he knew of, but secreted, a trio of hugely powerful objects that could help them destroy Voldemort. Under those circumstances, those wishing to make decision based on evidence might seem foolish indeed to blindly follow his confusing instructions. But JKR's lesson, apparently, is to overcome your struggle with faith in contradictory information, contrary to established evidence, and everything will be alright.

This is a very religious, dogmatic style of thinking. I'm not trying to make this an anti-religious post, but let's just say that following the advice of old man with an ever-crumbling reputation over facts that exist in front of your face is both dangerous and foolish. Of course, it all works out in the end, but if JKR was a little darker and a little more dastardly, she could have so easily revealed than Dumbledore was batshit crazy and the real test for the trio was to break free of his insane plan and find their own way. The lesson: never blindly trust anyone by word alone, even those who seem extraordinarily wise.

The Afterlife

Despite her religious leanings and ultimate theme, Rowling never brings religion into the story. She also appears to write with a special care to never concrete heaven as truism. People might just die and be gone forever in Rowling's world. The living portraits are explicitly defined as an imprint of the living person, but not their continuing essence. Ghosts are most likely a similar 'imprint', doomed to exist forever as a shadow of the person departed. The reanimated spectres of the resurrection stone are described as yanking the resting soul back to the living world in the fairy tale that describes them, but in the 'real world' they say they are 'part of [the stone bearer]' suggesting they are a mere reflection of the person seeking to awaken the dead. It is left deliberately ambiguous whether Harry really travels to limbo after his 'death' or whether he has a few minutes of delusion: 'of course it's all in your head, Harry. But why should that mean it isn't real?'

If I really wanted to be a hard-nosed, sceptic, atheist fuddy-duddy (my speciality!), I could just read these ghostly scenes and assume there is no heaven and that people don't live on after death; Rowling provides exactly the narrative to think this way. Personally, I simply say that I don't know what happens in Harry's world. It's not clear enough for me to make a decision about the nature of the ghostly undead, so I'm happy being left undecided.

But it is interesting the Rowling chose not to make an explicit truth in heaven or an afterlife. Of course, creating an intraversable barrier between death and life was extremely necessary - the whole series depends on death being final, and lost friends gone forever. Therefore, like us, wizards and witches cannot see beyond the world of the living in any real sense and have to guess what awaits them, like the rest of us.

The Requirement for Evidence

Rowling's 'virtue of faith' turn in the series finale is actually out of character, looking back over the series. The entire horcrux hunt is instigated from the conclusions of a particularly scientific process carried out by Dumbledore himself.

Based on observation made in earlier books (a carelessly unguarded piece of Voldemort's soul and Voldemort waxing lyrical about having pursued immortality to its extremes), Dumbledore started researching Tom Riddle's history for clues and confirmation that he had created multiple horcruxes. So strongly did he value evidence that he insisted that they decipher a scrambled memory in which a young Tom Riddle mused over the strengths of a seven-part soul, before leaping to conclusions.

Hermione frequently resists jumping to conclusions based on Harry and Ron's wild speculation. Only in the final two books, when Harry has grown wiser and sharper, does her resistance to his theorising prove incorrect. In Chamber of Secrets, she makes them spy on Draco, when Harry speculates that he is attacking students. In The Order of the Phoenix, she forces Harry to make absolutely sure Sirius is missing when Harry has a vision of his torture at the Ministry. It is her constant requirement for evidence that stops the more impetuous boys from charging down dead ends and chasing ghosts.


It is interesting that a series build on chasing clues and evidence to solve mysteries and (attempt to) save the day should rely on faith as its ultimate guide to victory. I can understand it as a parallel with the overriding themes of love and trust and the power therein, but it does seem that Harry got lucky. By the time he chose to put his faith in Dumbledore and stop questioning the horrors he'd learned, it really did appear as if Dumbledore didn't love him very much at all. If it were me, I might well have found my own path to victory and really isn't that the biggest part of a coming-of-age epic?

July 22, 2011

A Response from the ASA

A while back I wrote a letter of complaint about an advert from the Tunisian tourist board that made light of the oppressive acts of the regime there to make a pun on their advertising campaign.

I basically argued that it was completely inappropriate to humorously joke about people who were beaten and imprisoned in an attempt to fight for more freedom weeks before this campaign was launched.

The ASA have written to me and decided that, after consideration, they will not intervene. Their letter is published below and I don't think it's unfair and they seem to have acted fairly consistently with their own rules. They say the advert is in 'bad taste' and not '[offensive] against widely accepted moral, social or cultural standards.' which I begrudgingly suppose is true.

Nonetheless, it's still a pretty shitty advert.

Their response:

(See also: this piece from the BBC)

Why It's Important to Focus on Hackgate

The 'revelation' of the hacking culture, endemic to the practices of the News of the World has had constant headline attention for a couple of weeks now. I say 'revelation', but in reality, the story has been out for half a decade and only when it was revealed that the NotW included a murdered school girl in their phone book of hackery did the world suddenly wake up and realise something was wrong. Executives across media, police and government are falling like shot pheasants and twitter folk have started betting on what ridiculous new development will be unveiled next.

The reaction of the tabloids has been very interesting to say the least. They gave the whole affair a couple of days standard coverage, in line with the 'ultra-left, agenda-driven' BBC and Guardian, reporting it as a shocking scandal. But then they back-pedalled furiously, realising that the conversation had turned to all media and reformation of press regulation. Suddenly, all newspapers were in the spotlight and their cosy club of self-regulation was under threat. So now we have 'hey - look over there!' headlines asking 'Why are we still talking about the News Int scandal when people are dying/the economy is terrible/bins collections only happen once a fortnight?'. I have heard similar arguments from friends and acquaintances who are more interested in other debates, like rescuing the economy or pulling out of conflict zones.

Firstly, it's important to cover a couple of simple problems with the 'why talk about x, when y is worse?' argument. This is the type of narrow-thinking that got Richard Dawkins in trouble after dismissing western feminine issues because Middle-Eastern women had it so much worse. You can't just ignore a problem, just because there are other, arguably bigger, problems. If there are issues to be faced, face them. Otherwise, we'd have to deal with the problems of the world one-by-one in descending order of seriousness and we'd never get a weekly bin collection!

Furthermore, the economic traumas and the problems in the Middle-East don't always have headline news. Certainly there are serious issues and problems to overcome, but 'We're still in debt, guys' and 'The war's not over yet' don't really make for good headlines and no one wants to watch a live, rolling-news conference of parliament discussing the lack of any further development. The News International scandal is fresh, it's unfolding every day and the key players are being interrogated, arrested and questions right now. It is headline news.

But more importantly, why should we care? If this scandal hadn't broken, the papers would have found something else to put on page 1, right? A quick glance through the archives show they are content to just stick a minor celebrity in the prime position if nothing else is happening.

We should care because the media is the portal between the public and the rest of the world. We, as individuals, cannot investigate every organisation and even we're interested in. We need the media to inform us about what is happening, who is involved and why things are turning the way they are. We rely on them to keep us informed.

And unfortunately, the looking glass of the printed press has for too long been coloured in the biases of the editors; the lens has been shaped to magnify nonsense celebrity news, distort difficult issues like immigration and refract our line of sight from the hard facts. Newspaper readers are not being shown the world as it really is - they are being shown a bloated version of their own biases, cycled through the propaganda wagon, editorialised beyond recognition until everyday, intelligent people see the world as a broken, uber-politically-correct, pedantically-governed teenage wasteland, drowning in immigrants, who steal all our jobs and then try and blow us up. It's not fair on the readers and it's not fair on the country whose government feels the need to pander to these readers.

At last, the media is in the spotlight. After years, decades, of refusing to take a good, hard look at itself for 'dog doesn't eat dog' (Nick Davies, Flat Earth News), finally we are beginning to see the dangers of the current state of our media. We are looking into proper regulation. We are holding them to account. We have a chance to build a new era of better news publication that serves the public as well as its bank balance. We deserve it. And to do it, we cannot take our eye off the ball in this 'hackgate' scandal - we have to keep hammering this point home until something is done.

It is important.

July 12, 2011

Ad Hominem

The recent bruhaha over Rebecca Watson's elevator encounter (the details are here, I won't be recapping or arguing it) has reminded me of one of the biggest problems within the skeptical community. And as I was mulling it over in my head, Ryawesome made this long, angry post which essentially got to the crux of what I was rolling around my brain.

A lot of skeptics treat skepticism as a fandom.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with fandoms; I was never part of one myself, I was always more of a lurker over the things I found myself super-interested in, like Harry Potter, but I completely understand the value of a community built around a common interest. And really, there is very little wrong with a fandomesque nature within skepticism: there are a lot of powerful, charming people at the forefront of the 'movement'. I believe that having a hero in science, philosophy or equality activism (etc) is much more valuable than idolising a movie or sports star (though, I stress, there is nothing wrong with having entertainment heroes!).

However (and this is the important however), by its very philosophy, a skeptic must always appraise an argument on its individual merit above the loyalty he/she holds to the proponent of the argument.

Over the last week, a difference of opinion arose over an incident recalled by Rebecca Watson. The most high-profile opponent to her position was Richard Dawkins, who was chose to dismiss her views with (in my opinion) an overly sardonic rhetoric. Watson and Dawkins are both prominent figures in the skeptical community and both have their masses of fans and ... anti-fans (what is the opposite of fan?) and this provided the ideal condition for an all out bitch-fight.

Dawkins fans were getting angry at Watson and her followers; Watson fans were getting angry at Dawkins and his followers. People were crying that skepticism was splitting down the middle and things would never be the same and most people seemed to stop listening to the actual arguments involved.

I'm a big admirer and supporter of Richard Dawkins. I think he has done wonderful things for science communication, pushing forward skepticism, secularism and awareness about religion. I love hearing him talk and I love reading his books and I almost always agree with him. But not this time. I think he was in the wrong; I think he had misjudged the situation and he argued in the wrong way. It was disappointing, but it should be a timely reminder that no one is right all of the time.

No one is right all of the time.

You should remember that. No matter how much you admire someone for their ideals, their arguments, their intelligence, their charm, their benevolence - they can still be wrong. As a skeptic, one should always be aware of this. PZ Myers has a legion of followers and admirers and I'm absolutely certain that he would much, much prefer that people considered his arguments - really, really considered them - than just mindlessly absorb them into their subconscious and rally around him like a bunch of pharyngulate zombies.

In the real world, people are not just homogenous lumps of rightness or wrongness. They are nuances and complex and can be absolutely bang-on right about one thing and completely wrong about another. Ally or enemy, friend and family, criminal or crusader: everyone's position must be appraised and criticised on its own merits, and not on the strength of their character.