September 8, 2009 - September 1, 2009
. Much as I respect him, my friend InstaPunk is
sometimes too abrupt and dismissive. He overlooks points that should be
addressed because they seem peripheral or silly to him although they really aren't
This happened the other day when IP linked a Metalkort
noting to one of our smartest commenters, Billy Oblivion, that
sports could be "transcendant," which prompted Billy to reply thus:
There might be something transcendent about playing sports, but I can't (note *I*) can't find much of interest in *spectating*.
Of course, as may be clear I'm not big on the whole "transcendent thing". I just don't get it. This could be because I'm probably not neurotypical.
There are a lot of borderline sports I enjoy participating in, including bicycling and nordic skiing, and I really do enjoy *participating* in them. Can't sit still to watch them for very long though. And certainly can't be bothered to get involved in the cult-of-personality that is modern professional athletics.
Oh, and of course shooting. I can't wait to get back to the states so I can play with my guns again. Being that I'm in a war zone the military won't let me have one.
And I like running, or at least I did until it started hurting too much.
IP responded by comparing Billy to Marvin the Robot (see clip above)
and disinviting him to this year's Super Bowl Party, which drew a
But this IS fun.
I'm watching my country (and my childrens future) spin down the drain while a bunch of people are standing on lip of the sink yelling "Go Back Go Back", and a much MUCH smaller number are down there in [the] vortex trying to change things.
So if I sound Marvin when I write it's at least partially a function of where I'm at, and partially a function of having a brain the size of the universe and seeing no way out of the mess we're in.
I would much rather teach my daughter history and math and writing than teach her how to corn gun powder and improvise first aid and medical supplies.
Malthus was a dick, and his disciples are
hell bent on making it happen.
At which point IP riposted with a quip (admittedly irresistible)
about "a brain the size of the universe" and exited left (pursued, no
doubt, by bearBilly's
I'm not content to leave it there. Yes, Billy's in a war zone, for
which he has our admiration, but that also gives him a specific gravity
that other readers might find more compelling than it should be. Is
Marvin's really the mood we should all be in, especially given that
many of us are forced by day-to-day circumstance to remain on the "lip
of the sink" rather than down in "the vortex" where Billy implies every
one of us should be?
I don't think so. And I don't think you should think so, either. If
the vortex is as strong as Billy (and others, including IP) believe it
is, we'll all be drawn into it eventually. Should we fight it? Yes, of
course. But that doesn't mean we have to be continuously grim until the
day it sucks us finally down the drain. There's a huge difference
between whistling past the graveyard and holding a defiant garden party
in the graveyard. The former is denial. The latter is the highest form
of resistance. It affirms the vitality that will not be defeated by the
mere proximity of death.
I don't think anyone here is in denial. We have been, posters
and commenters alike, plainspoken about the nature of the threat to our
way of life. But, as Hemingway observed, it's possible to be serious
without being solemn. We know what's going on. That most assuredly does
not mean that we're required
to abandon the living of our lives in favor of constant grousing about
the worst things that could happen. That's its own flavor of submission
and defeat. Let us weep and wail about all the terrible things that
might happen while our own misery accelerates the arrival of the
That's fucking bullshit. As is Billy's distinction between "playing"
and "watching." Every life includes plenty of both. Hell, we're all
players in dozens of ways. We go to work, we discharge our professional
and personal responsibilities, we look after our families, we labor to
keep house and home together because these are our primary fields of
battle. And we also "spectate" at the endeavours and accomplishments of
others. We do that when we read a book, listen to a song, watch our
children play Little League baseball, pay attention to political events
that affect us, and invest our enthusiasm in sports or other subjects
that inflame our curiosity and passion. Should we stop investing our
enthusiasm in such things when there's a storm on the horizon? Or
should we take all the more pleasure in them because there's a storm on
the horizon and moments matter and life is short? Did Winston Churchill
give up grinning while Hitler's Nazis closed in on Britain in 1940? No.
Did he give up following Harrow's cricket season? I don't know, but I
know how I'd bet.
The human record is legion on this question. People survive terrible
times precisely because they have the ability to keep on living life in
the face of crushing threats that by any rational measure should plunge
them into doleful misanthropy. Curiously, what Billy seems to be
interpreting as denial is exactly what we wind up celebrating most in
the human spirit.
Herewith, today's YouTubes:
First, a fictional American entry that has nevertheless become a
classic portrayal of what's called "grace under pressure."
[I could also give you the movie version of M*A*S*H as an example of necessary insanity. But I won't. It's too close and obvious an example. Football! Humor! Shit like that.]
How did the Brits who weren't Winston Churchill behave at the lip of
the sink while they waited to be drawn into the Nazi vortex? Well, they
didn't just sit there muttering...
with Billy's depression. I would have answered his comment differently.
When he said this...
would much rather teach my daughter history and math and writing than
teach her how to corn gun powder and improvise first aid and medical
...I would have said this...
If you teach her both, she'll be more
alive than she'd be in a world where only the first set of subjects was
necessary. Rejoice for her. She will have a full life, however long or
short it is in years. If you measure it otherwise, the totalitarians
have already won.
It's what I'd say to all of you, too. If anybody asked. Which, to be
honest, they haven't. And so I laugh at myself for my pretensions. A
pretty good response to feeling so serious so much of the time, if I do
say so myself. Anybody else feel that way?
As I reread Billy's comments, I realize that I have probably just
branded myself as "neurotypical." My apologies to all those of you who
Our president delivered a eulogy for the
Lion of the
Senate." Did he say anything
about the passing of this honest-to-God Lion of the United States Navy
who did so much to keep us all safe?
No. He doesn't care at all about the members of the U.S. military. That's why support for the War in
Afghanistan is vanishing. Obama is willing to spend them like pennies
so long as no one else notices the cost.
But we do. Stand for the Navy Hymn.
P.S. Like our friend who's a devoted Ohio State fan, we will be rooting for Navy this week when the two play one another for the first time in years. And we also urge this further act of sedition against an administration that so despises the U.S. military.
. There are all kinds of theories, notions, and
arguments that are subject to debunking. We like the adversarial
quality of the process, because it's frequently as challenging and
entertaining as it can be
informative. Which is a pretty cool combination when you think about
it. The reason for the post is that I saw an excellent two-hour
production by the National
Geographic Channel last night on the subject of 9/11
conspiracy theories. It was a thoroughly professional piece of
journalism, and I highly recommend that everyone plan to watch the next
national airing of the show on September 5th.
The first hour and three-quarters was all science, including abundant experiments and technical recreations which blew apart the contentions of the (mostly) engineer conspiracy theorists they focused on, who were filmed without much in the way of editorial comment or editing designed to make them look like lunatics in the way that editing can. But the final 15 minutes chugged on at the same deliberate pace, in the same dispassionate tone, to consider why conspiracy theorists believe what they believe and where exactly their beliefs run afoul of reality and common sense.
The narrator conceded forthrightly that none of the mountain of evidence and expertise employed in the show was likely to have any effect on those who believe in the conspiracy. Their approach to the evidence rests on a psychological foundation which represents a deliberate choice in favor of a reality they prefer to the reality most other people would accept as real. In this case, they prefer a reality in which powerful American politicians and their henchmen create an illusion of a world that hates America for being America to a world in which irrational fanatics really do hate America for being America. The difference, for them, amounts almost to a religious conviction, which cannot be argued away by mere facts.
Also part of this final segment was a summary of the problems conspiracy theorists face in trying to defend their beliefs. They're on relatively safe ground when they're nitpicking the facts in evidence. But when they must come forward with a counter-theory that accounts for the facts no one disputes, they run into manifold violations of common sense that can never pass the laugh test. The 9/11 conspiracy they envision would necessarily have involved thousands, if not tens of thousands, of accomplices, all of whom have kept silent throughout the years of reporting and analysis on the event. And the conspiracy itself involves all kinds of wholly unnecessary substitutions, deceptions, and switches that make sense only as components of a particular, and usually silly, reconstruction of events whose whole rationale is to explain away what thousands of witnesses actually saw.
But there is also an interesting corollary of the logic laid out in the National Geographic piece. Which is that not all conspiracy theories or outright hoaxes are created equal. There are some key criteria which determine how likely it is that a given theory or hoax might actually succeed. For example, a theory that requires only a handful of conspirators has a much better chance of succeeding than something like the 9/11 conspiracy. Even a larger number of conspirators has some chance of success if the conspirators are homogeneous and highly disciplined rather than so diverse as to require civilian conspirators as the 9/11 theory does (e.g., blue-collar building "imploders," who would have required months of preparation to bring down the WTC towers.) There's also the old dictum of "follow the money," which in this case indicts the conspiracy theorists more than anyone else. The conspiracists on TV are getting publicity, fame, speaking engagements, and in the case of the "Loose Change" producer abundant revenue by promoting the conspiracy. Who, for example, has had the strongest economic incentive over the years to keep alive the theory that JFK was assassinated by anyone and everyone but Lee Harvey Oswald? Conspiracy, in a word, can be an enterprise. And a damned profitable one at that.
Finally, there's the role played by human ignorance. False ideas can be smoothly perpetuated by exploiting what people don't know or appealing to preconceptions that favor the ideas being peddled. For example, all some literal readers of the Bible need to dismiss Evolution is the fact that scientists claim the earth is billions of years old. For them, no other evidence is needed that Darwin and all his followers are in error. For another example, most people tend to believe what they are told often enough without reference to the fact that there are those who disagree on substantive grounds, like, again, the neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution, which was undermined (at least) by one of the discoverers of DNA on the grounds that there simply hasn't been enough time in the history of the earth to account for the complexity of nature's most sophisticated molecule; it must have come from somewhere else, directed by an extra-terrestrial intelligence (not God, obviously, but most conspiracy theories rule out God, don't they?)
Of course, most people don't think they're really ignorant or gullible or divorced from reality. Some, like the nation's prosperous professional debunkers, think all theories and notions that conflict with the settled "way of things" are lunacy. That's why the remainder of this post is devoted to showing you some additional examples, illustrations, and exceptions in the exciting field of "debunking."
First up is what I think is, hopefully, a noncontroversial example of the fact that even the most literate and educated among us may harbor some convictions that are more or less false. The subject is Third World Myths. The video is far more entertaining than we have any right to expect, so I encourage you to watch all of it.
Note that there's no actual conspiracy involved in all the wrong-headed
assumptions so many people have. We've simply absorbed a set of
preconceptions that aren't quite true and are, in some cases,
spectacularly false. Now consider how many times we've believed
generalizations put forward by people who don't really know much more
than we do, except that they're speaking on camera, with an air of
authority. Even experts in a variety of scientific fields can be
persuaded by such misinformation. How much of what we all "know" to be
true is false?
Next, a teaser for a program I wish the National Geographic would pursue with the same dispassionate rigor on display in the 9/11 show. It's about Global Warming. Remember the criteria laid out above -- the facilitating role of ignorance, even among "experts," and the age-old advisory to "follow the money." There can be such a thing as a "herd conspiracy," led by no one in particular but unified by the vast, common self-interest of willing or intimidated accomplices.
But I want to be clear about one key point. Not all conspiracy theories
can be dismissed out of hand. It's just that the rules of rigor always
apply. A theory gets more credible if 1) its participants could have
been very few in number, 2) no more than one coincidence is required to
believe it, and 3) some or many of those involved in the precipitating
event were incompetent, lazy, or possessed of some incentive to make
inconvenient facts go away. On this side of the argument, I bring you
the Robert F. Kennedy assassination in two video segments:
I have no idea what the truth is about the RFK assassination. But there
is reason to wonder if the facts might be different from what they're
alleged to be. It's not crazy
to keep probing. It's probable that Sirhan Sirhan was the lone
assassin, but not quite certain. The truth of the matter could lie in
the disposition and actions of one additional guy in that hotel pantry.
That's the definition of "plausible."
Sorry to have carried on for so long. In recompense I'll close with a fully effective debunking of a wholly silly bit of propaganda. You'll like it. I promise.
Good day, Lloyd, wherever you are. You're often in my thoughts and I
wish you only the best.
. Let me count the ways this is the best movie ever produced in
Hollywood. Beginning with my own infallible personal test. I have
loved, lavishly, a great many movies in my lifetime. I know a movie is
good when I encounter it while flipping channels and fall into it,
unable to break away to something else. But I'm a guy and eventually I
reach a point where I've seen a movie enough and need either a long
break or, well, don't ever need to see it again. There's only one movie
that has never failed the "flipping channels" test over the long haul.
This is it.
It's better than all the popular rivals that come out on top in surveys and polls. Repeated viewings take down all the greats. Citizen Kane ultimately becomes dry and gimmicky. Casablanca is, in the end, mannered, stagey. The Godfather is an emptiness that grows. (GWTW was never a good picture, only an imitation of one, the way the book was an imitation of literature.) Vertigo more Greek tragedy than Americana. Every picture finally fails the test; you can move on to something else. It's always too much this or that, arty, contrived, stylistic, heavy-handed, directorish, dated, slow, self-conscious, sentimental, pompous, actorish, suspiciously slick.
Except this one. They don't show it much anymore on television, and I'm always skeptical when they do because they're fond of trimming the violence of the final scene in particular, but it doesn't make any difference. I still have to watch it. Every time.
There has never been more talent amassed for an American picture (and all the other countries don't count, let's face it). Brando. Eva Marie Saint. Rod Steiger. Lee J. Cobb. Karl Malden (restrained from his penchant for overacting for once by director Elia Kazan), and a soul-scouring score by Leonard Bernstein. For perhaps the only time in his career, Brando is making the same picture everyone else is. (Kazan again.) And it really is his best ever performance, dumb, stubborn, vulnerable, endearing, and broken. but dumb-persistent and fine.
Kazan's direction. Masterful to the point of genius. In every scene he seems to be simply observing, almost eavesdropping close up, but the editing leaves you a little short every time, so there is no voyeurism, only that sense of glimpsing reality without being able to stay quite long enough anywhere to understand the lives you're visiting. You are always outside looking in, which is Terry Malloy's life, too, and the lives of so many of us, the spectator-accomplice in the world's nastiness that has repeatedly made him, and will again, its victim.
We encounter faith the same way he does, in isolated speeches and gestures, the unexpected heroism of a priest, the unexpected tenderness of a woman who is willing to trust what should not be trusted. All without a hint of the habitual Hollywood underlining that was bad before Kazan and has grown mysteriously worse in the age of Spielberg and Cameron. He has to make his own way, just like us, recognize a moral fork in the road without the divine cues Hollywood likes to provide, just like us, and he has to do it with a knowledge his naive moral tutors don't possess, the dirty viciousness of those he's being sermonized to oppose. His is the plight of the ordinary man forced to choose between the easy sophistry of do-gooders and the malignancy of the powerful villains he meets face to face every day. The decision he makes is far braver than the one the superior moralists in his life think they are asking for. He is a man entirely alone with an impossible dilemma, and whichever way he chooses, part of his own conscience will accuse him.
All of this is the movie itself. It gets weightier when you look into
the history of Elia Kazan. He made this movie for a reason. He had been
a communist, a card-carrying member of the American Communist Party. He
knew that the ACP was not a Hollywood affectation but an extension of
the Soviet infiltration of America. He testified before Congress, and
he did name names. This movie was his response to those who condemned
There are times when it's morally right to inform on your intimates. He
was right to testify. But he will never be forgiven. Like a cop who
turns in his guilty partner. He crossed that thin bluered
line, and he is therefore damned.
That's the only reason this movie does not sit securely at the top of all Hollywood lists of the greatest movies ever made. Elia Kazan was hated, is hated, and will continue to be hated as long as there are wifty lefties in the Hollywood community.
But a great movie is a great movie because it proves itself against the test of time. In my mind, it's the one movie I'd want every American to watch right now. Nothing else conveys the simultaneous obligations and dread of the duties of citizenship we are all facing at the moment like this movie. There is a power in charge and it controls almost every aspect of our lives. If we protest in any public way, we risk being pilloried, humiliated, branded with the worst possible labels. Almost all the by-products of standing up for a mere idea, the liberty that is our birthright, are considered bad by the powers that be. The smartest and most domineering of the elite which has usurped our place as guardians of American virtue stand ready to annihilate us for remembering the simplest possible postulate, that we are not subjects of the government but its boss.
The motivating idea is invincible. In practice, the standing up against the traitors and usurpers is damned difficult. There's every chance that you could get beaten half to death (i.e., lose everything worthwhile in your life) espousing simple truths. Look at the Town Hall folks who have been demonized by media stars making millions. Don't cross Johnny Friendly.
Well. Do your own research. You tell me what movie is greater. Now.
This is how hard it's going to get... soon.