WOOF! Watchdogs of Our Freedom

MASS EXTINCTION ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE!

In "Apocalypse NOT" forum on May 31, 2018 at 10:39 pm


In which WOOF’s editor in chief, Old Bugler, expresses his up-to-the-minute-if-frustratingly-excursive views on nothing but 100% guaranteed genuine news, mostly in the annoyingly officious third-person, as befits his station!   

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Fellow earthlings—that sounds inclusive enough, doesn’t it? —your humble editor begs your indulgence as he departs the political realm in this column to address a topic about which he knows absolutely nothing. This is merely to say that your editor is not a meteorologist, has never studied meteorology, and, like most Americans, relies on those trained in that expertise for guidance. This is especially the case when such guidance appears undersigned by 15,000 recognized experts whose uniform opinion is that we—meaning all of us, including, presumably, each of Facebook’s 71 gender options—are blindly marching toward planetary disaster. Given the gravity of the situation, surely our readers will acknowledge the importance of turning–for at least this crucial moment–from our typical fare to a far less subjective discipline–one amounting to settled science.

Can 15,000 scientists be wrong?

Old Bugler felt compelled to undertake this discussion despite his confessed unfamiliarity with the field, owing to his shock and alarm upon learning that “Humans are sleepwalking into a mass extinction of species not seen since the demise of the dinosaurs.” That headline, emblazoned above an article in the U.K. Independent, derived in turn from the authoritative Journal of Communications Biology, certainly commanded attention. Moreover, the discovery that “British scientists” were the principal issuers of the warning served to instill the matter with an unsettling momentousness, because–as most Americans intuitively grasp–British scientists, being British, are prohibited by their inherent Brythonic natures from issuing frivolous or irresponsible pronouncements—a characteristic that imbues their findings with  near-lapideous credibility.

From Old Bulgler’s “Great Moments in British Science” archive, the Dr. Quatermass section.

On this basis alone, it seemed imperative to absorb the entire report, described by the authors as a “new letter to humanity” (presumably because nobody would bother to reread an old one) signed by the above-mentioned 15,000 scientists joined in tendering a “catastrophic warning about the fate of the world.” Readers will readily apprehend the mounting trepidation with which your editor read further, anxious as he was to descry by what means our mass extinction was to ensue. Were these learned scientists privy to the emerging truth about UFOs— had the Zeta Reticulans communicated their intent to eradicate earth’s dominant species? Or was an enormous asteroid hurtling toward us via some unanticipated orbit leaving only weeks—perhaps days—before its globe-shattering impact vaporized the lot of us? Or was the long overdue yet widely anticipated Planet Nibiru finally entering that aspect of its oft-described elliptical orbit so proximal to our world as to occasion our moon’s ejection from orbit, followed swiftly by a stupendous collision with Earth as a grand finale? Or perhaps the Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists accidentally moved their doomsday clock’s hand all the way to midnight, thus ensuring thermonuclear war.

“Careful, you fool! Another inch and you’ll blast the planet to smithereens!”

Old Bugler’s mind raced as he probed for details, and while he was instantly uncomfortable with the article’s content, his initial objections pertained more to the designated cause of mankind’s demise than any doubts about substance. True, a less dull-witted reader might have inferred at first glance that our impending mass extinction was, like so much else nowadays, a ramification of climate change–and certainly mass extinction is no less frightful whether provoked by aliens, asteroids, or global warming. That said, your humble editor is so peculiarly constituted that faced with inevasible doom, he would prefer something more original. But this admittedly irrational reaction was quickly superseded by an encroaching awareness of something more authentically anticlimactic. The report’s language took what seemed a curious turn, and precisely at that point typically devoted to substantiating the authors’ findings.  Instead, the prose seemed almost to downshift–to reflect a more nuanced tone, even while maintaining that “man-made global change is threatening the diversity of different creatures that have taken millennia to evolve.”

Poised to extirpate….

All right, any sentence containing a reference to man-made global change (by which was clearly intended global climatic change) is far from sanguine, and readers may be forgiven for deeming it premature, even reckless, to characterize evidence of an event poised to extirpate “different creatures that have taken millennia to evolve” as “downshifting,” or anticlimactic. Your editor felt a flash of shame at his rising incredulity. He reminded himself that any species said to have evolved has, in fact, “taken millennia to evolve,” including our own. That’s what we call settled science.  Thus, humans might well be among those “different creatures” to which the report alluded. But even as this logic compelled his further investigation, Old Bugler felt the tingle of an almost preconscious wariness–a sensation akin to that creeping blush of mortification that accompanies the realization that one has been cozened. Yes, cozened— a polite, nearly archaic term, less violent and roughshod than swindled, or flimflammed, meaning congenially and artfully deceived.

As history bears witness, global warming experts sometimes indulge in outright fakery, as in the NOAA scandal exposed by Dr. John Bates in 2017; but your editor suspects no such overt manipulation of data in this instance–British humor is subtler.

Science has long predicted extreme weather events even more disturbing than depicted here! 

At first, your humble editor’s aforementioned faith in the integrity of modern science, and modern British science in particular, forestalled any suspicion greater than a reflexive distrust of his own perceptions. Surely, an epistolary decree to the world undersigned by a veritable pantheon of distinguished scientists (not a few of whom actually study climate) surely exemplified a level of scholarship so elevated as to exclude any hint of…well…syntactic chicanery? And yet—reading on—one learns that “global warming and rising sea levels threaten to wipe out many species that cannot adapt to change quickly enough.” Worrisome, to say the least, but hardly, on the surface of it, indicative of the epic debacle implied by the title. What revelations lurked in the full report?  Was humankind among those species teetering on the brink of destruction? Does a subset of humanity reside nearer “the brink” being situated nearer beaches and ports? Is this subset liable to wholesale slaughter because rising sea levels will ultimately consume our coastal cities (despite several postponements and hasty reschedulings) whereupon the tides are expected to surge so violently that these hapless souls will be “wiped out” because they “cannot adapt to change quickly enough?” And even if such a catastrophe drowned multitudes of injudiciously situated victims, could we objectively call it “mass extinction?” No, something was definitely amiss.

Save the undocumented species!

Extinction is real,. The “Aye Aye” of Madigascar, for example,, is reportedly nearing extinction. Nature can certainly be cruel.

An impression began to solidify in Old Bugler’s consciousness:. Humans weren’t “sleepwalking into mass extinction” after all. Rather, it appeared that various species quite apart from our own were facing extinction, or might be, which datum formed the gravamen of what came advertised as a “catastrophic warning about the fate of the world.” In fairness, your editor reasoned, the deceptively crafted headline was probably the handiwork of some junior editor at the Independent assigned the task of slyly sensationalizing relatively mundane science stories—the better to encourage “clicks.”

But no, as a careful rereading served to verify, the language derived verbatim from the report itself, in which no less a luminary than Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology Matthew Wills at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath (which is in England) specifically stated, “We are sleepwalking into a mass extinction of a magnitude unparalleled since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.” The miscommunication seemed to stem from Professor Wills’s liberal application of the pronoun ‘we,’ by which he seems to refer to sentient lifeforms quite apart from ourselves, only certain subspecies of which are threatened with possible extinction, and none of which, so far as Old Bugler is aware, has been observed to sleepwalk.  In fact, the majority of lifeforms identified by the “New Letter to Humanity” as likely candidates for extinction appears to be shrimp.  Adding to these concerns, Wills makes so bold as to declare: “We are already losing diversity that has never even been documented” –an illation of virtually supermundane percipience, considering the difficulties inherent in verifying the loss of species that have “never even been documented.”

Knowing the fate of the dinosaurs should serve as ample warning of what occurs when climatologists are ignored. Or gigantic meteors, anyway.

Dr. Katie Davis enjoys a large order of french fries, demonstrating, perhaps, that concerns about cholesterol become academic on the presipice of mass extinction.

Next, Research Fellow Dr Katie Davis, an evolutionary palaeobiologist at the University of York, (England), explained that “Understanding the processes that shaped the strikingly irregular distribution of species richness across the Tree of Life is a major research agenda,” which one can readily believe without seeing any obvious way in which such a quest, no matter what its priority, bears on humankind’s blind march toward “extinction of a magnitude unparalleled since …the dinosaurs.” In fact, even an exact appraisal of the threat eludes us, as Davis acknowledges there are “depending upon estimates, between two and fifty million extant species of animals (Metazoa), all derived from a single common ancestral species that lived some 650 million years ago.” So if there are either 50 million or 2 million of them, or any number in between, surely predicting what number of them will or will not become extinct is somewhat arbitrary? And besides, Davis reveals,“net rates of speciation…exceed rates of extinction,” even though “the balance of these processes varies greatly, both between clades and throughout geological time.”

Like Darwin’s finches…

Dr. de Grave is head of research at the prestigious Oxford University Museum, yet so unaffected, you can call him “Sammy.”

Clades and geological time aside, the data, viewed objectively, show that more species are tabulated extant than extinct by a sizeable margin. Even more reassuring is the discovery that “shrimp have independently transitioned from marine to freshwater habitats repeatedly, creating much richer pockets of biodiversity.” Surely this suggests a level of adaptability that belies the premise of the report? Indeed, it transpires that “the relative isolation of lakes and rivers appear [sic] to increase the diversity of species in a similar way to Darwin’s finches on island chains.” And diversity, as every educated person is aware by now, is wonderful. So, given these uplifting discoveries, what is the problem? In a game attempt to resuscitate the study’s apocalyptic tenor, co-author Sammy de Grave, head of research at the Oxford University Museum, adds: “But rising sea levels caused by climate change could put these pockets at risk, disrupting these freshwater distributions and leading to extinctions as a result.”

Could?  Really? So because 15,000 scientists saw fit to misrepresent a conglomeration of learned speculation and unbridled conjecture as proof of Armageddon, Old Bugler suffered a hair-raising endocrine event culminating in rampant adrenal surges, autonomic nervous conniptions, waves of quasi-suicidal angst and a pounding pulse rate? Good heavens, people, get a grip on yourselves! Why restyle what amounts to a preponderantly uplifting review of the miracle of expanding biodiversity and the amazing versatility of living organisms, as a “catastrophic warning about the fate of the world” when in reality, the worst extractable inference is that, in the event of certain mootable hypotheses coming to fruition given certain circumstances that might or might not develop, it could be the case that certain levels of destruction might or might not be visited upon certain unknowable varieties of species whose current numbers cannot be accurately estimated, and who are, in any case, largely “carideans,” which, beloved readers, means shrimp.  By what evaluative standard is the loss, however regrettable, of a few million carideans, (give or take a few million), a blow to humankind equatable with mass extinction on a par with the dinosaurs?  And come to think of it, when was the last time you seriously needed a dinosaur?

The aftermath…

Old Burglar is happy to report that his parasympathetic nervous system has restored him to psychobiological homeostasis in the wake of what initially seemed an inescapable cataclysm.  He is once again seated calmly before his Alger Hiss autograph-series Woodstock Model 5 typewriter, sipping a sudsy Yuengling, and sorting through the day’s dispatches. Outside the WOOF cave, seabirds–at least the surviving species of them–are cawing and cavorting blithesomely. Before him, your editor cannot help noticing among the daily flurry of news items, lies an “updated” bulletin from the Union of Concerned Scientists. A glance suffices to establish that “Unless we take immediate action to reduce global warming emissions, these impacts will continue to intensify, grow ever more costly and damaging, and increasingly affect the entire planet — including you, your community, and your family.” Be that as it may, Old Bugler will resist, for now, examining precisely what “these impacts” entail. One Götterdämmerung a week is enough for any senior editor–and meantime, this one is content to leave planetary salvation in the capable hands of concerned scientists, wherever located.

Wait a minute–those aren’t seabirds!

Second thoughts…

Although on second thought, it seems churlish to eschew all responsibility for the fate of the planet—especially in view of the tireless efforts at outreach emanating from so many informed professionals enjoining us to “take immediate action.” With this in mind, your editor scribbled a hasty memo to WOOF’s art department requesting the “immediate” designing and limited issuance of bumper stickers exhorting our fellow citizens to “SAVE THE SHRIMP!”

Further, your editor pledges to affix one to his 1964 Corvair’s rear bumper, right next to the sticker bearing the faded legend: “AuH2O,” and beyond this, he pledges to forward an additional bumper sticker absolutely free to anyone requesting it, while supplies last.  One must, after all, do one’s part.

Free while supplies last!

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“CHAPPAQUIDDICK” or, WOOF reviews another film it hasn’t seen!

In "Ready when you are C.B.!" forum on May 14, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Our guarantee of freshness:

Seasoned readers are by now familiar with WOOF’s habit of reviewing films while adhering to our iron-clad rule that no film will be reviewed on our website unless our reviewers have scrupulously avoided seeing it. We believe our strict adherence to this standard ensures that ours are the fairest, most impartial cinema critiques anywhere in cyberspace. Limiting ourselves to movies we haven’t seen obviously frees our analyses of those partialities that would inevitably accrue during any actual exposure to the works under consideration. Apparently quite a few of you agree, as our movie reviews are always among our most popular posts, and among the most visited after time has swept them from our ‘front page’ to our archives. It is therefore with considerable pleasure, and not a little reportorial pride, that we present our latest film review of a movie we haven’t seen, namely “CHAPPAQUIDDICK,” Directed by John Curran, Screenwriters: Taylor Allen; Andrew Logan; cinematography by Maryse Alberti; edited by Keith Fraase.

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In his Cooper Union speech, Abraham Lincoln offered a timeless condemnation of those who, then as now, proffer compromise as though it were an Aristotelian master stroke. All right, we admit it–some occasions require a little give and take. In certain situations, trade-offs prove the beneficial fruits of what an author once called “the art of the deal.” But far more often they are smarmy abandonments of principle disguised as statesmanship—or what Lincoln denounced as “contrivances…groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong,” which contrivances he proceeded to denounce as “vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man.” Of course, Lincoln was unfamiliar with Schrodinger’s cat, but we digress.

Neither living nor dead.

Ted Kennedy is dead, or, as the Munchkin coroner described the Wicked Witch of the East, “Really most sincerely dead.” And yet, in the interest of even-handedness, (or perhaps less lofty–if completely understandable–considerations) the film Chappaquiddick portrays him as what Lincoln might have called “neither a living man nor a dead man” in the sense that screenwriters Allen and Logan repeatedly subject the Senator to withering fusillades of biographic divulgement, but in each instance demur at administering the coup de gras.

Director Curran–funny, he doesn’t look unhinged.

Why, you may ask, is a temperate, fair-minded organization like WOOF suddenly driven to envenom a film review with so vulgar an instinct as vindictiveness; especially when critics as diverse as Glenn Beck and the Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers agree that Chappaquiddick’s excellence is due largely to its dramatic restraint? Why, when even New York Times film critic A. O. Scott, (though admitting trepidation at the film’s release), is able to offer a complimentary review based on the film’s “forsaking sensationalism for sober, procedural storytelling,” should WOOF take pains to stake out the low ground, and fault Chappaquiddick for the very qualities extolled by so many of its admirers?  We think Barry Goldwater best explained our position during his acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican convention. Conservatives will recall his averral that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” but the Arizonan most precisely summarized our case against John Curran’s new film when he added that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” And that’s what Lincoln was trying to tell us, too. And that’s what we are trying to tell you.  In other words, our disappointment stems less from what Chappaquiddick is, than from what it might have been.

“You’re all we’ve got!”

A young Al Lowenstein, around the time he realized there was nothing left but Teddy.

So, imagine for a moment that our film opens in the immediate wake of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, or put another way, at the dawn of the popular jape: “They’re like the Kennedys, all the good ones have been taken!” And as if by way of demonstration, we find ourselves inside the elevator at Good Samaritan Hospital where a shaken, ghostly-pale Teddy (as the press affectionately dubbed Edward Moore Kennedy) is accompanying his slain brother’s body to the basement morgue. Suddenly, the door slides open and a nearly hysterical Al Lowenstein, (Kennedy adviser, anti-war icon, occasional office seeker) rushes aboard. Looking up to glimpse Ted, Lowenstein grabs him by the shoulders, shakes him frantically, and shouts, “Now that Bobby’s gone, you’re all we’ve got!” We zoom in on Ted’s face—he gapes speechlessly at Lowenstein, open-mouthed, petrified, incapable of verbalizing a response. We fade to black and superimpose the words: “One year later…”

Cut to an interior shot aboard an airliner returning from a 1969 congressional trip billed as a fact-finding mission to investigate Inuit poverty in Alaska. Ted Kennedy, (who earlier stumbled drunkenly into the airport at Anchorage shouting “ESKIMO POWAH!”), is now shown surrounded by aids and flight attendants trying to restrain him as he stumbles and reels down the aisle, bellowing, “They’re going to shoot my ass off the way they shot off Bobby’s!” An aide grabs the senator’s spastically waving hand and presses a hot cup of coffee into it. Kennedy grasps the cup, but lurches wildly when a stewardess attempts to guide him toward his seat. He nearly scalds a mother and her infant in the adjacent row. Insensible of the offense, Kennedy continues ranting about his impending doom as his attendants coax him back to his seat. He shouts “ESKIMO POWAHHH!!” a few more times, contenting himself, finally, with tossing dinner rolls at reporters while his team scrambles to pacify the offended passengers.

Next, we watch Teddy’s airliner land in Seattle. Reporters who witnessed the incident dash into the terminal to file their scoops, but we watch in shocked disbelief as the screen shifts to a mélange of newspaper editors and network news producers ordering the story “spiked”—killed—forgotten. It’s 1969, and no writers apart from a handful of vile, shadow-dwelling right-wing misanthropic scribblers of unreviewed, fringe-marketed books (who probably voted for Goldwater and almost certainly for Nixon), report dirt on the Kennedys.

Cut to an exterior shot of Newsweek’s Manhattan headquarters, identifiable by the magazine’s logo blazoned across the building’s top story. We zoom in through a window high above Hanover Square into an office in which a seasoned reporter urgently dials a phone. The screen inserts his name, John Lindsay, and identifies him as “Senate reporter for Newsweek magazine.” This saves confusion among audience members old enough to otherwise mistake him for the contemporaneous mayor of New York City. No, this is John J. Lindsay, accomplished journalist. His appearance raises the prospect of integrity triumphing over sycophancy. And look! Lindsay’s deeply furrowed brow bespeaks grave concern. Perhaps he is laying his job on the line. Perhaps he is phoning his editor, demanding the Kennedy story be told and told truthfully. After all, Lindsay fits a specific Hollywood stereotype geared to resonate with the American psyche–the hardened newshound defending the people’s right to know. Surely, his infectious ardor, his rhetorical passion, will rekindle long-dormant convictions in his veteran editor—Ed Asner, maybe–a crotchety-but-noble industry pro who after a few efforts at dissuasion leans back, pours himself a jigger of rye, and rasps, “Why not? Why not one last crusade!?”

“Why not one last crusade?” Well, Asner probably wouldn’t have done the picture, for one thing!

Disaster waiting to happen!

“That’s right–disaster wairting to happen! No, no, even worse than getting kicked out of Harvard!”

But no, that isn’t what happens. The phone isn’t answered by Lindsay’s editor, it is answered by a mysterious female. Is it—could it be—Joan Kennedy? Jackie, even? Whoever it is, Lindsay begins telling her about the airplane debacle, entreating her to take a hand, to do something “before something really terrible happens!”  “Ted is out of control,” Lindsay insists, and then, in a voice lowered almost to a whisper, he adds, “Ted is under terrible stress—and I’m telling you, if he doesn’t get help, he’s a disaster waiting to happen!

Is that you, Jackie?

Okay, not what we were hoping for, perhaps, but this can still work. We simply cut away from Lindsay’s close up with one of those abruptly jarring Thelonious Monk chords used nowadays to punctuate dramatic movie moments, and we “smash cut” from Lindsay’s under lit office to our main locale–a bucolic, riparian setting in somnolent New England. We find ourselves juxtapositionally tranquilized—but look out! To the nail-biting clang of another Thelonious Monk chord we INSERT TITLE CARD (that’s movie talk) and the screen is suddenly ablaze with a single, momentous word:  Chappaquiddick!

Our story so far….

So, beloved readers, how do you like the movie so far? We think it’s pretty impressive. And historically faithful? Absolutely!  Okay, except for that part about the woman on the other end of Lindsay’s phone call. We made her up, or rather we hypothesized her, because even though almost everyone agrees on the language Lindsay employed, nobody seems certain to whom he spoke it. And there’s one other problem—namely, none of what we just described is actually in the movie. File it under what MAD magazine used to call “scenes we’d like to see.” Historically verifiable, but consigned to the cutting room floor of our imaginations. Chappaquiddick, after all, made it past the New York Times by “forsaking sensationalism,” possibly because Curran knew his biopic, were it sensational even in a manner befitting Edward Kennedy’s depraved life and career, would die aborning—insufficiently immunized against a bilious media, not to mention the wrath of Hyannisport…a malignant force ruinous to the careers of more than a few entertainers, journalists, and biographers, even today.

The post-unassailable plunge….

Teddy, 2004, calling school vouchers “racisst” and “handouts to the wealthy!”

Ted Kennedy, however, is what we might call post-unassailable—although he is probably less annoyed by that fact than the family, having died of brain cancer in 2009.  He was the last of the golden Kennedys–the sons of Joseph and Rose–and his passing was prelude to the waning of the family’s mystique.  A measure of karmic justice is detectable in this, and not a little irony, because the Kennedy legacy fell victim to the very educational policies for which Ted fought tooth and nail—in other words, a single-option, federally regulated archipelago of public schools from which students are routinely graduated despite a conspicuous lack of reading, writing, or ciphering skills, or the merest grasp of science apart from an alertness to global warming.

More significant from the Kennedys’ standpoint, however, is the absence in recent generations of even a glancing acquaintance with American history, apart from an ingrained certitude that Columbus was a genocidal maniac, the Pilgrims were deluded religionists bent on ravaging the environment, that the Founders invented slavery–which was accidentally ended by the Civil War, which was not about slavery—and that Ronald Reagan almost bankrupted the economy with his crazy supply-side economic boom. But Liberalism’s rush to erase any taint of Americanism from our schools came with a hefty side order of blowback. Canons of faith fanatically nurtured by the Left for generations vanished into the same memory hole as George Washington and Sam Adams, a design flaw that left younger Americans untutored in such articles of faith as the saintliness of the Kennedys, the demonic evil of Joe McCarthy, or even such recent taradiddle as the incomparable brilliance of Hillary Clinton.

“Very little, I’m afraid…”

Professor Czitrom –searching for Camelot in the age of Absurdistan.

kind of brutal egalitarianism inhered in public education’s great leap forward: a purification that expunged our past from the lesson plans without regard to any given item’s significance on the political spectrum. Thus, the Kennedys aren’t simply diminished by an educational system grown neglectful of burnishing the family’s mystique. The progressive effort to divorce recent generations from their heritage means the Kennedys are barely mentioned–no more dwelt upon than Ike, Coolidge, or the Teapot Dome Scandal. In 2015, in recognition of 50 years gone by since the assassination of JFK, Professor of History Daniel Czitrom of Mount Holyoke College gave an interview during which he was asked to describe what modern college students know about our 35th president. “Very little, I’m afraid,” was his frank assessment. Small wonder, then, that they know and care even less about his vacuous little brother.

There are, it seems, opinions to the contrary. A review by Susan Wloszczyna suggests Chappaquiddick will do well owing to the presence of the “in-vogue-again Kennedy clan at the center.” On the off-chance that Wloszczyna isn’t nuts, isn’t a resurgence of Kennedymania all the more reason for Chappaquiddick to ‘speak truth to power’ unequivically? But instead we are treated to a barrage of softballs, like dorky Ted vowing to win a regatta, but slamming his sailboat into a marker buoy and catapulting both his passengers into the brine.  Okay, a dramatic foreshadowing of events to come, (and a sailing career littered with rammed obstacles, capsized catamarans, and other madcap feats of incompetence) but nevertheless…?

The “in-vogue-again Kennedy clan,” okay, that blew right past us!

The details, where most dramatically requisite, seem softened to implications. The six “Boiler Room Girls,” as the winsome young staffers formerly employed by Bobby’s campaign were jovially known, are partying in the wake of their boss’s untimely death with a bunch of married guys, one of them being Ted (whose wife Joan is home bedridden with a failing pregnancy soon to end in miscarriage, though the film makes no mention of the fact). Ted is hosting the wingding at the cottage of his chum, lawyer Sidney Lawrence. The cottage is located on Chappaquiddick Island, accessible by ferry from Martha’s Vineyard. So, what really went on at that party?

In the film, we witness a relatively demure replication of nineteen-sixties-style drinking and dancing–demurrer by far than any such festivities featuring Teddy and friends were ever known to be. Indeed, what the Guardian’s reviewer rather inferentially pronounced “a tawdry, boozy weekend” seems more like a scene from a Troy Donahue film of the same era—a bit jazzy and raucous, perhaps, but in an artfully understated Warner Brothers kind of way.

Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne in the party scene from “Chappaquiddick,” or is she auditioning for a remake of “A Summer Place”?

(READ MORE)

The Pinky Principle: Watching Congress Demote Itself Beneath any Pretense of Competence!

In "Dead Elephant in the Room" forum on March 19, 2018 at 7:49 pm

Most literate Americans are at least vaguely familiar with the Peter Principle, a management theory promulgated in the early ’70s by Laurence J. Peter who theorized that because promotion is routinely based on an individual’s performance at a given level,  promotions continue until people are promoted to that level at which they no longer perform effectively. Thus, Peter reasoned,  employees everywhere tend to rise to their respective levels of incompetence.  Actually, however, politicians are exempt from the principle. Think about it; they are simply elected, and once elected–unless advancing from House to Senate, for instance–they are not so much promoted as retained in situ. Of course, one oft-voiced criticism of the Peter Principle is that is fails to adequately provide for the possibility of demotion, but again, politicians are immune to demotions (except within party ranks), their overwhelming concern being loss of office.

Fugitives from principle…

That said, it seems obvious that if congress comprises fugitives from the Peter Principle, it is nonetheless subordinate to certain, less equivocal injunctions, among them the second law of thermodynamics–namely that entropy only increases and never decreases.  You knew that, right? True, the statistical mechanics attached to this rule have been so debauched by disputants stretching them to win their points, we feel slighty abashed at invoking them here; but not so abashed as to abandon the matter. To smooth things over with sticklers for scientific exactitude, we will presently reframe our argument in considerably less pretentious terms. Besides, operationalizing a reliable system of measurement is impossible because idiocy, while widely recognizable, can only be quantified subjectively.

Joe Starnes, hot on the trail of Christopher Marlowe.

True, members of congress have engaged in all sorts of bone-headed absurdities throughout our national history, all the while affecting the demeanor of important men (and nowadays women) fixed with grim solemnity upon the virtuous work of statecraft.  Invariably, humor is minable from this. What, after all, is more comically ironic than an assemblage of dunces whose pomposity renders them incognizant of their duncery?  But we contend the contemporary political class has achieved a record-breaking apex of insipidity–a contention, we admit, that resists empirical proof.  How might we objectively demonstrate that government’s current quotient of dunderheads surpasses in numerousness and intensity all previous examples?  Well, the second law of thermodynamics, maybe, but we promised to drop that argument. Suffice it that congress has always been bountifully endowed with morons, maniacs, mountebanks and poltroons. From Senator Benjamin Ryan Tillman (D-SC) complaining in 1900 that “we stuffed ballot boxes, we shot them,” but that his constituents were “scratching their heads,” because Blacks kept voting anyway; to Joe Starnes (D-Ala.), who, while associated with HUAC, demanded that a witness tell him whether Christopher Marlowe was a member of the Communist Party, examples abound.

Comrade Marlowe

Alexa de Tocqueville, pride of “the greatest generation.”

Consider Hillary Clinton, widely advertised by the establishment media as peerlessly brainy, who, while addressing a crowd of adulative supporters in 2016 felt moved to advert to Alexis de Tocqueville, whom she called “Alexa,” and who, she told her audience, “came to the United States in the very early 1930s and traveled around our country…” thus relocating the famous author of Democracy in America, who died in 1859, to the 20th century.  Significantly, those present greeted Mrs. Clinton’s manipulation of the temporal/spacial continuum enthusiastically– and for all we know, Mrs. Clinton continues to suppose that someone named “Alexa” de Tocqueville was a contemporary of Tom Joad’s.  In a similar vein, President Obama, whose entire docket of clownish errata is best enumerated elsewhere [for instance here], swept to the podium during a state visit by French President Hollande in order to laud de Tocqueville, whom he called “Alex.” (Both Hollande and the Bamster might have benefitted from exposure to de Tocqueville, particularly his piercing critique of socialism, but at least Obama kept “Alex” in his rightful century.)

Unusual knowledge, or: The truth is over there in England….

During a painfully scripted appearance with late-night sycophant Jimmy Kimmel (whose enthusiasm for UFOs is well known), Mrs. Clinton vowed that once she was president she would make the government’s flying saucers files public. In so saying, she echoed identical pledges from the campaigns of Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter, both of whom dropped the subject entirely once ensconced in the West Wing. But the world’s smartest woman was naturally inclined to expatiate. “You know,” she told Kimmel, “there’s a new name, it’s unexplained aerial phenomenon [sic], U.A.P. That’s the latest nomenclature.”

Ivan T. Sanderson–spawning the latest nomenclature back in 1967.

Notwithstanding the absence of any official UFO authority empowered to issue nomenclatural revisions, the term is actually UAO for Unidentified Aerial Objects, which Hillary might have found simpler to pluralize. The coinage originated with biologist and UFO theorist Ivan T. Sanderson who suggested it in his 1967 book Uninvited Visitors, but Sanderson died in 1973 leaving Mrs. Clinton to soldier on alone.  Later, in an interview with Daymond Steer of New Hampshire’s Conway Daily Sun, Clinton reiterated her  determination to declassify the government’s X-files.  For good measure, she promised to unveil the truth about “Area 54.” The candidate subsequently corrected herself, agreeing she meant to say Area 51 (the government’s uninspired name for the best known secret installation in America), but the former First Lady’s gaffe inspired awe among Internet “ufologists” a majority of whom blogged praise for the smartest woman in America, insisting Hillary had not misspoken at all. Rather, they assured one another, she had cunningly updated the UFO community on the location of the Air Force’s new, extra secret UFO testing facility.

Mainstream media (being less inclined to esoteric inferences than most ufologists) simply scrubbed the error and misquoted their favorite candidate as if she’d said “Area 51” in the first place. (In fact, readers seeking to confirm Clinton’s lapsus linguae will be hard pressed unless they explore British press accounts, for instance here).  Substituting the correct designation for Clinton’s misstated one as if they were quoting verbatim enabled the New York Times to remind its readers that Hillary was “known for her grasp of policy,” and possessed “unusual knowledge about extraterrestrials…”  We guess it depends on how you define unusual.

Bozos, left and right…

Donald Rumsfeld–unpredictable from the beginning?

To be fair, none of this is any more risible than “W” Bush explaining that “human beings and fish can co-exist peacefully,” or vowing to “restore chaos” in the Middle East…orthe time W’s  Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, philosophized during a press conference that he “wouldn’t say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past,” adding, “I think the past was not predictable when it started.”

In 2008, John McCain dazzled viewers of Good Morning America with his geopolitical acuity when, after enumerating the obstacles confronting American forces in Iraq, he summed matters up by explaining, “It’s a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border.” Actually, a struggle on the Iraq-Pakistan border would be impossible, not hard, because there is no such border.  Iraq and Pakistan are separated by 1,519 miles of Iran. Presently, in a mood remindful of Donald Rumsfeld’s teleological ponderings, McCain enjoined the Pentagon to prepare for the unexpected, but appended, after a museful pause, “What I don’t know is what the unexpected might be.”

Who can forget Bill Clinton defending himself against Kathleen Willey’s charges of rape by explaining, “I would never approach a small-breasted woman,” or Arnold Schwarzenegger insisting that “…gay marriage should be between a man and a woman,” or Tom DeLay epitomizing America’s post-cold-war military primacy by exclaiming,”We’re no longer a superpower. We’re a super-duper power!” or Joe Biden, whose blunders and gaucheries provide an embarrassment of riches, advising firing “two blasts” from a double-barreled shotgun into the darkness off one’s balcony as preferable to owning a semi-automatic firearm. Republican Jay Dickey, U.S. representative from Arkansas, famously opined that “incest should be handled as a family matter” and visionary Democratic state representative Sissy Farenthold  summed matters up best by vowing to work “for the time when unqualified blacks, browns and women join the unqualified men in running our government.”

Sissy Farenthold brings clarity to the issue.

Occasionally failing our words….

Farenthold’s vision may fairly be regarded as realized, and it is our contention that Washington’s current herd of legislative mooncalves is even more bumfuzzled than its historic predecessors. Surely, one can confidently assert that no previous congress has been so pan-institutionally devoted to the production of comic effects, but this immediately invites the rejoinder that quantity and dedication do not necessarily trump refinements of technique or subtleties of execution. It depends, ultimately, on how one prefers one’s drollery. A more significant question presents itself in the meanst, that being: How do such nanoid intellects contrive to win elections, and how do they get re-elected despite establishing records of incontestable oafishness and chicanery?

Sometimes, of course, the plain old “Peter Principle” rears it’s dopey head!

As a case in point, consider Senator Dick Durbin (D-Wis), whose unflagging asaninity first drew national attention when he compared American forces in Iraq to “…Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime–Pol Pot or others.” When this characterization proved less popular than Durbin anticipated, he murmurously apologized, explaining that “more than most people, a senator lives by his words [but] occasionally words will fail us and occasionally we will fail words.” A word Durbin failed recently was “chain,” which, he insisted, could no longer be conjoined with “migration,” lest Blacks, upon hearing it, suffer some previously unknown epigenetic trauma and lapse into mass catatonia.  Wondering aloud whether Trump realized “how painful that term is to so many people,” Durbin explained that “African-Americans believe they migrated to America in chains, and when you speak to chain migration, it hurts them personally.”  Apparently this awareness dawned only recently on Senator Durbin, who used the term liberally (no pun intended) prior to proscribing it, besides which, one cannot speak to chain migration–at least, not in anticipation of an answer, but Durbin’s difficulties with syntax are as chronic as his mendacities.

Senator Durbin, wondering aloud….

Recapturing our point, we wonder aloud: Why do the people of Illinois return this egregious jackanapes to the Senate again and again? Could it be the dynamics of entropy affect voters as well as candidates?  Or do the qualities of visibility and fulmination nowadays provide ample grounds for political longevity, supplanting such superannuated concepts as sagacity and substance in an era of dumbed-down discourse and educational decline?  We think so. We submit that energy and timarity (laudable attributes taken in isolation) are now more significant to political success than coherence or productivity; and we have seen this before, gentle readers, but mainly in the realm of pop culture. The problem we currently confront is that all culture is rapidly becoming pop culture. Once we accept this, we begin to perceive the situation’s epochal antecedents…which brings us to:

The Pinky precedent…

Take Pinky Lee as an example. (Yes, really.) Lee was a product of the burlesque era but found his niche hosting a five-afternoons-per-week TV program in the early 1950s. Occupying the time slot leading into the enormously popular Howdy Doody Show, Lee aimed his material emphatically at a juvenile audience. Each show began with the host bursting a balloon in front of the camera lens before dashing madly onto the stage where he danced fitfully while performing his uncompromisingly inane theme song, “Yoo hoo, it’s me, my name is Pinky Lee– I skip and run with lots of fun, for every he and she!” –and so on. You get the idea.

“Yoo-hoo, it’s me!”

It may surprise some readers to learn that in this long-ago time, reasonable people paid reasonable amounts of attention to what Newsweek (then an actual news magazine rather than a DNC-affiliated web page) wrote about matters both epic and trivial, and it was Newsweek’s verdict that while Lee’s antics bespoke a level of puerility no rational adult could endure for more than a nanosecond, “he expends more energy than anyone this side of Jerry Lewis.” Indeed, in an article otherwise bereft of encomia, Time magazine went so far as to call Lee “One of the hardest working men in TV.”

Lee’s phenomenal success proved that within his chosen niche, energy and determination sufficed to ensure wild popularity, albeit exclusively among children, who viewed the star’s antics as the very embodiment of quality entertainment.  To anchor our position, we will dub this observable correlation between mindless phrenetics and popular approval “the Pinky Principle.” Obviously, we are about to apply it politically.

All naiveté is local

It is an encouraging fact that Americans consistently tell pollsters congress is a cesspool brimming with nincompoops, reprobates, and larcenists—to which critique we must now add sexual predators, not because they are recently arrived, but rather because the liberal media discovered them only recently, which officialized their presence. Bewilderingly, however, the very Americans who regularly denounce congress whenever polled on the subject, regularly rate their own representatives as superior. One must either conclude that a majority of Americans is mistaken in impugning the intellectual and moral fiber of our bicameral legislature taken as a whole, or, conversely, that most Americans regularly overestimate the character and performance of their locally elected representatives. We trust our beloved readers will join us, with few exceptions, in deeming the latter hypothesis more plausible. (READ MORE…)