Feynman’s Answers

This is quite popular online:

Feynman Questions

The late American physicist Richard Feynman started his career as a young physicist on the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S. government project to develop the atomic bomb. He would go on to win a Nobel Prize for physics in 1965 for his work in quantum electrodynamics, which he shared with two other physicists. I couldn’t tell you much about quantum electrodynamics, but I know that Feynman also attracted a lot of attention as a member of the U.S. government’s Rogers Commission, which investigated the tragic Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986.

It was Feynman who figured out what went wrong: the rubber “O-rings” that were used to seal the joints of a solid rocket booster failed to expand at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature at the time of the shuttle’s launch on Jan. 28th, 1986, was right around 32 degrees F. Due to the O-rings’ failure to expand, gas escaped and turned into flame, heating the fuel tank until it ruptured and released liquid hydrogen into the atmosphere and exploded. Feynman and the commission also found a variety of other problems related to the O-rings.

In his own seperate report appended to the commission’s main report, as well as in media appearances, Feynman criticized NASA officials, who, he said, should have known about the O-rings, but they had ended up fooling themselves. They had not previously suffered any problems with other launches and so, reasoned NASA’s managers, things would continue to be hunky-dory. This blinded them to obvious flaws that had not previously led to disaster thanks only to mere chance.

They really should’ve known better, said Feynman. That nothing had gone wrong before was no excuse for those men of science, whose knowledge should have been their guide.

Those views did not win him many friends in Washington, where the unquestioned expertocracy rules all. No doubt these final words from his addendum to the commission’s report rankled the feathers of a D.C. bureaucrat or two: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

“Nature cannot be fooled,” implying, as emphasized by the bit about public relations, that human beings most certainly can be fooled, including scientists. We are all gullible and naive to some extent, and we all have our blind spots and shortcomings, including those with PhDs in physics who are employed by NASA.

Naturally, when people see the quote at the top of this post, they nod their head in agreement. For they instinctively understand that nobody has all the answers to everything and so there is always room for doubt and skepticism, for some more critical examination of people’s claims and ideas. And doesn’t agreeing with this very sensible insight show everyone just how open-minded you are, how liberal and tolerant you are toward contrasting and dissenting views?

But let’s be honest. A cursory glance across social media on any given day tells you that an overwhelming number of people really believe that it’s only other people’s claims that should be questioned, not their own. There are many, many people who sincerely believe that they really do have it all figured out, and there’s no amount of logic or evidence that could possibly persuade them otherwise.

“It’s all those morons out there who are polluting the world with silly and destructive notions,” goes this mindset, “and fortunately I’m far too intelligent to fall for any of them, and so I’m always prepared to set them right.”

Such people are a little too damn sure of themselves, in my opinion, and unfortunately they seem more numerous than ever. Even worse, they’re a little too intoxicated with their own moral righteousness. There’s no telling how much havoc such people can wreak on the world–indeed, how much havoc such people have already wreaked on the world throughout human history. It’s damn scary.

You can’t convince me otherwise.

 

Brendan O’Neill Doesn’t Want You to Talk About Conspiracy Theories

I have a new piece up at Medium.com offering my own theoretically conspiratorial take on the recent death of multi-millionaire financial guru and alleged teen sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. I speculate in the piece as to what people should really be focusing on in regards to Epstein’s mysterious life, never mind his death.

While poking around the internets during the writing, I came across this piece on the Epstein conspiracy theory mill by the British political commentator Brendan O’Neill of Spiked-Online. In it, O’Neill derides the open discussion of conspiracy theories.

I’ve always liked O’Neill. He is, as I like to say with my tongue in my cheek, one of my favorite commies. He’s one of the small handful of pundits who can actually scribble genuinely critical and logically coherent opinion pieces in this age of emotion-driven, brain-clouded hyperbole. And he’s always been a fearless advocate of completely free and unfettered speech. But I’ll have to respectfully take some issue with him on this one.

He starts off deriding the popular meme circulating through the right-wing web that the Clintons had Epstein murdered. Fair enough. It is indeed a theory entirely lacking in evidence. I make no such claim in my own piece. For what it’s worth, I think Occam’s Razor dictates that the creep did indeed hang himself. He wasn’t murdered by the Clintons or anyone else.

But O’Neill then goes on a rant against the discussion of conspiracy theories in general. My criticism is that he treats all of them equally.

Yes, many, if not most, of the conspiracy theories out there are batshit-crazy. Where did the whole “Clinton body count” meme even come from? So far as I can tell, it originated with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Clinton Chronicles videos that he peddled on late night TV in the early to mid-1990s. Falwell tosses around all sorts of dark rumors about the Clintons, including accusations that they had various enemies murdered in Arkansas during Bill’s 12-year reign as that state’s governor.

So far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the foundation of Falwell’s rumor mill was laid by the infamous case of the double-murder of the two teenaged “boys on the tracks” in Arkansas during the 1980s. Journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard documents a solid circumstantial case in his book The Secret Life of Bill Clinton (terrible title, fascinating read) that the county prosecutor at the time, Dan Harmon, was involved in the boys’ murder and subsequent cover-up. The two murdered boys, Kevin Ives and Don Henry, may have stumbled upon a nighttime drug deal that involved Arkansas state or local law enforcement officers. This occurred during the same time that the infamous CIA operative Barry Seal was trafficking cocaine into the Mena, Arkansas airport as part of the “Iran-Contra” operation. Harmon was eventually arrested for dealing drugs some years later.

Though there’s no evidence to implicate the Clintons in the boys’ murder, Harmon was definitely a connected political player at the time who was jacked into the Clintons’ Arkansas machine. Thus, I suspect, the “Clinton body count” meme was born.

Anyway, everybody knows that the only person the Clintons actually had murdered was Vince Foster.

But I digress. What was I talking about? Oh, right. Conspiracy theories, and how Brendan O’Neill thinks discussing them is bad. They’re bad, says O’Neill, because the people who buy into them deprive themselves and others of agency. They become convinced that everyone is secretly manipulated by dark, sinister forces. They’re anti-democratic because they ultimately pacify people. Why bother organizing for any kind of change if the dark conspiratorial forces always prevail?

Pish. Posh.

Such people as O’Neill singles out for eating up the most absurd nonsense are the most easily duped who will believe almost any hysterical nonsense that Alex Jones shouts into his camera. (Ironically, such people now include, as O’Neill points out, members of the establishment liberal “intelligentsia”, who continue to insist that Vladimir Putin used voodoo social media ads to elect Donald Trump president.)

That doesn’t mean that mature adults can’t entertain the possibility that there really are people–in government, high finance, or otherwise endowed with enormous political privilege–who really do get up to some genuinely shady shit from time to time. Do they “control the world”? Nobody controls the world. But do these aforementioned privileged fucks occasionally get away with fucking over people less politically endowed than themselves? Absolutely.

The killer, though, is that the most sinister conspiracies are carried out right before our eyes: The false pretext for the Iraq War; the false pretext for intervening in Libya; hell, the false pretext for the first Iraq War; the Big Bank bailouts of 2008–the biggest heist carried out in U.S. history–and in broad fucking daylight right on our television sets–are just a few examples of the plots that have been carried out right in front of us in recent years. Most of us are just too duped by the daily propaganda of the usual news outlets to recognize them for what they really are.

And never mind about Jeffrey Epstein’s death–how the hell did he get that secret non-prosecution deal with the feds back in 2008? It’s not unreasonable to speculate that if he had lacked all of his high-flying social and political connections, they would have been more than happy to throw the book at him and make him into the poster boy of the evil denizens from whom they protect us and our daughters on a daily basis–oh what we would do without the ever-vigilant federal agents of law enforcement?!

So, sorry, Brendan, but the rest of us do intend to continue speculating, and to openly discuss our speculation, about what socially and politically powerful people do when nobody’s watching them, or caring enough to hold them accountable. It is sheer speculation, of course. But the difference between speculation about conspiracy theories and the kind of speculation that political commentators such as yourself frequently indulge in is only a difference of degree, not of character.

And it is, in fact, quite democratic in its own way. It’s the way we ordinary folk remind ourselves and one another that as the ruled, we need to watch out for what the rulers are up to. That they may only be interested in serving the public good rather than their own personal gain sounds a little too much like a, well,–wild conspiracy theory.

The Entrepreneurial Immigrant

I recently took an Uber driven by a gentleman who informed me that he had recently arrived from Turkey. He said that he had followed his son over, who was attending medical school here in Chicago.  The fellow looked like he was nearing sixty years of age. I thought it quite impressive for a man to migrate to an entirely different country at that stage of life.

My mother had come over from Belfast, Northern Ireland at the tender age of nineteen. I’ve always imagined how overwhelmed she must have felt coming to a strange country at such a young age, but at least she had many years ahead of her if things didn’t work out. That was one advantage my new Turkish acquaintance lacked. But as if merely immigrating to a strange country wasn’t courageous enough, this guy informed me that he was also starting his own business here. His willingness to undertake such a risk in his newly adopted country is truly impressive.

I have to wonder: Do immigrants tend to be more naturally entrepreneurial than the rest of us? And do those of us who are U.S.-born and bred have a prevailing tendency to avoid risk and play it safe?

Did something change over the past generation? Did native-born Americans transform from risk-takers to risk-avoiders as the country got considerably richer during that time?

Anyone who dares to migrate to a new and strange country is certainly a huge risk-taker. That would certainly indicate a personality prone to entrepreneurship. And perhaps the regulatory climate of the countries immigrants come from have a lot to do with that, too. A country whose government imposes all sorts of needlessly intrusive regulations and licensing requirements for every little transaction–state-sanctioned extortion, essentially–is most likely to spur an underground economy of black market business people.

Perhaps I’ll get off my lazy butt and see if there’s been any solid research on this.

“Space Force Are GO!”

The U.S. Space Force concept that has been so embraced and hyped by the Trump administration of late appears to have attracted a strange bedfellow–albeit ambivalently–in celebrity astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson:

“Although a segment of the scientific community has been vocally opposed to a Space Force, the sentiment is not universal. Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of Cosmos and an outspoken science advocate, explained to Yahoo Entertainment why the idea of a Space Force shouldn’t immediately be mocked.

………..

“Just because an idea came out of Trump’s mouth does not have to mean it’s crazy,” Tyson cautioned. “A Space Force is an idea that’s been around, actually, for several decades as our space assets have grown. And the assets we, as Americans, have in space is almost incalculable at this point. Not so much the value of the satellites themselves but the value of the commerce that they enable.

“Look at GPS, for example,” he continued. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of industry relies on this now. So as any good military, wisely constructed military would have as its mission, it is to protect your assets. A Space Force is not a crazy idea with regard to that. What would they do? They would protect us from asteroids that might want to render us extinct. I can guarantee you if the dinosaurs had a Space Force, they’d still be here today.”

The whole “U.S. Space Force” concept, which was recently announced by Vice President Mike Pence as possibly being organized by 2020, appears to be far more driven by concerns that Russia and China are advancing more rapidly toward a hypersonic missile than is the United States, than it is by an eagerness to play a real life game of “Asteroids”, even though Russia’s entire economy is but a small fraction of that of the U.S. And for all the breathless media coverage of China’s alleged ambitions for global military conquest, a lot of experts have a far more tempered view that the Chinese are far more interested in simply securing a hegemony over their own immediate region than they are in going head-to-head with the United States, a confrontation that the Chinese would be sure to lose.

But a never-ending parade of hobgoblins must be trotted out, as always, to keep the American public in a perpetual state of paranoia and fear that the United States, the most militarily powerful country on the planet–perhaps even in the entire history of the planet–is in mortal danger of being utterly destroyed in a single blow.

A saving grace of having a president as divisive and widely reviled as Donald Trump is that few fear to mock and heap derision on his administration’s proposal to expand the U.S. war machine into space. However, I have this nagging feeling that all of this mockery and derision is simply #BecauseItsTrump–if it were President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton pushing the idea, everyone who is now so contemptuous of it would be applauding and cheering it.

I’d like to close by suggesting a slogan with which to adorn the U.S. Space Force logo–as wittily coined by a friend of mine–that I think is far more poetic than Trump’s:

“SPACE FORCE ARE GO!”

James Gunn Sacked for Sick Tweets

The newest tweet-based outrage involves the sick and twisted tweets of movie director James Gunn–best known for the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise–posted way back in 2008-09 or so.

Mr. Gunn’s defense:

1. Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

2. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

4. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

5. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all. — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018

Here’s a sampling of some of Mr. Gunn’s harmless, erm, “jokes”:

Gunn Tweets

“RT @peteralton I like it when little boys touch me in my silly place–shhh!”

“The Expendables was so manly I fucked the shit out of the little pussy boy next to me! The boys ARE back in town!”

“‘Eagle Snatches Kid'” is what I call it when I get lucky.”

“Three Men and a Baby They had Sex With. #unromanticmovies”

“I’m doing a big Hollywood film adaptation of The Giving Tree with a happy ending – the tree grows back and gives the kid a blowjob.”

“RT @blackehart ‘I remember my first NAMBLA meeting. It was the first time I felt OK being who I am. Some of those guys are still my BFFs.”

Good Lord.

Gunn posted these incredibly sick, vile, and disgusting tweets about a decade ago, when he was just starting out as a filmmaker. He says that he was deliberately acting out as a provocateur, going for the obviously outrageous. In other words, he did what most people insecure in their own talents and abilities do when they feel so strongly that the rest of the world isn’t giving them their due: they scream out for attention like a spoiled little child.

People can certainly give him the benefit of the doubt that that’s all he was doing–vying for attention to jump start a career. It’s ironic that Gunn appeared to have torn a page right out of Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal. If you really want the attention of the media, Trump recommends in his seminal work that you very publicly state something as shocking and outrageous as possible, and then you will certainly get what you wish for. For all of his heated criticism of Trump, Gunn appears to share his outlook in at least this one respect.

I see no reason to believe that Gunn is an actual, practicing pedophile–one should take his denial at his word in the absence of evidence–but the material which Gunn chose for shock value certainly demonstrates some pretty severe callousness. And the fact that he left those tweets up for years, even after striking success in Hollywood, reveals not only something about Gunn’s own casual attitudes toward the abuse of children, it likely says something about much of the film industry’s culture as well: Gunn probably never felt compelled to delete the offensive tweets because his own experience informed him that his colleagues and co-workers wouldn’t much care. Millions of other people, however, who do not inhabit the Hollywood universe, see it differently. They would most likely stop associating with anyone who saw nothing wrong with posting child-rape jokes on social media.

So there’s an obvious question to be asked here: Did anyone at Disney/Marvel find out about Gunn’s sick joke-tweets at anytime during the preceding decade that they were out there, but simply dismiss them out of hand?

What did Disney and Marvel know, and when did they know it?

UPDATE: I had not caught this before, but one of the people most outspoken against Disney severing all ties with Gunn has been none other than conservative pundit Ben Shapiro. Interesting and ironic, considering that Shapiro had just recently been tangling with Gunn on Twitter.

Says Shapiro,

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 4.36.21 PMInteresting.

Let’s recap what Gunn found so funny in an “outrageous” and “provocative” way: Sexually assaulting children.

“There is no limiting principle to the outrage mob”????

He made jokes about raping children. 

What an odd thing for a conservative pundit to say when a major corporation–who’s bread and butter has long been children’s entertainment–sacks someone for posting jokes about raping children on social media, and then leaves them up for an entire decade.

Maybe there’s no limiting principle to Shapiro’s tolerance, or perhaps it’s more accurate to observe that there’s no consistently defining principle to what Shapiro finds tolerable or intolerable.

What a confused little man.

UPDATE #2: Good Lord, a veritable mine of Hollywood pedo-joke tweets appears to have been discovered following the James Gunn childrapejokegate. What is the deal with these people? This is getting disturbing.

Just as a side note before I proceed, no, it doesn’t really matter that it’s mainly right-wing outlets like Breitbart who are highlighting all of these disgusting tweets from left-wing celebrities joking about molesting children. The tweets speak for themselves, no matter who is shining a spotlight on them. And it’s just mind-boggling that these people left this stuff up for years, apparently without a single thought ever entering their heads at any point in time that, gee, somebody might be a little disturbed by child-rape humor, such as, say, the millions of people who take their kids to their movies. As I stated in my initial post, that’s likely because the people they work with in their industry, including those responsible for the hiring and firing, have absolutely no problem with it, either. The sensibilities of all the bourgeois rubes who pack the movie theaters for the latest blockbuster are to be acknowledged only for mockery and ridicule.

Speaking of Breitbart, they’ve recently published a couple of columns by John Nolte that get to the root of why this is something to give at least a half a damn about:

First,

“As I have expressed countless times, nothing would make me happier than to live in a world where dumb jokes, stupid comments, tasteless humor, moments of weakness, and legitimate mistakes, both big and small, could be forgiven for those expressing true remorse. I believe in second chances, most especially for myself, and despise our current culture that allows social media mobs to dismantle lives and careers over bad words.

“But guess who disagrees with me?

“That would be James Gunn himself, who called for Roseanne Barr to be fired over a single terrible tweet.

“He has since deleted the tweet (Gee, I wonder why?), but on May 29, Gunn wrote, ‘I wish some of these so-called defenders of liberty would start to understand what freedom of speech is AND isn’t. Roseanne is allowed to say whatever she wants. It doesn’t mean @ABCNetwork needs to continue funding her TV show if her words are considered abhorrent.’”

“And…

“On March 29, and only because she called someone a ‘whiner,’ Gunn publicly called for the destruction of Laura Ingraham’s career via a boycott.

“’I hope @hulu stops advertising …  on the Laura Ingraham show, so I can watch [‘The Handmaid’s Tale’]. Online bullying & shaming of teenagers should not be supported by Hulu. Let them know,’ he tweeted to his half-million followers.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 10.38.05 AM.png“Gunn might have stopped joking about raping children, stopped joking about ass-raping his friends, about Mexicans, the Holocaust, AIDS, and how kiddie porn gives him an orgasm, but he only set aside those words in order to use the new words that built the petard he just hoisted himself with.” [Emphasis mine.]

Exactly.

Next,

What the hell is up with this fetish for joking about sexually assaulting children???

“Hollywood might be all kinds of ‘woke’ and hyper-sensitive and crippled by a censorious political correctness that declares countless topics and left-wing sacred cows verboten, but ‘joking’ about raping children is totally cool.”

……….

“[W]hat we have on our hands is an entertainment industry that will ex-communicate you for being ‘insensitive’ (toward anyone other than a conservative), that will blacklist you for voting in an ‘unapproved’ way, that will publicly humiliate and ‘re-educate’ you for telling ‘inappropriate’ jokes, but has absolutely no problem with you telling countless jokes about raping a child, even a baby.”

A smattering of the sick jokes highlighted by Nolte:

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 10.56.34 AM

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 11.00.45 AM

These…”comedians”…seem so desperate for material that they have to dig into the gutter for jokes about molesting kids. And when they’re called out for their tastelessness, all they can do is sputter, “oh, I said that years ago,” or whatever ad hoc rationalization that enters their heads.

That’s the thing about self-appointed arbiters of public morals and taste, especially those who dwell atop the loftiest of castle towers. They’re entitled to form a social media mob and ruin other people’s careers for merely uttering or typing words, but when they’re called out on their own violations of public morality and taste, they simply brush it off with a wave of the hand. In their minds, they alone fashion the rules, and those rules always convict those with whom they differ in politics and worldviews, while at the same time everyone’s to just assume that they’re to be automatically exonerated.

If there are people who can’t see the obvious self-serving, double-standard hypocrisy at work here, then this country just may be at a point where it’s best for the conflicting factions to simply each go their own way. I suspect that we’ll be seeing such a development in the years to come.