Outlaw Chronicles Is Sad Excuse for Entertainment

Outlaw Chronicles: Hells AngelsWhen I was a kid, there was a lot of crap on television. But at least it was very clearly entertainment. Effort was put in by writers and actors. Stories with actual plots were told. Now, of course, we live in the age of the reality show. And it has poisoned all of entertainment. In the 1950s, there were prime time game shows. But that went away for decades as people came to expect more. And then came these new game shows called “reality shows,” and now much of what is on at night is game shows — albeit, often game shows with “stars.”

The biggest thing about this trend is that producers have found that there really is no need to tell a compelling story. With proper editing and incidental music, they can make nothing appear to be something. I saw a great example of this last night. It wasn’t a reality show, but a documentary series on The History Channel, Outlaw Chronicles: Hells Angels. I guess it is mostly just interviews with this guy, George Christie Jr, who used to be in the Hells Angels. I really don’t know, nor do I care. As with most things on History, I assume it is all fake anyway. As such, you would think it would be more interesting.

The narrator explained that the Hells Angels were in a battle with some other gang, and so they were planting bombs. As far as I can tell, we’re talking pipe bombs here — dangerous, but not that dangerous, and hardly exotic. Christie and a companion were sent in to pick up a bomb that didn’t detonate — a dud. They were lowering it off a rooftop, but a wind came up and the bomb started hitting against the side of the building.

It was a very tense situation. Did the bomb explode?! No. The wind died down and they got it to the ground safely. This may have had something to do with the fact that the bomb was not functional. But this exciting story is not over — not by a long shot! They put the bomb in the car. But they didn’t do the sensible thing and put it in the trunk. Why, oh why, would they be so foolish?! Could it be that they weren’t actually worried at all and that Christie is just making a big deal out of it now for the home viewer?

Anyway, they put the bomb in the back seat. So they were driving to the disposal site. But apparently, the road they were driving on was not perfect. They hit a pothole, which shook the car. And the bomb… did not go off. But then Christie and his companion started to laugh. They must have laughed for ten minutes. According to him, it was because of the tension. I’m figuring it was because they were both wasted from all the speed and alcohol they were on.

But what’s most amazing is what happened next: nothing. That was the end of the story. Here’s a quick recap of the story: these two guys dispose of an nonfunctional bomb and nothing went wrong. It’s kind of like someone telling you the story, “I was thinking of flying from New Jersey to San Francisco on 9/11 — I could have been on Flight 93!” You could have been. But you weren’t. I would certainly accept such nonsense in a private conversation, but how is that kind of thing considered good television?

I don’t think that the problem is George Christie who is a good raconteur and doubtless has been through some interesting things. But the producers have to fill up time. Soon they will have him down to relating traffic accidents he saw while driving down the freeway. It’s all about cost. And the sad thing is that our civilization can’t see that there is nothing interesting on display. It is “true” and therefore not boring.

Greenwald on “Being a Muslim Is a Choice!”

Glenn Greenwald

  1. People from every race, all over the world, convert into Judaism. They’re as Jewish as any other Jew, even though they obviously keep the race into which they were born. Beyond that, there are people born into Judaism from different races all over the world, such as Ethiopian Jews. Beyond that, whether to observe the religious dictates of Judaism is a choice which every person makes.

    So it’s wildly simplistic, at best, to describe “Jewish” as a race which one cannot and does not choose.

  2. Although it’s not a perfect equivalency, the designation “Muslim” has very similar attributes to the ones you’re ascribing to “Jews.” Countless people all over the world self-identify as “Muslim” even though they have little to no adherence to the tenets of Islam. They mean it as a cultural signifier or representative of their heritage: the community and culture into which they were born, very similar to the way some non-religious people still identify as “Jewish”: as a cultural or ethnic signifier.

    Just as German Jews could not have chosen to become non-Jewish in the eyes of many, so, too, are Muslims incapable of becoming non-Muslim in the eyes of many. No matter their belief system, they retain their names, their appearance, their heritage and other attributes which bigots associate with being Muslim — just as was true of Jews.

    In sum, maligning “Muslims” is about more than maligning the doctrine of Islam, just as maligning “Jews” has always been about more than maligning the doctrine of Judaism.

  3. The argument you’re implicitly making — that it’s better to discriminate against people for choices they make than in-born attributes — is one very familiar to LGBT people, since that’s the argument long used to justify anti-gay discrimination (“it’s a choice”).

    But if being LGBT were actually a choice… would that make discrimination against LGBT people more justifiable? I don’t think so and never did. Whether being LGBT is a choice or not never mattered to me in the slightest in demonstrating that it was wrong to discriminate against them.

  4. Finally, purely for the sake of argument, let’s indulge this tendentious distinction you’re making between Jews (not a choice) and Muslims (a choice):

    Suppose the anti-Jewish speakers in my hypotheticals had said at the end: “by the way, by ‘Jew,’ I don’t mean people who were born into this group through no choice/fault of their own; I simply mean ‘those who are adherents to the religion known as Judaism.’ That is who I intend to malign and want to ban from public office.”

    Would that really be acceptable to you?

—Glenn Greenwald
The Anti-Muslim Controversies of the Last Week, Reimagined

Islamophobe Isn’t a Bigot — Just Asking Questions!

Ahmed MohamedEarlier this week, I was reading Belle Waring’s hilarious take down of Richard Dawkins and the other Islamophobes about the whole Ahmed Mohamed clock incident, When a Policeman Asks You for a Correct Philosophy of Time, You Give It. I was going to post it as a quote. But then I came upon something she mentioned[1] from someone in the Dawkins crowd. And it is really telling because I’ve heard this kind of argumentation for my entire life. It is designed to sound open-minded, but as I will discuss, it is just the opposite. In fact, Fox News uses this same exact propaganda tool all the time:

Because, is it possible, that maybe, just maybe, this was actually a hoax bomb? A silly prank that was taken the wrong way? That the media then ran with, and everyone else got carried away? Maybe there wasn’t even any racial or religious bias on the parts of the teachers and police.

I don’t know any of these things. But I’m intellectually mature enough to admit I don’t know, and to also be OK with that. I don’t feel a need to take the first exit to conclusionville. But I do like to find facts where I can, and prefer to let them lead me to conclusions, rather than a knee jerk judgement based on a headline or sound bite.

Got that? He just doesn’t know. He’s not saying that anything nefarious was going on. He’s just asking questions. It just so happens that this is exactly what the slightly more educated Birthers say, “I don’t know where Obama was born; I’m just asking questions.” Similarly, James Inhofe doesn’t know that global warming is a hoax. He too is just asking questions. This is even true of Holocaust deniers. Obviously, none of this is true of the Little Brains. But anyone with the slightest intellectual sophistication grabs onto the “just asking questions” rhetoric.

Here’s what you need to know about this: there are literally an infinite number of questions that can be asked. The questions that you ask say a great deal about you. So this guy is just asking questions, because he can’t trust the news. If it had been news about a tsunami or a vote in Congress, well, then it wouldn’t occur to him to ask questions or even remember that he can’t trust the news. It’s sad. The guy is a classic example of what I call a subgenius: someone smart, but not incredibly smart, and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

The main purpose of his article is to try to show — in a very very Alex Jones kind of way — that Mohamed did not build the clock. Mostly, his point is that it uses old electronics parts. As I noted when I first discussed it: I have done the same thing. I had an electronics lab filled with equipment. I assume Mohamed had old bits of electronics that could be scavenged. Not that it matters. Arguing with this guy would be exactly like arguing with 9/11 Truthers.

This spectacle is hilarious in a certain way. There are people who are classic Islamophobes: people who fear, hate, and distrust Muslims. But like all bigots, they don’t see themselves as bigots. So they come up with elaborate ways to justify their bigotry. But most of all, they are just open-minded. They are just asking questions.

[1] The site is currently down, but it is: clock | Tech Voice – Artvoice. Whether this is because of bad luck, a DDoS attack, or simply because there are lots of people like Richard Dawkins who just can’t get enough of this kind of thing, I can’t say. Here’s a copy: Google cache.

What the GOP Offers to Its Base: Bigotry

Jonathan ChaitSo there has been this whole dust-up about Ben Carson saying that a Muslim shouldn’t be president because, “I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country.” And then Ted Cruz — Truest Defender of the Constitution™ — pointed out that there is no “religious test” for holding public office. As Martin Longman pointed out, this is true but hardly relevant: Carson wasn’t saying that Muslim’s shouldn’t have a legal right to be president — just that they shouldn’t be president in the same way that Nazis shouldn’t be president. And wouldn’t Ted Cruz agree with that vile comparison? I think he would.

PM Carpenter made a wonderful point about this. Carson also said, “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.” This is the very definition of bigotry: lumping all Muslims together. But this is also a mighty ironic thing coming from a guy who wears his Christianity on his political sleeve. And it’s not just him. All Republicans of recent years have gone out of their way to say that their Iron Age religious beliefs would be the basis of their presidencies.

Kevin D WilliamsonBut as I’ve written about too many times to list, modern American Christianity — and conservative Christianity most of all — is all about cultural signifying. There isn’t much theology going on. It is about Christianity being what the Good Guys believe in. And as such, it is tribal. And that’s why it is totally okay to dump all over Muslims, even if Islam and Christianity aren’t that different theologically. But it is more than that. Hatred of Muslims is pretty much the same as hatred of Mexicans. The Republican Party has the power it has because of deep-seated bigotry on the part of much of its base of voters.

Jonathan Chait wrote an excellent article Monday morning, How Conservatives Explain Away Republican Islamophobia. He mentioned several examples of Republicans making the argument that all this bigotry doesn’t say anything about their party. It’s really annoying, actually. I have no doubt whatsoever that people like Kevin Williamson aren’t personally against Muslims. But they are all firm supporters of the Republican Party as it is. And that is a party that depends upon courting these bigots with subtle and not-so-subtle rhetoric.

As Rick Santorum said about the man who wanted us to do something about the problem of Muslims in this country, “People are entitled to their opinions. We have a First Amendment for a reason.” That’s very much like Ted Cruz’s statement about the religious test: no one questions the man’s right to say those things. The question is whether Republicans are willing to correct this kind of vile thinking. And they aren’t. And the reason they aren’t is the same reason that so much of the base believes this nonsense: the Republican Party has spent decades pushing it, because it is the only way to get more than 50% of the country to vote for its vile economic policies.

Over the weekend, Frank Rich wrote, The Importance of Donald Trump. He summed it up well:

Republican potentates can’t fight back against [Trump] because the party’s base has his back. He’s ensnared the GOP Establishment in a classic Catch-22: It wants Trump voters — it can’t win elections without them — but doesn’t want Trump calling attention to what those voters actually believe… The candidates who have gone after Trump with the greatest gusto — Graham, Paul, Carly Fiorina, Jindal, George Pataki — have been so low in the polls they had nothing to lose… The others were painfully slow to challenge him. That cowardice was foretold in June when most of the presidential field waited days to take a stand against the Confederate flag following the Charleston massacre. If they’re afraid to come out against slavery a century after Appomattox…

All that Trump shows is that for most of the Republican base, the issue is just bigotry and a vague anger at the world. It isn’t about all the “great” ideas that the Republican Party has for solving America’s problems.

Anniversary Post: Black Friday 1869

GoldOn this day in 1869, gold prices plummeted in what was know as one of at least a dozen Black Fridays. What was happening was that two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, were trying to corner the gold market. Following the Civil War, the US government was badly in debt. It was thought that the government would eventually have to pay this back with gold. So Gould and Fisk figured they could make a mint if they cornered the market. They succeeded at first, but were ultimately defeated when the Grant administration flooded the market with gold. Prices went back down within minutes of the news.

This was one of many scandals during the Grant administration — most of all because Grant’s brother-in-law was in on the whole thing and secretly encouraging Grant not to sell any gold. He also got Grant to appoint Daniel Butterfield as assistant Treasurer — where he acted as a mole for Gould and Fisk. I’m not actually that interested in any this. What most interests me is how easy it was for a small group of men to monkey with the price of gold. And if it weren’t for the government stepping in, they would have succeeded at their dastardly plan.

What I still don’t understand is why so many libertarian friends of mine have been so hung up on the idea of the gold standard. Basing a currency on gold does not magically fix the problem of inflation. In fact, inflation has been far less of a problem since we stopped basing our currency on it than it was before. Regardless, gold prices fluctuate. There is nothing special about it. I think the appeal of it is simply based upon the fact that these libertarians really don’t have a clue as to how money actually works.