Masters of Deceit

JonesTown-02

What got my attention was a dribble of “suggested posts” on my Facebook time line. They are from the Church of Scientology and are something like these:

Scientology-01

Scientology-02

Scientology-04

Scientology-05

Scientology-03

I have some previous acquaintance with the Church of Scientology, so the term “Going Clear” wasn’t strange. “Going clear” is a term used in Scientology to mean going through their auditing process and clearing yourself of whatever Scientology means for you to clear yourself of. Something like twenty years ago a friend in Dallas told of his encounter with a Scientology recruiter. I contacted him to confirm my recollections. He did not recall the telling, but back then he said the recruiter told him he could go clear for only $16,000. My friend now reminds me people are paying much more.

As it is, Going Clear is a documentary that aired on HBO directed by Alex Gibney. This has been going on for several weeks, at least one post per day, and it indicates some concern on the part of the Church of Scientology. The assumption is that Facebook charges real money for these “suggested posts,” so the CoS is going to some expense to make sure I know that Gibney is a propagandist and a liar. For ample reason I am not surprised the CoS is going to this expense.

Going Clear is highly critical of the CoS, and those people react typically in this fashion when anybody seeks to shine unflattering light on their doings, such doings characteristically done in their own recesses and not very complimentary to their corporate image. For example:

Gibney, Wright, and the former Scientologists who appeared in the film told a post-screening question-and-answer session that they hoped the film would raise public awareness about the alleged abuses committed by the Church of Scientology, and would prompt the media and law enforcement agencies to investigate further. Gibney later called in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece for Scientology’s tax exemption to be revoked in the light of the allegations of abuse documented in the film.

The “Wright” mentioned in the above is Lawrence Wright, author of the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. The CoS response to the documentary has been typical. The Facebook postings are linked to pages aimed at heaping scorn on Gibney. It’s a time-worn tactic of the CoS, lacking little factual defense:

Philip Alexander Gibney, son of journalist Frank Gibney whose career was tainted by his secret ties to the CIA in writing a book on a Russian spy, is an American documentary film producer and director. Alex Gibney churns out films that have been increasingly criticized for going for the cheap buck via sensationalism. Whether the subject is Scientology in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief or the late Apple founder Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, the common criticism is that he specializes in one-sided hatchet jobs. In Going Clear, Gibney produced a film on a new religion that he never would have produced about the Jewish faith. Imagine if one produced a documentary about Jews. Instead of interviewing rabbis, Jewish leaders and scholars and everyday members of the faith, it uses as its sources and interview subjects outspoken anti-Semitic bigots who sue synagogues, operate anti-Semitic blogs and regularly express to the media hatred toward Judaism. That is effectively what Alex Gibney did. Click here to learn more and to watch the videos produced by the Church of Scientology.

This churned my interest, and my response was to obtain a Kindle edition. I completed reading it this week, finding much previously unknown to me. I will skim the contents, pulling out quotes of interest. You should see the video, read the book.

A central character is Paul Haggis:

Paul Edward Haggis (born March 10, 1953) is a Canadianscreenwriter, producer, and director. He is best known as screenwriter and producer for consecutive Best Picture Oscar winners, 2004’s Million Dollar Baby and 2005’s Crash, the latter of which he also directed.

Haggis had a chance encounter with a Scientology recruiter on a London, Ontario, street and subsequently signed on for the long stretch. He was an aspiring film maker at the time, and it’s likely his early success traces to this encounter. Haggis met Scientology in 1975, and by 2008 he had risen to the upper ranks—all the while his career soared. Came the debacle of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, and Haggis found himself on opposite sides of the issue with official statements from the CoS. A slur directed toward a waiter (likely homosexual) got the ire of Haggis and prominent Scientologist John Travolta, triggering a very public row with Tommy Davis, chief spokesperson for the CoS and also son of Scientologist and noted Hollywood actress Anne Archer.

Anne Archer in Patriot Games

Anne Archer in Patriot Games

Ultimately Haggis left the CoS, and unloaded heavily. Interestingly, despite his decades association with the CoS and his high position, he learned of the darkest side of the CoS only after his interchange with Davis.

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard is, of course, central to the story. L. Ron Hubbard parlayed an unsuccessful career in the wartime Navy into his legend as a Naval hero and his own self doubts and mental problems into a philosophy that was to morph into Dianetics and finally into Scientology. Before World War Two and afterwards Hubbard was a prolific and successful writer of pulp fiction and rose to prominence in the world of science fiction. It was with his science fiction writer friends he first hinted at his true calling:

Until now, religion had played little or no part in his life or his thought— except, perhaps, as it was reflected in the cynical remark he is reported to have made on a number of occasions, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 100). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

His acquaintances of the time noted his darker nature:

Sara repeatedly refused Ron’s entreaties to marry him, but he threatened to kill himself unless she relented. She still saw him as a broken war hero whom she could mend. Finally, she said, “All right, I’ll marry you, if that’s going to save you.” They awakened a minister in Chestertown, Maryland, on August 10, 1946. The minister’s wife and housekeeper served as witnesses to the wedding. The news ricocheted among Hubbard’s science-fiction colleagues. “I suppose Polly was tiresome about not giving him his divorce so he could marry six other gals who were all hot & moist over him,” one of Hubbard’s writer friends, L. Sprague de Camp, wrote to the Heinleins. (In fact, Polly didn’t learn of the marriage till the following year, when she read about it in the newspapers.) “How many girls is a man entitled to in one lifetime, anyway?” de Camp fumed. “Maybe he should be reincarnated as a rabbit.”

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 59). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Heinlein” is science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. L. Sprague de Camp and his wife Catherine are notable for taking on and continuing the Conan the Barbarian character from the late Robert Howard. At a meeting in Dallas Catherine told members of the North Texas Skeptics that Hubbard was the most evil person she had ever met.

That winter, they moved into a lighthouse on a frozen lake in the Poconos near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. It was an unsettling time for Sara; they were isolated, and Ron had a .45 pistol that he would fire randomly. Late one night, while she was in bed and Ron was typing, he hit her across the face with the pistol. He told her that she had been smiling in her sleep, so she must have been thinking about someone else.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 60). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The history of the CoS can be viewed in three phases:

  • Sea Org
  • Hubbard’s Decline
  • Under Miscavige

Sea Org

The Sea Org phase may be the most curious. Encountering legal troubles during the CoS’s early times, Hubbard purchased and outfitted three ships and staffed them with amateur crews of Scientologists:

Neither the public nor the celebrity tiers of Scientology could exist without the third level of membership— the church’s clergy, called the Sea Organization, or Sea Org, in Scientology jargon. It is an artifact of the private navy that Hubbard commanded during a decade when he was running the church while on the high seas.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Incredibly, none of these vessels was lost at sea despite some harrowing episodes with weather and engineered malfeasance. These early argonauts became the core of Scientology when it beached at the end of this tumultuous period. These ships stayed away from American ports, keeping clear of a threatening subpoena authority. Even so they frequently met trouble, being kicked out of a number of Mediterranean and African ports and finding no legal refuge in others. Sea Org duty was no Carnival Cruise:

When Eltringham came aboard, she found dozens of crew members housed in the old cattle hold belowdecks, illuminated by a single lightbulb, sleeping on stained mattresses on the floor. They were dressed in black overalls, called boiler suits, and forbidden to speak to anyone outside their group. They ate using their hands from a bucket of table scraps, shoveling the food into their mouths as if they were starving.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 155). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hubbard’s decline

Hubbard finally beached in the mid 1960s A secret order instigated by him in 1973 was named “Snow White Program.” It was audacious to the extreme, and it involved massive attacks on government agencies, individuals and NGOs.

Under Mary Sue’s direction, the GO infiltrated government offices around the world, looking for damning files on the church. Within the next few years, as many as five thousand Scientologists were covertly placed in 136 government agencies worldwide.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 151). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It was a sword that cut both ways. The CoS pilfered files of great use against its enemies, but the disclosure of the operation nearly brought the organization down. Eleven Scientology executives were indicted, including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue Hubbard. She was thrown over by CoS authorities, including David Miscavige, a 21-year-old rising star in the organization. She served a year in the clink and never saw her husband again.

A tenet of Scientology is the invincibility, even the immortality, the cleansing effect gives to adherents. The truth was that Hubbard was in poor health and headed toward his inevitable conclusion.

FOR YEARS, Hubbard’s declining health was a secret known to few in the upper levels of the church. Only a handful of his closest followers were allowed to see him. He had made no clear arrangements for a successor, nor was there any open talk of it. There was an unstated belief that Operating Thetans did not grow frail or lose their mental faculties. Old age and illness were embarrassing refutations of Scientology’s core beliefs.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 224). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hubbard did not officially bequeath stewardship before his death, but the logical heirs were Pat and Annie Broeker, two close friends and next in rank. In the mean time David Miscavige had maneuvered into the position as the sole conduit to the failing leader. His move following Hubbard’s death was swift, relentless and brutal. The Broekers were caught unawares by Miscavige’s initial moves.

Miscavige told one of the other executives he didn’t want to see “any grief bullshit.” Sinar Parman, Hubbard’s former chef, arrived that morning, to help with cooking and logistics. He found Annie Broeker sitting on the floor of the cabin, with Miscavige’s wife, Shelly. Annie had obviously been crying. Meanwhile, he noticed Miscavige and Broeker in another room. “They were joking,” he recalled. “They were ecstatic. They’d never been so happy.”

That Sunday, Hubbard’s ashes were scattered in the Pacific.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 227). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Other possible successors had been purged or had fled the organization, however, leaving only the Broekers as rivals. Neither of them was a match for Miscavige. He angrily told Prince that Pat had made a fool of himself at the Palladium. Prince was surprised. Until that night in the Liberace mansion, he had been convinced that Miscavige had no interest in leading the church; now he realized that Miscavige felt compelled to remove the Broekers in order to keep Scientology from being destroyed. Whatever reservations Miscavige had had about seizing power had fallen away.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 229-230). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Soon Miscavige began to move against the Broekers. The Broekers had Hubbard’s blessing but little else. Pat Broeker thought he held a trump card in the form of an unreleased CoS documents, documents vital to the organization’s IRS qualification as a church. Little short of thuggery sorted out the matter.

Miscavige concentrated his attention on Annie. He took her to a separate room and interrogated her as a detective barred the door, preventing her husband from seeing her. Eventually, Annie admitted that Pat kept a storage locker in nearby Paso Robles, and she coughed up the key. Rathbun’s team found more files, but not what they wanted. Rathbun eventually came to the conclusion that there were no further OT levels— no OT IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV— it was all a bluff on Broeker’s part, a lie that the church would have to live with, since the levels had been so publicly announced. 8

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 238). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

End note 8 reads, “None of the promised levels has ever been released.”

Under Miscavige

Under Miscavige Scientology regained its footing and successfully exploited its Hollywood connections. Hubbard had early seen Hollywood as key. As a writer he worked speculation scripts and obtained links to the industry. The break came with the rising career of actor John Travolta.

A more insecure crowd you will never find outside stage and screen performers. What they sell is not just their talent but their persona. If somebody does not get a role, it’s not his talent that’s been rejected. It’s him. He’s been rejected as a person. The promise of Scientology has great appeal to this hoard of talented individuals elbowing for limited exposure. Such was Travolta when he went for the role of Vinnie Barbarino in the comedy series  Welcome Back, Kotter. A host of Scientologists concentrated their minds toward willing his success, and his faith in Scientology was reinforced by the outcome. Saturday Night Fever cemented his status as a first rate talent, for which his own dedication and energy should receive the real credit.

Hubbard doubled down with the career of Tom Cruise, another convert. When Cruise clinched the upper rung in Hollywood stardom with Top Gun there was no looking back. Travolta and Cruise have carried the load for Scientology in Hollywood ever since.

From Top Gun

From Top Gun

Miscavige and Cruise became close, and it’s likely some of the leader’s assertiveness rubbed off. This supposedly migrated into the Cruise’s character in A Few Good Men.

He modeled his determined naval-officer hero in A Few Good Men on Miscavige, a fact that the church leader liked to brag about.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 258). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sailing has not been ripple-free for Scientology in the years since. Legal and verbal attacks on Scientology have been routinely met with massive retaliation. Cartoonist Prasad Golla and I parodied these attacks as fearsome even to the late Osama bin Laden:

osama

At a lower level, personal abuses, especially against members of the CoS have shattered the esteem of the organization. The death of Lisa McPherson was notorious and particularly damaging.

Then, on December 5, 1995, a Scientologist named Lisa McPherson died following a mental breakdown. She had rear-ended a boat that was being towed in downtown Clearwater, Florida, near the church’s spiritual headquarters. When paramedics arrived, she stripped off her clothes and wandered naked down the street. She said she needed help and was taken to a nearby hospital. Soon afterward, a delegation of ten Scientologists arrived at the hospital and persuaded McPherson to check out, against doctors’ advice. McPherson spent the next seventeen days under guard in room 174 of the Fort Harrison Hotel.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 291-292). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

McPherson died without ever receiving subsequent medical treatment. Malpractice was compounded by the submission of perjured statements to police.

Rathbun discovered that church officials in Clearwater had already lied in two sworn statements to the police, claiming that McPherson hadn’t been subjected to an Introspection Rundown. The church’s official response, under Rathbun’s direction, was to continue to lie, stating that McPherson had been at the church’s Fort Harrison Hotel only for “rest and relaxation” and there was nothing unusual about her stay.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 293). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Rathbun is Mark Rathbun, who rose to become the chief enforcer prior to bolting the organization. The McPherson case was a devastating blow to the image of the CoS. The publicity was impossible to escape.

She had suffered a pulmonary embolism on the way to the hospital. In the eyes of the world press, Scientology had murdered Lisa McPherson. She was one of nine Scientologists who had died under mysterious circumstances at the Clearwater facility.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 293). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Not the least of the Scientology scandal can be laid at the feet of new director David Miscavige. His bizarre behavior prior to taking over was compounded as his power and megalomania grew. A few excerpts from Wright’s book elaborate:

According to both men, the screen door suddenly flew open and Miscavige came out, wearing a terry-cloth bathrobe. According to Rathbun and Rinder, Miscavige hit Rinder in the face and stomach, then grabbed him around the neck and slammed him into a tree. Rinder fell into the ivy, where Miscavige continued kicking him several times. 5

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 294-295). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

End note 5 points to the following: “The church denies that Miscavige has abused any members of the church, saying that the abuse claims have been propagated by a ‘group of vociferous anti-Scientologists.’”

Then, according to Rathbun, out of nowhere, Miscavige grabbed him by the throat and slammed his head against the steel wall. 5 Rathbun blacked out for a moment. He wasn’t hurt, but the terms had changed.

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 330). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

End note 5 reads “As previously noted, the church denies all allegations of abuse by Miscavige.”

I have cited only the two instances in the book involving Miscavige and also the term “slammed.” When these limitations are lifted the search results are embarrassingly fruitful.

Paul Haggis’s break with the CoS may be the catalyst for the most recent public turmoil. Scientology was already back into notoriety with the eye-popping antics of its notable public face, Tom Cruise. His couch-jumping episode on the Oprah Winfrey Show in May 2005 gave millions a look at what may lie beneath the surface. The supposed non-position the CoS took on Proposition 8 tilted the scales.

As Lawrence Wright was preparing his profile on Paul Haggis for The New Yorker in 2010 he requested an interview with Tommy Davis. This culminated in a meeting in Manhattan. Davis, along with his wife Jessica Feshbach and four CoS attorneys came. The Scientologists brought to the table, literally, 48 binders of documentation to address the 971 questions the New Yorker fact checkers wanted to address.

The concluding issue of the day-long session was the military record of founder L. Ron Hubbard. The upshot of this was that the story propagated about Hubbard’s military career and heroism was bogus. Awards for valor claimed for Hubbard were never awarded to him, principally because the awards named have never been used by the United States military. Nonetheless, Davis presented a copy of Hubbard’s Notice of Separation from the Navy, such document apparently being a forgery. In his book Wright provides links to the forgery and the copy obtained from the Navy:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/02/l-ron-hubbard-leaves-the-navy.html

I read Going Clear with notions already formed about Scientology and the supposed church. These notions have been formed by early encounters back in the 1960s. There was something not right with the attitude of Scientologists, and Scientology’s basis was definitely out of kilter, being founded on premises that were at variance with known facts. I know from the McPherson case and other public exposure that the CoS has used and still does use unethical and even physically rough tactics. I was not aware of the depth of the rot until I read this book.

A central question is what attracts otherwise sensible people to Scientology? The supposed reinforcement of self esteem offered to people who live by their image is perhaps understandable. What of the others? Are there so many with a level of self doubt such that they would surrender their volition to strangers—avaricious strangers at that? Who would tolerate the kind of abuse heaped upon so many of the Scientology rank and file, leaders, as well, for some imagined reward? It is a thing I could never find in myself. It’s possible I’m so full of my own worth that I would never consider giving up any part of my self control and certainly not the amount of personal dignity portrayed in this book. I’m concerned I would put up with about five seconds of what these people went through before somebody died.

When attacked with claims of transgressions, the CoS typically responds by attacking the claimant. This response I have found in my experience to be characteristic of somebody with dark matter to hide. Had they a legitimate case, I would expect them to respond with the facts, clear and documented. Scientology has not gained a round in this latest episode.

A defense employed by the CoS is that Scientology is not a cult, but is a religion, just like the Catholic Church is a religion. To this I agree, unfortunately for the Catholic Church. My take has always been that the difference between the Church of Scientology and a money-grubbing cult is difficult to discern.

Readers should be cautioned that I approach this issue with a decades-long aversion to religion of all kinds. Defenders of Scientology will find no comfort in this. In a family discussion of the matter earlier this week the wife and I learned we both had the same impression. The closest thing to the Church of Scientology without actually being the Church of Scientology has been the People’s Temple, headed by the late Jim Jones. The comparison was hard to escape.

Bad Movie of the Week

This is bad, to be sure. Before you see it, you need to see the prequel. King Kong was released by RKO in 1933. This is almost a remake. It’s Mighty Joe Young from 1949, also from RKO. When the film opened in the local theater two blocks from my house I was unable to see it. It’s possible my parents considered it too scary for my young mind. I’m just now watching it for the first time from a DVD I recorded off Turner Classic Movies. I think I know now why my parents wouldn’t let me see it before. They wanted to spend the ticket price on something else.

The movie opens in “darkest Africa.” Two hunters are bringing something in a basket from out of the woods. They pass by the farm of John Young (Regis Toomey). Mr. Young is not home, but his little daughter Jill (Lora Lee Michelis. She is fascinated by what the men have in the basket, and she scrounges up cash and collectibles, including her father’s honking big flashlight, and exchanges all for the contents of the basket. It’s a baby gorilla. She names him Joe.

MightyJoe-01

Twelve years later an American showman and his crew arrive on the scene. Max O’Harra (Robert Armstrong) is collecting animals and made-up adventure stories for his night club act back in America. These days that activity would be known as poaching. He has brought along a cowboy named Gregg (Ben Johnson) and his merry band of rough riders. They have amassed a collection of ferocious lions and are preparing to call it a done deal, when a horrifying creature emerges from the brush and attacks the lion cages. It’s Joe Young, now grown up. In fact, grown up more than any gorilla would expect to grow. This is never explained in the movie.

MightyJoe-02

Gregg launches his rough riders to rope and hog tie the mighty ape, but to no avail. He is too big and powerful for the lot of them.

MightyJoe-03

Just when Joe is about to wreak total annihilation, another apparition emerges from the bush. It’s Jill (Terry Moore), almost grown up and looking pretty good.

MightyJoe-04

Only she can squelch Joe’s rampage, as she shows remarkable control over the huge beast.

MightyJoe-05

O’Hara is quick to send handsome and viral Gregg to work his charms on Jill, now orphaned and in total charge of the Young farm holdings, and Joe. O’Hara is quick with a contract, and he shortly has Jill and Joe live on stage at his African Safari nightclub.

MightyJoe-06

Before a nightclub audience Joe impresses the masses with marvelous feats of strength.

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Wait! There’s a plot. Something has got to happen. See the prequel. Joe goes berserk. Some rowdy customers ply him with booze, and he breaks out of his cage in the basement. He then proceeds to invoke mayhem and destroys the nightclub and possibly some of the patrons. In a totally symbolic scene we see Mighty Joe Young pulling down the columns supporting the Philistine temple, straight out of the Bible.

MightyJoe-08

Too bad for Joe. He is condemned to die. But O’Hara shows humanity (for once). He hatches a plan to spring Joe and ship him back to Africa. Police guards are decoyed and Jill works the lock to Joe’s new and improved cage.

MightyJoe-09

Much is made of the escape sequence. It’s a story unto itself. It climaxes when the party ferreting Joe away in the night in a stolen truck encounters a children’s home on fire. Joe rescues a baby from the disintegrating structure and becomes a hero, forevermore exempt from execution.

MightyJoe-10

Gregg and Jill send home movies from Africa back to O’Hara. Joe waves at the camera.

MightyJoe-11

If this looks a lot like King Kong, there’s a reason. Both were produced by the same creators. Ruth Rose participated in writing both. Ernest B. Schoedsack was co-director of King Kong, and he also directed Mighty Joe Young. You get the idea the creators of King Kong got together 16 years later and said, “That was a lot of fun. Let’s do it again and make some more money.” There is one critical difference. Legendary animation artist  Ray Harryhausen was available to energize the phony Joe Young. More recently readers of this blog have seen other of his works, including the lizard creature from 20 Million Miles to Earth. You have not seen the last of him.

Keep reading.

What Went Wrong

Duggars-01

“So I told you, ‘Whatever you do, don’t let Justice Kennedy watch the Duggars on TV.’ So what did you do? Hey! What did you do? I was in the office, and Justice Kennedy came in, and he told me, ‘I was getting ready to decide on this marriage equality case, and I was just flipping through the channels and came across this weird TV show. And it was about this wacko family, and you won’t believe what they do.’ See? See what you did?”

All You Need Is Love

beatles-all-you-need-is-love-650-430

It’s a song:

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

No, love is not all you need. If this were all about love we would not be having this discussion. Regrettably that’s not how it’s being sold. Full disclosure—I’ve been giving money to the Democratic Party. I know. I’ll go to Hell, but I can’t help myself. Unfortunately, when you give money to a political party, which the Democrats resemble, you will never again be lonely. I get emails. Did I mention I get emails? Here is a sample:

Love won.

To

John Blanton

Followed by a link to a page that asks me to donate more money.

OK, love won.

No, it did not. What won was equal treatment under the law. Fortunately for all of us, the United States Constitution does not recognize love. You think otherwise, then consider the consequences. The Constitution would also be energized to recognize hate. Let’s leave that stuff where it belongs.

Not having reviewed the arguments in this case, my take is the 14th Amendment applies, specifically the first section:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Somewhere in there is the idea that all persons need to be treated equally under the law. This now includes laws, state laws, regarding marriage. States from the get-go decided they needed to get involved in people’s marriages. There were issues of who is financially responsible for children issuing from sexual unions, who gets what when somebody dies, and finally some quirks of the 20th century.

Came Social Security, and people earning money taxable with a W-2 form needed to pay into the system. They received the benefits. Then it was decided the women married to the men earning this money should share in the benefits. This was a time when men worked, and women did not. A little chuckle here. And it was decided that men who did not work should share in the benefits earned by the woman. You can see this was getting complicated.

Anyhow, none of these benefits accrued unless there was a marriage. Get it. It now becomes important to be married. Couples living together, even producing babies, do not accrue these Social Security benefits.

There are other benefits obtained by marriage, including the ability to adopt children, insurance coverage, visitation rights in a medical facility, the right to refuse to testify in court. Some couples did not receive these rights. Some couples were denied the legal advantages offered by marriage. These were couples of the same sex.

I had fun with this seven years ago when it began to bubble up, particularly with respect to the famous Proposition 8 in California. I challenged some of the obviously silly arguments. One was “Homosexuals are not allowed to get married.” Not true, of course. Homosexuals were allowed to marry, provided they married somebody of the opposite sex. And love had nothing to do with it.

We come back to whether love is all you need. It isn’t. People have always been able to obtain the legal benefits of marriage in the absence of love. People who didn’t like each other have been getting married for thousands of years:

Charlemagne wished one of his sons to marry one of Offa’s daughters. Here we have an important proof of the esteem in which the Englishman was held. Offa stipulated that his son must simultaneously marry a daughter of Charlemagne. The founder of the Holy Roman Empire appeared at first incensed at this assumption of equality, but after a while he found it expedient to renew his friendship with Offa.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 1290-1293). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Yes, tell me again that love is all you need.

No, what you need is financial security, plus equal treatment under the law. And that is what a segment of the population has obtained this week. That said, this is not the limit of my joy. Happy as I am for these newly-entitled couples, my greatest joy is the look on Ted Cruz’s face. That is priceless.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

As promised, here is my French Foreign Legion joke.

So this man joins the French Foreign Legion, and of course he gets posted to this fort out in the desert. And everything is OK. For a while.

The problem is, there are no women here. He begins to get a bit of an edge. Finally he can stand it no longer, and he corners a buddy of his. “What’s the deal here, Mate?” he asks. What does a guy do for a little pookie around here.

His buddy starts to explain. “Well, out back of the fort we keep this donkey, and …”

The guy doesn’t want to hear any more. He says forget it and walks off. No good. But the itch won’t go away. One evening he approaches his buddy again and tells him he can’t stand it any longer. Is the donkey available tonight?

The buddy tells him the donkey is available right now, and the guy says thanks and heads off behind the fort.

There’s stands the donkey tied up, and they guy gets right too it and starts humping the donkey. But he hears some sniggering behind him, and he looks back to see the other Legionnaires standing there looking at him and trying to suppress some awful grins.

“What’s the matter?” the guy asks. “I was told I could use the donkey tonight.”

One of the Legionnaires finally stops giggling and steps forward. “You’re suppose to ride the donkey into town and get some pookie.

Governor Haw Haw

AbbottCostelloHollywood-07

This has been an unusual day. Stuff was popping on the news before I even had my orange juice. Then something came along that caught my attention. The Governor of Texas released the following:

Governor Abbott Statement On Supreme Court Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage

Friday, June 26, 2015  •  Austin, Texas  •  Press Release

Governor Greg Abbott today released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling:

“The Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter and has become an unelected nine-member legislature. Five Justices on the Supreme Court have imposed on the entire country their personal views on an issue that the Constitution and the Court’s previous decisions reserve to the people of the States.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected. No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.

“The Texas Constitution guarantees that ‘[n]o human authority ought, in any case whatsoever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion.’ The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion; and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, combined with the newly enacted Pastor Protection Act, provide robust legal protections to Texans whose faith commands them to adhere to the traditional understanding of marriage.

“As I have done in the past, I will continue to defend the religious liberties of all Texans—including those whose conscience dictates that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. Later today, I will be issuing a directive to state agencies instructing them to prioritize the protection of Texans’ religious liberties.”

Now, that’s right cheesy. Even for Texas. Let me break it down.

The Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter and has become an unelected nine-member legislature.

The Supreme Court has done what it is constitutionally required to do.

Five Justices on the Supreme Court have imposed on the entire country their personal views on an issue that the Constitution and the Court’s previous decisions reserve to the people of the States.

The justices of the Supreme Court took a vote. The split was five to four. The Governor’s side lost.

Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected.

Always has been, always will be. That’s the law of the land.

No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.

I’m guessing this means that if you are a Texan, and you are a Catholic priest, and your religion requires you to remain single, you don’t have to get married. That’s going to come as a great relief to a slew of people in this state.

Let’s skip on down to something with some meat:

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion; and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, combined with the newly enacted Pastor Protection Act, provide robust legal protections to Texans whose faith commands them to adhere to the traditional understanding of marriage.

Yes, let’s take a look at that “Pastor Protection Act:”

Republicans, who control the Legislature and haven’t lost a statewide office since 1994, say the bill will keep church elders from being sued for refusing to perform weddings that clash with “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

This was passed during the most recently concluded Texas legislative session. And what a gem of vacuous polemic it is. It says the State of Texas will protect pastors (church elders) in the event they don’t feel up to performing a wedding—a protection that’s been in the Constitution of the United States for over 200 years. What took so long for the echo to reach all the way down to Austin?

Finally:

Later today, I will be issuing a directive to state agencies instructing them to prioritize the protection of Texans’ religious liberties.

That does not say everything the Governor means. What the Governor means but does not say is that it’s OK if a county clerk does not feel up to issuing a marriage license. If somebody makes trouble over this, the Governor has their back. He has their back, that is, right up to the time an applicant gets turned down because the clerk’s religious convictions object to the sexual orientation of the applicants.

The fact is that from this day forward if a couple of guys walk up to the window in the county clerk’s office and apply for a marriage license, and the clerk says something like “We don’t serve fags here,” then the next thing that’s going to happen is the clerk is going to get a notice from an ACLU lawyer ordering him to appear before a federal judge and explain why he feels compelled to violate the law. The clerk will wave the paper he received from the Governor, and the ACLU lawyer is going to say, “Thanks, but I already have several copies back at my office.”

What I like best about the Governor’s proclamation is the following snippet: “I will continue to defend the religious liberties of all Texans…” Yes, the Governor of Texas will defend the religious liberty of any Texan whose religious convictions are offended by having to issue a vehicle registration license plate number ending in the numeral 1.

That’s silly. Yes it is. What kind of religious conviction is offended by the numeral 1? Any number I can name. Give me five minutes, and I can conjure five religious faiths that object to numbers ending in 1. Why do I say I can do this? I can do this because that’s the way all religions are created. Somebody makes them up out of thin air. At the base that’s all religion is. It’s some stuff that people made up.

Don’t believe me? Think religion is serious business? Guess again. I’m in the process of reading Going Clear. It’s a book by Lawrence Wright, and it’s about the founding and the workings of the Church of Scientology. Want to see a made up religion? Here it is, brother, here it is:

Until now, religion had played little or no part in his life or his thought— except, perhaps, as it was reflected in the cynical remark he is reported to have made on a number of occasions, “I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is.”

Wright, Lawrence (2013-01-17). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (p. 100). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And he did, and that was where the money was. Friends of mine knew L. Ron Hubbard and watched the process as he created a religion out of thin air. Just as some people did in the Eastern Mediterranean three thousand years ago.

Scientologists no longer have L. Ron Hubbard. Texas still has Governor Haw Haw.

Soft Underbelly

Yes, there is. America does have a soft underbelly. And it’s here:

BALTIMORE — The city of Baltimore has seen a sharp spike in violence since the protests and looting after Freddie Gray died last month of injuries suffered in police custody.

Murders are up. But arrests are down.

Many wonder when this cycle will end.

Last night, more street violence in Baltimore. This shooting happened right in front of Dajanai Myers’ home.

“It’s not surprising anymore,” to see police tape. Or to see a body in the street. “It’s not surprising, because it happens all the time,” she said.

Even before Freddy Gray was killed in police custody Baltimore was not a pretty place to live. This was especially true in certain districts:

Another area to avoid is also the most dangerous area in Baltimore – in fact the 5th most dangerous neighborhood in the nation according to WalletPop. The North Avenue/Belair Road area is so dangerous that you stand a 1 in 7 chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime. There are about 367 violent crime incidents each year in this neighborhood. I’ve walked these streets on a number of occasions, and I can personally tell you that this area is packed with drug dealers and drug addicts who do not hesitate to assault a stranger.

Freddy Gray’s arrest did not occur near that intersection, but over three miles away. Following his death there were protests, and the protests were accompanied by rioting from the worst of the community. America surely saw the soft underbelly of our society.

There is another side of America’s soft underbelly. Here it is:

ConfederateBattleFlat-01

 

This is not in Baltimore. This is in Summerville, South Carolina. The man is not black, like Freddy Gray. He is white, like George Lincoln Rockwell:

George Lincoln Rockwell

George Lincoln Rockwell

It would appear this person, who refused to be identified, sells a product similar to what the late Mr. Rockwell peddled 50 years ago. It would appear this is a cottage industry in Summerville:

ConfederateBattleFlat-02

CNN’s Ed Lavandera met a very hostile reception when he attempted to photograph this man in Summerville selling symbols of white power. The man told Ed to get out of Summerville. The man told Ed that it was outsiders like him causing the trouble. The man followed Ed after the news crew went to another location to film the above scene, and he attempted to prevent the cameras from showing the proliferation of Confederate merchandise. He was attempting to keep the world from seeing the other side of America’s soft underbelly.

What Lies Beneath

DylannRoofConfederateFlag

I posted an item last year, an item driven by what transpired at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) that was held in National Harbor, Maryland in March the previous year. What I had to say was this:

I am impressed. Did I say “impressed?” I am really impressed. In this jaded era, blown free of purity and naivety by the relentless winds of instant communication and instant gratification, on a planet that shrinks daily to the width of a smart phone screen and with hard reality just a click away on the TV remote, I am impressed that even an ounce of mental innocence remains, let alone the buckets full that spilled at a recent gathering.

What so impressed me at the time was the cozy relationship between a major political party in this country and a sordid undercurrent in our society. I had more to say:

So, you’re a conservative guy, and you believe in racial equality to a degree, but you are concerned that white guys are being moved to the back of the bus while black people are living off welfare at your expense. Where are you going to go? If you guessed the Democratic Party you are dead wrong. The Democrats are the party of entitlement and government give-aways, and discrimination against whites, like you. You may not feel completely at home in the Republican Party either, because those guys integrated public schools over 50 years ago, and they have continually sidled up to the Democrats as they handed privilege and power to the blacks. George Lincoln Rockwell is long dead, and the American Nazi Party no longer gets much political traction in this time of renewed national pride. Also there is an awful stench attached to the Ku Klux Klan, and besides you have to wear those silly-looking hoods. But wait, there is still the Tea Party movement.

While the movement is not all about white pride and racial discrimination, it seems to be the closest safe harbor for many of the radical right element who seek the sheen of respectability. So it happened that a number of the disaffected white pride showed up at CPAC 2013 in March. This was apparent at the “Trump The Race Card” session.

What I was alluding to, perhaps too broadly, was the way the Republican Party has in recent decades come to rely on an unsavory element for its base support. Within the past week that bubble may have collapsed. Last week a member of this basest of bases acted out what has been there all along. A young man, admiring of the long-discredited Confederate battle flag, with an intense hatred of black people, entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot nine prominent members of the community to death. Then he fled. The nine killed were black. The killer stated at the time of the incident his intent was to kill black people.

Reaction from liberal sources was immediate. Reaction from conservative sources was immediate:

When news broke that a young white man had gunned down nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday night, most people quickly seemed to infer that racial animus was a likely motivation for the attack, especially once authorities began referring to it as a hate crime.

Not the cast of Fox & Friends. This morning the show brought on E.W. Jackson, a black pastor and former lieutenant governor candidate in Virginia known for referring to the gay rights movement as “a cancer” and President Obama as a “radical anti-American” and “anti-Christian.” Without mentioning the possibility that the killings were racially motivated, Jackson explained that he was worried about the fact that the attack happened at a church.

“We’re urging people wait for the facts, don’t jump to conclusions,” Jackson said. “But I’m telling you, I’m deeply concerned that this gunman chose to go into a church, because there does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our biblical views. I just think it’s something that we have to be aware of and not create an atmosphere in which people take out their violent intentions against Christians.”

That was last week. This is this week:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday threw his hat into the growing debate surrounding the Confederate battle flag.

McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Monday that the flag means “different things to different people” but it’s painful reminders mean it’s time to move on.

“There should be no confusion in anyone’s mind that as a people we’re united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us,” he said.

Debate over the flag has risen across the country recently. The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Texas can reject Confederate flag license plates. This came after a lawsuit claiming it was a violation of First Amendment rights to deny the Confederate plate. The vote came out 5 to 4.

In Charleston, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed from the state’s capitol, and state lawmakers will vote on the matter next week. Her call came after Dylan Roof allegedly killed nine people in a historic African-American church last week.

Read McConnell’s statement in full:

“The Confederate Battle Flag means different things to different people, but the fact that it continues to be a painful reminder of racial oppression to many suggests to me at least that it’s time to move beyond it, and that the time for a state to fly it has long since passed. There should be no confusion in anyone’s mind that as a people we’re united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us.”

Time to put this shameful part of our history behind us? You think? How long did it take to come to that conclusion? Where was the wisdom of this week hiding the years that conservative candidates took money, without flinching, from Earl Holt?

The head of a white supremacist group cited by accused Charleston, S.C., gunman Dylann Roof made thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to prominent Republican candidates in recent years, including three seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

These candidates were not aware of Holt’s agenda and have since distanced themselves from the money, some giving it to the church that was attacked. Senator Ted Cruz was the first to announce that donations to his campaign were being returned.

This issue is not so much whether candidates knowingly accepted money from a person with Holt’s agenda. They did not. The issue is why Holt felt the Republican Party was the right horse to get his bet. The issue is why Holt felt that his money was best spent on the Republican Party. What has the Republican Party done to merit this consideration from Earl Holt? It’s an issue the Party needs to address if it ever hopes to regain the stature it had during the days of President Eisenhower.

Unfortunately there are some without political office to gain, but still with an eye toward ratings. Unfortunately in some sense. Fortunately for me. Else I would have less to comment on:

Bill O’Reilly: “You say the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, and you believe that. For some other people who see it in a historical context, it represents bravery…You know as well as I do that it represents to some bravery in the Civil War, because the Confederates fought hard—”

“That wasn’t the confederate flag!”

“I mean you’re right historically, but in their minds, that’s what it represents. And in your mind it represents hate. And everybody should know what the two sides are believing.”

Well, yeah, Bill. That was not the national flag of the Confederate States of America. It was the battle flag Confederate troops carried when they went forward to kill American soldiers. Here’s another flag that has some history:

George Lincoln Rockwell

George Lincoln Rockwell

This photo was taken on American soil, and those are American citizens there beside it. Yes, Bill, this flag represents the bravery of soldiers of the German Wehrmacht who defended an oppressive regime, killing our soldiers in the process. It may be possible that the story behind a flag is what counts. In the case of the Confederate battle flag, the story is one of evil:

In 1948, the newly-formed segregationist Dixiecrat party adopted the flag as a symbol of resistance to the federal government. In the years that followed, the battle flag became an important part of segregationist symbolism, and was featured prominently on the 1956 redesign of Georgia’s state flag, a legislative decision that was likely at least partly a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate school two years earlier. The flag has also been used by the Ku Klux Klan, though it is not the Klan’s official flag.

Yes, Bill, this flag does have some history. Are you sure you feel comfortable with that history?

Bad Movie Wednesday

This is an uneven tale, and it bears description. It has an odd start, showing the finale of a dramatic Hollywood release, and it wanders from there into the tale of the director’s travels into America’s underbelly. It’s Sullivan’s Travels from Paramount Pictures in 1941. It stars Joel McCrea as rich and famous Hollywood director John L. Sullivan and Veronica Lake as The Girl, a blond bombshell who is never identified by name.

Of course the title is a take on the novel by Jonathan Swift. Opening scenes of this movie comprise the closing scenes of Sullivan’s latest work. Two men are fighting on a moving freight train, and both plunge off the train into a river and drown. The End. It’s supposed to be symbolic. There are disagreements. Sullivan determines to produce a film with real grit, depicting life at the bottom of American society. 1941 was the concluding year of the Great Depression in America. Release date was December of that year, the time when this country entered World War Two, and war production wiped out rampant unemployment.

Sullivan resolves to travel the back roads as a tramp and to experience the thrill of living on the edge. He initially has little success. The studio that employs him sends a motor home to tag along with backup food and medical support.

SullivansTravels-01

That doesn’t work out too well, and Sullivan hitches a ride with a kid in a souped up car, leading to a wild chase, leading to Sullivan going back to the studio and starting all over again. With only ten cents in his pocket he resumes his trek.

This time he finds work chopping wood for a lonely widow, who proceeds to adopt him as a pet and to dress him up in her late husband’s clothing. It’s obvious what she’s really after.

SullivansTravels-02

Back on the road again and attempting to obtain breakfast at a diner with only ten cents—not an unlikely proposition in those days—Sullivan meets The Girl. She is down and out, as well, but better off than the hobo. She is a washed up would-be actress, spending her dwindling resources to leave Hollywood and go back home. She purchases ham and eggs for Sullivan, and they talk.

SullivansTravels-03

Sullivan offers to repay The Girl by giving her a lift in a car he borrows from “a friend.” It’s actually his car, which he takes without telling his staff he is doing so. That gets them both thrown in jail for driving a hot car, and he has to get his friends from the studio to spring him and The Girl. Back at his Hollywood mansion she comes to appreciate how the upper half lives. After they wind up fully clothed in the pool they dry out over a nice meal. Here viewers get what they paid for, some of the best looking legs in Hollywood 73 years ago.

SullivansTravels-04

Sullivan is determined, and The Girl tags along. They experience life together, scrambling aboard a moving freight train and sleeping on the floor in a homeless shelter, where somebody cops Sullivan’s shoes.

SullivansTravels-05

The experiment concluded, Sullivan resolves to pay back by handing out $1000 in fives to bums on the street. One of those is the person who previously stole Sullivan’s shoes, and he waylays Sullivan in a dark alley, scoops up the remaining cash and loads the unconscious Sullivan onto an outgoing freight. He immediately gets mangled beyond recognition by an oncoming locomotive. The shoes identify the body as Sullivan’s.

Groggy from being slugged, Sullivan exits the freight car in another part of America and gets into an altercation with a railroad detective, resulting in his being sentenced to six years on a chain gang. Pleas that he is really a rich and famous Hollywood director only get Sullivan beatings from the chain gang boss and a stint in the hotbox. Back in Hollywood The Girl mourns, Sullivan’s estranged wife remarries, and they bury the mangled bum’s corpse with honors.

SullivansTravels-06

Coming to appreciate life on a chain gang, Sullivan hatches onto the idea of copping to his own murder. This gets his picture in all the papers. This gets the attention of The Girl, by now working as an actress at the studio.

SullivansTravels-07

This gets Sullivan sprung from the chain gang and brought back to his lush Hollywood mansion, and The Girl. Since Sullivan’s conniving wife has now remarried, she must consent to a divorce, and Sullivan is going to be able to move The Girl into his Hollywood mansion as Mrs. Sullivan. Very cozy.

Sullivan agrees to go back to making comic movies, which was supposed to be the moral of the story but which seems to have gotten lost in the telling. He scraps plans to make a movie based on the book O Brother, Where Art Thou. Of course, there was never such a book, but eventually there was the movie, starring George Clooney. I will review that eventually.

If this film does strike a moral chord it’s about uneven justice. As a bum Sullivan is slapped with six years for beating up a railroad dick. As a rich and famous Hollywood director he gets a walk.

As mentioned, America was just coming out of the depths of the Great Depression, and this was a time famous for unemployed men (also women and children) roaming the country, camping under railroad bridges and trading a few hours of labor for handouts. I barely missed that boat, but everybody older than me forever spoke of their dread for the time.

The fabulous Miss Lake is a shining gem in this movie. Wonderful to look at, and completely believable in her role. Off screen was another story. Personality disorders made her almost impossible to work with. McCrea refused to ever work with her again, turning down a subsequent role. Her career was flashy and short. She died in 1973.

Creating Information

Two summers ago I volunteered to review physics texts for the Texas Education Agency. The reviews were held in a large hall in a hotel in Austin, and other teams were reviewing other books. In particular I ran into a creationist I had met twenty years previous. He is Walter Bradley, and he was reviewing biology texts for the State of Texas. What I found odd about this was:

  • Dr. Bradley has no academic standing in the subject of biology. He is former chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
  • Bradley is an acknowledge creationist, a position he has taken in opposition to basic principles of biology.

Here is Dr. Bradley and fellow creationist Ide Trotter at the text book review:

IMG_2876

Wikipedia has this to say:

Bradley was one of the pioneers of the concept of intelligent design, attempting to explain topics not yet understood by science as the activity of God. Bradley’s writings on the subject anticipated some of the concepts later articulated by William Dembski and Michael Behe, and he was a participant in early meetings regarding the wedge strategy, a religious public relations campaign with a goal of reshaping American culture to adopt evangelical Protestant values.

I struck up a conversation with Dr. Bradley, and the topic naturally turned to Intelligent Design. What is pertinent to this is that Bradley posed this question to me: As new organisms develop by biological evolution, where does the new information come from?

I knew the answer to the question, but I did not press Dr. Bradley on it. I will give the answer now, and it is counter-intuitive. New information comes from completely random processes. I have highlighted that statement. Carry this forward to the discussion of observed evolution by random mutation and natural selection—Darwinian evolution.

Prior to the development of Nylon, there was no bacterium that could eat the substance. You have a fabric made of wool or cotton, and it is subject to attack by any number of bacterial agents. Not so with Nylon. Eventually a bacterium was discovered that could “eat” Nylon:

In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, that was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate. These substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935.

Further study revealed that the three enzymes the bacteria were using to digest the byproducts were significantly different from any other enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium strains (or, for that matter, any other bacteria), and not effective on any material other than the manmade nylon byproducts.

A random mutation had produced a bacterium that could eat Nylon. This was a new organism that filled a newly-created niche (Nylon) in the environment. This was Darwinian evolution in action. What do the creationist say in response?

Many supporters of evolutionary theory have claimed that nylon-eating bacteria strongly demonstrate the kind of evolution that can create new cellular structures, new cells, and new organisms.1 However, examining only the apparent, visible beneficial trait can be misleading. Recent research into the genes behind these traits indicates that no evolution has taken place.2 In fact, the genes of nylon-eating bacteria show that they have been degraded through mutation.

The gene that mutated to enable bacteria to metabolize nylon is on a small loop of exchangeable DNA.3 This gene, prior to its mutation, coded for a protein called EII with a special ability to break down small, circularized proteins. Though synthetic, nylon is very protein-like because inventor Wallace Carothers modeled the original fiber based on known protein chemistry. Thus, after the mutation, the new EII protein was able to interact with both circular and straightened-out nylon. This is a clear example of a loss of specification of the original enzyme. It is like damaging the interior of a lock so that more and different keys can now unlock it.

This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

The three references cited are listed below:

  1. Thwaites, W.M. 1985. New Proteins Without God’s Help. Creation/Evolution. 5 (2): 1-3.
  2. Anderson, K.L, and G. Purdom. 2008. A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh PA: Creation Science Fellowship and Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 73-86.
  3. Yasuhira, K. et al, 2007. 6-Aminohexanoate Oligomer Hydrolases from the Alkalophilic Bacteria Agromyes sp. Strain KY5R and Kocuria sp. Strain KY2. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 73 (21): 7099-7102.

The author of this is “Brian Thomas, M.S.

Brian Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1993 and a master’s in biotechnology in 1999 from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. He taught junior high and high school at Christian schools in Texas, as well as biology, chemistry, and anatomy as an adjunct and assistant professor at Dallas-area universities. Since 2008 Mr. Thomas has been a science writer and editor at ICR, where he contributes news and magazine articles, speaks on creation issues, and researches original tissue fossils. He is the author ofDinosaurs and the Bible and a contributor to Guide to Creation Basics,Creation Basics & Beyond, and Guide to Dinosaurs.

Interesting points of his argument are:

  1. This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene.
  2. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene.
  3. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks.
  4. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  5. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  6. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

1. Regarding the prerequisite of a specially-shaped protein, another prerequisite is the existence of the bacterium. I hate to be picky, but still another prerequisite is the existence of the planet Earth. This is not a well-based point to argue from.

2. The origin of the original gene is not explained. The origin of the original gene is not at issue here. Darwinian evolution is classically step-wise. Every novel feature is derived from or is built upon an existing one.

3. The “lock” mentioned here is an analogy. A mechanical lock is a device that is used by people, and Thomas is reminding us that a lock that is damaged, such as by putting a .357 Magnum slug through it, does not produce a useful mechanism. The problem with this argument is this is not a lock mechanism built by people. This is a gene that expresses the production of a protein (or an RNA sequence), and it has been altered, and the altered form produces a result that allows the bacterium to digest Nylon.

4. Yes, this is micro evolution. What did Thomas think this was all about? Just about all gene mutations produce micro changes in the offspring. Darwinian evolution, including the the formation of new species, is the accumulation of micro-changes.

5. I am going to let Brian Thomas have this point. I mean, if it’s God doing all of this, then who am I to dispute it?

Back to Walter Bradley’s challenge. New information does come from random processes. People who employ genetic algorithms to develop improved systems (e.g., Diesel engines) use random processes to inject variation into trial designs. It works in modern industry. It works in nature.

This Flag Must Come Down

George Lincoln Rockwell

George Lincoln Rockwell (photo by Harvey Georges)

Too long has this flag flown on the grounds of a state capitol in the United States. This flag represents a movement that suppressed human rights and inflicted military damage on our country. Thousands of American troops died in a war to bring this flag down, only to see it resurrected by those in our country who would deny basic human rights to others. The politicians currently running for office of President of the United States need to assert their opposition to this flag, just as their ancestors from years ago did, some of whom died in battle against the forces that salute this flag even today.

Editor’s note: As I was about to hit the Publish button I noticed I accidentally picked up the wrong flag image. Here is the image I meant to use. You can excuse the mistake. It’s easy to confuse the two.

WassermanCartoonConfederateFlag

Merry Olde England

Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of England through most of World War Two. He entered the office on 10 May 1940, at the time his opposite number, Adolf Hitler, was launching German forces into Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. He left office when his party was defeated in the elections of July 1945. His leadership is credited for the large part of the Allied victory over the Axis forces in the war.

Besides a leader in war and in peace, Sir Winston was former journalist and a noted writer, winning the Nobel Prize in literature. A work that contributed to this acclaim was his massive A History of the English Speaking Peoples. It’s apportioned among three volumes, the first of which is The Birth of Britain, which I have just finished reading for the second time. This is the Kindle edition. My first reading was the paperback years ago.

Hardly anywhere else does Sir Winston exhibit his mastery of the language as in these volumes. In the first he takes readers from his imagined beginnings of the British Isles, as a rising sea level filled in the English Channel and separated England from the European Continent. This work takes us from the archaeological evidence into the first oral and written records. The Romans, under Julius Caesar, grew interested in the massive island across the narrow strait, and civilization came.

The volume finishes with the death of Richard III, the end of the reign of the Plantagenets and the ascendancy of the Tudors, at a time the Western world was on the brink of the opening of the American continents. In between is the tale of a sequence of kings and king-like leaders, leading up to the conquest of the Normans, really descendants of Danish plunders who had been plundering and settling the island for centuries. The Normans brought nationhood to England, still apart from Scotland and Ireland, and it also brought on a centuries-long train of English invasion of what is now France.

France-1360

This is a tale of ruthless lords, finding the need for recurrent battle to regain lost realms and to retain the ones they held. In this tale murder is practiced on a scale that would shame a Mafia family. Using the Kindle search feature I collected references to murder, decapitation, slaughter and like terms for the act. Starting not at the very beginning but with the Norman Conquest I count 41 instance of “murder.” This is not merely the killing of lowly farmers and shepherds. These are references to the killing of the island nation’s upper crust. Here are a few excerpts:

They had supported the rising in the North in 1069, and again in 1085 they threatened to intervene with greater vigour. A fleet was fitted out, and though it never sailed, because its leader was murdered, William took precautions.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 2413-2414). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

But meanwhile another train of action was in process. Four knights had heard the King’s bitter words spoken in the full circle. They travelled fast to the coast. They crossed the Channel. They called for horses and rode to Canterbury. There on December 29, 1170, they found the Archbishop in the cathedral. The scene and the tragedy are famous. He confronted them with Cross and mitre, fearless and resolute in warlike action, a master of the histrionic arts. After haggard parleys they fell upon him, cut him down with their swords, and left him bleeding like Julius Cæsar, with a score of wounds to cry for vengeance. This tragedy was fatal to the King. The murder of one of the foremost of God’s servants, like the breaking of a feudal oath, struck at the heart of the age.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 2880-2885). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Arthur was imprisoned at Falaise and then at Rouen. No one doubted that he lay in mortal peril. All those barons of Brittany who were still loyal to John asked that the prince should be released, and on John’s refusal went into immediate rebellion. John felt that he would never be safe so long as Arthur lived. This was certainly true. The havoc of disunity that was being wrought throughout the French provinces by the French king using Arthur as a pawn might well have weighed with a better man than John. Arthur, caught in open fight besieging his own grandmother, was a prisoner of war. The horrid crime of murder has often been committed for reasons of state upon lesser temptations than now assailed this exceptionally violent king. No one knows what happened to Arthur.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 3318-3324). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

 

Although high nobles and common people in large numbers were in those times frequently put to death without trial and for reasons of hate or policy, the murder by a king of an equal confirmed the bad impression which all the world had formed of John. Moreover, the odious crime did not prevent but rather hastened the loss of Normandy.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 3329-3331). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And so it goes. Battles for ascendancy between leagues of lords were typically fought with a bitterness seen now among what we now call savage terrorists of the Middle East. In many cases all defeated combatants were slaughtered. Even when high ranking lords and nobles were taken alive, their ends came without undue procrastination and often in imaginative ways.

Ultimately Richard III prevailed in the Wars of the Roses and took his two nephews into “protective custody,” the only others who could challenge him for the throne. The two young boys were never seen again, and their bones were only discovered in the Tower of London centuries later. This was an outrage beyond what any even the brutal English were willing to tolerate, and months later when Richard faced opposing forces with his own, he suffered defection of entire armies at the closing of the warring lines. His remaining loyalists were crushed in short order, and he was battered to death in the field, the last English king to die in battle. His crown, which he had worn, was found in some bushes and was placed on the head of Henry Tudor. A new era in English history began.

It becomes so apparent, when reading this, that Sir Winston’s command of the facts is so thorough he forgets he is educating most of his readers. Following the narrative of the time of the Plantagenets I had to constantly backtrack to keep in mind which Edward and which Henry was which. It did not help, for example, that Henry Longshanks became King Edward I.

 

Plantagenets

In my copy there are a few problems with transliteration. For example:

Such in his heyday was the prince to whom Paulinus resorted. Paulinus converted Edwin, and the ample kingdom of Northumbria, shaped like England itself in miniature, became Christian. But this blessed event brought with it swift and dire consequences. The overlordship of Northumbria was fiercely resented by King Penda of Mercia, or, as we should now say, of the Midlands. The drama unfolded with staggering changes of fortune. In 1633 Penda, the heathen, made an unnatural alliance with Cadwallon, the Christian British King of North Wales, with the object of overthrowing the suzerainty of Edwin and breaking the Northumbrian power.

Churchill, Winston S. (2013-04-29). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1: The Birth of Britain (Kindle Locations 1208-1213). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In my paperback edition the correct date, 633, is printed.

Next up is Volume 2, The New World. Look for a review after the end of this month.

Bad Movie of the Week

This is bad for reasons I will explain. It was a blockbuster when it came out in 1933. It’s King Kong from RKO, starring Fay WrayRobert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot. Armstrong is movie producer Carl Denham, and he’s off to make another of his smash wilderness hits. Only there’s a problem. The public wants romance. The critics tell him he needs to add a woman to the mix. Denham doesn’t have a woman. His talent scout can’t get him a woman. Agencies won’t allow their young, female talent to take part in Denham’s hair brain schemes. Besides, he won’t tell anybody anything about the production, even the location. Denham’s ship sails at six in the morning, and he prowls the streets of New York looking for a woman willing to participate in the venture.

Fortunately for Denham the Great Depression is on. Jobs are hard to come by. He encounters comely Ann Darrow (Wray) at a street fruit stand, so desperate she attempts to pilfer a fruit. He’s found the girl he’s looking for.

KingKong-01

Aboard the ship the innocent Miss Darrow meets hardened First Mate Jack Driscoll (Cabot). Sexual attraction develops.

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The drama builds. Denham forecasts a great adventure. Ann may encounter a terrifying adversary. Aboard the ship he rehearses her horrified reaction. She looks. She screams. It’s a vision of what is to come.

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Finally, Denham announces their destination. It’s 2° south, 90° east, near the Indonesian Archipelago. He has a map of the island. It shows a massive wall that separates a low peninsula from the unknown part of the island. Who built the wall? What is it for? Nobody knows.

Ashore on the island the crew encounters a savage tribal ritual that involves sacrificing a young girl to the mysterious Kong. The villagers spot the intruders. Especially they spot Ann. She is blond and pale-skinned. She would make an ideal sacrifice. Denham refuses the offer of a purchase. The crew head back to the ship. Things don’t end there.

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That night islanders board the ship and kidnap Ann. They open the huge gate set into the wall, and they bind Ann’s hands to posts on the sacrificial altar for Kong. Then they close and bar the gate.

It’s obvious the plot has gone askew by now. For example, directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack decided to slim down the plot by leaving Ann standing right by the gunwale where the islanders come aboard to look for her. There is no need for them to search the ship. There is no need for a protracted fight with the crew. The head man just reaches out and puts his hand over Ann’s mouth as he comes up the side of the ship behind her. Much too convenient.

There’s something else wrong. There is this humongous wall, built in ancient history to protect the villagers from dangers on the other side. And they built a gate? What did they need such a big gate for? They needed to open the gate, big enough to drive a moving van through, just to tie a woman to the altar? What’s wrong with just lowering a ladder down to the other side temporarily and then pulling it up later when you’re done? Another idea. Just a small gate. Barely large enough to cart sacrificial victims through, but not large enough for any of the beasties on the other side to use. Not a lot makes sense.

No, they need the gate, because that’s how Kong is eventually going to escape, by bursting through the gate. Kong doesn’t escape, they can’t get Kong to the ship, there’s no more movie.

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The tribe’s men beat the drums to summon Kong, and he arrives out of the dark. Huge and hairy. He lusts for Ann, so attractive and so vulnerable, tied as she is to the posts. He takes her in his huge hand.

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Here we see another problem. The tribe’s men have secured Ann to the posts with thick ropes tied to her wrists. How is Kong going to free her so he can take her off into the jungle? His own fingers are too massive to manage the knots. He could just grab Ann’s lithesome body and rip her away, leaving her arms still attached to the posts. That would be unpleasant.

What the directors decided was to have Ann work the knots, herself. Then how come she didn’t think of that earlier and make her getaway before Kong arrived? If you’re guessing that would have spoiled the plot, you’re right.

In Kong’s massive hand, her dress half torn off, Ann is so appealing, so sexy. This was hot stuff in 1933. It’s still hot stuff.

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Aboard the ship the men learn Ann has been taken, and they mount a rescue operation, complete with firearms and gas bombs. They unbar the massive gate and enter the fierce-some world behind the wall.

This mysterious world is populated by, in addition to Kong, dinosaurs and other ferocious creatures. Pursuing Kong and the girl, the men encounter and kill a stegosaurus but are in turned attacked by a brontosaurus-like creature that kills some of them. Others die in an encounter with Kong at a log bridge that spans a deep chasm.

Jack catches up with Kong and the girl at Kong’s cliff side abode. When a pterosaur starts to fly off with Ann, Kong rescues her and battles it to the death. Jack takes advantage of this distraction to rescue Ann.

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When Kong pursues the escaping Jack and Ann, the men from the ship ambush him and down him with gas bombs. Kong is taken alive to New York, where he is put on display. Before a stunned audience Denham and Ann stand before the captive Kong.

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Too bad. Flashes from the photographers’ cameras drive Kong to distraction, and he breaks his massive steel bonds. He makes a wreck of the theater and also a large part of New York, killing innocent people along the way.

By chance Kong spots Ann through the window of her hotel room, and he carries her to the top of the Empire State Building. This was critical to the movie, since the building had completed construction only in 1931, and it was acclaimed as the world’s tallest structure.

KingKong-10

Atop the building, Kong fights off attacking aircraft until he is badly wounded and falls to the street below. Jack rescues Ann.

Denham stands beside the body of the dead Kong as the movie draws to a close. Somebody remarks how the airplanes killed Kong, but Denham says famously, “It was beauty that killed the beast.” And that’s about as corny as you can get.

This movie has some creds, including original music by Max Steiner. Writer Ruth Rose came back 16 years later to do the script for a tag-along gorilla movie, Mighty Joe YoungErnest B. Schoedsack reprised as director. Executive producer was David O. Selznick, definitely no slouch.

If giant apes are your thing, then watch for a review of the follow-on in one week.

UPDATE

My linguistics advisor recommends “hare-brained” in place of “hair brain.” Readers, please chime in. What should it be?

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

They’re Back! Those wonderful Church Bulletins! Thank God for the church ladies with typewriters. These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services:

The Fasting & Prayer conference includes meals.

Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

The sermon this morning: ‘Jesus Walks on the Water.’ The sermon tonight: ‘Searching for Jesus.’

Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.

Miss Charlene Mason sang ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Next Thursday there will be try-outs for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.

Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered..

The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

Pot-luck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM . Please use the back door.

The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM .. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

And this one just about sums them all up

The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday:

‘I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours.’

Quiz Question

I was weary of reading Churchill’s long history of England, so for relaxation I pulled a lighter book off the shelf. I turned to a page and found this nice problem. Here is the illustration from the book:

CubeResistorNetwork

This is a network of 12 electrical resistors. What has been done here is to imagine a cube and to place a 1-Ohm resistor at each of the edges. The problem is to compute the resistance between points A and B, opposite corners of the cube.

No deep study of electrical engineering is needed to solve this problem. All that is needed is an understanding of the physics. I picked up a cube-shaped plastic container I have and used that to visualize the configuration. Then I took a nap. Before I dozed off I saw a way to visualize the problem that made the solution trivial.

I have not looked at the solution in the book, and if nobody submits the correct answer I will post my solution. Provide your answer as a comment to this post. I will post my solution sometime next week.

UPDATE

Mike McCants has provided the correct answer. At least, it’s the same answer I got. Here is my solution. See The diagram:

CubeResistorNetwork-01

I have labeled the edges of the cube. Remember, each edge is a 1-Ohm resistor. By symmetry argument, we can conclude that all a-c junctions are at the same potential. Likewise all b-c junctions. Again all c resistors connect the same potential difference.

Therefore,there are three sections connecting three potentials. The three a-resistors have a combined resistance of 1/3 Ohm. Likewise the three b-resistors. The six c-resistors have a combined resistance of 1/6 Ohm. The three sections are in series. That’s 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/6 or 5/6 Ohm. Not much arithmetic is required. And I still have not looked at the answer in the book.

Bad Movie Wednesday

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman clothed with the sun by William Blake, 1810

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman clothed with the sun by William Blake, 1810

To understand Manhunter you’re going to need some background on William Blake’s famous watercolor. Thomas Harris wrote Red Dragon, the first of his series of novels featuring the character Hannibal Lecter. Harris went on to write three more of the series, all made into movies.

I consider Manhunter to be kind of a sleeper. It’s not too sure the film makers realized what an icon the Hannibal Lecter character would become, and they eviscerated Red Dragon to produce a marketable movie. This turned out to be a highly workable plan, since the book was going nowhere before a theater audience. From the book script writer Michael Mann salvaged the principal characters of Will Graham (William Petersen), the FBI profiler who tracks down a serial mass murderer. Tom Noonan is the psychotic Francis Dolarhyde, whose homicidal splurges are driven by his obsession with the Red Dragon.

Manhunter-01

The movie opens with an unidentified killer invading the home of an Atlanta family in the middle of the night and murdering everybody in their beds. This is the second time this has happened, and authorities are beginning to see a trend. From the evidence the killer seems to be doing things with the victims after they are dead. It’s a job for the FBI.

Manhunter-02

Will Graham has left the FBI, having suffered grievously at the hands of the murderous Dr. Hannibal Lecter and spending some shrink time. FBI man Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) visits Will with the aim of coaxing him to help out. Will is reluctant. He’s got a sexy wife, a young son and beech property on Florida’s Captiva Island.

Here’s the first thing wrong with the story line. Will is no longer working for the FBI. He does not seem to be otherwise employed. Yet he can afford a life of ease on some of Florida’s prime real estate? At least the book has Will living on Sugarloaf Key and running a marine service business to sustain his modest abode.

Of course, Will takes the job. Else there would not be a movie. There have been two such murders. The other was outside Birmingham, and again an entire family was wiped out in brutal fashion and in association with some sort of ritual.

The first Red Dragon reference appears when Graham discovers this carved into a tree trunk, where the killer had stationed himself to watch the Birmingham family before breaking in and killing them:

RedDragon

From Red Dragon, page 107

It can mean several things, but in the game of Mah-Jongg it’s the Red Dragon tile.

There are other similarities. Both families are upscale. The wife is attractive. There is some sexual motive, but to what extent is not clear. Will and Jack can see all of this, because they have come into possession of the late families’ home movies. These were the days before home video got really big. Release of the movie was 1986, but the plot date is about 1980. So they are watching film of the two dead families. And they have not yet realized that the home movies are the common denominator.

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Will decides he needs to go back to visit Dr. Lecter (Brian Cox), currently spending the remainder of his life in the psycho clink. Here movie goers get their first glimpse of this master of malice, later to be made world famous by Anthony Hopkins. He’s a wonderful creation of novelist Harris, the ultimate villain. Supremely intelligent, cunning, resourceful, and absolutely without remorse or regard for human life. Right now a couple million young children are awake in their beds because of Harris.

But the feds still have not caught on to the home movie connection. Enter a character equally obnoxious as Dr. Lecter. He’s even more obnoxious, because there is no law that allows society to lock sleaze journalist Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang) up for the rest of his life. He’s in your face, asking rude questions in what substitutes for a news interview (e.g., “How long after Lecter cut you before you were able to screw your wife?”). That is not an actual quote from the movie, but you get the idea. While Will was recovering from Lecter’s murderous knife attack Lounds had barged into the hospital ward, pulled back the sheets, and photographed Will’s ravaged torso.

Manhunter-04

So the FBI decides to work with Freddy Lounds to set a trap for the “Tooth Fairy,” as the suspect is being called in the press. The trap does not obtain the capture of the Tooth Fairy, but it does bring the wrath of the killer, who kidnaps Freddy and murders him in the most public and gruesome way imaginable. Few tears are shed by the audience.

Finally, finally, the FBI men realize the killer has seen the same movies they have been looking at for over an hour. Who else gets to see your home movies besides yourself? The person who develops the film and mails it back to you, at your home address. What could have been more obvious?

It’s just a few short scenes after that the feds figure out the killer is Francis Dolarhyde, who is the production manager at the St. Louis photo processing plant. In the mean time Francis has found sex in the form of a pretty blind woman who works in the dark room. Reba McClane (Joan Allen) can’t see Dolarhyde, but she is attracted to him and screws him at his house out in the country by the river. It’s the first and only sex with a living woman Dolarhyde has in his forty years of life.

Thinking pretty Reba is schmoozing with another man, Dolarhyde murders the man and takes frightened Reba out to his house to wreak his vengeance. Blind Reba is so good looking and so vulnerable, and Francis is so menacing. The scene is the movie climax. While Iron Butterfly is playing at studio level in the house, and Francis is preparing to slice Reba with a piece from a broken mirror, Will crashes through a large paneled window and breaks up the love fest.

Two cops and possibly another are murdered with shotgun blasts while approaching the front door. Will puts down the psycho killer with multiple rounds of liquid Teflon bullets, and all ends well.

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Besides the William Blake art, seen in the background as Francis prepares Freddy for his death, there is one wall mural that appears to be a photo from the surface of Mars. Here we see Francis bursting through the panel, shotgun in hand.

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Fans of Hannibal Lecter movies will recall a similar scene from Silence of the Lambs, when Agent Clarice Starling shoots serial killer “Buffalo Bill” in his darkened house, and he falls through a paneling. When movie producers come across a neat device they use it again.

From Turner Classic Movies

From Turner Classic Movies

With a budget of (estimated) $15 million, this one only grossed $8,620,929 in the U.S. With the growth of the Hannibal Lecter franchise this has become a cult film, one I have watched a number of times.

What script writer Michael Mann excised from the Harris story to make this movie includes a lot of baggage that could not be carried to a live audience. Harris went into depth attempting to draw Francis Dolarhyde’s murderous personality out of a tortured childhood. Except, the book shows distinctive schizophrenia in Dolarhyde, and that malady is more properly traced to physiological origins. None of that is in the movie (thank you, Jesus). Neither is Dolarhyde’s bizarre encounter with the original copy of the Blake watercolor in a Brooklyn museum.

One thing Mann did bring over from the novel were some of the odd soliloquies out of Will Graham. Here’s an example:

You took off your gloves, didn’t you? The powder came out of a rubber glove as you pulled it off to touch her, DIDN’T IT, YOU SON OF A BITCH? You touched her with your bare hands and then you put the gloves back on and you wiped her down. But while the gloves were off, DID YOU OPEN THEIR EYES?

Harris, Thomas (2008-12-24). Red Dragon (Hannibal Lecter Book 1) (p. 24). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Those lines from the book were inserted almost intact into the film. My world experiences may not be so profound, but had I been doing this monologue I would have had Graham be less syrupy.

Mann dumped the Harris ending, as well and completely rewrote it. His is cleaner and more final. Mann ends the drama abruptly and concisely, getting Graham back to home and family. Harris, after a protracted wind-down, leaves Graham’s life entering a downward spiral.

Read the book. Harris wrote Black Sunday, also made into a Hollywood spectacular featuring Bruce Dern as a psychotic would-be mass murderer. Look for a review of the book and the movie.

A review of Red Dragon is coming soon to a blog post near you. Keep reading.

Politicians Say The Darndest Things

BillClintonGOP

Yes they do. If you doubt it, take a look at some prior history:

How about, “[T]he next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech.” There could be some truth there, depending on how you define the teachings of mainstream Christianity. If you define the teachings of mainstream Christianity as something like, “Jesus teaches us that we are all God’s children, equally deserving of our kindness and consideration,” then you would be hard put to argue “[T]he teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech.” On the other hand, if you define the teachings of mainstream Christianity to be, “God hates fags,” then you’re going to be dead on concluding this would be considered hate speech.

So, who’s the politician with his foot in his mouth this time around. None other than Bill Clinton. First let’s debate whether he can be considered a politician. He has not run for public office in nearly 20 years, but he still qualifies. A term as Governor of Arkansas. Then later another term as Arkansas Governor. Then twice elected President of the United States. That qualifies him for the foot-in-mouth club.

So what has the former president said recently? Good you asked. Mr. Clinton’s current wife is running for the top office, and he had some choice words for the loyal opposition:

“They’ve got a lot of youth, they’ve got a lot of energy, they’ve got some significant diversity and they’re no dummies,” the former president said during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper at the annual Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Denver.

“They’re no dummies?” Excuse me, Mr. President, but to which “no dummies” do you refer?

Do you refer to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee?

Huckabee said Democrats rely on women believing they are weaker than men and in need of government handouts, including the contraception mandate in Obamacare.

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it,” Huckabee said. “Let’s take that discussion all across America.”

Mr. Huckabee may be erudite regarding a number of issues, but his perception of reality could use an injection. What then of Florida Senator Marco Rubio?

“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech, because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater,” the Florida senator said. “So what’s the next step after that? After they’re done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. And that’s a real and present danger.”

Another GOP candidate who should be “no dummy” is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Governor Jindal was a Rhodes Scholar (so was Mr. Clinton), and that should count for something. What undoes it for Jindal are remarks like this:

Students should be taught “the best science,” Jindal said, including evolution, creationism and intelligent design

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says that he wouldn’t mind if public school students were taught creationism and intelligent design in addition to evolution, as long as it’s “the best science.”

In an interview on NBC, Jindal, a Republican, said: “Bottom line, at the end of the day, we want our kids to be exposed to the best facts. Let’s teach them about the big bang theory, let’s teach them about evolution – I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that people, some people, have these beliefs as well, let’s teach them about ‘intelligent design.’”
Begging your pardon, Governor, but “Intelligent Design” and “best science” do not belong in the same book, much less the same sentence. Apparently neither do “no dummy” and “Bobby Jindal.” Are there more? Do politicians fabricate? Does Texas Senator Ted Cruz have a clue?

The joy to my heart was immeasurable the day Ted Cruz announced he was running for president. Happy days are here. Again. Where to start?

Look at the jihad that is being waged right now in Indiana and Arkansas, going after people of faith who respect the biblical teachings that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Happy days are here again. Or maybe happy days were really 2900 years ago when the Bible was written, when marriage was the union of one man and one woman:

Genesis 4:19King James Version (KJV)

19 And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.

Lamech and his Two Wives 1795 by William Blake 1757-1827
I’m quitting this enterprise until my keyboard quits smoking. Or until President Clinton (the former one) gets a clue, whichever comes first. Should we take President Clinton’s remarks seriously? Did Willie Sutton ever give exact change? Recall that Mr. Clinton is famous for “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Given this, should we take Mr. Clinton’s remarks in the sense they were intended? Is there a hint of sarcasm? Hopefully so.
Full disclosure: The author’s current wife attended high school with Mr. Clinton.

Bad Movie of the Week

TheCosmicMonster-01

Bad. This one is bad. The title tells you it’s going to be bad. It’s The Cosmic Monster from Warner Brothers in 1958, the springtime of bad sci-fi movies. This was produced in England and is also known as The Strange World of Planet X. It stars Forrest Tucker as Gil Graham, assistant to the maniacal Dr. Laird (Alec Mango). Michele Dupont (Gaby André) is the new (and attractive) computer operator. Recall this was in the days when you needed a computer operator, but sex had already been well established.

I’m not going to recap the plot. You already know the plot. Dr. Laird’s test of his invention goes horribly wrong. Results diverge far from the expected. Tension builds.

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The atmosphere is wracked by strange phenomena.

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Headlines scream of the mysterious consequences.

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An innocent young girl wandering alone in the forest meets a strange man. She tells him he looks strange, because nobody else around has a beard like his. He vows to shave is beard so he will blend in. They depart company.

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A young woman is attacked waiting for a bus near the edge of the woods. She is saved by the quick action of a man coming by in a car. Another young woman is attacked and killed. The person coming to her rescue is also killed.

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The young girl finds a huge egg in the forest. She naturally picks it up and takes it to the school. She is ordered to boil it immediately and to not ask questions.

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Giant insects invade the forest. British military forces are called out to combat and subdue the attacking giant insects. They rescue the attractive school teacher trapped in the school building by the insects.

Dr. Laird will not cease his meddling with the forces of nature. When somebody attempts to stop him he pulls a pistol and shoots.

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The gunshot victim crawls to a phone and alerts the other scientists. The mysterious man, now clean faced, has revealed he is from another world. He offers to help. He pushes some buttons on a hand-held remote control, and a spaceship comes down and vaporizes the laboratory of the evil Dr. Laird.

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The alien bids farewell, enters the space craft and departs. And The Cosmic Monster is over.

Wikipedia sums it up:

The Strange World of Planet X (1958) is a British science fictionhorror film, and a cautionary tale about science. It was also known as Cosmic Monsters, The Crawling Terror, The Cosmic Monster, and The Crawling Horror.

The film was adapted by Paul Ryder from the 1957 Rene Ray novel of the same name; a TV serial adapted by Ray aired in Britain in 1956.

This film definitely has legs. I really need to get the book, but there’s no Kindle edition. Amazon has a paperback edition, but they want $90 for it. It will be a while.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

Not yet

STUDENT WHO OBTAINED 0% ON AN EXAM…AND HOW HE DID IT Personally, I would have given him 100%

Q1. In which battle did Napoleon die?
* his last battle
Q2. Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
* at the bottom of the page
Q3. River Ravi flows in which state?
* liquid
Q4. What is the main reason for divorce?
* marriage
Q5. What is the main reason for failure?
* exams
Q6. What can you never eat for breakfast?
* Lunch & dinner
Q7. What looks like half an apple?
* The other half
Q8. If you throw a red stone into the blue sea what it will become?
* It will simply become wet
Q9. How can a man go eight days without sleeping ?
* No problem, he sleeps at night.
Q10. How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
* You will never find an elephant that has only one hand..
Q11. If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in other hand, what would you have ?
* Very large hands
Q12. If it took eight men ten hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?
* No time at all, the wall is already built.
Q13. How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
* Any way you want, concrete floors are very hard to crack.

Please note that Napoleon did not die in battle.

Down and Dirty after the War

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I’m posting this on the 70th anniversary of the story’s events.

Dr. C. Smith Houten has come to France in June 1945, immediately following the surrender of Nazi Germany. She is a history professor from the United States, retained by her government to arrange the shipment of papers compiled by a French historian relating to Nazi operations.

She’s young (28 going on 29), outstandingly good looking and married to American artist John Houten. The problem is she hasn’t seen her husband since August 1939, three days after their wedding. John Houten (“Hoot”) left for France, and before Cally could join him war with Nazi Germany broke out. Her travel to Europe was put off during the hostilities, and she received no word from him in all that time. Meanwhile word came out that he has been collaborating with the Nazi occupation in France. He is now believed to be dead, but a hunted man otherwise

Shortly into the first few pages Cally is afoot in a sleazy part of the city and sees something she believes to be a recent work of her husband’s. She enters a rundown bar and comes face to face with the man she has not seen in nearly six years.

Action follows swiftly for the remainder of the book and Cally and her husband become involved in an operation to unveil a postwar Nazi plot to reorganize and reactivate. Hunted by Nazi assassins and Free French forces in Paris they flee to the south for a rendezvous that promises to bring resolution. The map from the book shows the route of their flight and scenes of the final action.

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A sequence of critical episodes keeps readers in renewed suspense throughout:

  • The discovery of John Houten
  • The party at Paul’s house that brings matters to a crisis
  • The assassination attempt on the Metro
  • Another assassination attempt at the bar
  • Flight to the south in Paul’s car
  • An assassination attempt in a rural French inn
  • The harrowing cross country flight on foot
  • The climatic encounter with the plotters
  • A face to face meeting with the assassin
  • Resolution

Hildegarde Tolman Teilhet (1905 – 1999) was an excellent writer. The Double Agent is the only one of her books I have read, and it came out in 1945, while the Third Reich was still smoldering. I read it during my extreme youth, and the gripping narration is a style I have longed to emulate in my own writings. Here is a dramatic sequence that has stuck with me in all those 60 years—from page 58:

Unfortunately for M. Mazarakt, he was unaware how his own actions might appear to someone like Cally after he had dropped his procedure of motionless obscurity. First she thought the man was drunk. Next she became aware of the sudden stale odor of sweat from the man as the fear came upon him. The fear was transmitted to Cally. It was the fear that had been latent in Hoot’s room. It had followed tonight with the whistle of the baker and the woman in the window and the solitary boy playing in the street.

She remembered the sound of the lighter. The man who had stopped her in front of Paul’s house-he had used such a lighter. It made the same repeated click of worn wheel on flint.

While the station slid ever more slowly by the coach windows, air grunting against the doors, she realized suddenly that this man was along with the others, the baker, the woman, the boy. They were all part of the big net. This man was more than part of the big net. He was the thing used when the net closed around its object. . . .

As the man stood, swaying with the jerks of the coach,grasping at his umbrella, pulling at something in his pocket with his other hand, Cally turned upon Hoot to cry, “Do something, you dope! Don’t you see he means to kill you?”

Teilhet makes exquisite use of local color to set the scenes in Paris and in the flight south. I am particularly taken with the Paris settings. It was over 40 years after I read the book that I first traveled to Paris, and by then I had forgotten the details. Reading the book again this week I realize I am now familiar with many of these places. By the time my wife and I visited Paris the city had decades of modernization since the end of the war, but the principal locations are intact. The famous Moulin Rouge is still there, much spruced up since 1945.

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This is in the area of Montmartre, where we first stayed and where Cally Houten discovered her husband in June 1945. Teilhet has been faithful to her descriptions of Paris, and we can only surmise the same applies to the regions south, where most of the action takes place.

This blog is called Skeptical Analysis for a reason. Here is some skeptical analysis:

Much of the narrative has plausibility, provided you give plausibility a little slack. Nazism did not die with Hitler and the rest, but history does not show the kind of operation Cally and her husband track down in this story. The rigmarole exercised by the Nazis in tracking down John Houten in their initial attempt to kill him is a little overboard. It’s all in there for drama, but if you set your mind you can go along with it. The final encounter with the assassin is pure hype. Cally and John are fleeing across country, and they just accidentally stop at the very house where the assassin lives. OK, the story was winding down by then.

Next comes a spoiler alert. Read no further if you want to keep suspense toward reading the book.

The story ends with John Houten fully redeemed. The war is still on, and he is offered the opportunity of continuing to work for American Intelligence in France or returning to Pomona, California, where he will be drafted into the Army. Wait just a moment. All through the book he has a badly damaged right hand. He’s been shot by a Nazi officer, and will have to learn to paint with his left hand. History buffs take notice. Even during World War Two the armed forces did not draft people with flat feet. And certainly not people with a crippled hand.

Keep reading.