Alarming News: I like Morgan Freeberg. A lot.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: We were following a trackback and thinking "hmmm... this is a bloody excellent post!", and then we realized that it was just part III of, well, three...Damn. I wish I'd written those.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: ...I just remembered that I found a new blog a short while ago, House of Eratosthenes, that I really like. I like his common sense approach and his curiosity when it comes to why people believe what they believe rather than just what they believe.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is an intriguing guy...[he] asks great questions and answers others with style, flair, reason and wit. On the blogroll he goes. Make him a part of your regular blogospheric reading. I certainly will.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is brilliant.
Common Sense Junction: Misha @ Anti-Idiotarian never ceases to amaze me. He keeps finding other good blogs. I went over to A.I. this morning for my daily Misha fix and he had found this guy named Morgan Freeberg in Fair Oaks, California, that has a blog, House of Eratosthenes. Freeberg says its "The Blog That Nobody Reads" but it may now become the blog that everybody reads.
Jaded Haven: Good God, Morgan, you cover a topic from front to back with a screwy thoroughness I find mind boggling. I'm in awe of your thought proccesses, my friend, you're an exceptional talent. You start by throwing in the kitchen sink, tie in someone's syphilitic uncle, bend around a rip tide of brilliance and bring it all home in a neat, diamond dripping package of an exceptionally readable moment of damn fine wordsmithing. I love reading you.
Mein Blogovault: Make "the Blog that No One Reads" one of your daily reads.
Philmon: When Morgan meanders, stick with him - he's got a point and it'll be worth it in the end. He's not a hit-and-run snarky quip kind of guy. The pieces all fall into place like tumblers in a lock and bang! He's opened a cognative door for you.
Rightlinx: Morgan at House of Eratosthenes is one of the best writers out there. I read him nearly every day because he manages to provide an interesting perspective, even though I don't always agree.
Poetic Justice: Cletus! Ah gots a laiv one fer yew...
In America, if you have the right style of delivery, and I probably don’t — you can just talk about your opinion for awhile, and in so doing deliver a product that people will go WAY out of their way just to read, listen to or watch. I would like to think that is because Americans have an innate desire to learn more about a given subject matter, when they’re trying to form an opinion they have not yet formed. I’d like to think that. And to a certain extent, I believe that actually is the case.
But it is far more important to us that we get to hear people more loudmouthed, more outspoken, and perhaps a bit more eloquent than ourselves, when we already know we agree with them.
The genius behind this new genre we have thanks to Michael Moore, where film footage is shown that makes people feel good about opinions they already have…it probably depends on this. And for all intents and purposes, Moore didn’t start it, Rush Limbaugh did. Limbaugh does it right, though. He says “Snerdley, play clip #15!” and then gives us a brief run-down of what clip #15 is supposed to be. Then we get to listen to clip #15. Which you could call “radio footage.” Then Rush will come back on, and say “folks, there you have it!” and tell us what he thinks clip #15 proves. Nice and structured…we know what was in clip #15, and we know what inferences we are supposed to draw from clip #15.
What does that kind of structure do? Well, if I agree with Rush, as I do with regard to Democrats in Congress being unworthy of our trust on national defense issues — I have a firmer cataloguing in my mind of what questions I’d like to have answered, in the event someone prevails upon me, in the future, to change my mind. If I disagree with Rush, as I do on the Dubai “ports deal,” I have a crystal-clear understanding in my mind about why it is that we disagree. I know there are things he thinks are important that I think are trivial, or vice-versa, and I know what these things are. Or, I know what statement has been made, and who made the statement, that Rush choose to believe, that I find to be delusive or irrelevant. Or, I know something happened, Rush thinks this proves something else …and I don’t. With pinpoint accuracy, I understand why we disagree, Rush and I.
Michael Moore doesn’t do this. Michael Moore says that President Bush flew bin Laden’s family members out of America right after the September 11 attacks, he shows footage of the President saying “Now watch this drive!” — and because of these, I’m supposed to think President Bush has a sweetheart deal with the Saudis and that the war in Iraq is all about oil. Huh? Come again? From an argument based on “raw footage” that is treated just as so many pounds of stuff — I really can’t determine a damn thing about why I disagree with Michael Moore. All I know is, what kinds of things Moore’s followers will be throwing at me, right before they call me an idiot for not agreeing with them. That’s about it.
Sure, if I agree with Moore, it makes me feel good, just as Rush’s radio program makes me feel good if I agree with Rush. Thing is, with the Michael Moore genre, Fact A very seldom does anything to substantiate Inference B, nor does Moore stick his neck out and imply such a substantiation exists, or if it happens to exist, that it was intended. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one. If you aren’t explaining exactly why you think what you think, you really don’t have very much. Just footage that makes people feel good, when they hold a particular opinion…and, when you strip away what’s tossed in purely for surplus entertainment, nothing else.
I think “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” is just about at that point with this season’s first episode, “Boy Scouts.” They’ve become Mini Fahrenheit 911. Fahrenheit 455�, if you will. Penn Jillette doesn’t like the Boy Scouts and he thinks the whole organization is bullshit. After watching the episode, I must say I’m a little confused about why he thinks the Boy Scouts are a bunch of bullshit. It’s clear to me that he hates camping with a passion, but he spent a lot more time describing how he doesn’t like the way they discriminate against homosexuals. Both of those are problematic with regard to the point he’s trying to make, for the word “bullshit” is supposed to involve some attempt to deceive people. Discrimination is not deception. The deception appears to come into play, with a change of policy that quietly took place in the eighties when the Mormon Church took over the Boy Scouts of America.
I’ve watched the episode twice, and I’m not exactly left with an abundance of reasons to believe this is what has taken place. About eight minutes into it, a man says “what happened to the Boy Scouts is that during the time that I was a boy member, Boy Scouts was essentially kidnapped by the religious right, and in particular, by the Mormon Church.” He is identified as Tim Curran, a former Boy Scout who was expelled for his sexual orientation, and subsequently sued the organization.
I do not know that the Boy Scouts have been “kidnapped” by the Mormon Church. I don’t know that. I do know, from watching the episode, that the Mormon Church is the “largest contributor,” or at least since this appears to be a matter of verifiable fact, I’m willing to take P&T at their word. But therein lies a problem: The central theme of the episode is a bellyaching session about how the Boy Scouts receive discounts and other preferential treatment from the Federal Government, as well as local governments, and that something is wrong with this. You know, pick one or the other. I’m not altogether sure how you go from that to expressing angst that a private religion is supporting an organization, something the government somehow shouldn’t be supporting.
So it falls to me to do some research that, if it were already done in the episode I saw, would have been helpful. I did a Google search on the sinister Boy-Scouts-Mormon connection, and I came up with this article which says — guess what? Take a look.
Most people are aware that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a negative view of homosexuality. However, same-sex activities is not even mentioned in the three uniquely Mormon religious texts…D. Michael Quinn, in his recent book, Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans – a Mormon Example, suggests that Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), was relatively accepting of gay and lesbian relationships. In Quinn’s book, he asserts that Mormons endorsed physical and emotional intimacy between members of the same sex.
Quinn concludes that the church tolerated homoeroticism until the mid-1950s.
Jeez! Some homophobic public-relations wizard is having a wonderful time spreading his personal agenda of hate, here! This nefarious individual co-opted the Mormon religion in the 1950’s, which had been receptive to homosexuals up until then; then a quarter-century later, his organization used this newly-revised Mormon Church apparatus to “hijack” the formerly-diversity-minded Boy Scouts. I’ve got to meet the people behind this. I’ll bet they have forgotten more about promulgating an unpopular social agenda, than I will ever learn.
Question for Penn & Teller: Isn’t it a bit more likely that we’re all talking about homosexuality more often now, for whatever reason, than we used to? Would that not make it relevant for organizations that regularly take large numbers of same-sex children, out into the woods, miles away from civilization…to come up with positions on the issue they previously did not have? Or, perhaps, to articulate some policies that were previously kept tastefully quiet? Perhaps some combination of those two?
Just a thought. I mean, since you’ve punted, Michael Moore style, on offering anything whatsoever to support this “Mormon Church brainwashed them” theory you’ve got going. Since, in the proof-of-thesis department, what you’ve done can be fairly described as dropping a grenade and then walking away. Aren’t my theories a little bit less extravagant, from an Occam’s Razor point-of-view?
The Boy Scouts are supposed to be all about “intolerance and hate.” I have not seen a hateful thing, not one, associated with the Boy Scouts…nowhere, ever, but more to the point, not within this episode. That’s a little screwy, isn’t it? Twenty-nine minutes Penn & Teller have to show us the Boy Scouts doing something hateful, and they can’t come up with one thing. Not unless the enforcement of membership standards, running afoul of the personal tastes of Penn Fraser Jillette, satisfies someone’s definition of “hate.”
Activist Margaret Downey says “Today the boy scouts discriminate against atheists and the homosexual community; tomorrow they can decide to discriminate against handicapped children, or redheads, or jews.” They could, huh? Golly, that sounds pretty bad. Thus it has been proven, the Boy Scouts are just like Hitler. They’re antisemites…or, they would be, if only they did antisemitic things, which we haven’t caught them doing, but it makes us feel good to think about the Boy Scouts doing those things. And that’s just as good as them doing it, right? Film at eleven.
I think that says as much about the state of affairs as needs to be said. The “Boy Scouts” episode of Bullshit is not about forming reasonable inferences from available facts; it is about whipping people up into an emotional, frothy rage about membership standards in a private organization that the Supreme Court has ruled are within the rights of that organization. Except — get this! — in order to get that frothy rage going, you have to make some noise about the Boy Scouts doing something they aren’t actually doing. So it’s not about the Boy Scouts doing something they don’t have the right to do; it’s about the conflict between this thing they do, and the prevailing public sentiment, but you don’t have an adequate conflict unless you depart from the plane of what is actually being done. Penn & Teller, here, proved that you don’t make people sufficiently mad, until you postulate about what the Boy Scouts might do, engaging in an extravagant flight-of-fancy in doing so.
So what’s the problem? I mean, just sticking with things that are actually done, for a change. Where’s the beef? Really?
Well, not much remains of the case made. Most of us would be unimpressed with the argument that a private organization, is doing something that doesn’t quite rub the producers of a popular cable television show the right way; because if we were, that would put cable television producers in charge of a lot of stuff. Do Showtime producers approve of the way I break open eggs? Or that I order my coffee black? Or that I have a Treo smartphone, but no iPod? Those things are about as public as the Boy Scouts’ membership standards. And honestly, in the real world, the fact that the Boy Scouts receive a little help here & there from the U.S. Government and local governments, does very little to make the issue any more public. This article, which is cited in the episode, tells us it is wrong. How much money are we talking about here? Not much. If it’s the “principle of the thing,” as the saying goes…where is the law that says tax money can’t be used to give discounts to the Boy Scouts? Cite book, chapter and verse, please. And if you do find it, by all means file a lawsuit. Get back to us when the lawsuit wins, since, so far, it hasn’t.
Or, heck with the law-and-order approach…go after my sense of decency and fair play. Boy Scouts shouldn’t receive public funding when they discriminate! Shouldn’t they? I dunno…what if my local school board helps out Mensa, when that association of mentally-gifted individuals wants to rent a hall? Hey, I don’t get to decide what my I.Q. is! Who are they to discriminate against me? Eh…sorry Penn & Teller, this doesn’t pass the smell test.
Or, tell you what. You can wait until the Boy Scouts do something that does piss me off, along with lots of other people. Let me know when the Boy Scouts start kicking those redheads and jews off their membership rolls. At that point, I’m with ya pal. Homosexuals? In an organization full of boys that camp out in the woods, miles away from civilization? Hmmm. Do we have lots of youth organizations that take young straight co-eds out in the woods? Young straight boys and young straight girls sharing one tent, under the stars, in the middle of summer? I can’t think of too many establishments that do that, and I think I might know why.
So since the leaders of the Boy Scouts have the job of convincing concerned parents that everything’s going to go okay during this summer’s campout, and Penn & Teller aren’t helping them with this, the Boy Scouts get to decide how things work. That is their right. The idea that it isn’t, just because a cable TV show says it isn’t, scares me a lot more than anything that was presented in this episode.
What’s left? I guess the only remaining complaint is, that the Boy Scouts aren’t being straight with us in saying they have a long-standing policy against homosexual leaders, when this is a relatively recent development. This does have some consistency with the facts, since I hear a lot more about homosexual membership in the Boy Scouts than I did back when I was a scout. Maybe that’s because the Mormon Church took them over in the eighties, after all.
Or maybe not. I don’t know if this change in climate was the doing of the Boy Scouts at all. Was it? All these lawsuits over classes of people being allowed into places — that’s a relatively recent phenomenon too, and the Boy Scouts didn’t start it. You might say someone else started it, and they finished it.
Near the end of the episode, Penn & Teller have one more salvo to launch at the Boy Scouts, and it goes like this: Scouting…is uncool. Enrollment in the Boy Scouts is down 13%. That proves how uncool it is. People should abandon the Boy Scouts because we hate the Boy Scouts, and we hate the Boy Scouts because people are abandoning them. Or as Jillette says in voiceover, “the American People know bigotry when they see it.” Hmmm…what, I wonder, would happen if we were discussing an organization that met with their approval, and the enrollment in that organization was down thirteen percent? That would be Bullshit!, wouldn’t it?
To sum it up, Penn & Teller have done better work before, and I’m sure they will again. The problem here: Starting with everything the episode purports to prove, and methodically discarding everything not proven, we’re left with an irreconcilable conundrum. The Supreme Court decision recognizing the right of the Boy Scouts to set their own membership standards, is said to assert that if this were not the case, the Boy Scouts would be forced to advance homosexuality as a lifestyle that is okay. The producers of the show want us to see this logic as just so much…of the title of the show. Bullshit. However, the activist group Scouting For All, which appears to have pulled some strings to get this particular episode on the air, advances the notion that because government is entangled with the Boy Scouts at the local, state and federal levels, this entanglement forces the government to believe what the Boy Scouts believe: Homosexuality is not okay, and neither is atheism.
And that particular forced belief is not bullshit.
But it’s exactly the same logic. We are supposed to uncritically accept the latter, and forcefully reject the former. Failing to do either one of those two, results in failure to accept the advanced argument. Why are we supposed to comply with the argumentative pursuit demanded of us, both times, when those two cognitions run in stark contradiction to one another? I don’t know. That’s one of the questions left unanswered, probably the most important one.
It’s all a bit too deep for me. I’m still stuck on that “Right of Association” thing in the First Amendment. To me, that’s what the whole question is all about…whether the cable television producers like it, or not.
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