The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: December 2007

Review: “I am Plotless”

For a change of pace, offered here is a movie review. Warning: there are no plot-spoilers in this review; there is no plot to spoil.

I am Legend debuted here in Newport New, Virginia, on Friday, December 14. I decided to see it and not The Golden Compass, which some people liked because it hovers around an endorsement of atheism and other virtues associated with reality and integrity. But, as a novelist who has set all his stories in the real world, stories set in fantasy or otherworldly realms, or that feature magic, witches, vampires, mutants, horror and the like, have had no appeal for me.

This is not to say that some of these latter stories have no literary or esthetic value. It is just that I see no point in settling for a fantasy world whose story depends on the suspension of the rule of causal-connection and the law of identity, when it could just as well be set in the real, recognizable world to accomplish the same end. I have written fifteen novels, including the six-title Sparrowhawk series; they are all plotted and set in the real world. Perhaps this has made me more fastidious and discriminating, or simply impatient. The Harry Potter movies and novels may be a few cuts above standard contemporary fare – But, no, thank you.

I chose to see I am Legend because I had some free time and only because there was nothing else in the newspaper theater listings that piqued my interest. Also, the previews of it on TV intrigued me; I had seen its predecessor, The Omega Man, in 1971, and wondered how the director and screenwriters would “update” the story now. Finally, I suspected this movie would be talked about and more or less given the critical imprimatur. However, it is a B movie inflated by modern film technology (chiefly CGI, or computer generated imagery) with the intention of making it a blockbuster. But, fundamentally, it isn’t any better than Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The details or concretes one chooses to show or include in a story must have a purpose, that is, they must be integrated into the plot, they must have a demonstrable place or a role in the logical sequence of events. If they are included, but not explained, or are there just for “special effects” to impress or mislead a reader or viewer, or are included simply at the whim of a writer or director, then they violate Louis Sullivan’s rule that form must follow function, or Ayn Rand’s rule of essentialization. A plot itself, by Rand’s definition, is “a purposeful progression of logically connected events leading to the resolution of a climax.”

I am Legend is a cinematic jigsaw puzzle most of whose pieces do not connect. There is a “climax,” but no logic to it. Among its many other faults, it is an epistemological abomination, and the horrible thing about it is that I don’t believe the film’s makers consciously intended that. Its illogic reflects the state of their epistemology. And since their epistemology (and metaphysics) is a subjectivist shambles, to them logic and causal-connections are elective elements not absolutely requisite to solving the problem of the moment.

Let us examine the film story of I am Legend, based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 science fiction novel of the same title.

The plague that wipes out most of the human race is man-caused, the result of a genetically engineered cancer cure that somehow mutates into an incurable killer virus. (In The Omega Man, at least it was the result of bacterial warfare.) Perhaps it was meant to be a metaphor for anthropogenic global-warming, perhaps not. Its discoverer explains the cancer cure, and her explanation is pure folderol. This anti-technology premise should be enough to condemn the story at the outset.

Actor Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist who remains in a desolate, unpopulated, decaying Manhattan to work on an antidote to the virus. He is inexplicably immune to the plague. (In the 1971 version, Charlton Heston, who played the character, injected himself with the antidote just in the nick of time.) He is apparently the last man living there, and presumably on earth.

The movie opens (after establishing the premise of the plague) three years after New York City was quarantined and all the bridges and tunnels leading into it were destroyed by the military. By day Neville ventures out to hunt deer, harvest corn, and collect supplies for his Washington Square townhouse/fortress. At night he barricades himself in the townhouse against survivors of the plague who have turned into predatory cannibals (or vampires, I couldn’t tell which they were supposed to be, because the story isn’t clear on that point).

His townhouse is powered by generators. In the basement is a fully equipped lab for virological research. Some scenes give evidence that he has been diligently at work over the years, ever since Manhattan was evacuated, to discover or develop an antidote or a cure. On one wall are rows of photos of cannibals he has somehow captured and experimented on with potential cures, using his own immune blood. There is also a row of cages with rats or guinea pigs that have also been subjects. Nothing he has tried has worked. In the course of the movie, Neville uses a sample of his own blood to lure and capture a female cannibal to experiment on.

Somehow, Neville has had time to fortify his townhouse windows and doors with steel shutters, which he closes at dusk, and to rig the approach to it with incendiary mines and blinding klieg lights. The cannibals, you see, are like vampires: they can only roam at night. Sunlight – or perhaps even artificial light, it isn’t made clear – is their nemesis. They haven’t found Neville yet, and show no evidence they know he exists.

Neville regularly broadcasts a radio message that he is alive, and that possible survivors who can hear him can meet him at the South Street Seaport.

Manhattan is also populated by lions and herds of deer. Possibly these came from the Central Park Zoo. There is no explanation for their presence. The cannibals have devolved into mindless, roaring carnivores with less innocence than wolves. At one point Neville remarks that their “Social de-evolution appears to be complete.” One would have expected him to remark, instead, that their rational and cognitive faculties had undergone irreversible devolution or degeneration, but perhaps the screenwriters thought those terms would be over the heads of audiences.

Into the story, unexpectedly, come two other immune survivors, who rescue Neville from the near fatal folly of trying to run down the mutants at night in an SUV in revenge for the cannibals’ plague-altered dogs infecting his healthy German shepherd, which he was forced to kill himself. This is Anna, a Red Cross worker, and Ethan, a young boy in her care. This whole scene is shot out of focus, so what happens isn’t clear. They all wind up in his townhouse. Anna tells Neville there is a colony of survivors in Vermont, which is where she is going. She heard his broadcast and came into Manhattan to find him. She wants him to go with her.

Neville says there is no such colony. After ranting the numbers of people killed by the virus and the number of survivors who might exist, divided between the immune and the raging cannibals, he says there is no God, and how could she know about a colony of survivors? Anna more or less implies that God told her.

Anna is saved the trouble of explaining herself when the cannibals attack the townhouse. How they finally discovered it is glossed over by Anna. Neville turns on the klieg lights and detonates the mines, decimating the first wave. But the cannibals appear to be numberless and attack again. They invade the townhouse. Neville, Anna, and Ethan retreat to the basement lab. Seeing that their predicament is hopeless, and suddenly realizing that he has found a cure (the female cannibal, strapped to an operating table, is now lying in a bed of ice, and shows signs of recovering from the virus), Neville draws blood from his arm and hands the vial containing it to Anna, then locks her and Ethan in a vault, instructing her not to come out until daybreak. Then he uses an incendiary grenade to destroy the cannibals and himself.

The story ends with Anna and Ethan driving through Vermont in the fall. They discover the fortified colony of survivors. The gates open, and Anna holds up the vial of Neville’s blood to the guards, accompanied by the sound of the bell of an old New England style church in the distance.

The questions that occur to me, and which ought to occur to anyone in focus, are not answered by the story.

1. If Neville had the foresight to broadcast his existence to the outside world, why wasn’t he listening for an answer? No answer. If the Vermont colony of survivors had the means to exist, why didn’t it acknowledge his messages? If he is not shown listening for a reply, why would he (and we) assume that he is the last living human being? No explanations are given.

2. If the mutant cannibals are so demonstrably feral and non-rational, and reduced to the perceptual level of rabid dogs, how could they emulate Neville and set the same kind of trap for him? Further, Neville and his dog are attacked by a pack of plague-infected dogs, which are introduced by a cannibal who has them leashed. These actions, which necessitate a working intelligence at least as determined as a sly racoon’s, contradict the initial premise that the cannibals are incapable of rational thought. No explanations are given.

3. How did Anna and Ethan get into Manhattan, if all the bridges and tunnels were destroyed? In the fuzzy rescue scene, she is shown driving a vehicle. In the dead of night, when it was dangerous to be out, she rescues Neville without being attacked herself, and somehow gets Neville back to his townhouse without incident. Neville is depicted as being in a traumatic fog; how was he able to give her directions? And how was she able to leave Manhattan, an island, to drive to Vermont? No explanations are given. (The only critic to ask the last question was Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun Times review of December 14.)

4. Why are the cannibals depicted as so strong, fast, and agile, when logically they ought to have been debilitated by the virus and doomed to extinction? How did they survive three winters in New York in such endless numbers wearing only rags, and living in the dank, dark recesses of abandoned buildings? Unless they consumed each other, what else did they eat? They apparently had no taste for the equally numberless deer that roam the empty streets. No explanations are given.

5. When they finally corner Smith in his lab, it is under its glaring bright lights, which contradicts the premise they are fatally light-sensitive. Did any critic notice this? Not that I am aware of. No explanation is given.

Finally, the plot-line of I am Legend is established in a confusing kaleidoscope of flashbacks. Also, the TV previews showed missiles taking out Manhattan’s bridges, but no such scenes occurred in the film. So, in the story itself, no explanation is given for why the bridges are reduced to rubble.

You might ask: Why belabor the holes and contradictions in a patently bad movie? First, because, as a writer, they bother me. Second, because I suspected the film would receive critical acclaim, which it did not deserve, but which it has received. Otherwise, I would not have bothered to critique it.

Roger Ebert in his review asks several questions about the logic of the events, but adopts an attitude that echoes that of the film’s producers: “Never mind! Details are irrelevant! It is important to like this movie, because it has a ‘message,’ even though it stoops to schlock at the end!” The Hollywood Reporter on December 10 also gives high marks to the movie, and, like other reviews, such as Variety‘s (December 14), reserves its criticism for minor points, such as the CGI-produced cannibals, which the Variety reviewer found “irksome.” Entertainment Weekly‘s review of December 12 also expressed the same reservation but lauded the movie, as did A.O. Scott in The New York Times (December 14).

Details are integral to any story, regardless of the genre, if they work to earn a place in it. But even extraneous details – and there are many in I am Legend – can be excused if they do not mislead or if they do not contradict a logical sequence of events, which the film cannot claim to have. Unexplained or inexplicably stressed details – and there are many of these, as well, in the film – are the mark of incompetence, carelessness, or just plain indifference to the workings of human cognition. Or, they might be symptomatic of something worse: a mind unable to distinguish between the essential and the extraneous.

That is why I find such films (and novels) so personally offensive: Their makers presume that my epistemology is as chaotically subjective as their own, that my willingness to temporarily suspend my disbelief is an invitation and sanction to abuse my mind as a matter of policy.

An Alliance of Loons

Just when one thinks that news of the world could not become more surreal, inane, and scary, the world ups the ante.

On December 3, the National Intelligence Council, in a transparent political bid to discredit President Bush’s Iran policy (not that he would need any help in discrediting it, since to him Iran is no longer a part of the “Axis of Evil,” but a potential “partner in peace” that just needs a good tongue-lashing and a spell of standing in the corner until it mends its ways), released its National Intelligence Estimate: Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. Briefly, it alleged that Iran stopped pursuing the development of nuclear bomb material in 2003. It makes the allegation with a mixture of low, moderate, and high confidences.

Confidence is a one-hundred percent state of mind based on rock-solid evidence. Anything less than that is uncertainty. Which means that all sixteen of these billion-dollar funded intelligence agencies either do not know what Iran is really doing in the way of developing a nuclear weapon, or prefer to “defuse” concern about Iran and treat the whole issue as though Peru was about to out-produce the U.S in the production of Saturn cars and perhaps upset the trade balance between the two nations. Thus the laughable measures of low, moderate and high confidences, clothed in the gibberish of bureaucratese.

Under “Key Judgments” in the document is this knee-slapper: “We assess with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.” That kind of language dominates the entire document.

Imagine a cop spotting a human figure “doing something” over the skylight of a 7-11 store at 3:00 a.m. but having only “moderate confidence” that the figure intends to break into the store. The NIC apparently places little or no confidence in all the satellite photos of constant activity around Iran’s underground nuclear labs, Israeli and European intelligence, confirmed knowledge of Russia’s and North Korea’s complicity in building nuclear facilities in Iran, and so on.

The report could have been vetted and signed off by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself, and was actually and principally written by three State Department bureaucrats who, according to an article in American Thinker by Ed Lasky (“The suspect provenance of the NIE report,” December 5), and quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial of the same date, wrote that they “favor endless rounds of negotiations and ‘diplomacy’ and oppose confrontation.” These three officials, Lasky said, according to the WSJ, “have ‘reputations as hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” And none of these bureaucrats has any expertise on Iran.

Well, they are State Department functionaries who traditionally believe that reality is malleable and so feel justified in putting their venomous hatred of Bush ahead of national security. They are loons. Or, as Daniel Pipes, who called the NIE a “shoddy, politicized, outrageous parody of a piece of propaganda,” concluded on his site on December 13:

“Thus have short-sighted, small-minded, blatantly partisan intelligence bureaucrats, trying to hide unpleasant realities, helped engineer their own nightmare.”

The Daily Mail (London) on December 12, carried this tidbit of lunacy. Pope Benedict XVI, head of a religion that propagates belief, without evidence, in the existence of a Supreme Ghost, recently chastised environmentalists on the occasion of “World Peace Day” for valuing plants and animals and Mother Earth higher than human lives and for accusing man of ruining the Earth by playing footloose with the evidence of the “crime.” His statement may be evidence of a clinging vestige of respect in the Vatican for reason and reality; or, it may be the complaint of a man who sees a new religion springing up that would compete with his own. Go figure.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wishes to add salt to the things it wants to police consumption of by Americans. “FDA officials say they view excess salt in the diet as a serious public health issue, but the agency is keeping its options open,” reports a November 29 Los Angeles Times article, “FDA contemplating crackdown on salt.” Its “options” are just various modes of force against the food industry.

As usual, the bureaucrats look to Europe for precedents. “Regulators in other industrialized countries already have begun grappling with the problem,” says the Times article. “In Finland, government and industry have collaborated to bring about a 40% decrease in sodium consumption since the late 1970’s, according to the AMA. In the United Kingdom, government regulators set voluntary sodium reduction targets for about 70 kinds of processed foods.” “Voluntary collaboration”? Or else?

Underneath all the FDA press release chatter about “public health” is the whispered message to Americans: “We own you. Collaborate, or else. You can make this easy on yourself, or hard….”

Speaking of Europe, The Scotsman on December 12 ran this startling story about the resurgence of Nazism in Germany, “Children caught kissing face jail.”

“Germany is poised to bring in a draconian law tomorrow that will effectively outlaw kissing and cuddling between children under 17 in public places….Broadly speaking, the law is aimed at the 14-17 age group, but some subclauses have far-reaching consequences. Parents who put a picture of their naked youngster in a bath or a paddling pool on the internet, for example, will leave themselves open to charges of disseminating child pornography.

“But it is the attempt to regulate – in essence – the raging hormones of teenagers that strike many as bizarre and unworkable. Under the law, to go before the Bundestag tomorrow, a teenage boy up to the age of 17 who is caught ‘fondling or stroking the chest’ of someone younger will be liable to prosecution – regardless of consent.”

Since when did any legislation that was “bizarre and unworkable” ever give pause for thought in those who wish to police and regulate an individual’s thinking and actions? The only pause such statists ever have is dramatized in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, in the question asked by Wesley Mouch before he and his fellow dictators pick a date for the “Moratorium on Brains”: “But can we get away with it?”

In an infrequent and out-of-character instance, Europe for once looked to the U.S. for the precedent. “Critics say Germany has gone more than two steps beyond European Union and United Nations’ guidelines in introducing the law, claiming it is copied from the United States. A 15-year-old girl in Pittsburgh faces a long jail term on a charge of distributing child pornography after sending nude pictures of herself over the internet to a friend.”

Regardless of what one thinks of the appropriateness of the girl’s actions, one must ask: How could the authorities have known about the pictures unless the internet police were monitoring the girl’s or someone else’s computer, or unless some “moral uplift’ mentality ratted on her? Internet surveillance by the authorities has either progressed beyond what any government official will admit, or Americans are morphing into “good Germans.”

Speaking of children who commit “crimes” and of those who need to be “protected” against them, the Los Angeles Times also ran a story on December 4, “States Sue R.J. Reynolds Over Camel Ads.”

“Camel ads coupled with illustrations promoting rock music in Rolling Stone magazine violate the tobacco industry’s nine-year-old promise not to use cartoons to sell cigarettes, prosecutors in various states said Tuesday.

“Attorneys general in at least eight states planned to file lawsuits against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. starting Tuesday about the advertising for Camel cigarettes in the November edition of Rolling Stone, officials said….’Their latest nine-page advertising spread in Rolling Stone, filled with cartoons, flies in the face of their pledge to halt all tobacco marketing to children,’ Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a news release….”

“’They agreed not to do these kinds of things ever since Joe Camel,’ Brown said.” [California Attorney General Jerry Brown]. “’We have to call them to task.’”

Running ads that allegedly pitch smoking to children, by the terms of those who claim to own our bodies and lives, is a “crime” that must be punished, just as pitching unregulated Sugar Pops or Captain Crunch to children is a “crime.” In this instance, the cartoons in question were not pitching cigarettes, but popular music. The cartoons were not designed or supplied by R.J. Reynolds, but by the magazine’s designers and cartoonists.

“David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds…insisted that the Camel ads contained no cartoons and that the ad campaign is aimed at adults. While the company was surprised and concerned by Rolling Stone’s illustrations, R.J. Reynolds bore no responsibility for it, he said.

“’Had we been aware of the graphics prepared by Rolling Stone, we would not have advertised adjacent to the gatefold,’ he said.”

And that is an instance of not only groveling before his looting masters, and letting the statists get away with charging the company with guilt by mere association, but of surrendering again the company’s (and the magazine’s) freedom of speech.

“Other states are reviewing the matter and could join the effort [to sue R.J. Reynolds], said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Corbett. If every state involved in the 1998 settlement [by which the tobacco industry performs a multi-billion dollar penance for existing] files suit, the fines [of $100 per magazine distributed within their borders, as well as $100 per hit on the related R.J. Reynolds Website] could exceed $100 million, he said.”

Does the government wish to regulate the internet? How could one doubt it? “The lawsuits also seek removal of the ad campaign images from all Web sites and promotions, including the packaging of a related music CD that was mailed out in some states, and money from R.J. Reynolds for anti-smoking ads.”

R.J. Reynolds subsequently proved its lack of courage by blocking access to its website.

Again, speaking of children, ABC News of Australia posted this story on its site on December 10, “Put carbon tax on babies: academic.” Read: Loon.

“While carbon trading will no doubt play a key role in curbing emissions, environmental scientists say the politically sensitive issue of population growth also needs to be given more consideration in the climate change debate.

“Now a radical proposal to reduce population growth has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia – a carbon tax on babies….Barry Walters, an associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia, is making that case.

“Dr. Walters says every family choosing to have more than a defined number [defined by whom?] of children should be charged a carbon tax. He goes on to argue that those purchasing condoms or undergoing sterilization procedures should be awarded carbon credits….The proposal is backed by Garry Egger, an adjunct professor of health sciences at Southern Cross University in New South Wales.”

No one could have predicted that the Kyoto Protocol would sire such a bastard son: state control of populations.

“…[W]e’re ignoring the fact that the downside [to having children]…is the pollution and the carbon footprint that’s created by increasing the population,” said Egger.

“Dr. Egger says two people per couple would be a reasonable ‘tax-free’ number, because it represents replacement value.’” To whom? Some future Director of the Department of Births and Deaths?

Another loon, Dr. Jack Pezzey, senior fellow at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, also endorses the proposal.

“Dr. Pezzey says there seems to be a bit of a taboo on talking about population control. ‘If you raise issues of controlling population growth, the accusation is very rapidly made of being an eco-fascist or a racist.’”

Dr. Pezzey, of course, doesn’t want to be accused of being that. He wants to “get away with it” without being correctly identified. Nevertheless, the accusations would be justified. Scratch a wannabe regulator, and you’ll find a fascist. Or even a racist. But definitely someone who claims to own you, and advocates either your “voluntary collaboration” to achieve the statist goal of reducing CO2 emissions by not having children, or a penalty for committing a ‘crime” against the earth by having them.

Australians do not have a monopoly on Mother Earth’s religious loons, however. Americans and Brits have more than an ample share of them. In a December 10th Los Angeles Times article, “Greenness is next to godliness,” writer Gregory Rodriguez reports that,

“Climate change has even entered the realm of sexual politics. Last month, a female Swedish scientist found that ‘women cause considerably fewer carbon dioxide emissions than men, and thus considerably less climate change.’ A green think tank in London has urged British couples to think of the environmental consequences of having more than two children. It released a paper showing that if couples had two children instead of three, ‘they could cut their family’s carbon dioxide output the equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.’

“Similarly, last month a London tabloid featured a 35-year-old environmentalist who asked to be sterilized so she could contribute to the effort ‘to protect the planet. Having children is selfish,’ she insisted. ‘It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet.’”

Rodriguez made this interesting observation:

“Environmentalist rhetoric…constantly reminds us of our own culpability. For that reason, environmentalism is more akin to a religious awakening than to a political ideology. Like evangelicals, environmentalists speak, in their way, of fire and brimstone. Like the preacher, the environmentalist activist demands that we give ourselves to something beyond ourselves and that we do penance for our wasteful, carbon-profligate ways. Like the Catholic Church of old, they even sell indulgences – carbon offsets.” Or what the Kyoto Protocol calls “emission credits.”

Is there any doubt that the environmentalists wish to inculcate guilt in everyone for the “sin” of existing, that they hope that individuals will have themselves sterilized, or will commit suicide, and that the rest of the human race will follow suit in the name of “protecting the planet”? And that if someone doesn’t feel guilty for existing and “do the right thing,” the protectors of Mother Earth will come after him with the same fervent, murderous lunacy as was seen in the mobs in Sudan brandishing swords and calling for the death of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher arrested for allowing her students to name a stuffed animal “Mohammed”?

Speaking of anthropogenic global-warming, CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases, and what to do about them, CBS’s Katie Couric on December 11 posed this brain-taxer to ten Republican and Democratic presidential candidates: “Do you think the risks of climate change are at all overblown?”

I would have answered, “Yes, it is not only overblown, but if you’re speaking of man-caused global warming, then it is more than overblown: It is lying propaganda which you, Matt Lauer, Charles Gibson and other so-called journalists haven’t bothered to investigate or examine any further than your teleprompters. It’s a literal article of faith to you, and allows you to be sanctimonious and pose as oracles of wisdom without the risk of rebuttal.”

Every one of the candidates answered in a manner that too scarily recalled the anti-intellectual banality and ignorance of Berzelius Windrip, the 1938 presidential candidate in Sinclair Lewis’s novel, It Can’t Happen Here, who became a dictator. (Possibly Lewis meant the name to be a semi-alliteration for “berserk and zealous windbag.”) There was not a single suggestion in their answers that any of the candidates had read opposing arguments against anthropogenic global warming, or that they were even inclined to ask themselves why anyone would think the issue “overblown.” Occasionally, one or two of them endorsed nuclear power expansion as an alternative to coal and oil, but that spark of intelligence was lost in the damp mold of meaningless rhetoric, and if any one of them wins the White House, no rekindled flame for nuclear power will result. Not a single one of them questioned the efficacy of “green technology” or the “fact” of man-caused global warming. I cannot decide which candidate most resembles Berzelius Windrip, but here are some answers to Couric’s question as transcribed on the CBS website:

• John Edwards: “It seems to me that every time we get more scientific information it indicates the problem is more severe, more serious than we thought. So, no, I don’t think it’s over-hyped….[I’d] have a national cap on carbon emissions. I’d make polluters pay, people who below the cap are still putting out carbon dioxide….” Comment: His “scientific information” obviously is coming from one side.
• Fred Thompson: “There are a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know the extent of this cyclical thing…I don’t know the answer to that. I can’t give you a list of specific items….” Comment: He knows nothing, and will know only what his aides tell him it’s useful to know to curry favor with the public, which he believes is tearing its hair out over global warming. A CBS/New York Times poll said it was.
• Hillary Clinton: “I don’t think it’s over-hyped….We can drastically lower our use of electricity, thereby drastically lower our use of coal-powered electricity…There has to be change from the lowest level of the family and business level all the way up to the national and international level.” Comment: Her naked lust for power and the chance to force those drastic changes on everyone could never be “over-hyped.”
• John McCain: “I have been to Greenland. I have been to the South Pole. I’ve been to the Arctic, and I know it’s real. I believe that we’ve got to go back to nuclear power. We’ve got to do alternative energy….” Comment: Well, what would be the use of “alternative energy” if we went back to nuclear power? McCain blames “special interests” for the U.S. not going nuclear and green fast enough. “It’s the utility companies and the petroleum companies and other special interests.” He has it backwards: It’s Congress and the federal government, beholden to environmental policies, that have blocked nuclear power and oil reserve development.
• Barack Obama: “…I’ve put forward a very substantial proposal to get 80 percent reductions of greenhouse gases by 2050….[W]e’re going to have to charge for pollution and create a market for pollution abatement and create green technologies….” Comment: Yeah, and Berzelius Windrip promised $5,000 to every American if he was elected. The electorate drooled. The money never happened. The electorate got what it voted for.
• Mitt Romney: “I think the risks of climate change are real. And that you’re seeing real climate change. And I think human activity is contributing to it….I don’t wanna have America unilaterally think it’s somehow gonna stop global warming….” Comment: He’s for nuclear power, and clean-burning coal, and other things he’d wanna see the government oversee and regulate.
• Bill Richardson: “No, if anything they’re [sic] underblown.” Comment: He would go after 50 miles per gallon, have 30 percent of electricity produced by “renewable” energy such as solar, wind, and biomass, and would penalize any entity that didn’t help reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2040. Nuclear power eluded him.
• Rudy Giuliani: “There is global warming. Human beings are contributing to it. I think the best answer is energy independence. We’ve got more coal reserves in the U.S. than they have oil reserves in Saudi Arabia.” Comment: Also more offshore and Alaskan oil reserves that are off-limits because of environmentalist policies. But the manatees and caribou and tundra must remain undisturbed. There were a few sparks of rationality in Giuliani’s answer; he pointed out that 80 percent of France’s power comes from nuclear energy.
• Joe Biden: “I think Al Gore has done something really quite phenomenal. He has brought us into the consciousness the reality of what is going to happen.” Comment: None on such bilious language.
• Mike Huckabee: “I don’t know. I mean, the honest answer for me, scientifically, is ‘I don’t know.’ But here’s one thing I do know, that we ought to not let this become this big political football and point of argument. We all ought to agree that we live on this planet as guests.” Comment: Of God? Or of Mother Earth? Well, he doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to talk about it. He and Fred Thompson would make perfect running mates. The holy-roller preacher and the actor.

Those are the presidential candidates, every one of them a loon as clueless about global warming as Paris Hilton about checkbook registers and nearly as vacuously inarticulate. And all second-handers to whom reason and an original thought haven’t paid a visit in decades. Some of the ideas floating in their disintegrated minds are lead balloons, others are pure carbon dioxide, but all are there by consensus.

“Junius,” the pseudonymous 18th century British critic of Parliament and government corruption, wrote in the Public Advertiser in November of 1770, that, “The injustice done to an individual is sometimes of service to the public.” The individuals he was referring to were the corrupt, the venal, and the politically ambitious whose dubious characters he labored to expose.

The public would do itself a service next November by not giving any of these loons a clear mandate to own us.

Our Lying, Cheating Do-Gooders: Part Two

Unlike the “debate” over anthropogenic global warming, the “debate” over the alleged health risks of secondhand smoke (environmental tobacco smoke, or ETS) is apparently over, not because the advocates of smoking bans have proven their assertions, but because: first, the advocates wish their allegations to be true; and, second, government force is backing up those assertions, thus giving them an aura of legitimacy in the name of “public health.”

At least, in public, the debate is “over,” but there is a kind of samizdat that runs counter to the prevailing, “official” opinion on the subject. Those arguments rarely surface in the mainstream press, but they do surface, chiefly on the Internet (whose regulation, not surprisingly, Congress is also contemplating).

In an Op-Ed distributed by the Ayn Rand Institute, “Doing Violence to Free Speech” (November 30th), Don Watkins, writing about the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to regulate “excessive violence” on television, noted:

“What made this trend toward increasing censorship possible – and inevitable? When the FCC assumed power to subordinate free speech to the ‘public interest,’ it declared, in effect, that individuals are incompetent to judge what speech they and their children should be exposed to, and so their judgment must be usurped by all-wise FCC bureaucrats, who will control the airwaves in their name. Given this disgraceful principle, it did not matter that the FCC’s initial restrictions were supposedly limited to speech concerning sex: if the government knows what’s best for us in the realm of sexual speech and can dictate what we watch or listen to, then there is no reason why it should not control what ideas we should be exposed to across the board.”

To be “declared incompetent” in any form of judgment or action, of course, means, in effect, having to be supervised, controlled, herded with numerous other mental incompetents, and chained to a warden’s dictates of what is best for one. It means that a bureaucrat or some other government functionary will do one’s thinking for one. To dare think and judge independently is to risk being punished and spending a month, a year or perhaps a lifetime in the “cooler,” to borrow a term from The Great Escape.

Censorship also includes the censorship of advertising, especially advertising cigarettes and smoking, the subject of this commentary. Watkins writes that in 1927, “just as radios were becoming widely used, the government seized control of the airwaves, declared them ‘public property,’ and assumed the power to regulate them in the name of the ‘public interest’ – an undefinable term that can be stretched to mean anything. Thus broadcasters’ right to free speech was cut off at the root….”

In 1927, Philo T. Farnsworth, an American pioneer in television technology (he ultimately held 165 television-related patents), successfully broadcast a signal that featured the dollar sign, which heralded the philosophy that television was to be a commercially, for-profit enterprise, not a “public service.”

It was Farnsworth’s dollar sign that was cut off at the root in the beginning.

It is not only broadcasters who face incremental censorship, but others who offer values, including advertisers.

This philosophy was in fundamental conflict with that being advocated by champions of the “public interest,” such as Herbert Hoover, who, as Secretary of Commerce in 1922, at the Radio Conference in Washington, stated that it was “inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service and for news and for entertainment and education to be drowned in advertising chatter.” The concept of service in both radio and television over the decades since then trumped the commercial ends of broadcasting. Service is incompatible with self-interest – or the dollar sign – which the regulators wished then and still wish to limit and ultimately eradicate.

We are seeing the consequences of allowing the altruist idea of service to remain a moral imperative, which is gradually suborning the general idea of free speech. In the view of the regulators, however, all else is superfluous “chatter,” including the practice of free speech.

The censors wish to banish the dollar sign from not only the airwaves, but from the Internet, cable and satellite transmission, as well, if they can persuade or pressure Congress to do their bidding in the name of the “public interest.”

In 1971, cigarette advertising was banned from television and radio, thus violating not only the tobacco companies’ freedom of speech, but also the right of the broadcasters to accept paid sponsorship or advertising from tobacco companies. Years later, tobacco ads were banned from billboards, violating again the tobacco companies’ diminishing freedom of speech, and the rights of the billboard companies. As for the print media, only a few periodicals are left that dare accept advertising from tobacco companies, and these ads must carry the mandated health warnings dictated by the government, as well as on tobacco companies’ marketing materials, in a form of inverse self-censorship. Incrementally, and inevitably, only the government is retaining freedom of speech.

The health risks of smoking, aside from the issue of ETS, is itself open to debate. No valid, scientific, medical conclusion has been reached. The deleterious effects of smoking all depend on any individual’s physical condition, or his susceptibility to any harmful consequences. There are sundry stories of men and women who smoked a pack a day or more and lived passed the age of 100, longer than many health-conscious individuals obsessed with exercise (and many of the latter, such as joggers, Lance Armstrong wannabe cyclists, and frequenters of gyms, develop serious medical disabilities later in their lives, as a result).

I particularly recall seeing a gallery of daguerreotypes of Revolutionary War veterans, taken in the 1840’s, every one of whom smoked, drank, and certainly ate food that was more risk-laden than any of the food purportedly saturated with ingredients deemed “dangerous” or “unhealthy” by the government, which regularly warns and scolds Americans about them today. Every one of those men was in his 90’s or 100’s when his image was recorded.

What can account for the longevity of individuals who indulge in such a heretofore-unregulated “life style” as smoking? The medical science jury is still out on that question, but the nanny-state regulators and advocates are driven by their statist premises that action must be taken. The jury is not likely to return a rational, objectively arrived at verdict for as long as science and medicine are influenced or even partly dominated by government power and money.

Fundamentally, there is no difference between the wholesale seizure of private property under the current practice of eminent domain to benefit private interests (such as real estate developers) and the partial, de facto seizure of property by government to benefit non-smokers (such as restaurants, office buildings, and, in some localities, such as Belmont, California, residences).

The tobacco industry (or at least those companies party to the extortionate “master agreement” of 1998) must share the blame for its virtual nationalization by the federal and state governments. It has done little other than cringe in the face of charges that it deliberately sets out to make people addicted to smoking and otherwise “profit” from alleged smoking deaths and disabilities. It has complied with the government’s edicts with little more than a whimper of protest.

Of course, it makes as little sense for the tobacco industry to plead guilty to the fact that some people’s health is damaged by smoking as it would any other industry to plead guilty to the fact that some people die or are injured by driving cars, using cell phones, consuming pepperoni pizza, or using guns to commit crimes.

I have often tried to imagine the kind of society in which all the government’s health concerns were imposed by law across the board on everyone and everyone complied with them, either voluntarily or by threat of penalty, a society in which no one smoked, consumed trans fats or any amount of cholesterol, drank coffee, or ingested any other “dangerous” food; a society in which everyone took only government-approved medications and observed government-mandated diets; a society in which it would be deemed “anti-social” and even criminal to endanger anyone else’s life or health by smoking or taking any other government-prohibited action.

Feelings and emotions would be protected, too, so everyone would be required to keep his mouth shut or his pen idle lest the “self-esteem” of any person or group be damaged by careless speech. Obese people would be specially taxed and sent to reeducation camps. Those with mild or severe allergies would be the especial objects of legislative dotage. Restaurants would not be allowed to offer a menu that did not also warn customers that everything on it could kill them. And so on.

To escape such a suffocating society and re-experience freedom, one might contemplate venturing into the wild, beyond the reach of the FDA, the CDC, and the Health Police, but only if one was willing to risk discovery by armed EPA sheriffs and environmentalist bounty-hunters, whose mission would be to maintain and enforce a pristine, man-free wilderness.

It would be a stale, static, short-lived society, for, in reality, it would simply stop functioning. Such a society is possible only in the realm of science fiction or political satire. Hospital ward societies, in which mental incompetents are shepherded through their lives by bureaucrats and strong-arm nurses, produce nothing, and so would go bankrupt, starve and collapse.

The effects of ETS also belong in the realm of science fiction. Audrey Silk, a former New York City cop and now head of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.), recently provided the links to several medical papers that contest, if not refute, the assertions of government that ETS is as harmful as smoking. “Three research papers, one magazine article, and one newspaper Op-Ed all came out within weeks of each other – each screaming the same thing: The Anti-Smokers are Liars.”

In a New York Post Op-Ed of October 23, “Smoke & Mirrors: Butts, Lies and Public Health,” Jeff Stier writes that Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University’s School of Public Health published a report in Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations (10 October 2007) that anti-smoking advocates “are wildly inflating the health risks of exposure to second-hand smoke. In doing so, they tarnish the very credibility that the public-health community must have in order to save lives.”

Siegel, “no friend of Big Tobacco,” writes Stier, “is pointing the finger at the well-intentioned likes of Action on Smoking and Health, the politically powerful Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and New York City’s Department of Health.

Stier writes that there “is evidence that long-term, high-dose ETS exposure increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. And there is speculation that even short-term exposure may be unsafe to those with severe coronary artery disease. But the evidence does not support the claim that more than 100 groups are wantonly making – which is that acute, transient exposure to ETS increases heart-attack risk in healthy individuals.”

Evidence? Speculation? One supposes that the “evidence” is collected from volunteers locked in a room into which smoke is ventilated. And should society become a hospital ward in deference to those with severe coronary disease, or asthma or other ailments that may be exacerbated by ETS?

“The lack of evidence hasn’t stopped Commissioner Thomas Frieden at the city Health Department,” writes Stier, “which is buying ads in The New York Times claiming that ‘just 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke produces some of the same physical reactions that would occur from long-term smoking, and increases the risk of heart disease in non-smokers.’

“The ‘evidence’ behind that assertion is so flimsy that it would be laughed at if it supported the finding that smoking is less dangerous than we once thought. The clear implication is that some anti-smoking activists have adopted an ‘ends justifies the means’ approach in pursuit of their noble cause.”

The cause cannot be “noble” if it requires the suspension of civil liberties based on the wishes of neo-puritans, backed by government force. See my commentary, “Our Lying, Cheating Do-Gooders” of November 23 for insights into their ruses and stratagems in the name of “science.” Remember, too, that the New York Health Department’s very expensive ads in the Times are being paid for with tax dollars.

“This is what makes Siegel’s report so troubling,” writes Stier. “No longer can we rely on the public-health establishment for scientifically accurate information. They’ll fudge the numbers if they have to, so long as it promotes their overall agenda – in this case, the drive to outlaw smoking in all public places.”

Yes, they will fudge the numbers – just as the advocates of anthropogenic global warming have fudged the numbers. And since when was a government science organization ever consistently reliable? Power can corrupt scientists as well as politicians.

“Even more disturbing,” continues Stier, “is that some in the tobacco-control community are attacking those raising questions. Siegel was banned from the primary tobacco listserv for simply sharing his dissenting views….UCLA epidemiologist Dr. James Enstrom has been personally vilified for, in his words, ‘questioning the lethality of ETS, such as a claim in the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report,’ which alleges that ETS kills about 50,000 Americans per year.”

Just as skeptics and “deniers” of man-caused global warming have been ostracized and vilified in the realm of climatology. ETS “kills about 50,000 Americans per year”? Surgeon General Richard Carmona reported in 2006 that it was 49,000. Another report cited 63,000. Pick a number. It will be as suspect as any public health official’s.

Stier unfortunately ends his illuminating article with a second-hand assertion of his own: “Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States….” Yesterday, it was not wearing seatbelts. The day before it was obesity. The week before it was….You name it.

Enstrom published his own protest on the Epidemiologic Perspectives site on October 10, “Defending legitimate epidemiologic research: combating Lysenko pseudoscience,” in the form of a provisional abstract of a longer article.

“This analysis presents a detailed defense of my epidemiologic research in the May 17, 2003 British Medical Journal that found no significant relationship between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and tobacco-related mortality….In order to defend the honesty and scientific integrity of my research, I have identified and addressed in a detailed manner several unethical and erroneous attacks on this research….I refute erroneous statements made by powerful U.S. epidemiologists and activists about me and my research….Finally, I compare many aspects of ETS epidemiology in the U.S. with pseudoscience in the Soviet Union during the period of Trofim Devisovich Lysenko….Overall, this paper is intended to defend legitimate research against illegitimate criticism by those who have attempted to suppress and discredit it because it does not support their ideological and political agendas….”

Another researcher, Carl V. Phillips, on October 22 posted his own protest on Epidemiologic Perspectives, “Warning: Anti-tobacco activism may be hazardous to epidemiologic science.”

Finally, Sidney Zion, in Skeptic Magazine ((Vol. 13, No. 3, 2007, 20-27), in his article “Science and Secondhand Smoke: The Need for a Good Puff of Skepticism,” opens his scathing examination of the ETS hoax with “There is nothing more powerful than a lie whose time has come. Thus, the smoking bans.”

Zion’s eight-page, double-columned article contains a wealth of information about the ETS myth, but perhaps its most startling revelation is that the wannabe health gauleiters dug and dug and dug and found nothing:

“In 1993, to bolster the case (that ETS was causing thousands of Americans to drop dead every year, or at least giving them lung and heart problems), Congressman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House subcommittee on Health and the Environment, commissioned the universally credible Congressional Research Service to produce the final, definitive study on the perils of second-hand smoke. For nearly two years, CRS considered the whole canon of studies and interpretations, reporting:

 The statistical evidence does not appear to support a conclusion that there are substantial health effects of passive smoking.
 It is possible that very few or even no deaths can be attributed to ETS.
 If there are any lung cancer deaths from ETS exposure, they are likely to be concentrated among those subjected to the highest exposure levels…primarily among those non-smokers subjected to significant spousal ETS.
 The results are not definitive. And even at the greatest exposure levels, the measured risks are still subject to uncertainty.”

This news was not welcome to Henry Waxman and his cohorts, just as the truth about global warming was not welcome to Al Gore and his bevy of believers. What did Waxman do? He lied, and his subcommittee issued a press release that gave the impression that just the opposite was found by the CRS, that ETS was a mortal danger that ought to be outlawed, which predictably, was headlined by most American newspapers. And the CRS report, writes Zion, was intended to back up a 1992 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that was as skewed and dishonest as a pack of marked cards on “Texas Hold ‘Em.”

“Thanks to Waxman and a compliant press corps,” however, writes Zion, “the CRS findings were ignored by the media. When the EPA report got to court, it was thrown out as an outright fraud. Federal Judge William Osteen interviewed a range of scientists for four years, writing a 91-page opinion in 1998.”

Among other things, Osteen found that the EPA had “failed to disclose important [opposing] findings and reasoning; and left significant questions without answers,” and “publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun,” and “adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the Agency’s public conclusion, and aggressively utilized the Act’s authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme….”

Another nail in the coffin of the ETS myth was hammered by no less a guru than the World Health Organization of the U.N., which in March 1998, before Osteen released his opinion, concluded that there was “no statistically significant risk for non-smokers who lived or worked with smokers.”

What were the Monty Python-esque knights of ETS to do? Well, they didn’t “run away.” In defiance of reality, they pressed on with their attacks, aided in large part by a friendly, crisis-obsessed news media. The EPA report claimed that 3,000 Americans a year died from ETS. That un-impressive number was increased to over 50,000. And if countries like France, Britain, Ireland, Australia and Israel can act to ban smoking in “public places” (that is, on private property), so must the U.S. if it doesn’t want to be seen as backward and non-progressive and hostile to tut-tutting nanny states.

Zion’s article recounts just how corrupt and power-hungry anti-smoking zealots have become. They are, after all, do-gooders – What have reality and truth to do with our noble cause? they assure themselves – and they will not hesitate to stoop to any tactic, including lying and cheating, to impose their wishes on the rest of the country. Their tactics not surprisingly include the virtual censorship of dissension by laymen and scientists from their apocalyptic assertions.

Audrey Silk, whose signature C.L.A.S.H. battle cry is “No Retreat, No Surrender,” asked of Thomas Frieden in a CBS News article, “New York’s Doctor Crusades Against Fat” (October 14), “Why do you have to make sure that I conform to your way of life? I don’t understand it.”

One could say it is because she is not “community-oriented.” That she is “anti-social” and must be socialized for the good of all, even if it means applying a cosh to the back of her head. That she is independent, and independent minds cannot be ruled or told what to think. That she is a wild card in the rigged poker game of pseudo- or junk science who could rake in all the chips. That she is guilty of advocating “excessive” individualism and must be put in the stocks of statism.

Or, she can share H.L. Mencken’s definitive observation on Puritanism: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” That’s why.

Human happiness, contrary to all their “chatter” about public health and the public good, is not the goal of the do-gooders. The do-gooders with the guns and the laws seek power, and the power they seek requires the obedience and deference of men who want to live but who are afraid of living. Such men are not happy, and are incapable of being happy. Writing in 1918 about the clamor for the prohibition of alcohol, Mencken also observed, “The alcohol myth is such a bugaboo. The sort of man it scares is the sort of man whose chief mark is that he is scared all the time.”

He could have said the same thing about the current bugaboos of smoking, obesity, trans fats, cholesterol, sugar, coffee and every other vehicle of human happiness the alarmists draw their swords against – including sex and “indecent” television programming.

Congenitally frightened men are the cookie-dough of our elected and non-elected censors and tyrants past, present, and possibly future. Audrey Silk and millions of Americans like her refuse to be eaten. Ultimately, that may result in more “excessive violence” than the five wise men of the FCC could ever imagine.

It might mean the true completion of the American Revolution.

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