Video Proof of Our TAM Panel!

September 27, 2012

For those of you who were skeptical that the James Randi Educational Foundation would allow Bob and me to appear on a panel at The Amazing Meeting 2012, we have evidence!

Welcome to the end of the world…

October 21, 2011

Shatner did “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s worse than Camping could have hoped for:

RJB (who blames Eve)

“Anonymous” Screenwriter John Orloff: Name Dropping and Wrong

October 18, 2011

John Orloff, who wrote the screenplay for the badly titled Anonymous (as Eve points out, it should be Pseudonymousout-stupided the Huffington Post on their own turf, which is no mean feat. He took issue with the phrase “urban legend.” I agree. They should have used the phrase, “unfettered clacking bollocks.” I intend to use his little screed in future classes to teach logical fallacies. His letter went as follows:

I’d like to think current and past US Supreme Court Justices don’t believe in Urban Legends. Namely, Justices Stevens, Blackmun, O’Connor and Scalia all think there is reason to doubt the validity of the actor William Shakespeare having written the plays history ascribes to him.

Wow. Not a Shakespearean scholar among them. Ok, you’re name dropping, but the sad fact is that just because you don’t like to think about it doesn’t mean it’s not true. This is the appeal to personal incredulity. “I can’t believe that these smart people would believe an urban legend, therefore, Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare.”

As does historian David McCullough. As do authors such as Mark Twain (whose last book, “Is Shakespeare Dead” is dedicated to the issue), Henry James (who said he was “haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting Public”), and Walt Whitman (to name a few).

This is a classic appeal to false authority. You could fart sonnets like an angel and still not have a rollicking clue about the reams of scholarship backing the mainstream view.

As do Shakespearean actors Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Orson Welles (who directed and starred in several Shakespeare plays).

Yawn. Appeal to false authority. Sorry.

And Mark Rylance, who is not only perhaps the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation, but a man who was also the Artistic Director of the Globe Theater in London for ten years. Think about that last name; the man who ran the Globe theater for a decade doesn’t think Shakespeare wrote a single word.

Wow. I’m willing to bet if I look in my university databases I’ll find he never had to publish a goddamned thing under peer review:

  • Academic Search Complete ( 0 )
  • Research Library ( 0 )
  • Project Muse ( 0 )
  • MLA International Bibliography ( 1 )
  • Essay & General Literature Index ( 0 )
  • Arts & Humanities Citation Index ( 0 )
  • Humanities Int’l Index ( 0 )

That single entry is in a book about the resurrection of the Globe Theater, and it does not address authorship. And it’s not you like are citing an independent authority, since he’s in the freaking movie. “Well, my friends think so,” is as unconvincing as, “My mom says I’m smart.”

And we can add Sigmund Freud in there as well.


An Urban Myth is something proven to be false. I’m not sure we’re there on this particular issue.

Well, I disagree with your definition of urban myth, but the burden of proof is not on mainstream academia. We don’t default to the position that you know your head from your ham hocks.

And how do you know that someone wasn’t scared by Eddie Murphy in an elevator?

Either way, I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s statement on the subject when he was asked about the Authorship Issue. His response? He replied he wasn’t that interested in Oxford because, in his words: “I don’t like to have my myths tampered with”.

He meant the Shakespeare myth.

He meant, “Get stuffed, bozo. I’m not interested.” It doesn’t matter how many amateurs you say you surround yourself with, you’re still sitting on the short bus. (Yes, the actors and directors have a skill set that is completely unrelated to scholarship.)

Your software is broken, kiddo. Don’t try to contribute to the Great Discussion, because you’ll only embarrass yourself.


Comic Book Review: The Big Lie

September 14, 2011

“Lies are like unwashed socks,” opens Rich Veitch’s new comic, The Big Lie. “They come in all sizes and stink to high heaven.” Take the stinker he just published, for instance.

The Big Lie is the story of Sandra Stratton, who works at the Large Hadron Collider in 2011 but travels back in time to the morning of 9/11 to rescue her husband, who was killed in the attacks. She materializes in the WTC subway, and opens with a pee joke:

This is the high point of the comic; it’s all downhill from there. Also, doesn’t it seem strange that they chose as their model a surprised, unbespectacled Desiree Schell?

Anyway, because of some quantum, Sandra has teleported back into the past, but because of some pesky tachyon entanglement miscalculation issues, she only has one hour to rescue her husband. But here’s how Veitch puts it:

Big spelling fail.

Carl’s at an early morning meeting, discussing, as best I can tell, the possibility of demolishing a real steel framed building in Iraq for Steven Spielberg. Really.

I had hopes for this comic book. Usually, when you encounter a truther in the wild of the Internet, you will be debated at and shown youtube videos. I thought that moving to a new medium would perhaps change this. So what does Desiree do when she sees her husband, Carl? SHE DEBATES HIM AND SHOWS HIM FECKING YOUTUBE VIDEOS!!


So they settle into a debate not unlike Plato’s Phaedrus, only populated by snarky douchebags. Take, for instance, the following exchange:

For you non-engineers, Carl is a moron. Silly-puttying “teh thermites” to the wall will only give you burned silly putty and burning thermite on the floor. It burns so hot that you’d actually need to weld trays to the steel of the building, and even then, you would only scorch the steel, not cut it:

That scene of thermite not cutting a steel beam, by the way, is from Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura by the way. Yet he fails to learn anything from it. Oh well. As she is being dragged away by security,  Sandra exclaims, “Building 7!”:

I know how you feel, Carl. Oh, by the way, Carl doesn’t recognize his wife, because she was never crazy or old before.

As soon as Sandra is escorted from the building,  the office is rocked by a gigantic….

This is the plane hitting, not an enormous exploding owl, as you might expect from the noise it made. In the last scene, they see exposed thermite bombs on the steel beams in their office building. This means that the author is endorsing the idea that not only did the conspirators crash planes, but were also able to decide which floors they would hit, a far, far more complicated project than either an airline strike or a demolition. If you’re going to be wrong, be shamefully, spectacularly wrong, that’s my motto.

It’s confusing. It’s pedantic and saturated with bad arguments by every single character, the product of a mind detached from reality. It’s prefaced by the statement that:

The sheer number of spelling/grammar/factual/anachronistic errors suggests to me that someone at editor at Image, a usually reputable publisher, did not really care if it looked as bad as it is. At least I like to think so. It’s too bad. Veitch, who used to rub shoulders with Alan Moore, is now piddling in the shallow end of the pool with the kids from the short bus.

RJB (with a shout out to Steven for letting me take a peek at his copy!)

From our foreign correspondent…

August 12, 2011

…the Blessed Professor Acker, who is currently in England. Hopefully he’s looting something nice for us. Oh, also that he remembers to steal an adapter since the plugs are different over there. He apparently picked up an Annunciation for himself:


I’m not going to TAM, but I’m going to have fun anyway!

July 10, 2011

While I can’t attend the skeptical hajj (which every skeptic must attend at least once in their life!), Eve is taking me to see Tim Minchin, who is performing in Atlanta during TAMapalooza. Tim will be playing at Center Stage Atlanta, the 1100 seat theater where TruthCon was held.  In celebration of the event, I am going to post the first version of “Storm” that I encountered. (You’ll have to visit his channel to see the excellent version that was released this year.) The narrator of Storm would have locked Center Stage’s doors from the outside and set the place on fire, laughing and sobbing all the way.


Was the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima Staged?

June 18, 2011

Oh, I’m getting rusty, people. I almost let this one slip past me. About a month ago I was listening to On the Media, one of my favorite podcasts. Paul Waldman and Peter Gourevitch were debating whether or not we needed to see an image of Osama bin Laden’s corpse. (I happen to think not, but whatever.) This exchange took place:

PAUL WALDMAN: We didn’t need the photograph of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima to make us understand that we had won World War II, but it communicated a great deal about what we understood about that event, what it was supposed to represent, what it was supposed to tell us about us.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH: The image of Iwo Jima is exactly the opposite. It happens also to be a staged reenactment, as we now know, but it’s an image of American soldiers triumphing over intense adversity at the end of a grueling battle, hoisting their flag in pride over their nation. What you’re talking about is a headshot of Hitler with his brains blown out and showing. We don’t have that. And I don’t think there’s been a failure to achieve closure on World War II in the absence of it.

I groaned when I heard this because I teach classes about WWII, but I let it slide. A better blogger would have dropped everything, said good-bye to the wife, and set out to the library to put this sucker in the ground. I am unfortunately not that blogger.

I drag out this photo in almost every class I teach at some point. It’s the classic Joe Rosenthal photo of Marines erecting a flag at the summit of Mt. Suribachi, perhaps one of the most widely reprinted images of all time, and it’s not hard to see why:

The photo was taken after three days of fighting on Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima, I think you will find, sucked. It was a Japanese home island, and it was a fortress of the most formidable type. The Japanese had been preparing it for years, digging caves and tunnels in the volcanic rock and covering every inch of the island with artillery and machine guns, so that there was nowhere safe on the island for an invader. It was a perfect nightmare to attack. A US team could seal one spider hole with explosives, and the Japanese soldier who had been in there would pop up behind you and shoot you from there. All of the artillery and mortars would have been pre-sighted, that is, the Japanese would have placed targets of known size and distance to help them aim quickly, accurately and effectively. Look at this map, which shows the artillery and defensive positions on the island, and then consider that every one of those little dots housed either a machine gun, mortar or high explosive artillery. Iwo Jima was a calculated, engineered hell.

Contrary to what Gourevich says, the flag was not raised at the end of the battle, but at the beginning of a month-long struggle on the island. Indeed, only three of the men in the image survived the battle. Nonetheless, Iwo Jima was late in the war (Feb-March 1945), when Japan’s defeat was no longer a question. The only question was at what cost would Japan be defeated. As US troops were finally stepping on and taking over a home island, it represented the beginning of a new, final chapter.

The only feature to speak of on the entire island was Mt. Suribachi, itself riddled with man-made caves and bunkers. It loomed over the soldiers the entire time, and it must have been discouraging to know that the enemy was spotting you from the heights he commanded.

Symbolically, the mountain came to represent something other than a strategic position on an island. Indeed, it represented, on the eve of American victory in the Pacific, a long struggle that started at Pearl Harbor. (Perhaps this is is the “grueling battle” Gourevich was talking about.)

On the Media‘s listeners, God bless ’em, did not let Gourevich’s comment slide, as Bob Garfield reported in the next week’s listener mailbag segment:

Many of you responded to Gourevitch’s point that the photo of Iwo Jima was staged. Listener Brian Vargo writes, quote, “It is irresponsible to let someone say that on air. I cannot fathom how a program titled On the Media would allow something like that to go unchallenged.”

And listener Ben Bradley concurred. “My grandfather is in that picture,” he wrote. “I would like you to know that the flag-raising picture was not staged.”

Tim Zinnen brought the facts to bear on the issue when he wrote, quote, “Please correct for your listeners the statement your guest from The New Yorker made that the photo of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima was staged. It was not. It was a snapshot of the raising of a second larger flag. To say the photo was staged gives the wrong impression that the photographer directed the placement and positioning of the Marines and Corpsmen. There’s a difference between a staged photo and a photo of a staged event. All flag-raisings are staged events.”

The issue has sparked years of controversy, and we’ve addressed it on the show before. To say the photograph was staged is wrong. However, it was also not of the original triumphal moment. As listener Tim Zinnen wrote, the photo captured the raising of a second flag. Photographer Joe Rosenthal, who took the image, has never disputed that fact.

The sequence of events that led to the raising of the flag are fairly well-known, so I am always slightly flummoxed, if flummoxing is what I am getting at, about how this story that the image was posed continues to circulate. I suspect that part of it is that the picture is so damned good–I think it may be one of the most perfect combat photos ever taken. The figures have exquisite triangular composition; the path your eye follows from the flag, down the pole and to the men is as natural as any composition I’ve ever seen. Their task is instantly identifiable, but the men, in a manner consistent with so many combat and military photographs, are almost indistinguishable from one another. They could have been anyone’s brother, father or husband. The image exudes the message of collective, anonymous effort toward a single goal on the verge of completion.

The event of the raising itself is thoroughly documented. The first patrol to reach the top of Suribachi raised a small flag at the summit:

So, not all that majestic or anything, but seeing the Americans claim the mountain set off cheers as well as a blaring of horns in the harbor.

Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was offshore and wanted the flag as a souvenir (and so did the battalion that raised and owned the flag, by the way), so soon a second flag was erected. The officer in command at the summit, a Lt. Schrier, coordinated the raising of a second larger flag with the simultaneous lowering of the smaller flag. This moment was captured too:

This second raising was still being carried out under combat conditions not conducive for posing a photograph.

Joe Rosenthal, the AP photographer whose photograph would become famous, had missed the initial flag raising and was on the summit shooting photos of the harbor when he saw the men preparing the second raising.  The second raising was a planned event, to be sure, and Rosenthal snapped several photos.

The raising was filmed from almost the same angle as Rosenthal’s photograph:

What is interesting about the photograph is that Rosenthal had no idea that he had taken perhaps the most iconic photograph of the war. He did not have access to his images while he was on the island, and he did not develop the film–it was developed days later, on Guam. The person responsible for seeing that the image got widespread release was actually an AP editor, John Bodkin. Indeed, when someone told Rosenthal that his photo was on the cover of every newspaper on the planet, he asked, “The posed one?” You see, he had taken a posed photograph of the men under the flag:

Rosenthal hadn’t seen his iconic photo (and he in fact may have thought that he missed the shot–he wasn’t even looking through the view finder when he took it). But his reaction to hearing of his photo’s fame, his misapprehension of which photo had been selected, slipped into history and became the foundation of the alternative, unsinkable rumor that remains today.


For more about the image, I recommend:

Bradley, James. Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam, 2001.

Casaregola, Vincent. Theaters of War: America’s Perceptions of World War II. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009. See especially, pgs 106-109.