Wednesday, August 23, 2006

They Gotta Have It

So I notice that Spike Lee bills his new Hurricane Katrina HBO documentary "When the Levees Broke" as "A Spike Lee Film."

Now, usually Spike Lee calls a movie "A Spike Lee Joint." Hmmm. I guess he thinks we can't see what's going on here. Like we're too stupid to connect the dots. What, aren't the poor people of New Orleans worthy of being in a Spike Lee Joint? Why has he relegated them second-hand status? Haven't these people already suffered enough at the hands of their government tormentors?

I know why Spike Lee relegated those people to a Spike Lee Film and booted them out of the Spike Lee Joint. He's a racist.

Do the right thing, Spike. Have some compassion on the people of New Orleans. Put them in a Spike Lee Joint, and stop treating them like second-hand citizens.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare A Nickel?

Okay, here's something I could do without: about three times a week, I'll walk in somewhere to buy whatever, and the cashier will ring it up.

"That'll be $5.04," she says.

"Here you go," I say, handing her a twenty. This is where it starts.

"Uh, do you have four cents?" she asks.

"Nope," I respond, since I generally don't carry pocketfuls of nickels and pennies, having virtually no desire to be a human maraca.

This is invariably followed by an eye-roll from the cashier, often accompanied by an exhausted sigh, as the realization sinks in that she's actually going to have to attempt to count out 96 cents in change.

How about this? Rather than looking at me like I'm Richard Speck just because I don't carry my hammer and piggy bank into the Jiffy Mart with me every time I want to buy a Zagnut bar, how about changing your stupid prices? I'm not the one who's marking everything $4.99 and thinking I'm fooling the world into believing they're paying so much less than $5. Why is it my responsibility to provide all the tools necessary for a trouble-free transaction? Where did I incur the duty to not only pay for my item, but to do so in such a way that requires nothing more than bare sentience on the part of the cashier?

Hey, I brought my money, pal. The rest is pretty much your problem.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Were They Merely Patsies?

I usually hate tabloid murder cases, not to mention the 24-hour fascination with them one finds on cable news channels. (Oh, how I crave a world that's never had Nancy Grace publicly inflicted upon it.) I yawned at the Scott Peterson trial, slept through the Chandra Levy saga, and snored heavily while Robert Blake was tried. I usually just don't care.

That's why I'm ashamed to admit that I've kept an eye on this JonBenet Ramsey thing for the last ten years. I've looked at the evidence, listened to the pundits, and even read some of the books. Sad, I know. For what it's worth, if it helps rehabilitate my shattered image in your mind, I promise --it's only been JonBenet and O.J. Those are the only two I ever really followed. I mean it.

Anyway, the world has been abuzz this week over this freakshow who confessed to murdering the Ramsey girl. Though his confession seems to not stand much scrutiny, there's been a fairly steady media drumbeat over the last few days implying that somebody now owes John and Patsy Ramsey (JonBenet's long-suspected parents) an apology for ever putting them under the "umbrella of suspicion."

A couple of things about that. First, if this wackjob didn't have anything to do with it (as is looking increasingly likely), nothing in the case has actually changed this week. The original problems with the case still remain. For a ton of reasons (all of which are too boring and old-news to go into here), the intruder theory of the murder has never quite worked. Now, any prosecutor will tell you that there's never a case where every single detail neatly fits once you figure out who did it. That only happens on "Monk." But in this particular case, there are a ton of reasons for thinking it was unlikely to be an intruder who broke in.

Whoever turns out to be guilty, one fact remains, and it needs to be said since it's been lost under this week's confession and Patsy Ramsey's death earlier this summer: John and Patsy Ramsey put themselves under this "cloud of suspicion." Regularly tarting up your 6-year-old daughter like an Amsterdam hooker and displaying her to the world is disturbed behavior. It's not the way normal people conduct themselves. It's not the way normal people view a six-year-old. The fact is, there was some serious weirdness in this family. Does that automatically make them guilty? Of course not. But it does mean that they legitimately fall under the "umbrella of suspicion?" You bet it does. They clearly had an extremely twisted view of a young girl who was then murdered. If that doesn't merit some suspicion, I don't know what does. No apologies are necessary.

(P.S. Oh, and this John Mark Karr guy needs to be electrocuted whether he did it or not, just for plain creepiness. Does anybody doubt that this guy will be molesting children in the future, if he hasn't already?)

[UPDATE: After writing this, I came across a piece Jack Shafer posted late yesterday at Slate, in which he voices some similar sentiments. He also says them better than me, so his piece is worth checking out.]

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"I Know In My Heart I'm Funny"

I was sorry to see this morning that Bruno Kirby had died. He was a guy that delivered a guaranteed laugh almost every time he appeared in a film.

My favorite, somewhat obscure, scene with him appears in "Good Morning, Vietnam." Kirby plays Lieutenant Steven Hauk, Adrian Cronauer's (Robin Williams) disdainful, frustrated, humor-impaired supervisor at the Armed Forces Radio Network.

After engineering Cronauer's suspension from his radio gig because of "irreverent" humor and too-modern music, Hauk, who fancies himself a comedian ("Reader's Digest is considering publishing two of my jokes!"), puts himself on the air in Cronour's place.

The show's staff pleads with him not to go on. ("This stuff you's not funny, sir. It's sad. I'm begging you, don't try to do comedy. It's not in your blood.") He ignores them and goes on anyway, adopting the character of "Lieutenant Steve" and cracking open the microphone.

After about a minute of truly horrible, I mean mind-numbingly awful on-air material (including a conversation with his French-accented sock puppet "Frenchy"), while the show's staff trade looks of horror, Lt. Steve fires up a polka record, closes the microphone, and backs his chair away from the table. It's been a chilling spectacle. Is he going to cry in embarrassment? Suddenly, his expression changes.

"Well," says Lieutenant Steve to the staff, with a smug, self-satisfied look on his face. "I think some apologies are in order."

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Monday, August 14, 2006

That's Just The Way These People Are

News of the passing of Mike Douglas has launched a discussion in the comments section on the long-running battle between Douglas and Merv Griffin.

Frankly, I don't know that anyone ever really solves the explosive Griffin vs. Douglas debate, though thousands have senselessly died trying.

Years ago, it seemed like a possible resolution was on the horizon after Boutros Boutros-Ghali got the United Nations involved in response the worldwide outcry that followed Dinah Shore's tragic crossfire-related death. But such hopes proved ephemeral when hostilities renewed after the Jenny Jones/Montel Williams brigade commenced afternoon talk operations in the early 90's throwing the whole region into disarray.

One thing is certain. This ancient conflict was being fought long before any of us were every born, and there's no reason to think it will be solved in our lifetime.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Who'da Thunk It? (Part V)

70's television talk show host Mike Douglas has died at the age of 81.

I know I say this kind of thing fairly frequently, but seriously: who knew that Mike Douglas was still alive?

If I had to guess yesterday, I would've said he's been dead for, oh, maybe 20 years.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Silver Lining In The Friendly Skies

That's some pretty frightening stuff coming to light today about the foiled al-Qaida plot to explode as many as ten airliners traveling from England to the United States. It's all the more frightening knowing that I was on one of those U.K.-to-U.S. flights only a week and a half ago.

But if I can take one bit of solace in all this--one grain of comfort--it's that British Airways would likely have lost the explosive-laden bags long before they ever got on the airplane anyway.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Iran So Far Away?

Talk radio has been abuzz for the last two days about respected Islam scholar Bernard Lewis' frightening article about Iran's apocalyptic designs.

If you haven't seen it yet, you can read Lewis' article here.

Writes Lewis:
In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time--Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. [Iranian president] Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Chasing Anthony

The relentlessly clueless Dahlia Lithwick of Slate fawns over Justice Anthony Kennedy in a piece posted yesterday.

Much in the way that Bill Clinton's effete indecisiveness sent millions of liberal hearts aflutter, Lithwick is positively captivated by Kennedy's muddleheaded inability to fit a myriad of meticulously accumulated factoids into any sort of comprehensive worldview.

Writes Lithwick:
His speech here in Hawaii is vintage Kennedy, ranging across history (pit stops at Henry II, Newton, and Blackstone); intellectual theory (Marx, Holmes, and Solzhenitsyn); and—of course—geography. He tells of his own travels in China and Bangladesh and across Africa. He peppers his speech with language to shame a Peretzprolix, essentiality, and dualisms. The punch line to his opening joke is: "a faint reflection of my former existential self." (This slays the lawyers.)
The ostensible purpose of the piece is to recount a recent speech Kennedy gave at a meeting of the American Bar Association in Honolulu. Kennedy was urging the gathered lawyers to formulate an idea of the "rule of law" that can be sold overseas. Listening to Lithwick breathlessly describe Kennedy and his speech, it's hard not to imagine her jumping out of a cake in the justice's suite later that night:
He describes the American conception of law as a "liberating force, a covenant, a promise." And in spite of the lofty intellectualism and the big words, this speech captures my imagination and that of the assembled crowd for its two quintessential Kennedy traits. The first is the vast sprawl of his imaginative world. He travels the planet and reads widely and he attends lectures on water purification. Then he applies all that knowledge to his conception of the law. And whether you like that expansive scope, listening to him is still a tonic to the smallness and smug certainty that has characterized our political leadership in this country for the past six years. It offers a welcome break from the hermetically sealed constitutional worldview of some of his detractors. Kennedy is a legendary agonizer. But his comments here reveal the extent to which that agony is not an end in itself. His sense of justice and equality is a work in progress, informed by what he learns from people all over the planet who know more than he does. There's something reassuring in his sense that the world is a fluid place.
Lithwick frequently refers to Kennedy's detractors in the piece. She says that Kennedy's ideas have "launched a thousand heart attacks over at the National Review Online," that his "inability to find certain, easy answers and his tendency to hold grandiose hopes for the law are fodder for his detractors," and that he "drives conservatives nuts with his notion that the courts must fight injustice, regardless of the messiness that ensues." In other words, she's just smart enough to know what about him sets his critics off. Yet she's not quite smart enough to understand why they're right.

Law, under our system, is supposed to be created by the people, through their elected representatives. Lawyers and judges have no place implementing their own visions for cleaner African water or fairer hiring practices. Their job is to impement the machinery created by the people. The world may be a "fluid place," but the purpose of having written laws and a written Constitution is so that those will not be "fluid." Kennedy is congenitally unable to understand this simple point, as are Lithwick and most self-identified liberals. They love hand-wringers like Kennedy because they see the role of the judge as that of an infinitely wise being who, from the bench, does whatever he thinks is best at that particular moment in time. They see the bed-wetting indecisiveness as a herculean effort to figure it all out.

Except that's not what our judicial system was designed to do. The American judiciary was not designed by the nation's architects to be a wiser legislature. It was designed to maintain the integrity of what the legislature has enacted. But because of the monumental liberal failure to enact their agenda legislatively, they've come to look at the judiciary as the court of the never-ending do-over, righting the legislative oversights of the myopic American people. That's why they are indefatigable defenders of the current judicial oligarchy, and why people like Lithwick would drink Anthony Kennedy's bathwater if they could.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

That's Why Your Empire Collapsed

There was a group of nine of us from my church that flew to Tanzania. We each brought two bags (one a personal bag, the other filled with materials and gifts for the pastor's and women's conferences we'd be teaching, the schools we'd be visiting, etc.) In all, there were 18 suitcases.

Upon arrival in Dar Es Salaam, we discovered that British Airways had lost three of our bags back in London. After being in-country a few days, two of the three were finally located and ultimately shipped to us. The third bag was finally discovered an only reached us as we were preparing to leave the country.

On the way back home, out of nine bags we were returning with (we purposely brought back fewer bags), another suitcase was lost.

Several days after we returned to Miami, British Airways called to say that they now had found the bag, and it was being delivered. Then it never came. Now they don't know where it is. No idea. It was in Miami, and now it's gone.

So the final tally is: out of 18 bags our group traveled with, four were lost at one point or another by British Airways. That's 22% of our bags. And that's unacceptable. Another missionary who was booked on our same flight into Dar lost all of the bags in his group. In Miami, while we were filling out our lost baggage claim, there were at least a dozen other people from our flight waiting to fill out paperwork on lost baggage.

So that's British Airways. Caveat emptor. Evidently we can add baggage handling to the list of things the Brits don't do well. Put it on the list next to "toothpaste" and "food that tastes good."

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

He's Banging On The Bongos Like A Chimpanzee

Earlier this week, MTV quietly celebrated it’s silver anniversary. (When I say quietly, I mean very quietly. Evidently, they didn’t mark the anniversary at all, since their target audience is much younger than the network itself, a fact they’re not looking to advertise.) In celebration of this society-destroying, soul-crushing monolith, and as a charter member of the original MTV generation (my family got cable in 1983 when I was about 14, two years after its debut), I offer here my “15 Most Memorable MTV Videos of All-Time.”

In reading my list, a couple of things must be kept in mind. First, this is obviously entirely subjective. They’re not necessarily the best videos, nor are they necessarily the best songs. They’re what I’ve deemed to be most memorable. Second, you’ll notice my picks are heavily weighted toward the early 80’s. There are two reasons for this:

A). That was the network’s formative, culture-changing period, which set the stage for everything that followed, and (more importantly)...

B). I pretty much stopped watching MTV sometime in the late 80’s when I was in college.

Other than that, it's pretty self explanatory. With the exception of the first three entries, the numerical rankings are almost entirely random, pretty much determined by the order in which I thought of them (which, it occurs to me, is actually a sensible way of doing it, since we're talking about "most memorable").

So without further ado:

1). “Beat It,” by Michael Jackson. One artist defines the MTV era: Michael Jackson. It’s almost as if they were a unit. MTV made Michael Jackson. And Michael Jackson made MTV, which is why he appears in a disproportionate number of these entries. This was the first music video that really told a story. Sure, it was an effeminate rip-off of “West Side Story,” but it was a story nonetheless. A great song, a smokin’ Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, a pre-Wacko Jacko, and some serious choreography combine to make this the definitive MTV video.

2). “Thriller,” by Michael Jackson. More a mini-movie than an actual video, this was a music-video people actually stayed home to watch debut. Great visual effects, weird choreography (remember that zombie dance?), and a cute heroine. But perhaps most memorable was Jackson’s line when he takes the girl aside. “I have to tell you...I’m other guys. I mean...I’m...different” he stammered. Even then, long before Macaulay Culkin and the Neverland Ranch, you seriously thought for a moment, “Oh my heavens! He’s finally coming out right here and now!”

3). “Take on Me” by A-Ha. A one-hit wonder with one of the most memorable videos of all time. The hero (who happens to be the lead singer) is trapped in a comic book being read by the heroine. At the end, he bangs himself into the frames of the comic story until he emerges into real life. It sounds dopey, but it was compelling and beautiful, which a surprisingly advanced interplay between animation and live action, years before “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

4). “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top. A loser is given keys to the magic “Eliminator” automobile, and becomes an immediate ladies man. There was nothing innovative (or even clever) about this video, but its images were burned into the collective consciousness as early 80’s icons: the beards; the coats; the car; the ladies; the spinning guitars. Kids should not have been watching it. They followed the exact same formula for “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and “Legs,” right down to the magic car keys. They may still be following it, for all I know.

5). “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock. No words in the song, and no Herbie Hancock in the video. Just robotic body parts kicking and dancing. Unbelievably creepy. And instantly memorable.

6). “Cry,” by Godley & Crème. These guys found some success as musicians with the 70’s band 10cc (though they left before the band's big hit, “The Things We Do for Love”). But their biggest contribution to pop culture was as music video directors. Their artistic influence was as important to early MTV as Michael Jackson’s. In addition to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” (remember Reagan and Chernyenko wrestling?), the duo directed the video for their own song “Cry,” which predates the face-morphing of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” by seven or eight years. Jackson’s video perfected it, but it was these guys who introduced this hypnotic effect in this utterly transfixing video.

7). “Like a Virgin” by Madonna. As an absolute MTV icon, she has to be on the list somewhere, and this one’s as good as any. Writhing around on a gondola in Venice in a wedding gown, this is where she made her indelible mark. If you were a teenaged boy (and I was), it was hard not to take notice.

8). “Jump,” by Van Halen. This video is as low-tech as it got. Reportedly shot for $600, it’s simply a sparse, black set with the four guys under a spotlight playing the song. Though it was far from their greatest song, Van Halen was arguably best-loved band of it’s era, and this video grabs you by sheer force of infectious personality. David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen in their primes, this first VH video turned out to be the near-last gasp for one of rock’s greatest bands before they blew apart.

9). “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel. This was the kind of video that actually caused kids to call each other up and say “Did you just see that?” Sure, the dancing, egg-laying chickens are disturbing, but everything about this video made you want to see it over and over again.

10). “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. “That ain’t workin’. That’s the way you do it. You play the guitar on the MTV.” Making fun of MTV on MTV, right down to Sting chanting “I want my MTV” on the background track. Though by today’s standards the animation is pretty primitive, there was just something about this song and video that stuck. In my memory of the summer of 1985, this video is everywhere.

11). “Walk This Way,” by Run-DMC featuring Aerosmith. It’s like that old “You got peanut butter in my chocolate” commercial. You’d never think of it and it shouldn’t work, but oh, does it work. This marked the breakthrough of rap into the mainstream, as well as the return of Aerosmith, which had been dormant for years until that point. One of the truly electrifying video moments of all time, I remember thinking (and I’m no rap fan) “Something really unusual is happening here.” Even now, I get goosebumps watching it.

12). “Need You Tonight/Mediate” by INXS. Guys wanted to be this dude, and girls wanted to be with him. It was two videos in one: the interesting collage effect of “Need You Tonight,” and then the Dylan homage in “Mediate.” A very watchable 5 ½ minutes.

13). “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim. My only entry from the 21st century. Starring the stunningly talented Christopher Walken, this one must be seen to be believed. It defies description. Like the JFK assassination, you’ll never forget where you were when you first saw it.

14). “You Might Think” by The Cars. Some early, innovative animation. My mother never once walked past the television without observing, “That guy looks like Ichabod Crane.”

15). “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden. Whoa. This was long after most of my video watching days were over. But...whoa. Don't watch this one if you plan to sleep at all in....August. (Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks this video is the inspiration for those creepy cable TV "Enzyte" commercials with that guy Bob-the-under-endowed?)

Some honorable mentions:

“Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics. It’s been 23 years, and I’m still asking myself: “What’s with the cow?”

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Okay, the song is better than the video. Still, the first time you saw this, you knew...something had changed.

“Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. (No video available online.) Something by Prince has to be in here (though surprisingly he never really made a great video), and this is as good a choice as any. Essentially a live performance interspersed with cuts from “Purple Rain,” this showed The Artist at his kinetic best.

“Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. Stiff and awkward, but it was the Boss’s first music video, and hey, he pulls a young Courtney Cox onstage to dance with him at the end.

(By the way, it has nothing to do with MTV, but if you really want to see the Boss in action, check out his performance of “Glory Days” on David Letterman’s last NBC broadcast in 1993. Whenever someone says “I don’t get the whole Bruce Springsteen thing,” this is the video I want to show them. Awe-inspiring.)

“Vacation,” by the Go-Go’s. Fluffy and insubstantial, but who doesn’t remember those girls all lined up on water skis? An iconic image.

“Uptown Girl,” by Billy Joel. While watching it, you were thinking “I can’t believe Billy Joel is dating Christie Brinkley.” And while filming it, Billy Joel was thinking “I can’t believe I’m dating Christie Brinkley.”

“Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul. A decade-and-a-half before "American Idol," she dances with a big, animated cat. You don’t see that everyday. Or at least you didn’t back then.

“Once in a Lifetime,” by the Talking Heads. A Saturday Night Live parody once put it best: “You may ask yourself, why such a big suit? You may ask yourself, can this suit be taken in? You may ask yourself, does this store have any mirrors? You may ask yourself, did I get a bad deal?" Very bizarre behavior.

“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. Not as good a video as “Beat It” or “Thriller,” but this is the one that came first. And it’s attached to one of the most indelible pop songs in music history.

(Although it has nothing to do with MTV, the definitive version of “Billie Jean” is actually the one Michael did on the Motown 25th anniversary program in 1983. Though he’s lip-synching, it’s one of the electrifying musical performances in the history of television. This stuff is old hat now, but at the time, nobody had ever seen anything like it. I remember watching this when it aired, and everyone’s jaw simply dropped, especially when he debuted the “moonwalk.”)

And finally, there has to be something from Weird Al Yankovic, the court jester of the MTV generation. He’s parodied many of the iconic videos I’ve already listed, with surprising wit and artistry. My personal favorites are “Eat It” and “Smells Like Nirvana.” Others would vote for “Like a Surgeon” or “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies.”

So have I left anything out that you'd include?

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Conspiring Minds Want To Know

The "alternative" weekly in my hometown, The Riverfront Times, presents an amusing, non-judgmental account of Missouri conspiracy theorists who are convinced that 9/11 was perpetrated by Bush and Haliburton, that the Pentagon was not actually hit by a plane, and that the Twin Towers were actually brought down by a "controlled demolition." In this, of course, these conspiracy buffs merely echo the sentiments of many whackjobs on an international level, particularly the extreme right, the extreme left, and the Sheen family.

I've noticed over recent years that conspiracy theories seem to be more and more ingrained in our national consciousness, and in no demographic is this more true than among my fellow Christians. For some time now, I've wrestled with a question: Why are Christians so prone to fall for wild conspiracy theories? Is it because, as our critics argue, we are highly credulous in general? Is it because of a misunderstanding of Satan's abilities and powers, which causes us to see monolithic, organized evil underlying every event? From the Y2K panic to the endless email forwards about Proctor & Gamble's supposed Satanism or Madalyn Murray O'Hair working to take "Touched by an Angel" off the air (despite the fact that "Touched by an Angel" left the air years ago, and O'Hair's been dead for over a decade), there seems to be no conspiracy theory or urban legend, no matter how implausible or fantastic, that a substantial number of Christians are not willing to believe.

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person I know who doesn't buy into these things. Even among people I consider to be otherwise rational and sensible, I can usually find a conspiracy theory if I dig deep enough. Not long ago, I was chatting about conspiracy theories with a highly intelligent, thoughtful Christian fellow I know on a professional basis. I mentioned the 9/11 stuff, the Illuminati, and a few other old chestnuts. He agreed with me that these were largely silly. "And this crazy stuff about Bill and Hillary Clinton having hundreds of people murdered, and Jerry Falwell selling videos about it," I added. "It's nuts!" Suddenly, his demeanor changed. "Oh, no," he said. "That's absolutely true. There's no doubt in my mind about it. They had all these people killed. Look at the evidence." Ugh.

Once upon a time, I was a conspiracy theorist too. In high school and college, I read dozens of books on the JFK assassination and became convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. To be honest, I'm still not convinced that he acted alone. But I am now fairly convinced that there wasn't a far-ranging, Oliver Stone-style, military-industrial complex/CIA plot at work. Why?

Ultimately, it was something that Chuck Colson said. He was addressing the argument that Christ's resurrection was merely a put-on by the disciples to rescue their own reputations. They orchestrated a cover-up of Jesus' death, so the argument posits, by formulating a fake story of a resurrection. Colson said something along the lines of "Look, there was a group of three or four of us who knew what really happened at the Watergate. We were among the most powerful people in the world. And we weren't able to hold that cover-up together for 72 hours." Most of the disciples went to their executions proclaiming a risen Jesus. Conspiracies just don't work like that.

And really, that's my bottom line on conspiracy theories. I don't doubt the evil of humanity. I don't doubt the motive for wide-ranging, evil conspiracies. What I do doubt is the ability to carry them off. I call it the myth of hyper-competence.

Would Bill and Hillary Clinton, if they thought they could get away with it, actually have people killed to protect themselves? I'd be less than surprised. But is there any way on this planet that Bill and Hillary Clinton could murder dozens of people with the help of the police, the Secret Service, the FBI and all other manner of go-betweens and keep a lid on it? No. They may be that evil, but they're just not that competent. The most powerful man in the world couldn't cover up an embarrassing, incriminating stain on Monica Lewinsky's dress which nearly capsized his presidency. But I'm supposed to believe he can have Ron Brown shot and have his plane full of people crashed without anybody knowing about it? Please.

Would the CIA try to have JFK killed because he threatened them in some way or other? Who knows? Let's say they would. Fine. How many people would have to be involved in that? It's been 43 years without a word. How many people in this world keep a secret for more than a week, even in the CIA? Is this the same CIA that didn't know the Russians had nukes in Cuba, that colossally misread the situation in Vietnam, that later failed to predict 9/11, the revolution in Iran, the fall of East Germany and the Soviet Union, and almost every other major world event? The same CIA which has regularly leaked things unflattering to the Bush administration? We know who Deep Throat was, we know that Clinton soiled a girl's dress, we know that two Kennedy brothers were diddling Marilyn Monroe, yet we've never seen a shred of proof of any government involvement in the JFK assassination.

The major problem with conspiracy theories is that no evidence can ever disprove them. There's an emotional attachment to such theories among adherents that I find frankly mystifying. Evidence that definitively disproves a conspiracy theory is simply taken by aficionados as proof that the cover-up is working. Because (as any lawyer or cop can tell you) life is not a jigsaw puzzle where every piece fits together just so, there will always be enough room in any scenario, no matter how clear and obvious it is, to insert some doubt. And conspiracy theorists run with this opening every single time.

The pattern is completely predictable once you understand how it works. I remember watching television with my wife in the late-night/early-morning hours that Princess Diana died in 1997. It couldn't have been clearer that it was a tragic accident. There were dozens of witnesses, many of them reporters. Her car was speeding. Her driver was drunk. All who were killed weren't wearing seatbelts, while the one survivor was. It was cut-and-dried.

"You watch," I said to my wife. "It couldn't be more obvious that this was an accident, right?" She agreed. "Wait a year or two. There will be all sorts of wild theories about 'who really killed her.' She was far too popular for large groups of people not to try to turn this into something much more than it is." Nine years later, Diana conspiracy theories are practically an industry. These ceremonial inbreds, the British Royal Family, can't pull together a foxhunt, but they somehow executed this massive conspiracy to snuff Diana the moment she coincidently stepped into a car being driven by a drunkard. Unless it was the CIA. Or the Mossad. Or MI6. Or the Freemasons. Or the Bush family. Or....

This kind of thinking is pandemic, and especially among Christians. But why do we fall into it so naturally? I'd really like to know.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Stayin' Alive (Or Not)

I've discovered that while I was gone, some celebrities passed from the scene.

Who would've thought Red Buttons was still alive? (Sam was correct--that one caught me by surprise.)

On the other hand, I did express my amazement that Jack Warden was still alive last year. But the surprise seems to have unfortunately run out while I was in Africa.