Why ask why?

Not all questions are asked for the same reason.

That’s a point that Larry King should have brought up to Jerry Seinfeld a few years back. While interviewing Seinfeld, Larry asked a question that he undoubtedly knew the answer to.

“You gave it up, right? They didn’t cancel you.”

Seinfelds incredulous reaction to that question was an embarrassingly obtuse moment for an otherwise intelligent actor. He berated King for asking a question that he should’ve damn well known the answer to, as King was well familiar with Hollywood and the entertainment industry. King, a bit shocked at Jerry‘s response, was so caught up in trying to deflect Jerry’s incredulity that he was probably too flustered to mention what seemed pretty damn obvious to me – the question wasn’t being asked for King’s sake. King hosted a show which was watched by millions of people – people who may or may not have given enough of a fuck about the Seinfeld show to know why the show went off the air. (I fell into that category, by the way).

He asked the question for the benefit of his viewing audience. Not because he himself didn’t know the answer.

Bill Engvall and company like to play on this theme – the “stupid question” joke, referring to how people ask questions whose answers are obvious. Understanding that his business is comedy, it makes sense that he would drop context for the sake of a laugh. I am all about twisting intellectual considerations for a laugh, so I’m not criticizing comedians for doing so, but I’d like to point out that they do it deliberately, and they do it because they know it works. People laugh because they don’t realize that context has been switched.

The joke works because not all questions are asked for the same reason. Some are asked to gain the information ostensibly requested by the questioner. Others (such as in Kings case) are asked in order for the answer to be explicitly communicated to all who may be listening. Others may be asked for lack of a better way to demonstrate concern (“Are you hurt?”). Other’s may be asked in cases when the answer is obvious, yet the asker wants to make it clear that he or she is not making assumptions. There are many different legitimate reasons for asking a question other than the standard reason of wanting to gain information. 

That’s why I get so irritated at the kind of bullshit I saw directed at Dr. Phil in this article today. 

Dr. Phil McGraw, a well-known TV personality and generally likable guy, drew the ire of feminists and liberals all over the country by posing the question on Twitter, “If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her? Reply Yes or No to @DrPhil #teenaccused”

To me, it was clearly a question asked with the intent of provoking conversation, and possibly to demonstrate how many people may answer in the affirmative. That in itself would have been a worthwhile endeavor – demonstrating how many people potentially believe that it’s quite find to take advantage of vulnerable women. Shit, if you’re truly interested in bringing attention to mass victimization, then you such a demonstration should be welcomed!

But no….

Instead Dr. Phil was fucking cruci-twied.

“You know good and goddamn well that “asking” when a girl “deserves” to be raped is a destructive question in itself. #DrPhilQuestions

— Rad-Femme Lawyer. (@femme_esq) August 21, 2013 ”

“If Dr Phil asks a hateful misogynistic question, is it okay to rename him Dr Landphil?#DrPhilQuestions — Harold Itzkowitz (@HaroldItz) August 21, 2013

“If a TV Shrink makes my daughter feel guilty b/c she was date raped while drunk, can I punch him in his dick? #DrPhilQuestions @DrPhil

— Patrick (@QuadCityPat) August 20, 2013

This is just another instance in a long list of manufactured outrage by hard-left politically correct alarmists that are so goddamned concerned with “appearing” concerned that they are willing to martyr an ally to their cause. Sometimes a question is asked as a lead-in. Sometimes it’s asked in order to ensure all interlocutors are on the same page before moving the conversation forward. Sometimes a question is a statement phrased as a question.

The salient point of all this is the uncharitableness with which any and all apparent violations of political correctness is returned. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an amatuer blogger to understand that Dr. Phil might have been asking that question not for the purpose of actually gaining information, but as a lead-in to a larger discussion of victimization. And that would’ve been a great discussion to have, if only these fucking politically correct asshats would’ve let him have it.

Kimmel’s Confusing Questions

Oh the ship here, each morning I turn on the TV and watch late-night television (an interesting by-product of being on the wrong side of the globe) on the Armed Forces Network. I don’t pay too close attention, but one show I see frequently is the Jimmy Kimmel Show. He has one of my favorite sketches, called “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship” which is hysterical. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and find some clips. Great stuff.

He also has a bit called “Confusing Question of the Day“. It basically involves sending a “reporter” out on the street to ask people what they think about something, and they deliberately pose a nonsensical question such as “What do you think about President Obama pardoning the sequester and sending it to Portugal?”. The reporter goes down the street and asks random people this questions and hilarity ensues when the respondent clearly feigns knowledge of the question while struggling to offer an answer that doesn’t give away the fact that they have no idea what they’re talking about.

It’s pretty damn funny, I gotta admit. But I also gotta admit something else… I almost never laugh. Instead, I almost always sit there aghast at the consistency with which they are able to find people that respond this way, and at how shameless the people are who feign the answers.

The bit is funny, but the reality the bit exposes is downright ugly and depressing.

I’ll make a couple assumptions here. First, I’m going to assume that the sample of respondents we see on the show are selectively chosen out of many people interviewed, most of whom probably balked at whatever ridiculous question they were asked. Secondly, I’m going to assume that the respondents we see on the show are not acting. Keeping in mind that these are un-validated assumptions, I can’t help but cringe when I see these clips. Assuming that they are genuine, it means that there is no shortage of people:

– for whom lying is a routine way of life
– for whom bullshitting is part of their engrained, habitual social repertoire
– that are clueless about current events yet speak confidently and authoritatively about them
– who will pretend to give questions serious thought without ever actually listening to it or taking a moment to understand its meaning
– for whom distinguishing between when they’re lying and when they’re telling the truth is generally impossible

Now, I’m not claiming to be surprised that such people exist. What distresses me is how many of them there are, and how naturally they fit in all around us. More distressing still is the fact that no one seems to mind – it’s a joke and it’s funny and ha ha ha ha….

I find it funny because it’s funny to see fools look like fools.

But not funny enough to mitigate the fact that it says something very un-funny about the society in which we live.

The underappreciated damage of fraud

The Huffington Post reports on a con man named Jim McCormick who took a joke golf ball finder (basically a modified dowsing rod) and converted it into an equally effective Bomb Detection Device, named it the ADE 651, and then somehow convinced the military and police forces of 20 nations (including Britain and Iraq who attempted to use the device in the global war on terror) that it would be such an effective tool in keeping troops alive that he was able to charge them up to $42k per unit.

He sold tens of thousands of these units, and netted a profit of over $78 million. Thousands of people were injured and killed when these useless devices failed to detect bombs at various checkpoints. 

And now the sentence for this has been handed down – 10 years in prison.

This story reminded me of a conversation I once had on the Objectivist Living forum. I was irritated by the story of psychic Sylvia Browne‘s “reading” that Amanda Berry was dead. As a result, Ms. Berry’s mother Louwana Miller went to her grave filled with anguish that her daughter had been murdered.

If Ms. Miller really believed that her daughter was dead, it isn’t a far stretch to imagine that her motivation to maintain the search for her daughter abated as well. It’s impossible to know if this resulted in a prolonged period of being kidnapped for Ms. Berry, but it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. This would be another unintended consequence of the fraudulent reading provided by Ms. Browne.

I tried making the point that fraud is illegal, and that it ought to be treated as such, even if the results aren’t immediate and obvious. In doing so, I was accused of advocating nanny-state politics by my friends (and trolls) on the OL forum.

Steve Novella over at SkepticBlog makes some good points that speak to the overall principle, as well as why McCormick should be held responsible for each and every death caused by his fraud.

My question is – why didn’t the “cavalier disregard” for killing people with his fraudulent scheme warrant more than just 10 years? This seems to be a hole in the law. (I’m sure this varies widely from country to country.) There should be a separate charge when fraud predictably leads to horrific outcomes, such as death. I know that if someone dies in the course of committing a crime, even though the death was not intended, it’s still felony murder. Why doesn’t this also apply to fraud?

As I attempted to point out over at OL, damage is damage, whether caused directly by force, or caused indirectly by fooling someone into injuring themselves. Novella makes a valiant attempt at sharing responsibility by pointing out that victims of fraud do have a responsibility to conduct due diligence, and that is similar to the point that my friends at OL were trying to make.

And it’s true – due diligence is the responsibility of each and every person who endeavors to invest real, social, or emotional capital. But there is also the responsibility of those who would profit from that investment to be honest brokers. This is why the term “due diligence” has the word “due” in it – it draws that line of demarcation between the diligent work that is “due” from the investor, and the expectation from the profiteer that he or she will be an honest broker.

As I pointed out on OL, I am happy to debate where that line of demarcation should be – but I will not debate whether or not that line ought to exist.

My contention is that psychics ought to be required to inform their clientele that the have no powers that ordinary people do not possess. To claim to have the power to provide a service that you do not have the power to provide is fraudulent, and ought to be illegal.

I also believe that McCormick should be held responsible for all who died as a result of his deliberate fraud.

And I think that legislators need to rethink the effect that ordinary frauds, snake-oil salesmen, and shysters have on ordinary citizens. Defrauding people is not a right, it’s not harmless, and it should be treated with no less gravity than the direct use of force.

It’s no less destructive to trick someone into putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger than it is to put that gun to their head and pull the trigger yourself.

The world of performing art mourns another tremendous loss

As I’m sure you’ve already heard, the world of performing art and music lost another fledgeling genius yesterday when rapper Lil Snupe was shot twice in the chest and died shortly after being signed to a record contract.

And with this crushing blow, the rest of us left here on this side of the great dividing line between life and the afterlife can only speculate as to the enormity of loss to the world of music and art.

Lil Snupe, known as “Snupe” to his closest friends, waxed poetic about a wide range of vital, relevant, and sometime contraversial social topics, elucidating his rapidly-growing fan base on such issues as how he was “Headed str8 to the top

Bitch I’m headed str8 to the top
I’m headed str8 to the top, bitch

I wake up, roll up my blunt
You know I stay high as fuck
Pick my clothes out, Polo, I stay fly as fuck
I swear to God all you niggas better get yo shit straight
16 and runnin, checkout my shit, the hottest mixtape

Known for his penchant toward self-reflection, Snupe had a refreshing, lighthearted way of characterizing his own existential experience.

Man you better watch yo ho cus I swear I’ll get the bitch
Like I fuck my clique she gon fuck
All day and all night
It’s Lil Snupe, I’m the highest nigga, I stay out of sight
Out of mine nigga, I be on my grind nigga
I was born to shine nigga, you know it’s my time nigga

One of the things some of us will miss most of all is his tender approach to the subject of romance.

Yo bitch say she wanna get the dick tonight
I’m the nigga she wanna be with tonight
Show up, finna fuck er to some Kevin Gates
And make the bitch scream my satellite

Family members remember Snupe as a caring young man who loved sports.

‘Cus I’m ballin, ballin in the mix
Everything I done broke best believe I’m gon fix
I keep ballin, ballin in the mix
Only worried bout a dollar, can give a fuck bout a bitch
I keep ballin, ballin in the mix

Ever-aware of the dangers facing all successful artists, Snupe also reflected on his mortality and the potential for the loss of his own life:

Now we be flyin’, G55ers, we levitate
Cutting through time like “make a left at the Heaven gate”
These niggas forever hate, go get it, don’t ever wait
My niggas don’ t hesitate, you’re moving that medal quacker
A dead man, I had a method like I’m Redman
Now these bitches sweatin’ on me like a headband

I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that his originality, his creativity, and his urban wisdom will be missed. The passing of this young man represents yet another instance of artistic beauty snuffed out before its time. There is no doubt that he was years ahead of his time, a trailblazer of new musical direction, and most definitely not just another street-thug, dope-head, future criminal, egomaniac, gangster wanna-be, unoriginal, materialistic waste of fucking carbon and air that no one who has ever read a book would give a good god-damn about.

Much gratitude to Michael Martinez, CNN contributor, for his timely reporting and delicate handling of this very sobering news. If he hadn’t written this article, how would a nigga know? Is yoo stooopid, beeeyotch?

Re-HEAT

Congratulations to the Miami Heat who, in addition to chalking up the second-longest winning streak of all time this season, just won their second consecutive NBA Championship.

This puts them among the ranks of some of the greatest teams to hit the floor, such as the LA Lakers of the 80’s, the Detroit Pistons of the 80’s, and the Houston Rockets of the 90.

If they win a third next year, they will establish themselves as a dynasty, up there with the Lakers of the 2000’s, the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s, and the Boston Celtics of the 50-60’s.

Well done, gents. Well done.

News roundup for 20 Jun

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the news the morning to find that James Gandolfini died of an apparent heart attack today at the age of 51.

The Soprano’s has a special significance to me, simply for the fact of what was going on in my life when I watched the series. It pretty much covered my thirty-something years, and I knew while I was watching it that it was a masterpiece, game-changer mini-series. And let’s face, it’s still the standard by which all mini-series are measured.

Oh well. Whaddayagonna do?

I also notice that Microsoft has changed its position on the Xbox One. That is welcome news for those of us who actually use these things. I’ll probably get one of those when I get back to civilization.

Other than the Heat game tonight, not much else interesting happening. On to other things…

Be excellent to each other

I have ceased to feel the least bit of sympathy for anyone who suffers due to their own actions that in any way involve deliberately seeking out humor at the expense of others.

While this might sound rudimentary to many, for me it involves the final stop for a life-long journey. So take that for what it’s worth. As my social identity was originally formed as a youth, I was the type of person who felt that emotional carnage was justified if the humor value was sufficient. This included bullying other kids when I could, teasing less intelligent people when the opportunity presented itself, and generally having a good laugh at any aspect in which I felt my target was sufficiently vulnerable.

As often happens, my disgust and distaste for my former ways has resulted in precious little patience for those who commit acts of the same sort.

And yes, I do believe their apologies are often sincere. No one knows as well as I that sometimes one must see the harm and the damage done before being able to fully appreciate the effects that their actions or words have. But I also hold that a vital component of any sincere apology involves accepting the consequences of said actions without complaint or objection.

For that reason, to the DJ who got fired for mocking Steve Gleason, to the DJ’s who pranked Kate Middleton’s nurse, and all others who casually fling insult, insensitivity, and disrespect around for a laugh as a profession, I say: Apology accepted. I’m fresh out of sympathy. Now serve your sentence, and sin no more.