Monday, August 30, 2010

Expelled, with good reason

Expelled I was warned.

People told me that it was a waste of time and that it was incredibly bad. But I had to see for myself. I just had to watch Ben Stein's paean to intelligent design and anti-Darwin documentary, "Expelled."

(I find it interesting--and I do recognize this in me--that I am so contrary in this regard. If someone tells me that I "have to" see a movie or "have to" read a particular book, I will go out of my way to make sure that I don't see it or read it. Apparently, the converse is true. Despite being REPEATEDLY WARNED, I just had to watch a movie that everyone said was not worth my time. But don't try reverse psychology on me. I can spot it!)

I was stunned at its badness. I'm one of those types who love bad movies for their sheer hilarity, and I suppose that if I got drunk and watched this with a like-minded individual who got drunk with me, and we could make fun of it a la Mystery Science Theater 3000, it would be a lot of fun. But watching it for the sake of critiquing it, and looking at it with a serious Really, really bad. I took a couple of pages of notes. Aren't you thrilled?

The premise is that scientists are censured and penalized, even to the point of being fired, if they dare to raise the specter of intelligent design in classrooms or in research facilities. Stein interviews various professors and scientists who claim that they were ousted by their employers because of their views on intelligent design. My first thought? There was more to the story there. In subsequent reading, there was indeed more to the story, with one researcher not even being a true employee, and other issues like publishing papers and assisting graduate students involved. It's never black and white, and shame on Stein for trying to portray these individuals' cases in this way.

Throughout the movie, Stein asks horribly leading questions; it's obvious that he is not out to find true or honest answers, but merely to prove his own point. I despise that sort of interview style, and Stein employs it throughout the movie.

A couple of choice quotes. First, Stein visits a seminary in Texas and hears this from a guy he talks to (I didn't catch the guy's name, and I'm not sure he even gave it):

If you look at the history of science, people often have a good idea and then they just decide to run with it. They say, "We're gonna apply this everywhere," so Darwin takes his idea of natural selection and says, "I'm gonna explain ALL of life with it."

No. No no no. If you have a "good idea" in science, that is called a hypothesis. You don't just apply a hypothesis everywhere and have that accepted and acceptable. You test, you experiment, you go through endless studies and answer questions, discard certain avenues and explore others. Your hypothesis and lab results are perused endlessly by your peers, and if your logic and data is faulty, your hypothesis is pretty much blown out of the water. You can readjust based on what you've learned in your experiments, and others may offer suggestions for a new path to pursue. Every hypothesis is subject to rigid scrutiny and testing; you don't just get a "good idea" and get to "run with it." That is such a stupid statement.

Stein seems to want definitive answers as to how life began. One of the people he interviews says derisively, "Darwin didn't know." No one knows! There are many hypotheses, and scientists are beginning to get a pretty good idea of the conditions required in order for life to begin; I have seen studies which show that proteins can be assembled via heat, pressure, and various other conditions. Research is ongoing. This is the way of science. There is always more to learn.

Stein interviews Alister McGrath, a theologist and author of The Dawkins Delusion?, which is apparently a response to Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. McGrath ridicules science:

Describing how something happened scientifically somehow explains it away. It doesn't. But the questions of purpose, intentionality, the question "why" still remain there on the table.

The purpose of science is not to answer "why." You can ponder that to your heart's content, Alister. The purpose of science is to answer "how." We do not see purpose or intentionality in why organisms behave the way they do, other than an urge to survive, whether rudimentary or highly developed.

Stein interviews another guy (I didn't catch his name) who calls Richard Dawkins a "reptile." My main impression of the interviewee was of a supercilious toad, so I suppose that is fitting. Seriously, that guy was a pompous ass.

Darwin I was extremely put off by the style of the documentary, which included plenty of vintage newsreel footage of Nazis, Soviets, marches in Red Square, and on and on. I felt like I was being hit over the head with a sledgehammer. Yeah, I get think evolutionary science is oppressive and exclusionary. Stein mentions a 1953 experiment and ridicules it as indicative of the foibles of science. Hello? We've managed to make some progress in the past five decades! He mentions the panspermia theory, in which some believe that life was seeded on earth by extraterrestrial life. Although most will concede that this is entirely possible, since meteors hit the earth not infrequently, most will also say that there is no definitive evidence of such a thing. As with all of science, if any evidence shows up, it will be evaluated, examined, and duly and rigorously tested before it is accepted as fact.

Finally, like an anti-Vanessa Williams, I went and saved the worst for last. (I also didn't win the Miss America title, get the boot because of "candid" photos with another woman, and go on to a lucrative singing and acting I guess I really AM the Bizarro World Vanessa.) Stein has the nerve to equate "Darwinism" with...get this...HITLER. And the Nazis, and their Final Solution. I am not kidding. In fact, he originally wanted to title this documentary "From Darwin to Hitler."

He builds a tenuous connection between eugenics, Margaret Sanger, and today's Planned Parenthood, somehow believing that all of these things were a result of Darwin's theory of natural selection, and stating that Darwinism led to Hitler's rise to power and mass genocide of Jews and others deemed unworthy of life. He talks to a reporter who states that Darwinism is a devaluing of human life, and Stein states, "Evil can sometimes be rationalized as science." Gee, Ben, as a speech writer for Richard Nixon, I suppose that you also could say, from experience, that evil can sometimes be rationalized as politics!

Stein saves an interview with heavy hitter Richard Dawkins for last. He asks Dawkins ridiculous questions like trying to get him to put a number on the possibility of the non-existence of God--95%? 99%?--and asks him if he believes in any other gods, like Hindu gods. It was laughable, and even Dawkins laughed and said, "Why on earth you you ask me that question?" Dawkins finally says, "I believe it is a liberating thing to free yourself from primitive superstition."

He ends his movie with footage of Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, exhorting Gorbachev to tear down the wall; Stein seems to equate his assertion that anyone who mentions intelligent design is fired and shut out of academic circles with the Berlin Wall. He certainly put plenty of footage of the Wall in this documentary.

What I found most appalling was his attempt to connect Darwinism with the Nazis and the Holocaust. He visits Dachau, and as a Jew, is obviously moved by the visit; anyone would and should be. However, his efforts to connect Darwin's theory to Hitler and the Nazis is just beyond is incredibly manipulative, and he is using his religion in a clumsy and cynical attempt to portray evolution as the cause of the Holocaust! No lie! That is what he attempted to do here, and I could not believe my eyes or ears!

But wait...he backs off. Sort of.

I know that Darwinism does not automatically equate to Nazism; but if Darwinism inspired and justified such horrific events in the past, could it be used to rationalize similar initiatives today?

Un-freaking-believable. This is what demagogues like Glenn Beck do: throw out some crazy statement, then backpedal and say, "Now I'm not saying this is the case!" Stein spends quite some time in the movie trying to make the connection between Darwinism and eugenics and the Nazis' Final Solution...and he ends by saying that he knows one doesn't equate to the other. Absolutely shameful, and shameless.

Shame on you, Ben Stein. You are not a stupid man, but your documentary is unbelievably stupid. Sites have already sprung up that refute the claims made in Expelled. I think this is one that I can honestly call a cinematic turd.

If you want to watch Expelled, there you go. I don't recommend it unless you do it for morbid curiosity. It is so very, very bad. If you want to read a much better (and more scathing) review than mine, here is what Roger Ebert had to say about Expelled. Finally, here is a short video to give you an idea of just how intellectually dishonest this movie is. BAD, BAD MOVIE. Incredibly bad.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

He’s a little bit snake oil

Beck douche He's a little bit charlatan. (Sung to the tune of the theme song of his fellow Mormons, Donnie and Marie.)

Okay, here's the deal. Glenn Beck decided to have a rally in Washington, D.C., one that would honor the troops (right, because so many of us despise them), and one that was supposed to somehow restore integrity to America. It was initially planned for sometime in September, but that date on the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial was already taken, so they rescheduled to August 28th. It just so happens that that is the date of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech. Beck claims it was a little ol' coinkydink, it was never intended to take attention away from King's speech, blahbitty blah blay blue. Whatever. If you believe that, you're just silly. He later said that he came to see it as "divine providence," and went on to say some stuff about the civil rights movement, which I'll write a little more about in a moment.

Beck himself spoke, and so did Sarah Palin, as the mother of a soldier. Another "standout" speaker was Chuck Norris. Wow, bringing out the heavy hitters! (Or at least the heavy roundhouse kickers.) Beck stayed true to his claims that this was not going to be a political rally, I'll give him that, and there was little to no mention of our current administration or politics in general. However, there was a whole lot of churchin' going on. Man, from what I've seen and read, this was one big tent revival. Beck has been hitting the "divine plan" stuff hard lately, and seems to have developed the delusion that God is speaking to him and has a plan for him, and from what I can gather, it seems to involve buying up as much gold as possible from the company he's shilling for (which is currently under investigation).

At the rally today, Beck said, "Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God." 16% of people claim no religious affiliation, and the number is growing, not shrinking. I have no problem with anyone believing what they want to believe, just as long as they keep it out of my government. I don't want my legislators going to an ancient collection of texts for their inspiration and guidance. I want them going to college, law school, maybe medical school, learning about our Constitution and its laws. I don't understand Beck's recent embrace of this highly religious rhetoric, although I'm guessing he's just playing to what his followers seem to want to hear, which is what a snake oil salesman does. I wonder if they understand that he's a Mormon? I'm pretty sure that most evangelicals are not down with Mormonism. They certainly didn't seem to dig Mitt Romney all that much, although there were probably more factors at play there. But I digress.

One thing I noticed is that Beck said this rally was to bring back integrity, truth, and honor to our country. What? You have to have a rally to do that? You mean to tell me that you're so lost that you need someone like Beck to tell you that you need to get back to integrity, truth, and honor? If he was talking to certain corrupt politicians, sure, they need to get back to those things, too. But I doubt that they were inspired by your little rally, Glenn. In fact, I'd be surprised if they listened to much of it at all.

I also had to laugh about the remarks of one attendee who a reporter spoke to. She said, "I believe in our Constitution--and this administration doesn't." Spare me. Typical teabagger talking points. They blurt out "Constitution" about every third word. Lady, I believe in our Constitution. I want to protect it; you and your ilk want to get rid of decades-old Amendments. I want to preserve what is written there when it comes to separation of church and state; you want to pervert it. Don't you tell me I don't believe in my Constitution, and it IS mine, every bit as much as yours. And to believe that this administration doesn't believe in the Constitution is beyond retarded. Just a simple example: our President--and yes, he is your President, too, like it or not!--is a Constitutional lawyer. I think he believes pretty strongly in our Constitution, and probably understands it a whole fuck of a lot better than you do.

Now to the civil rights stuff. Oh Glenn. I think you really stepped in it this time.

First of all, I recognized this group's right to assemble there. I thought it was in rather poor taste, but I understood their right to do it. Gee, does that remind you of anything in the news lately? I found it interesting that the people telling the builders of the Islamic community center in Manhattan to "give up their rights" and move it elsewhere because it was in poor taste had no intention of moving their rally to another day when they were told that many believed it to be in poor taste. I thought Beck's calculated move to hold it on that day in that place was beyond tacky...but in the interest of consistency and constitutionality, I recognize that they had the right to do it.

However, Beck's remarks leading up to this rally grew increasingly bizarre when it came to the civil rights movement. At one point, he said that he wouldn't be surprised if: our lifetime dogs and fire hoses are released or opened on us. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of us get a billy club to the head. I wouldn't be surprised if some of us go to jail--just like Martin Luther King did--on trumped-up charges. Tough times are coming.

Read all of Beck’s remarks on the civil rights movement. They are astonishing.

He said that it was time for him and his followers to "reclaim the civil rights movement," because after all, "we were the people that did it in the first place!”

Wait. What?

I was born in 1962, and I don't remember a thing about the civil rights movement. I was two years old when the Civil Rights Act was passed. I don't remember JFK, RFK, or MLK being assassinated, and I don't remember racial tension or riots. Anything I know about it, I learned through reading and talking to others.

Beck was born in 1964. So what is this "we" you speak of, Kemosabe?

He has shown numerous instances throughout his career in which he exhibited racist behavior, including the most recent one in which he mimicked one of the President's daughters and questioned her intelligence. He called the President a racist, with a "deep-seated hatred of white people," although he later backed off of that a bit. Listen to Beck's reaction when Joe Madison, a radio host, took him to task on his remarks.

And this is the guy who wants to "reclaim the civil rights movement."

MLK speech Let's get something straight, you rabblerousing, treasonous bastard: you don't have any more claim to the civil rights movement than this lily white child of the sixties does. I can admire what people like Dr. King did, and mourn for him and others because they lost their lives in an effort to make things better for ALL Americans. I can read with amazement of the courage of Rosa Parks as she finally had enough and peacefully and calmly took that seat at the FRONT of the bus. I can see with shock the pictures of little girls running a gauntlet of hatred, derision, and venom as they walk to school, and I gaze with horror upon the pictures of black men hung from trees for the crime of looking at a white woman. I read of the beatings and torture endured by those who were on the front lines--and it WAS a war, make no mistake about it--and I am ashamed that my country did such things to its own citizens. Ashamed.

But I would never, NEVER claim the civil rights movement as my own. It is part of our history as a country, it is part of my history, and I can admire the courage and fortitude of those who endured such treatment in the name of equality and justice for all. But I have never been subjected to such horrific treatment, whether for the color of my skin or for anything else, and most importantly...NEITHER HAVE YOU.

So get off your bizarre little carousel ride of "I'm just like you and it's MY civil rights movement, too!", put on your big boy magic underwear, and just shut the fuck up already.