Conspiratorial Fantasies

Other98
Going to dive right into this. The image at right appeared on a friend's Facebook wall recently.

The correct interpretation of facts currently on the ground is that anyone running for public office, from any party, is subject to the will of the people who fund their campaigns.  If they do not pander to the big spenders in the current climate (i.e. the corporations) then they will not get the funds they need to win.

Winning is key. Without a winning strategy, what occurs is just;
...a tale [t]old by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
All of them are working for the corporations, even the third party candidates. The Kochs owned the LP for a long time before they shifted to the Republicans. The Kochs represent some of the worst of corporate behavior, strong-arming groups that they fund trying to force them to echo the policies that the Kochs find favorable.  This will continue to be true until we get money out of politics, plain and simple.

I really have no problem with the image.  I probably don't have a problem with the website it came from, although I haven't spent any real time on it. What I had a problem with was where the conspiratorially motivated fantasists took the image in the wild.

I have culled most of the incorrigible conspiracists from my Facebook wall.  Every now and then a new one pops up and I subject them to the ban hammer; but generally my wall is free of their posts. Some of my oldest friends indulge in conspiracy fantasies though; and as a consequence of this I still have to deal with the odd reference to a conspiracy theory even though I find the entire subject of massive conspiracies completely ludicrous.

Let's start with the phrase conspiracy theory. It really isn't a theory at all.  A theory not only explains the facts in evidence, it survives rigorous testing through trial and error.  The theory of evolution is an excellent example of this. It has survived test after test, and has made predictions about evolutionary history which have been proven to be true. It is a robust theory, accepted by nearly all of the scientific community.

They aren't conspiracy hypothesis either, which is the step in evidence below theory. A hypothesis of necessity must explain all the predominant facts it is attempting to address.  It has to be testable to be acceptable as a scientific explanation.

What we are left with is conspiratorial conjecture. They are stories that are told to entertain, for the most part. They are, as the title of this piece states, conspiracy fantasies.  When you start allowing your fantasies to replace the reality around you, a whole host of bad is waiting in the wings to descend upon you.

When my friend made a tangential reference to the Rothschild family in his Facebook post the image was attached to, rather than argue with his conspiratorial mindset directly, I linked this recent video discussing scientific studies showing that the conspiracy fantasists were more gullible than other people;



Unfortunately for all concerned, the only fact that penetrated was that "the Pink Haired Lady says chemtrails aren't real"  which lead him and his friends to try to convince me they were real.

Well, they aren't real. Of course chemicals are delectable in contrails. The planes that create them are shedding molecules into the atmosphere everywhere they fly. The combustion engines they are powered by emit exhaust chemicals, which are also detectable. This really isn't that hard to figure out.

...Unless you have a ready-made market of science denial set up specifically to use the tools of science against it. An entire method of approaching the world around us that paints the activities of others as nefarious and unscrupulous. This says more about the conspiracy fans than it does about the rest of us, but there is a large group of people out there ready to confirm your suspicions about any activity that concerns you. All you have to do is go look and leave your critical thinking skills behind.  That is, if you ever learned to think critically in the first place.

Without critical thinking we are all babes in the wilderness.

The Rothschild thing? That is an old anti-Semitic/White supremacist fabrication.  Like the whole sovereign thing. There is no sound basis for asserting that the fantasy has any reality to it, unless you have a problem with Jews. Which again, says more about you than about anyone else.

If you think the pink haired lady only dismisses chemtrails, then conspiracy theorists are as gullible as the study she talks about shows.  They lack the ability to detect when they are being subjected to satire and ridicule, and repeat satirical posts as if they are real. If I felt like messing with conspiracy fans (and I don't) I could feed them all kinds of crazy stuff which they would buy right into. So if that kind of trolling is something you enjoy, have at it. They'll never know you're pulling their legs.

The conversation spiraled into a discussion of various other conspiracy tales.  Haarp was mentioned. Like Agenda 21, it isn't anything close to what conspiracy fans think it is.  Monsanto was raised, Godwin style. It was at that point that I knew I was quite literally wasting my time.  I didn't want to have yet another conversation where the fans throw each conspiracy they've heard of at me one at time, each time certain that it can't be explained. All of them can be explained, and not with grand conspiracies. Good luck getting one of the fans to notice this fact.

Perhaps the reason why so many American's subscribe to conspiracy theories is because they understand their culpability in allowing their government to go so far astray.  Like all the guilty parties of the world, they are quick to point to those shadowy others out there "Them! They did it! It wasn't me!" rather than take the blame for their own inaction, their unwillingness to sully themselves with real politics.  I mean, if lizard people are running the world, why bother with democratic participation?



I really should have mentioned the latest conspiracy fantasy that has taken Texas (my state) by storm. Ever ready to believe anything said of President Obama (except this) when the military announced their latest round of training exercises Operation Jade Helm 15 the entirety of conservative Texas lost its collective mind.

My favorite clown head politician, Ted Cruz, took to the internet and the news to predict dire consequences if these maneuvers were allowed to happen (as if they don't happen pretty much every year) Even our sitting governor had to get in on the act, saying he would call up the Texas State Guard to protect the state from the federal military. (h/t to Skeptoid for a link to Abbott's letter)

I've been to Camp Mabry. I have a lot of respect for soldiers, but if that's what is going to protect us from the US military, I think we'd be better off pleading for mercy from the feds and then asking for reconstruction aid, rather than rely on the Texas Guard to fend off the largest military the world has ever seen.  No offense fellas, but you're just a bit outnumbered and outgunned. Just a bit.

I'd like to second the observation of a friend that suggested the US government should simply offer to pull all military bases out of Texas as a gesture towards non-aggression. All those tax dollars in the form of soldier's pay, base construction, etc going to another state instead of Texas.

What was that? You weren't serious? No, no I think you were serious. Seriously deranged, anyway.  You might want to get some help with that.
"Paranoia is a mental illness, not a super power." - Jim Wright Stonekettle Station



The latest fantasist appears to be Seymour Hersh; which is too bad.  Too bad because the guy really had a marvelous resume. Not too long after his revelations on Abu Ghraib, he seemed to lose his grip on what we colloquially refer to as reality, mistaking his desire to see grand conspiracies everywhere for the demonstrable facts in a story;
Perhaps the most concerning problem with Hersh's story is not the sourcing but rather the internal contradictions in the narrative he constructs.
Most blatant, Hersh's entire narrative turns on a secret deal, in which the US promised Pakistan increased military aid and a "freer hand in Afghanistan." In fact, the exact opposite of this occurred, with US military aid dropping and US-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan plummeting as both sides feuded bitterly for years after the raid.
Hersh explains this seemingly fatal contradiction by suggesting the deal fell apart due to miscommunication between the Americans and Pakistanis. But it's strange to argue that the dozens of officials on both sides would be competent enough to secretly plan and execute a massive international ruse, and then to uphold their conspiracy for years after the fact, but would not be competent enough to get on the same page about aid delivery. 
From: The many problems with Seymour Hersh's Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory by Max Fisher

Don't get me wrong here.  I've never accepted Pakistan's denials of knowledge concerning Osama Bin Laden's location, since he was living near their military training academy. What surprises me on that subject is we haven't been able to demonstrate what classes he was teaching there.  Which high-ranking official in the Pakistani government helped him take up residence in Abbottabad.

That aside, not even the Obama administration accepts that Zero Dark Thirty is anything aside from a Hollywood fantasy attempting to make sense of the disparate narratives that could have lead to OBL's killing. They have denied that torture lead to information on OBL's whereabouts, and have maintained that key evidence was provided by a walk-in source voluntarily, not through any kind of intense interrogation.  Only Cheney and his ilk insist that torture produced anything useful, and I've already said my piece on that subject. So the accusation that Hersh himself levels at the Obama administration is largely incorrect.

I offer the previous as an attempt to disarm the fantasy believer, so that when I observe that Hersh is engaging in conspiratorial fantasies it in no way means I accept any other particular narrative on the subject.  Rather it is an observation like this one detailed over on Slate;
It's this commitment to counternarrative totality—the idea that a few legitimate questions make the entire official narrative a lie, accompanied by a certainty in a counterhistory based on theory, suggestion, and a relatively negligible amount of secondhand evidence—that make Hersh's account reminiscent of what you might see from the professional conspiracy theorists at InfoWars. It privileges the accounts and suggestions of a few vaguely connected ex-insiders over other, more exhaustive accounts based on the testimony of people who are in a much better position to know at least some of the facts. 
It is Hersh's tone and his spittle-flecked denunciation of the US government's complicity and cooperation with Pakistan in the killing of OBL as a publicity stunt that gets him marked as a fantasist, not the content of his counter-narrative.  Most of what he has to say on the subject really isn't even news, if it is at all believable on its face.

This story is a baseline for conspiratorial fantasies. A gateway drug.  A building 7 in 9-11 truther language. If you can get past the point where you stop wondering how hundreds of civil employees and soldiers could have been motivated to keep silent on this subject, then you can get busy embroidering Hersh's revelations with details of your own.

The detail of size is what makes the likelihood of this conspiracy being true so improbably remote.  Fantasists who support Hersh point to the Guardian / Edward Snowden revelations as proof that massive conspiracies can and do exist. However, it is that very story that illustrates the problem with massive conspiracies and the theories spun about them.  The NSA spying was anything but secret.  Oh, it was officially denied, and the US government would love to punish Snowden for his revelations. But the spying was itself an open secret.  Anyone interested in the subject knew that the NSA was involved in a dragnet of information across the internet.

It is a lot like the people who point to the denials of Groom Lake (area 51) being a location for testing new Air Force technologies, and then conclude that the stories of alien visitations are true.  The locals knew it was testing facility for decades. The official denials proved nothing aside from the fact that they were conducting secret tests there at some point. They certainly don't point to any factual truth concerning extraterrestrial contact.

The NSA's spying program is the hallmark of the inability for large conspiracies to remain secret. It is only a matter of time before the secret becomes common knowledge.  The fact that Hersh's fantasies concerning OBL contain so little new reliable information proves that they are just that.  If they weren't, he'd have solid witnesses willing to swear to the veracity of his complete story.  Those simply don't exist outside of his imagination.



Tiptoeing through Gender Issues

I've been a fan of John Varley's SF since the Wife first introduced me to it. Common in most of Varley's work is the idea that sex was something you could change on a whim. That you might actually simply choose to be sexless as a statement (which lead to other perversions) that you could become female in order to have children (something I might have done) but then reverse to male in order to have more strength for work later in life if strength was something you needed. The idea that sex was a irreversible state you were assigned to at birth would be a foreign concept in a Varley future. The one part of Varley's futures that I really didn't have a problem with.

I'm starting with the subject of John Varley's futuristic SF because I want there to be no confusion about my overall intentions while discussing this subject. The subject of gender, of sex, and changing it. This is about categorization. I've breached this subject a few times now in other places, and I'm not convinced that the overall subject, false categorization; the creation of groupings which don't actually exist, really is understood as the point of it all.

This is not about nature, or about god. There isn't some stamp that is placed on us at birth that says we have to be either female or male. Sexual attributes appear on a curve, just like all other attributes that we possess. Some small percentage of people identify more with the opposite sex than their own external appearance. Some even smaller group have sex organs for both sexes.

I mentioned in a parenthetical above that I might have opted for changing my sex to female had that been an option, for the purpose of having children.  This is a true statement.  The Wife has problems with the birthing of children.  Had she been born even a generation before ours, she probably would have died in childbirth; which is a very sobering thought. So sobering that I would have willingly changed places with her in order that we could have the children we both wanted, and save her the risk to her health. But that wasn't possible. Still isn't possible. If it were, it would be possible for her physiology to be altered in a way that allowed her to have children without dying, without my having to change my sex.

But would I do it anyway? I've always been a nurturer. Played with dolls as a child.  My mother had to explain to me why I couldn't take my dolls to school with me. How the other boys would not understand and would make fun of me.  Giving up the dolls did not change who I was. I'd sooner spend an hour rocking a baby than doing almost anything else. Had I needed to carry my own children to term I'd like to think I'd have done it, despite the pain involved.

I'm not afraid of being mistaken for female, on the other hand. If you put a wig and breasts on me (as on most men) I'll look like a dude with a wig and breasts.  Just like most men will.  So my status as male is secure; so secure that I would look stupid trying to be anything other than male.

I can understand being personally convinced that you are in the wrong body. I understand the quandary, or at least like to think I do. I'm just not willing to concede that gender is a thing. A thing that can be altered. A thing that can be altered without altering the sex of the person.

This fact is easily demonstrable. If you gave the people who want to change their gender the option of simply modifying their birth certificates (which in a general sense is impossible) the vast majority of them would probably change the sexual designation on their identity papers and give up the gender argument.  It is only the documentation's immutable status that  makes this entire argument so convoluted.

Hawaii is now allowing people to change their sexual designation on their birth certificates without having to undergo surgery. Only time will tell if this fixes the problem of sexual designation for public purposes. Personally I don't think the problem will go away until there aren't restrooms separated by sex; removing the requirement to declare sexuality just to relieve yourself. I know a lot of women who don't like this idea (yes, dear) and yet I can't think of any other way to address the inequality presented by separate restrooms.

Documents are fallible, as humans are fallible. Some drunken buffoon on duty at the delivery ward at night can't uncross his eyes and figure out if the baby in front of him is male or female, and writes the wrong identification out on the birth certificate. Maybe the child just has ambiguous genitalia. Who knows? What is certain is that people are being asked to live their lives as one sex, when they know that they are not of that sex.

If you accept that the sexual role you will want to play as an adult can be determined by an outside observer at the time of your birth, then you might as well assume that there are also innate designations of dominant or submissive; that BDSM roles are also assigned at birth. That you might not want to play either role, or find the concept that you will have to play one or the other role insulting is beyond the comprehension of the record keeper. Obviously everyone will be in one group or the other. It has to be that way, right?

The birth certificate as an unchangeable document just doesn't add up to a rational system capable of being defended, from a sexual designation point of view at least. What if you are physically capable of handling any role at birth? What if no sexual role mentally suits you as an adult?  What if you think that role-playing should be left to fantasy and not real-world interactions?

Gender isn't a thing.  Gender is a perception. More than that, gender is the perception of an observer, the identity the observer assigns in their head when dealing with other people. Gender is the presentation that you attempt when you dress in a particular fashion.  Wear your hair a particular way. In the choices of accessories.  You cannot dictate what gender someone will assign to you before they meet you. It is the interaction which will define how they deal with you as a person. You can prime that interaction with overt displays of the gender you want to be seen as, but that doesn't (especially for men trying to be women) mean that you're going to pull it off without looking silly.

It is actually easier to pass as a man than it is as a woman. Most men (as the Wife has discovered) will treat the unknown other as an equal, as a guy, if the woman simply acts like a man. Dresses like a man. Even if she is curvy.  It was common in earlier times when gender roles were more strictly defined for women to pass themselves off as men. To simply assume the role of male, and do it so flawlessly that most men they dealt with never knew.

Jason Robert Ballard/FTM Magazine
We hold ourselves up to ridiculous standards of beauty. We idolize and worship the prettiest among us as if they are representations of ourselves.  It is a fantasy that a regular person can ever match the beauty of models, as if even the models look that good in poor lighting.  This is not a trans-gendered man, this is just a man. More of a man than I ever have been, if static beauty is a measure of manliness (could do without the tattoos, but it isn't my body, so knock yourself out) Just as this person is a woman. What this is, more than anything else, is an error in record keeping; a bug in the process of sexual identification which needs to be addressed. This is a manifestation of the worship of documentation as some immutable testament to what is good and natural instead of serving as a reference to what is real and substantial.

Geena Rocero
I've been barraged with this lately from many different corners. It's been on Skeptoid. I've argued about it on Facebook. It's in my e-mail newsfeed. I've watched several TED talks on the subject. The celebration of the trans-gendered, and the labeling of the rest of us as cis-gendered. The idea that a minority can dictate to the majority what labels that majority will wear is farcical on its face. Never mind the fact that it is an invented label and not a correct usage of the terms. Just trying to give fair warning here.

On top of that, just exactly how do you determine who the cis are?

I'd like to speak to all the lumpy old people out there for a minute or two. You know who you are. You remember how, when you were growing up, everyone told you that you had to do this or that, or you weren't manly? You had to paint your face, be happy and agreeable, like to clean house (or at least pretend to) or you weren't feminine?  And you, being who you are, either hesitantly agreed, said nothing, or offered a rebuttal; but then went on to ignore everything said on that subject by others and just went on to live you life like you wanted anyway? Are you trans or cis? Dom or sub? Do any of the many labels others want you to wear matter in the slightest? Or are these labels annoyances that you'd just as soon not have to deal with?

Just because the majority don't go around complaining about the gender stereotypes they are saddled with, doesn't mean that they are cis in any measurable way.

I'll happily give up gender specific pronouns, given alternatives that don't sound forced in conversation. I have no problem using they instead of he or she. Their instead of hers or his. Don't have a problem with mixed-sex restrooms since I hate urinals in the first place and won't use them. Wouldn't put them in restrooms that I designed unless told to. I don't see the problem with allowing people to change their sex designation on their identification.

I'm just not willing to accept that gender is a thing separate from sex. Not willing to adopt an invented label just because people who want to change their sex have been forced to wear the label trans. I'll happily support your right to not have to wear that label, either. Not going to start loving sports, hating house cleaning, or conforming to the myriad of gender stereotypes that are out there in the world.  I'm not cis. I'm not trans. I'd appreciate it if you didn't presume to put labels on me that I don't freely adopt. That statement should echo with quite a few people out there.

My children have friends that are struggling with this issue right now. Children and young adults who want to know what labels they should put on themselves. A few of them I'm actually quite worried about. To them I want to say STOPDon't harm yourself.  Be who you are, don't try to change to fit some perception that other's hold for you. We love you just the way you are. There is no need to change. To pretend. Just be. Try to be happy, if you can.  Experience all the joy you can wrap your head around. Good advice, no matter what label you want to hang on yourself.



I expected to get pushback from the trans community because I thrash that communities insistence that there is a thing called cis.  Instead what I got was a whole lot of hell from non-trans people who kept insisting that trans was a problem.  Well, I continue to disagree with them.  No matter the source of pushback, no matter the source of the attempt to label non-trans as cis, there still isn't anything called cis.

The reason why there isn't a thing called cis is the same reason why there really isn't a thing called natural; at least in the experience of everyday average human beings.  That was originally part of this post but was discarded at the insistence of the wife who insisted I needed to simplify the argument for the brains of average human beings.  So I did that.  Stay tuned for the second part of this article to appear on this blog sometime in the future, like so many other blog posts.

In the meantime, enjoy this poem;


Richard Dawkins on Startalk

I've listened to the Startalk podcast for years. It's not my favorite, but I do enjoy it. Far more engaging has been the Startalk show on National Geographic.  This week the interview was with Richard Dawkins;



The interesting thing about this episode was Neil's inclusion of a Jesuit priest in the panel. The lead-in giving credit to the Jesuits for our current calendar was a nice touch.

I would like to note that the priest is far more antagonistic towards Richard Dawkins than the converse during this episode. The hurt expressed by him, that he is seen as being crazy or stupid because he wears a collar angers him. I get that. Imagine how atheists feel when they are told that they cannot be good people without god?

The Wife

(This was originally posted here. I've edited and expanded it a bit)

"Doesn't she have a name?"

Yes, she does. Thanks for asking. It's just that there's this minor detail of her not wanting me to refer to her by name on the blog, or when I reference her in other online forums. Probably doesn't want her name associated with her like the name "Margaret" has been associated with an amazing ability to argue about anything. I started calling her the wife because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way (several years ago in a previous working life) So, being the considerate person that I am, I've used no other reference for her since. She has always referred to me as her significant other, which I find clever and cute at the same time. Probably why we are still together after 26 years.

That is the difference in 9 years passing (the time since I first wrote this narrative, and now) I no longer think that the 3 years before we tied the knot matter that much anymore.  The proverbial "I can't remember when we weren't together" moment has occurred for me. I know those moments existed, and that they mattered at the time. My life is now defined by the beautiful woman I've been married to for over a quarter century. Defined by the two children we've raised together. Well, not really children anymore. One of them is an adult, but we can't seem to get her out of the house (teasing you, don't bridle) the other is in high school.  That fun age.  Does this mean that I'm old?  The children keep me young. That is the truth. They keep me young, while reminding me just how old I really am. Reality is a bitch like that.

Twenty-six years ago today, we got married. Well, actually, that's not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. The wedding was planned by several friends. It was beautiful, right up to the point following the kiss, when they realized that they hadn't planned how to exit the arbor we were in. "Weddings over, see you at the reception."

Did you notice the 'arbor' reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. Not much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. But still, it did rain on our outdoor wedding.

My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony. In their tuxedos, on the way to the wedding, they stopped for donuts. Of course, there was a delay getting the breakfast, so they were late. The-soon-to-be-Wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (remember, moving next day?) I was instructed to aim for his head (brother or best man, who knows?) when opening champagne later that day.

When my brother was married a few years later, we wrapped their wedding present in donut boxes. I don't think either one of them appreciated the joke.  The Wife and I laughed for weeks.  Joy is in the ears that hear, or maybe revenge is a dish best served cold. Like donuts.

Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. Her garter fell off (more than once) and had to be retrieved, so that it could be removed properly at the reception. I could go on, but I'd like to save some blackmail material just in case I might need it.

We met four years prior to that day. Like most people, we met at work. We both drove test cars. Yes you read that right, but it's not the job you think it is, trust me. Every tire on the road today was tested on the route that we drove. From San Angelo nearly to Del Rio and back; and then North of San Angelo to Robert Lee and back. Some of the most tedious work I think I've ever done. Convoys of four cars, maintaining correct 4 second spacing, traveling at a dead level 55 mile an hour rate, for 8 monotonous hours 5 days a week.  If I can point to a job that broke me of my love of driving, it was that job.

My best friend at the time drove lead (the car in front, the guy in charge) on the convoy that I drove tail on.  (how we ended up working at the same place at the same time is a story in itself) Some of the areas we drove through were pretty remote...

[One night, down on the Devil's river, we came across a jeep that looked like it had been on the loosing end of a bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etc. On another night we came across a wreck in the clearing stages. Car hit head on with a tanker truck. As I'm sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go, the cop wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. Won't be forgetting either of those nights.

At least I never hit a deer. The wife hit three. Well, technically she ran over one that jumped onto the road in front of her and fell down, got hit by one that ran into the side of her car while she was passing, and then actually hit one in the test car she renamed 'rocky' because they had to wedge the headlights back in with rocks so that she could make it back to the shop. Ask her about the cow sometime. That's a funny story]


...And since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly; and if you were the lucky one you were stranded with a broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you. Some of us were a little edgy about this situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them. I didn't want to hassle with a gun myself, so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.

Well, my buddy who ran the convoy got to talking one night and discovered someone that I needed to meet. Our follow-on teams lead driver had a larger version of the knife I carried, and she knew how to use it. The next night, he takes me over to introduce me to her as we are trading cars at the end of the shift. She whips out her knife with a gleam in her eye (have I mentioned that I'm a bit skittish around knives? There was a reason I didn't know how to use it) and proceeded to flip it around and demonstrate how you gut your opponent with one smooth motion. All the while grinning like the proverbial cat with the canary.

What did I think of her, I hear you asking? She scared the living shit out of me. I thought I was a dead man. If I ever got away from her, I was not going to be looking back. I told my buddy as much afterwards.

Never did manage to get away from her. Drove in her convoys a few times after that when one of her drivers failed to show up. San Angelo is not a big place, so we ended up running into each other outside of work as well. So I married her instead. True story.

26 years ago today, babe. Happy anniversary.

The Flight Disaster That Wasn't

Back when Flight was on screen, I got in a run-in with one of the few remaining Libertarians on my Facebook friends list (SPOILER ALERT) what follows is a clip from J. Neil Schulman's article on Rational Review;
"...having shown in her own presentation that the cause of the problem was mechanical and the savior of the lives was Whip, she continues her interrogation of Whip by asking him to give an opinion that two empty vodka bottles found in the airliner’s trash were consumed by the flight attendant that we in the audience knows was partying with Whip the night before the flight.
At which point, rather than lie, Whip confesses to having drunk the vodka himself.
The movie ends, true to its true-confessions formula, with a redeemed Whip in prison, having confessed to his sin of piloting an aircraft drunk and coked up — more expertly than any other cold sober pilot could have done."
The one piece of salient advice that I would give to J. Neil Schulman, when it comes to writing, is that members of a hierarchical system (like a corporation) don't tend to give jobs to outsiders who use code words like statist to describe any system that they disagree with. When you walk in with an obvious chip on your shoulder, and the attitude that you yourself can do anything faster and better than any other group of people, you're more likely to be shown the door quickly than to be given the time of day.  Much less a job.

I went to see this move with a fellow film buff. My usual partner in crime.  The Wife doesn't do dramas.  She's into horror, SciFi, and action films.  She's dragging me to Age of Ultron this week. Avengers is far more her speed than a film about a pilot who saves a plane in spite of his addictions.

The film accurately portrays what would happen to someone like Washington's Whip Whitaker (a functioning alcoholic) in the current regulatory landscape; and I think that is why it did not meet with the kind of approval that its creators expected. The average viewer probably agrees with the sentiment that Whip Whitaker did not deserve jail time; producing a film with a very unsatisfying ending. But it was hardly a disaster in anyone's estimation other than that of a libertarian writer attempting to tie the fictional events in the film to a real disaster and then draw the most tenuous of allegorical conclusions.  As follows;
let’s put ourselves into the plot of a fictitious combined disaster movie in which after scientist Richard Feynman proves that the cause of the Challenger explosion was launching on a day colder than the shuttle’s O-rings could properly function, the chief investigator finds vodka bottles among the shuttle wreckage and spends the rest of the investigation trying to find out if any of the crew of the Challenger was drunk at the time of the launch.
Flight, while flawed, wasn't about what Neil says it was. The pilot in question wasn't even jailed at the end for the reason he states. The movie was a limited exploration of how we treat addicts in this country, and how we mask over the functionally addicted among us with just the kinds of platitudes that Neil offers in his counter arguments. I would be the first person (and it was my first reaction on viewing the film the first time) to say that the pilot should not have been sent to jail. Yank his license, encourage him to seek treatment, etc, sure. Jail proves nothing, except that we will punish scapegoats given the chance.

However, to suggest he merited no punishment because he was a superman able to function on a level no other person could; I think I should remind Neil that the film was a work of fiction. While I have known many functional alcoholics in my lifetime, most of whom drove drunk every day of their lives, it doesn't mean that they would not be responsible for accidents that they might have been involved in because of their impaired capacity.

It would be amusing, for the purpose of illustration, to put some of these types to the test, to find out if they really aren't impaired. I'd be willing to bet that they would fail the same tests that the rest of us did, at statistically predictable rates. At least it would silence the people who insist that they not be subjected to the same laws as the rest of us.

The statement in the film that Neil hung his entire argument on was something to the effect that "we put [x number] of pilots in the simulator, all of them crashed" which is a far cry from the presentation that only Washington's character could land the plane. The factual I took from that exchange was that it was an exceedingly difficult procedure to pull off. Imagine what the guy could have done had he been sober; had he done the preflight checks that regulation requires, he might even have noticed that the plane was not ready to fly.

But he didn't, because he was hung over from a night of partying. He then proceeded to drink while flying, trying to ease the hangover (BTW, this doesn't work.  It just gets you drunk again) consequently he was liable for his violation of the public trust, breaking rules that he knew were in place as part of the regulations for public safety. Rules that he agreed to when he got his pilot's license.

A libertarian would argue that there is no public trust to violate and that licensing is an infringement on individual rights. I don't have to 'prove' that there is a public, or define it for the doubting individualist; it is defined in law already. Government, law, licensing.  All out there already, part of the society we inhabit. Pretending the rules don't apply to you just gets you put in jail like the protagonist of the film, it certainly doesn't get the rules changed to be more reasonable.

 I'd happily go for a system that tests for ability rather than chemical makeup of the blood, disqualifying those on a case by case basis who cannot master the basic requirements of the job. That would be a reasonable solution to the problem of impaired capacity.  Getting that change made to the rules currently in place requires engaging the system currently in place.  It means accepting that rules made by others do have power over you in some limited fashion. It means that government has the ability to make and enforce rules, even rules that we deem unreasonable.

Personal delusions about the non-existence of the public trust just get in the way of real reform; just interfere in the enjoyment of a decent flick that illustrates some pretty glaring flaws in our legal system.  My suggestion? Leave your politics at home when you go see a movie. You might learn something.



As an aside, Age of Ultron was well worth the price of admission. An interestingly convoluted story about fear and what that emotion can twist you to doing in spite of your own better judgement. If Marvel has any sense they'll keep letting Joss Whedon do what he does best for as long as he wants to keep doing it.  The man has a feel for Marvel superheroes, and it comes across in all of his films.  I'm in awe of his abilities and look forward to his next film.