June 7, 2003


When I was nine I saw a leprechaun!

I’m not kidding. I was in the back seat of our car driving up the hill from the hotel my dad managed, back in Bermuda. I’d ridden up that hill, in that seat, hundreds of times. I knew every rock and clump of grass by heart.

Anyway, there he sat, up against a familiar rock: little green pants, little green vest, little green top hat, small little bone-white pipe. Captain Ahab beard – white, no moustache. I screamed like we had just run over Lassie.

Stop the car!

What is it?

Stop the car! Stop the car!

Dad stopped the car, and I nearly broke Mom’s nose on the dashboard as I flew out of the back seat and ran for the rock.

Gone! The little bastard had ducked into one of his tunnels. This didn’t surprise me much: it’s tough enough to actually see a leprechaun, but to catch one – that was the real bitch. And by the way, I wasn’t interested in Learning About His Little Customs or Making a Wee Friend for Life by letting him go. I wanted his pot of gold so I could buy a dolphin to go snorkeling with.

My parents had to restrain me with ropes to get me to leave. The second I got home, I got on my bike and dashed directly back to the spot. I searched there every day for weeks. I never saw him again. If you had told me that having just seen Finian’s Rainbow the week before might have influenced my nine-year-old imagination, I would have said, Yeah, okay, but I SAW him! And I did see him. I saw him with my own two eyes.

Fast forward six long, dry, magic-free years. Miami, 1975. It’s Friday night and I’m on the roof of the Southern Cross Observatory at the Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium. I’ve just been made, as far as I know, the World’s Youngest Planetarium Console Operator, an honor so monumental in the Great Halls of Geekdom as to ensure that I would not get a date for at least three years.

So there I was, trying to convince a group of about twenty people that the image of Saturn they were looking at was not a slide taped to the eyepiece, when all of a sudden, someone screams: My God! Look! UFO’s!

And sure enough, there they were: A V-shaped formation of dully glowing ovals flying pretty much right for us! People were screaming, crying, hugging each other. One of our Junior Birdmen ran for the phones to scramble the interceptors. And they kept coming: no running lights, no sound at all, just weird, slowly moving grey ovals.

I had waited for this moment since I saw the leprechaun six years before. I grabbed the binoculars, and--.


What?! Are they charging their Death Rays?

Nah. They’re just birds.

How could they be birds? But they were. They were geese, with dark necks and wings, but white bellies. These white oval bellies were reflecting the city lights, but if you looked carefully as they got closer, even without the binoculars, you could see the long necks and thin, flapping wings.

It was a flock of geese.

And then something happened that I will never forget: that crowd wasn’t relieved; they weren’t even disappointed. They were angry. They were angry at me. Not dogs and pitchforks and torches angry, but they were surly enough to burn the moment into my young brain.

I had taken away their magic.

There’s a strange cloud that’s settled over our modern society. It’s a pervasive sort of bland contempt for an ingenious collection of lenses and mirrors that can reveal a giant ball of hydrogen, helium, methane and ammonia, billions of miles away, surrounded by untold millions of ice fragments in delicate orbit, yet one which will ascribe to the most banal unknown, a life-changing, quit-your-insurance-job-and-live-in-a-tree status.

For our entire history, right up until a hundred years ago, the idea of flying carpets and magic lanterns held people’s imaginations in thrall. Now that we have everyday miracles like jet aircraft and electric lights, all some people want is to return to a time when the belief in magic was common, but the everyday blessings of magic – telephones, computers, antibiotics – didn’t exist. Back in the anti-nuclear 80’s lots of folks drove around with SPLIT WOOD NOT ATOMS bumper stickers, and I often asked myself, how much wood have these people actually split? I’ve done an hour in my 20’s and I thought I was going to die.

It’s sad, frankly – at least to people like me. I find it terribly, tragically sad that the more successful and comfortable we become, the more people pine for a time when none of these everyday miracles existed. Outdoor bathrooms on January nights and miserable coal stoves that need to be tended hourly just to heat a pathetic half-gallon of tepid water need to be experienced to be believed – and not just in a 24 hour adventure, but continuously. Death, hunger, cold, disease, infant mortality – we have fought them tooth and nail for millennia, for what? Apparently in order to so insulate people that they can long for “ancient wisdom,” return to the “holistic tribal remedies” of the past, and hold up the most primitive and achingly poor cultures on earth as being the sole repository of “authenticity,” while scorning every advance that they take completely for granted.

Magical thinking is everywhere today, and it is growing. It threatens the foundations of reason, individualism, science and objectivity that have delivered this success so well and for so long. It is dangerous. If we are to continue to thrive and progress, then we need to sharpen some sticks and drive a stake through the heart of this monster, and right quick.

I’ll use the term Magical Thinking as a pretty big umbrella to cover a whole host of creeping intellectual chicanery: superstition, wishful thinking, pseudoscience, unsubstantiated claims, assertion, mysticism and anti-science.

Like so many of our other destructive tendencies, this whole mess really started in the latter part of the 1960’s. It’s a sad comment to make, because we were the first nation founded after the Enlightenment, and reason and clarity thunder so triumphantly throughout the Constitution that, in the immortal words of P.J. O’Rourke, the operating manual for an unruly nation of 300 million people is about one-quarter the length of the one for a Toyota Camry.

Of course, superstition and magical thinking have been with us since the dawn of time, but up until very recently, we Americans have prided ourselves on our scientific bent, our Yankee ingenuity – which is nothing less than applying common sense, reason, and hard work to find new ways to solve age-old problems. For most of our history, our public schools were the envy of the world. The very idea that a whole nation could educate their entire population was so radical that scholars from around the world flocked to the United States in the nineteenth century to see such a bold miracle for themselves.

Even before the late 1950’s, when Sputnik lit a fire under science and technical education, US public schools performed magnificently. Now I’m not a professional educator, but I suspect this might have had something to do with the fact that we were more interested in teaching history, science, writing, literature and math than we were about raising self-esteem, discussing birth control and indoctrinating political and environmental beliefs. There were specialized people who taught these things way back then, and they were called “parents.” The only “soft science” taught in those days was “citizenship,” a class that sounds so dated and quaint today that we can only lament how far we have fallen. The idea that we would teach people how the system works, rather than telling them what to think about it, has long gone. And we continue to pay the price for it.

Anyway, some time in the late 1960’s, Sauron gets the Ring and along comes the Hippie movement. Their entire philosophy was summed up succinctly in a slogan from the times: if it feels good, do it.

As a life philosophy, it simplistic and childlike. It is also extremely subtle and pervasive, and as a personal philosophy it has enormous seductive power. It frees you from the constraints of discipline, study, responsibility and ethics, not to mention relieving you of the burden of making choices based on evidence, reason, logic or fact.

Now those Hippies are college professors, and post-modernism is their Graille.

You know the drill: No objective reality. All truth is relative. You can believe whatever you want, when you want. You can be descended from Atlantean Priests! You can have Mental Powers to move objects, read the future, and speak to dead people! Even better, you can save six billion trillion tons of silicon, nickel and iron in the third orbit around the sun –- a sphere that has endured 5 billion years of asteroid impacts, volcanoes, ice ages, and having its core knocked out and into orbit -- by holding up a piece of wood with some lettered cardboard on one end and by marching down the street chanting two-line political philosophies!

What’s not to like!

Let’s go kill some vampires…

Because it is so susceptible to fact and logic, the very best way to fight magical thinking is to simply grant the premise and look at the consequences. This is a silver-tipped, hardened oak stake dipped in garlic paste made from holy water when it comes to demolishing some of these ideas.

Let's start with those geese bellies…

UFOs, proponents tell us, are physical vehicles from other solar systems carrying large-eyed, small bodied beings who are so technologically and spiritually advanced that they can wing through the light years at will, carry objects aloft on beams of light, move through walls, dispense advice for cultural survival and administer anal probes.

The constancy of the speed of light as a natural speed limit has been so thoroughly and completely tested and vindicated, that these aliens must have learned to harness the power of entire galaxies to bore wormholes through spacetime, which would be necessary to have these infinitely fast, staggeringly maneuverable, gravity-defying, super-hardened space-metal saucers in the skies over our planet.


Well, turns out that in 1946 one of these antigravity, faster than light, space-metal disks…uh…ran into a hill. The ultra-classified alien voice data recorder yielded a single sound: zzrrzzrrrD’oh!rrzzzrr!)

Yes, in 1946 one of these ultra-advanced beings was arguing with the little podlings in the back seat, took his eye off the Iludium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, and then came the Earth-Shattering Ka-Boom! right outside of Roswell, New Mexico.

They – The Government – recovered a few strips of crumpled aluminum. UFOlogists point to the picture of the Air Force officer holding up a couple of Jiffy-Pop fragments as “hard evidence” – but as for me, I’d like my anti-gravity, faster-than-light intergalactic hyper-dimensional space-metal saucer to produce something more than one-fifth the wreckage you’d expect from a Cessna 150 hitting the ground at 40 mph flown by some teenager experimenting with The Weed.

Apparently, Area 51 has at least one, if not several of these accident-prone vehicles. They are being ‘reverse-engineered’ by the CIA and other Black organizations.

I have on a cheap digital wristwatch. Don’t ask why. Now presumably these masters of gravity, wormholes and anal probes are far, far ahead of us in science and technology – hundreds, or more likely thousands of years more advanced. But let’s take my cheapo, simple, everyday wristwatch back to a watchmaker of only 100 years ago – the finest Swiss watchmaker of 1903. What could he reasonably expect to reverse engineer?

Upon opening the back, he would find – what? No gears, no jeweled movements. No springs or hands. Completely silent, not a hint of ticking. The case – what is that? Not wood, not metal – more of that smooth, curved stuff. And what about that tiny green square wafer with the strange markings on it? Forget about making one that worked for himself – what the hell is that? What does it do? And the numerals – just a piece of clear plastic – only he has no idea what plastic is, let alone the liquid crystal matrix.

He pushes a button. The thing beeps. Where the hell did that come from! There are no visible bellows or acoustic horns to make such a sound. And the accuracy! And – my god! It lights up in the dark! No gas lines, no wicks, no flame of any kind!

Even the nylon strap and Velcro would be completely beyond him.

If the smartest man on earth of 100 years ago would be baffled and driven to madness by a $15 dollar watch, how are we expected to believe that NASA is reverse engineering a faster than light, anti-gravity Spaceship? The ancient Egyptians would have a far easier time reverse-engineering the Space Shuttle.

Why is it that every certified, approved, authorized and official UFO photo has been revealed by experts – or the perpetrators – to be a hoax? That can’t be good. What does it say for the credulity of these people when you can see video reporting of three UFO’s flying in rigid formation at night: a bright white light in the middle, and a red light on one side and a green one on the other? Startling footage shows a string of lights over Phoenix one evening, and thousands call the police reporting the alien armada. Looking at the video, it’s clear that these are either a string of parachute flares or a sinister invasion battlefleet of slowly descending anti-gravity flying disks populated by super-intelligent alien creatures from another solar system. The military response was a deafening yawn. The news media, on the other hand, rushed to welcome our new Insect Overlords and began rounding up humans to work in their underground sugar caves.

But why bother with questions like this? If it feels good to believe that we are being watched over by advanced beings, then none of this will stop you.

More likely, you believe that you are nothing more than an impotent, faceless cog in a vast conspiracy of silence and oppression, a victim of government cover-ups and hidden agendas, of dark metallic disks under canvas in subterranean hangars. If that’s what makes you feel better about your failures and frustrations, then, hey – asking questions like this won’t even slow you down.

But realize this: if your worldview requires all sorts of secret kingdoms, unknowable motives, and unseen forces moving behind the veil of normal human experience, then you have taken yourself from the realm of a free citizen responsible for his own destiny and that of his nation, to a frightened caveman quivering in fear of distant Thunder Gods: immobilized, helpless and in a state of abject surrender. You have thrown away the hard work of millions and millions of your fellow human beings who have worked and studied their entire lives to raise you from those very depths.

Shame on you.

There is a lake in Scotland inhabited by a giant, long-necked creature, a plesiosaur that we thought went extinct fifty million years before man came down from the trees. This gigantic, air-breathing reptile inhabits the cold, dark, murky depths of Loch Ness.

Got it. Granting the premise…

What have we got? Some stories from eyewitnesses. Like the one by the British naturalist who took the most famous picture of the Monster, the famed “surgeon photo.” You’ve all seen it.

Only the son of the photographer has admitted that this single most compelling piece of evidence was a fake. He made a recreation of the model – it’s about the size of a large rubber ducky (and if you look at the picture again, you realize just how small and out of scale it looks relative to the waves).

Divers and automated remote cameras have scoured the Loch. There’s a picture of a fin – only the picture has been enhanced, rotated, and ‘dodged’ – the original shows an unremarkable -- and tiny -- bit of debris on the bottom. No sign of Nessie. What is much more damaging is that there is no sign of much of anything – especially fish. This ten-ton ancient dinosaur presumably does not order out for pizza. What the hell does it eat?

And this is most damning: plesiosaurs were air-breathing. Why is it that the best evidence for the Loch Ness Monster is a distant, grainy video of an ‘unexplained’ wake, shot in the far distance. This creature has to come up for air several times an hour. If we grant that there is a breeding population of aquatic dinosaurs surviving in Loch Ness, they should be sticking their heads out of the water like a giant whack-a-mole game, 24/7. If air-breathing dinosaurs really inhabited these lakes in Europe, and Africa and the US, then the best evidence would be the body hauled ashore by a shotgun-toting British Marine after Nessie ate a busload of tourists in full view of the world press.

Think about it. What if there really is an air-breathing dinosaur in this lake. How many HDTV recordings would there be in a single day. Fifty? A hundred?

Divers did find many sunken logs on the bottom of these peaty, dismal waters. Some of these will, on occasion, float to the surface as the gases from their decay increases their buoyancy. From a distance, they look like a dark, humped shape breaking the water. They eventually sink again.

So which is more likely? A log floats loose, maybe a boat wake propagates across a glassy lake for ten or twenty minutes? Or that a ten ton air-breathing dinosaur the size of a city bus, extinct for 50 million years, escapes detection in a fish-free lake scoured by dozens of cameras every day for the past fifty years?

But people swear they saw it! Same with the UFO’s. many of these people are lying -- convincingly lying, as they did with Nessie's "surgeon photo." Some of them, though, are undoubtedly telling the truth. Like I said, I saw a Leprechaun when I was nine. Saw him clearly enough to stop the car. Saw him clearly enough to go back looking for him every day, for weeks, until my parents took such pity on me they put a few leprechaun dolls around the house in the middle of the night and swore up and down they had nothing to do with it – just so that I could find something.

I saw it. That doesn’t mean it was there.

The immediate, knee-jerk reaction to such hard-headed looks at magical events is to state that rationalists are shuffling grey automatons gloomily dissecting flowers and bunnies through thick lenses and tightly-pursed lips, relentlessly crushing wonder and awe.

What a bunch of crap.

I don’t have a problem with UFO’s, Bermuda Triangles, Sea Monsters, Ghosts, Crystals, Crop Circles and Atlantis because I think they are silly. Silly Things, like the Ministry of Silly Walks, are a prime ingredient of sanity.

I object to these things not because they are silly, but because they are lazy. They are just, in the final analysis, so incredibly boring, mundane and unimaginative, compared to the real wonders, the authentic magic. Look! A Leprechaun! It's like a man! Only smaller than most men you normally see!

We ooh and ahh at some circles stamped out in a wheat field, but completely ignore pillars of gas and dust so beautiful and so enormous that if you drove fast enough to cross the US in a second, your great–grandchildren would grow old before they reached the end of it. We, a species that can make things from individual atoms, who can decode the history of every living thing on earth, draw maps of the world of a billion years ago, take pictures of the far side of Neptune’s moons, puzzle out virtual particles in a bubbling quantum soup, look into space and time back to the first .0000000000000001 second of the Big Bang and who can conceive of and live their lives by concepts such as honor and justice and freedom, can find enough REAL magic, enough authentic, verifiable wonders to keep us busy for as long as we live. Yet this species stands in line to buy books about a face on Mars and how to keep razor blades sharp by storing them in a pyramid made from popsicle sticks.

We are failing our children if we let a two-dollar piece of particle board obscure the view of the redwood forest just beyond it. Give me half an hour in an observatory with anyone and I will introduce them to wonders they will think about for the rest of their lives.

They are more challenging than flying saucers, sea serpents, or wee people with their pots of gold. To understand them enough to be floored by their magnificence requires a little patience, a little imagination. It does, in fact, require some work.

But these wonders have one powerful advantage. They have the advantage of being real.

We all have people who have influenced our thinking – more, for in a very real sense they have made us into who we are. For me, one of the pillars of who I have become was the late Dr. Carl Sagan.

Sagan was not only a great writer, he was a scientist of the first order. When I first read The Dragons of Eden I could see, at last, some basis for why we act the way we do. And Broca’s Brain is nothing less than a brilliant tour de force of how to weigh evidence and build a worldview based upon what is real. It is refined genius of the highest degree.

One of Carl’s last works was The Demon-Haunted World. If you have any interest at all in learning how to tell what is real and what isn’t then this book is indispensable. Carl Sagan fought a lifelong battle to teach people how to think critically, how to challenge assumptions, and how to marry the wonder and awe of an open mind with the tough, disciplined skepticism needed to stop your brains from falling out. In one chapter, called The Dragon in My Garage, he gives an example so eloquent I have to quote it in full here before we go on to slay bigger monsters:

‘A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage.'

Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

‘Show me,’ you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, some empty paint cans, an old tricycle – but no dragon.

‘Where’s the dragon?’ you ask.

‘Oh, she’s right here,’ I reply, waving vaguely. ‘I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.’

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

‘Good idea,’ I say, ‘but this dragon floats in the air.’

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

‘Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.’

You’ll spray paint the dragon to make her visible.

‘Good idea, except she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.’

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire, and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.
[Emphasis mine -- BW]

When a person wants to believe something, no amount of skeptical questioning, logical contradictions or contrary evidence will move them. Couple that with the example of the dragon – the constant moving of the goalposts of proof and verification, and you have the basis for modern magical thinking. And if UFO’s, Loch Ness Monsters and Bermuda Triangles can draw so many believers, how many more can we recruit with more nuanced sleight of hand?

Look around. In the months leading up to the Iraq war, how many people were saying we should hold out and let diplomacy work to remove Saddam? Had diplomacy worked in the previous 12 years? No. Had anything changed since then? It had not. So how will it work this time? Magic! That’s how.

And so to believe that diplomacy, and not force, would remove Saddam from power was a case of deeply magical thinking. Plus, you get to come out against killing people! That feels good! Let’s do it!

If you claim that capitalism is evil, and that a better society can be built from common ownership of everything, administered by a benevolent state – well, this is identical to saying that you have a dragon in your garage. Now I’m an open-minded fellow. Let’s take a look at your claim. Haven’t they tried this before, in Russia. Wasn’t it a disaster? They didn’t do it right. Okay. What’s different this time?


But see, sharing is nice. Being nice feels good! It’s a twofer! Everybody works together. Everybody gets along. The community cow is sick at 3:30 in the morning in February in Minnesota, and all the communal farmers fight each other to be the first out of bed to attend to the livestock that no one owns and no one is responsible for! Could work! Mnnnnn…sharing…

There are still many people who cling to the magical notion that George W. Bush did not legally win the Presidency. Challenge their contention with evidence and watch them move the goalpost:

Bush stole the election. No, he had the majority of electoral votes. Yeah, but Gore won the popular vote. The President is not elected by popular votes. He’s elected by electoral votes. The electoral college is outdated. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but you don’t get to change the rules after you lost the game. Gore really won Florida. Not according to three recounts he didn’t. The recounts don’t matter because the Supreme Court selected him. The Supreme Court only told the Florida Court to play by the rules. Bush stole the election because I say so! Ahhh. At last. Now we get down to brass tacks.

People believe that adapting the Kyoto treaty will save the earth. If you only do one thing today that will raise your self-esteem and promote diversity, then saving the planet and all of its species cannot be oversold. If you think building the perfect society feels good, just wait till you get a taste for saving an entire planet and everything on it! What a rush that is!

Think of the arrogance of that statement, the sheer magic involved in a belief such as that. The earth will be here for five billion more years regardless of what you or I do. What are these people really saying? The Earth’s environment has been far hotter, and far colder, than it is today. Which environment are we to save? Human industry may -- in fact, likely does -- have some impact on global temperatures. How significant is this relative to massive factors like solar output? We don’t know. The one thing we do know, with certainty, is that the more technologically advanced and wealthy the society, the cleaner all of its industries become. Want a clean planet? Fill it with rich people.

Even the proponents of Kyoto admit that if fully ratified, it would only delay their own worst-case model’s warming by two or three years over the next century. And all we have to do is wreck the world’s economy. Then we can all go back to that magical time when a few million humans lived in villages and drank herbal teas and sang songs around the campfire and poet-kings ruled lands without warfare and sacred crystals kept everybody healthy just as they did in Atlantis.

Now, ask any professional magician how they pull off their illusions and every last one will tell you it’s all about misdirection. Sadly, those boring, insensitive, dead-white-male laws of physics don’t allow for quarters to disappear into thin air. So to make someone believe that precisely this has happened, we need to physically make that coin go someplace where it is not expected. And the way to do that is to make everyone look somewhere else for a moment.

Humans have retained several reflexes, and for good reason too – they keep us alive. All of today’s animals are reflexively attracted to fast motion in their field of vision. There were undoubtedly many animals that did not have this brain wiring, and these extinct animals are known by the scientific name, breakfast. Whether you’re a two-ounce tree shrew or a one-ton wildebeest, if something moves fast in the bushes, it would behoove you to give it your undivided attention.

This is hard-wired, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. So watch a magician carefully next time he makes a coin disappear. You’ll see one hand move quickly – and that is the hand you will watch. Coin’s in the other hand.


Now to show you how this works in the real world, I need to tell you a story about a real man named Robert Wayne Jernigan. I guarantee you this story will make you very angry, but this is the kind of world we live in today.

Robert Wayne Jernigan is now 28 years old. People who knew him said he was quiet, somewhat stand-offish. He was not widely liked in high school.

Four years ago, a witness reported seeing Jernigan enter a building in a remote suburb of Dallas with an axe. Four people were found dead at the scene, including a nine year old girl. No charges were filed. Less than two days later, Jernigan turned up again, this time at the scene of a suspicious fire in a day care center. Miraculously, no one was injured. But it was just a matter of time.

During the next several weeks, it is possible to place Jernigan at the scene of no less than thirteen suspicious fires. Eleven people died. Eyewitnesses were unshakable in their determination that Jernigan had been on the scene. And yet the police did nothing.

Jernigan had long been fascinated with fire. A search of his apartment revealed fireman-related magazines, posters and memorabilia. Despite the deaths of fifteen people, despite repeated eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence placing Jernigan at these fires, no criminal charges were ever filed against Robert Wayne Jernigan. He remains a free man to this day.

And rightfully so. Because Robert Wayne Jernigan is an ordinary fireman for the Dallas Fire Department.* He is not a serial arsonist at all.

Now re-read the previous paragraphs and tell me where I lied.

Everything I told you was factually true. But the spin, the context, the misdirection… The press always reports serial killers with all three names – Robert Wayne Jernigan sounds a hell of a lot more ominous than Bobby Jernigan. Quiet, stand-offish, not widely liked – instant psychopath, if you read the papers. Entered the building with an axe – oooh! That ought to get the blood boiling. That the people had died from smoke inhalation I decided was irrelevant to the story…

And so on. And so on.

This is how you lie by telling the truth. You tell the big lie by carefully selecting only the small, isolated truths, linking them in such a way that they advance the bigger lie by painting a picture inside the viewer’s head. The Ascended High Master of this Dark Art is Noam Chomsky.

I have long admired Noam Chomsky. It must be absolutely intoxicating to be able to write so free of any ethical constraints. Chomsky flitters and darts through the vast expanse of human experience, unerringly searching out those few, isolated data points that run contrary to the unimaginably vast ocean of facts crashing ashore in the opposite direction.

Here’s a Noam Chomsky moment for those of you without enough duct tape to wrap around your heads to keep your brains from exploding while you actually read his works:

Let’s say we stand overlooking the ocean along Pacific Coast Highway. From high atop the cliffs, we look down to the waves and the sand below. I ask you what color the beach is. You reply, reasonably enough, that it is sandy white. And you are exactly right.

However, there are people who cannot see the beach for themselves because they are not standing with us on this very spot. This is where Noam earns his liberal sainthood. Noam takes a small pail to the beach and sits down in the sand.

If you’ve ever run sand through your fingers, you know that for all of the thousands upon thousands of white or clear grains, there are a few dark ones here and there, falling through your fingers. With a jewelers loupe and an EXCEEDINGLY fine pair of tweezers, you carefully and methodically pluck all of the dark grains you can find – and only the dark grains – and carefully place them, one by one, into your trusty bucket.

It will take you a long time – it has taken Chomsky decades – to fill this bucket, but with enough sand and enough time, you will eventually do so. And then, when you do, you can make a career touring colleges through the world, giving speeches about the ebony-black beaches of Malibu, and you can pour your black sand onto the lectern and state, without fear of contradiction, that this sand was taken from those very beaches.

And what you say will be accurate, it will be factually based, and you will be lying like the most pernicious son of a bitch that ever lived.

Why do so many people take this hocus-pocus at face value? Because, like any audience at a Magic show, they want to believe.

Do this long enough, and you will become an Icon –- no more hours spent sorting sand for you! No sir! And finally, after a few decades as Icon, you may manufacture whatever data you need to make your case, and not one of your followers will call you on it.

Shortly after 9/11, and somewhat before the “Taliban forces did finally succumb, after astonishing endurance” St. Noam thundered that America’s “Silent Genocide” in Afghanistan would kill – pick a number, any number -- somewhere between 3 to 4 million civilians. At one point, he intimated that up to 10 million could die.

The real number was around 500.

Being Noam Chomsky means you get a pass for being wrong not by a factor of ten to one, or even a hundred to one. In Afghanistan, Chomsky was wrong by a factor of 20,000 to one. Being that wrong on a regular basis means going for a $2.99 Happy meal at McDonald’s and paying $59,800 for it. It means frugally walking out of a Nothing Over 99 Cents! store with the seven most expensive items, having just put $138,600 on your credit card. That’s how wrong Noam Chomsky is.

Misdirection. Unsubstantiated allegations. Undocumented assertions. Counting a few scattered hits and ignoring millions of misses. You can prove anything in this manner, if your audience is a willing accomplice and refuses to challenge you.

Michael Moore used exactly this technique to make people believe that America is a land of terrified, racist murderers who are armed to the teeth solely because of their fear of black people. For this he was given an Academy Award, and Bowling for Columbine has been called “the best documentary film ever made.”

I told you this story would make you angry.

I saw Bowling for Columbine in a small art house in Santa Monica, attended by what I think was a small knot of NPR movie club pass holders. This is like watching Triumph of the Will in Nuremburg stadium seated between Goebbels and Himmler. You know before the lights go down that they’re gonna love it.

We’re used to the willing suspension of disbelief when the lights go down. This agreement between the audience and the filmmaker, the magician, is what allows us to watch a kid get bitten by a ‘radioactive spider’ and believe that this will give him the power to climb the side of a skyscraper and shoot webs from his wrists. This is good magic. This is what art is all about.

It takes a particularly badly-made and clumsy film to become so unbelievable that you find yourself muttering, Oh, come on! at the screen, and Bowling for Columbine is nothing like that badly made. It is a lie so carefully and meticulously crafted that you find yourself sitting there in the dark thinking, I have to admit, he’s got a point there.

It’s only later, when the magic is over and you’re walking to your car, only when the narrative flow has released you to swim to the shore of reason, that some people begin to ask some questions. Let me take a few examples from the movie to show you how this lie is constructed on a brick-by-brick basis.

Moore’s thesis – near as I can follow it – is that America commits vastly more handgun murders than the rest of the world. Well, there’s no disputing that. You would think Moore would make the point that it’s because we have such easy access to handguns. He does not. He claims that there are plenty of guns in Canada, but they don’t have our murder rate. The movie’s premise is that we kill people with guns because we Americans are terrified all the time, and the one thing we are most terrified of is Black people. But cross 10 feet over the border into Canada and that terror instantly -- you might say magically -- disappears.

Hope I didn’t wreck the movie for you.

The title comes from Moore’s assertion that Harris and Klebold, the Columbine murderers, were so immune to violence that they went bowling in the morning before they shot up the school. It is a chilling thought. Didn’t happen. But that shouldn’t get in the way of a chilling thought, especially when it’s your opening thesis.

The opening scene features Michael Moore in the North Country Bank & Trust in Traverse City, Michigan, which was running a promotion saying that for every account opened, they would give away not a toaster or a walkman, but a gun. We see Moore filling out the paperwork to open a new account. This done, the teller hands him a rifle. Moore exits the bank, thrusts the rifle into the air like some well-fed Sandinista, and over the freeze-frame says “maybe it’s not such a good idea to give people a gun…in a bank!” Oh, how the NPR film club tittered at that line!

This isn’t just misdirection. This is, pure and simple, a goddam lie. The bank did offer this promotion, and when Moore heard about it, he found out that when you open the new account, they give you a certificate. You then have to go to a gun shop to pick up the gun.

This wasn’t damning enough. So Moore convinced the poor, decent, gullible people who ran that bank that it would be much better publicity for them if they could hand him the gun right there in the bank. Uh, well, um…okay. If it will help you with your movie. But the bank did not hand out guns on the premises. Moore created this scene to advance his premise. It’s a funny scene. It is most emphatically not a documentary scene.

Moving on.

Not wanting to appear one-sided, Moore interviews a few randomly selected gun owners. And who could be a more random handgun owner than John Nichols, brother of Terry Nichols, co-conspirator of Oklahoma City lunatic Timothy McVeigh?

In the interview, John Nichols seems on the verge of total emotional collapse. He makes off-color comments and has a spooky, lithium-deficient smirk that appears at awkward and inappropriate times. After a few moments, this completely random and therefore totally typical American gun owner takes Moore into the back room to ‘show him something.’ He does not allow the camera to enter. A subtitle tells us that John Nichols has put a gun barrel in his mouth. We can hear Michael Moore gently begging him to stop, to put the gun down. Not only a fair man, but gentle, too. When it comes to misdirection, Master Moore has the strongest kung-fu.

Littleton, Colorado is a nice, safe, upper-middle class neighborhood. It’s the kind of place you’d want to raise your kids. It is also home to a Lockheed plant, and Moore goes on the make the assertion that this ‘climate of death’ from these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is responsible for the Columbine killing spree. Presumably the school shooters in other communities had to settle for magazines and websites of missiles to work up their Death Culture madness.

This would be a stretch – a real stretch – if the ‘entire community’ was indeed wrapped up in ‘America’s Defense Industry Culture of Death.’ But the Lockheed plant in Littleton, the one using ominous missiles as a backdrop for an interview in the film, builds launch vehicles for communications satellites – you know, the ones used by HBO to broadcast Bowling for Columbine across the nation. This little detail was left out of the movie. Keep your eye on the flick of the wrist; pay no attention to the slow palming of the coin.

One of the most widely-quoted sequences, one that drew squeals and applause for the Santa Monica Art House Crowd, was a cartoon series showing Moore’s history of the United States. Terrified white people in England get on a ship, sail to the New World, meet dark, friendly, all-around swell dark-skinned people, and kill them all out of paralyzing, abject fear. Slaves are imported to maintain an excuse for us to stay armed. The black people are then summarily killed to the last man. And so on, with the screaming, yelping, frozen-with-fear white people shooting everything in sight.

Oh, how true. When the box office attendant, who was black, handed me back my change a little too quickly for comfort, I had to drop him with 23 rounds from my trusty 9mm. The snack bar attendant – a mulatto if ever there was one – asked me if I wanted butter on my popcorn in a really threatening way, so it was a shotgun blast to the head for him. And the usher, who was Mexican, took a hostile step towards me as he opened the theater door. Not being completely dark-skinned, I decided it was safe to just stab him in the eyes with my ballpoint pen.

This is what he wants you to believe. His European audience, generally salivating at the chance to hear an American describe his country as a bunch of idiotic, murdering, terrified racists, howls with approval.

Moore then recounts the story of a 6 year old boy who went to school with a handgun and murdered a little girl. We meet his mother, a young African-American woman, in the courtroom, crying and terrified, handcuffed, orange jumpsuit, the whole nine yards. This woman, says Moore, was forced by welfare cuts by those evil bastard Republicans, to leave her child with relatives, get up before dawn, and ride a bus, for hours, so that she could go to a shopping mall and serve biscuits to rich white people.

Moore rides the bus in the pre-dawn hours. It’s depressing. I was watching this, and I thought to myself, you know, maybe we have gone too far.

But when I got to the car, I realized, hey, wait a second. I’ve had to get up in the predawn hours and take a bus to go to work. Millions of people do this every day in America. It’s society’s fault that this woman has to get up and take a bus to work? And the relatives she left her kids with? It was a crack house. Guns and drugs were everywhere. And the fact that she is a black woman standing handcuffed in a courtroom has precisely nothing to do with this. It is much more likely that this would have happened to an equally unskilled white mother.

And furthermore, if you had a six year old child, and you absolutely had to leave him in a place like that, would your kid take a gun to school and shoot someone? Or do you think that maybe, perhaps, just possibly, this tragedy had more to do with this individual’s parenting skills than the fact that she has to take a bus to go to work in the morning? Is this an indictment of a heartless society, or an insult to the millions and millions and millions of Americans, black and white, rich and poor, who get up every morning and go to work without their children murdering a classmate during the course of the day?

Bowling for Columbine is not a documentary. It is propaganda, created in many cases from whole cloth, and in others by selective interviewing, biased editing and false assumptions. Much of it is, in fact, downright lies. That it was awarded an Oscar only reveals that the Academy Awards have suffered as much ethical rot as the Nobel Peace Prize, in that it was awarded by faceless voters who wanted nothing more than to take a swipe at the Bush administration.

As for his assertion that Americans kill because they are nothing but terrified white people, a quick look at the murder statistics will show any dispassionate reader that this is, in fact, nearly the exact opposite of the truth. Black-on-Black violence is many, many times greater than White-on-Black violence

Michael Moore claims to be the Conscience of America and the Champion of the Common Man. As my friend James Lileks points out, he is neither.

If Michael Moore was only interested in saving innocent lives, he would have done better to have tackled a subject that kills many hundreds of times the number taken by handguns, namely, obesity-related diseases. Is that a cheap shot? It is. It is a factually-based cheap shot, which is more than can be said about Bowling for Columbine.

We find ourselves living in a time when people grow increasingly unwilling or unable to determine fact from assertion. In a society ruled by the people, this is a fatal condition. Where magical claims go unchallenged, where feeling good about something is the measure of its truth, public policy plummets into the same disconnect from reality that has doomed entire civilizations.

As always, we face a choice: we can live our lives by fantasy ideologies and wait for the train wreck called reality, or we can learn not what to think, but how to think. How to test and compare the barrage of information and statements we receive on a daily basis.

Howard Zinn has a theory of American History. Victor Davis Hanson has another. Which one is right? How do we know?

A few nights ago, during one of my regular visits to the main sensor screen at USS Clueless, I read something that absolutely bored a hole in my brain. You always have to pay attention when you read Steven Den Beste, but this was something else again. I could feel the veins in my temples throbbing like I was a Talosian trying to keep Captain Pike from seeing that the top of the mountain had been blown off. My hands and feet went cold, then numb, as the blood rushed to my head. I staggered into the kitchen, ripped open a five-pound bag of sugar, and washed it down with Hershey’s syrup: brain needs more glucose! Brain must have more glucose!

Steven was talking about how people think – no, more than that. He was talking about what thought is. He talked about thought as a series of heuristics.

I liked the American Heritage Dictionary entry best: Relating to or using a problem-solving technique in which the most appropriate solution of several found by alternative methods is selected at successive stages of a program for use in the next step of the program.

Now remember, I’m fresh from the Krell Mind Machine myself, but as I understand it, what we know and what we believe are a series of heuristics, which basically means we use models – little index cards – when we deal with problems. A simple heuristic might be touching a red-hot stove burns. We don’t have to keep touching the stove every time to find this out. All we have to do is touch it once – I remember doing it and so do you – and now we emphatically know red hot burners bad.

This is a simple heuristic, and a damn good one. But as Steven points out, a heuristic doesn’t have to be true all the time – just enough of the time for it to be a useful mental shortcut.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that the right-wing raving lunatics meet the left-wing barking moonbats somewhere off the map where There Be Dragons. So how useful is a complex heuristic like Democrats can’t be trusted with national security?

Hot stove burns is right pretty much every time: it is an effective heuristic, certainly useful, but pretty damn narrow and limited. That is, its predictive power is good, but the things it accurately predicts are pretty limited. Democrats can’t be trusted with national security is far more complex, open to infinitely more variables and exceptions, and therefore will be less accurate. It will be proven wrong more often. Roosevelt and Truman were Democrats, and they could hardly be improved upon.

But if you think about how you think, you may realize that everything we see in the world is colored by our enormous pyramid of ever-more-complex heuristics, our personalized set of index cards on how the world works.

When we have discussions, like this one, what we are essentially doing is trading cards; I’ll try to give you a Democrats can’t be trusted with national security, but you may respond with Republicans don’t care about anything beyond their own wallet.

We nod when we read or hear something new that makes sense to us, but that’s only because, while new, it is a conclusion that makes sense based on the heuristics we already hold. It is a new assumption based upon less complex assumptions, based on still less complex assumptions, all the way down.

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ‘em
And little fleas have lesser fleas
And so ad infinitum

(and these small fleas
of course, in turn
have larger fleas to go on
and larger still, and larger still,
and larger still, and so on)


Post-modernists will look at this and come to the conclusion that because we all have these internal clichés, all truth is relative, there is no objective reality, and a nineteen-year-old English Lit student knows the true meaning of Hamlet better than Shakespeare does.

Here, in my experience, is a very reliable heuristic: All Post-modernists are idiots. Of course, your mileage may vary.

As usual, they have gotten it exactly wrong. It is true that no one can re-learn every lesson they have learned throughout their entire lives every day. To build on knowledge, to grow smarter, to become educated, is to add layers based on the existing foundations.

Science works because each layer is inspected – by science itself – and checked for accuracy. Entire theories, entire skyscrapers of ideas, have been demolished because new experiments proved that a single, simple piece of foundation data was in error. As new experiments provide new information – repeatedly, reliably, independently and in the expected quantities – these then become the steel and concrete with which we build newer, taller and stronger theories, stronger heuristics.

And the end result is cell phones, antibiotics, MRI scanners, 747s, weather satellites and the internet.

This process is the exact opposite of magical thinking. It is disciplined. It is rigorous. It is determined to follow the evidence that reality provides when we question it through experiment. It does not have a destination in mind – it follows the path wherever it may lead. Its results are not always comforting, which means it requires courage to walk that path.

And wherever it has been applied, the results have been absolutely magical. Miraculous. Astonishing. Awe-inspiring.

It is also a way of thinking that we Americans formerly tried to apply to politics with pride. Show me. I'm listening. We abandon it at our mortal peril.

Because of this rational, disciplined, skeptical, hopeful and ultimately joyous way of looking at the world, we have been able to behold wonders that no poor human imagination could begin to predict. It is the mirror-image of seeing the world as the drab, lifeless, mechanical thing that mystics accuse rationalists of. Rather, it is driven by the elation that we can do difficult things well, see layers upon layers of the infinitely large or infinitesimally small being peeled back, generation after generation, to reveal an entirely new stage and cast of wonders and miracles. Big fleas have little fleas…and so, ad infinitum.

If someone chooses to run their lives through the horoscope printed next to the comics, that is their business. They certainly have the freedom to do so. But when magical ideologies are put forward as political positions of equal weight and value, as a chart to sail the ship of state, when assertion carries the same weight as proof, we will surely lose our way. And then we will have nothing left to save us but all the luck we can wring from whatever leprechauns we can get our hands on.

*I made up Robert Wayne Jernigan only because I do not have, at hand, a real fireman with real stories to tell. If I had, I could have sold the story even better by adding the real-world details such an interview would have provided. The more data points I have to choose from, the better I can build the lie.

Posted by Proteus at June 7, 2003 12:30 AM

Welcome to the Eject! Eject! Eject! commenter community. Please read and understand the following:

1. This is not a public square. This is a dinner party on personal property. Good conversation is not only tolerated but celebrated here. But the host understands the difference between dissent and disrespect, even if you do not. Louts will be ignored until the bouncers can show them the door.

2. This is a voluntary online community. Your posting of any material, whether in comments or otherwise, grants to William A. Whittle, Aurora Aerospace, Inc. and their affiliates, a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, sublicense, reproduce or incorporate into other material all or any portion of the material posted, for commercial or other use.

3. If a comment does find its way into a main page essay, print, or other media, every effort will be made to credit the individual making the comment. So chose your screen name accordingly, SLNTFRT33@yahoo.com!

Now let's see some distributed intelligence and basic human decency! Don't make me come down there every five minutes!


Lovely job Bill

Another outstanding piece of work. Many thanks.

Geez, Bill. How can you be so cold and cruel? The very *idea* of applying logic and reason to real life. "Magic", indeed... ;-p

This is simply amazing. Thank you; I've felt many of the things you say here, but I could never quite put my finger on it and conceptualize it.

Too short. Seriously.

Forgive the Socratic Chorus, but....
Outstanding - as always.


When I was 6 years old Santa came to my house. I heard the bells. I even saw the reindeer tracks on the top of our dew covered car. Did you know that reindeer don't have ordinary hoof prints like other deer? No, reindeer, Santa's reindeer, have very special, soft hoof prints--very similar to cat paw prints.

I heeeeeeeeeeard those bells.

Another winner Bill, god how the hell you pull this off every single time.

Keep the comments open, many of us like purusing them despite the assholes.

Nice piece. Loved the way you slid Chomsky into it too. Disney pulled back from Moore's Bush project. Seems enough folks CAN see through the hypocrisy of his magic sleight of hand. The top two 'must haves' on my Xmas list. Whittles upcoming book and Vodka Pundit's cookbook for bachelors.

Fantastic Bill. I wish I had your gift for expression. Just flawless logic stated with flair and class. Please email me at the above address there is something I would like to ask you.


Thank you. A wonderful essay that points out the difference between facts and truth.

I've used the analogy before, but it fits in well here. Moore's view of looking at the world and the U.S. is the same as being someone with a vested interest in the Ptolemaic universe description when a stray Galileo starts proving your worldview no longer rings true.

The more complicated the descriptions, regardless whether or not they describe what happens in the real world, the better. But if you remove one brick from the epicycle faux-description of the universe, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Which, of course, points out that those people promoting something else (the sun at the center of the universe? no way dude!) are suspect for their insistence that reality is described differently. Style is so much more important than substance!

I feel kind of guilty that you couldn't put this essay in your book, like you wanted to. It really is an exceptionally strong bit of work. Incredibly focused, and makes its point with a sledgehammer. Two examples of urban myths, then the knowledge we all possessed of the Marxist bent to most of our universities, then the showdown between Whittle and Moore. Needless to say, I was never in doubt to who would win it. I even knew that you'd be fair to his SKILLS as a storyteller- even if he is a lying demagogue, as Lileks and countless others have pointed out. I just didn't know you'd do it in the most damning fashion, that would force even the dumbest communist to carefully consider their folly.

Simply put, I had this one printed: a liberty I have never taken with any of your essays. I then intend to give it a few reachable leftists. I wonder what they'd think? I'm about to find out... I'll keep you posted. :)

Wonderful! I'm sure Rachel will be especially delighted.

How DARE you throw logic into an argument? Heh.

Brilliant, as always, Bill. I noted that Kim thinks this was too short. Don't tell me you edited yourself for Monkeyface.

You WILL let me know if/when these are published, right? Your brand of calm, gentle and RATIONALITY should be required reading for every American.

Thank you so much!

Terrific, as always.

One nit: When you mention we can be descended from "Atlantean Priests" if we wish, you spelt it "Altantean" (flipping the "T" & "L") --- no biggie, but I had to pause to process it.


If I ever have kids, they are reading all of these essays. When does your collection come out?

Bill this is another great piece of writing.

I think what was written should be scared with people who liked that evil movie by Michael Moore. Yet, I doubt they would understand what you wrote.

As long as we have people like you, logic will never be lost.

Very good article. I am an Australian software developer in Melbourne (I work for a Kansas-based US corporation, hence the non-au e-mail address).

Please tell me what you think of the following idea. It came about when my teenage son researched the death penalty in the US last year for a high-school assignment.
I appears that, if you withdraw African-Americans entirely from murder statistics (both perpetrator and victim) the US murder statistics (per 100,000) look just like Britain, Australia and Canada (ie, about half the US rate).

Is it hopeless racist bigotry ? Or just wrong ?

Robert Blair :)

The constancy of the speed of light as a natural speed limit has been so thoroughly and completely tested and vindicated that these aliens must have learned to harness the power of entire galaxies to bore wormholes through spacetime...

I'm not sure about how the aliens make the transit, but I think you need to look a little more deeply into the question of the constancy of the speed of light.

It may, indeed, be a hard and fast limit, but that has not, in fact, been "thoroughly and completely tested". There are respected physicists who think there is a flaw in General Relativity that has the potential to make C a variable. Testing continues...

(Mind, it may not be variable enough to do us any good in the star travel arena, but we won't know for a while yet.)

In your fireman example you say "thirteen suspicious fires". By using the word "suspicious" the example implies a pattern of criminal intent. If all these fires were indeed "suspicious", thereby implying serial arson or other such criminal action then there is nothing wrong with an article supplying a theory about possible suspects: in this day and age I would not be surprised if there is someday a serial arsonist who also happens to be a fireman.

We're all these "fires" (all 13!!) truly fictitious-uh I mean..ahem...suspicious?

(The axe thing kinda flew out of left field to me, I admit)

Other than that I do like your examination of misdirection.

I'd heard and read some of the details of Moore's deceptions before, but it was quite illuminating to have the tale of magic and misdirection laid out in preparation for it. Marvelous, well done.

Thanks for the commentary on Carl Sagan too; I used to love his Cosmos show, and the related book, but turned away when he partook of political invective and insult... perhaps I lost a valuable source of information and thoughtful provocation in the process.

Tim: alas, serial arsonists do crop up from time to time in volunteer fire departments. Within the past few years, a volunteer and son of a local fire chief was arrested for a string of arsons in my area.

Andrew -- spelling fixed. I was channeling Ramtha and he told me to spell it the way we did in The Old Language. But I changed it back for our primitive 21st century brains.

Mr. Blair -- I have heard similiar reports. I know knothing about them or the methodology, and so I don't feel qualified to comment. I do know that the issue of violence is a cultural, not a racial one, and so much of it lies in the individual human heart. If the statistics are true, all that tells us is that there are neighborhoods where there are lots of bad guys walking around, and you put anybody of any race into an environment like that and you will grow more criminals. Since that sounded pretty PC, let me add this: we need to go in and retake these neighborhoods. Those are American citizens getting gunned down in there, and none of us should have to live with that kind of fear and horror, regardless of race. Even in the very worst neighborhoods, the percentage that does the shooting and killing is a vanishingly small percentage of the honest and hard-working people who have been made prisoners in their own homes.

Gary -- know of any articles on this subject you can steer me to? Light actually slows down in a denser medium; this is why water bends light. I am unaware of light ever traveling faster than 186,282 miles per second in a hard vacuum. (Although I do have an old sci-fi theory I wrote saying if we could only percolate the quantum bubbles and make specetime less dense...)

Tim -- for the sake of the example, the presence of a serial arsonist doesn't affect the spin that Jernigan was completely innocent. That was the lie I set out to tell with provable facts.

Rich -- I hesitated to mention it because of the debt I will always owe the man, but yes, the second half of The Demon Haunted World is a very political, very silly mess. Carl Sagan was, alas, a classic limosine liberal. No matter. He taught me how to think and challenge authority -- even his. I can apply his "Balony Detector" to his political comments and make up my own mind. All is forgiven. The man was a treasure.

As for the rest of you: thanks. Welcome home.

As contextual information, as usual I drool in fannish delight. Especially since Michael Moore and anti-scientific "ancient wisdom" (and alternative medicine, and creation science, and, and...) make my little logic-wired brain implode.

And now for the exceedingly minor quibble: environmentalism ain't about saving the Earth. You are quite correct in that the planet can take care of itself. Not infrequently, geologically speaking, it eliminates fifty to ninety percent of all life in the process. Environmentalism is a purely selfish goal: save our own butts and our quality of life while we're at it. Naturally that doesn't sound nearly as warm and fuzzy as "save the planet", and it doesn't fit well into a soundbite, so it doesn't wind up on signs and book titles, but it's accurate.

That said, fuck the goddamn Kyoto Protocol. I am a biologist and I've spent many an hour in the classroom or buried in a book on this stuff; I am well aware of the issues of global warming and other ills. In brief, I am well-educated enough both to recognize that environmentalism and conservationism are important if we care to preserve our current pleasant lifestyle, and to be driven to drink by 95% of the people who share this goal. If history has taught us anything, it's that you can't accomplish jack shit by attempting to alter human nature- we ain't going backward even if that IS the best way. (It isn't. We were causing mass extinctions and widespread desertification back when we were Noble Savages.) Economically speaking, a clean environment is a luxury good bought by a fat economy, and especially a strong technology industry.

Mr. Whittle:

Well done. Thank you.

Bill, some parts of your essay reminded me of part of one of Robert Heinlein's essays, "The Happy Days Ahead" (in Expanded Universe), in particular, the part where he talks about "The Age of Unreason." Of course, your essay covers slightly different ground, but there's some overlap there, I think. Excellent work, as usual. I've posted a pointer to Electric Minds, along with my usual statement of "Go read this NOW."

I was going to say, if you wanted to use the name of a real firefighter, I'm sure my wife would have let you use her uncle's name: William Lee Jensen, who worked for the Glendale Fire Department for many years. Trouble is, he wouldn't have fit your "psychopath" narrative; he is a very-well-liked and very nice guy, and was even back in high school, she tells me. (His firefighting career was brought to an end by the 1996 Malibu-Calabasas brush fire, in which he was caught in a firestorm and burned over 70% of his body. He survived, but it was VERY touch-and-go for awhile, and if he hadn't had an iron constitution, and been in one of the finest burn centers in the country, I doubt he'd have made it. His story is mentioned on the Web site of the organization he helped found, http://www.firefightersquest.org.)

Thank you for this article. Your "fireman" story immediately brought to mind a particular article which a misguided friend forwarded to me recently in all seriousness. It made me very angry at the time, and although I certainly had no problem explaining to my friend why the article was wrong (it's factually incorrect in many places and on many levels), I couldn't quite explain why it made me angry.

The article was:


I now understand that what made me angry was being on the receiving end of "the big lie", and knowing it all the while.

I have no idea if "Bowling for Columbine" has this article beat for dishonesty, but I am in no mood to spend my money to find out.

Dear Erbo -- thanks for the use of your, uh, uncle-in-law. I'm sure he's a terrific guy. I am also sure that if I had ten minutes with him talking about his high-school life, I could pull a few quotes out of context, clips some details and string them together to move him from a fun rascal adored by everyone into a domineering martinent who ruled the halls with fear.

Thanks, Bill.

I wonder whether the Moore-debunkers will ever get their major-media day in court. If Bowling for Columbine had been a $20-million box-office, Oscar-winning, right-wing documentary, wouldn't 60 Minutes have attacked it with a chainsaw?

Moore seems to have gotten away with it.


As usual superlative stuff :)
When you go to print will it be available in the UK :) ?

Spellbinding! Magical!

Oh, and ... "That is was awarded an Oscar only reveals..."

might better read
"That it was awarded an Oscar..."

Moore! Moore! (scuzi, Signori...)

The ones who really should be ticked off are those who were also nominated and lost to Moore's piece of fictional clap-trap.

Instead of standing meekly behind that Blivet while he ruined the decorum of the occasion, they should be fighting to have his film decertified for fraud. If plagarism is fraud, so are staged or altered incidents in a propaganda film that is not a true documentary.

They should all be pissed-off and demanding a recount, 'cause they were done in by that phony.

Thanks Eye. Fixed.

Great work, as always!

Fucking brilliant essay Bill. Just fucking wonderful. Moore is a stupid fat bastard.

Yet another piece of great writing, Mr Whittle. Congratulations.

This article reminded me of Asimov's "Fight against the forces of Darkness", and I am surprised you'd rather mention Sagan than him (You sound like you have read enough of both). Then again, my only experience of Sagan is reading "Contact", which I find (IMHO) has poor sci fi and unconvincing "science-vs-religion" debates.

I like this article particularly because it rationalises, it appeals to the mind, not to the heart. You're very good when you are rhetorical about getting mushy at old battlefields, it makes a great preaching to the choir. But if your goal is "converting liberals", I find it much better to stick to cold rational argumentations. Then again, I am a bit of a geek.

The point of your article misses me, as I haven't seen, nor will see Moore's film (I have better things to do, like reading american blogs to see for myself how things are around there). But the yearning for "magic" and the rejection of the real world is much older than the sixties. It actually began with the romantics, with the first benefits of industrialisation. Guess what, as soon as life started to become a tad more bearable we started to miss the middle ages. We're still shedding the excess ideological luggage from that age in many other ways too.

And about a documentary being neutral, well, as I see it no piece of argumentation, short of a scientific article, is ever neutral and the best shot you can get is saying "Well, look here, I am thus and this is my agenda and now that you know it and how my judgement could be skewed I am now going to try to be as little skewed as possible". This is the anglosaxon press tradition at its finest.

As an endword, I'd like to thank you for your website, which has been very useful. I am a spaniard and have always wanted to know more about the continental ideology divide. This site (and others like den beste's) have made me see things with different eyes. Now I can say I understand more about the United States. And about Europe.

It is not that you people are conservatives and we are liberals (in the american definitions of the words), but ideological borders are drawn in completely different places. We could read the same sentence and understand completely different things, and have totally different reactions. So more than like seeing things from the other side of the wall, reading you has been like learning a new language.

Great essay. Been reading your site for about a month now and have truly enjoyed every single essay. Had to link to your site because it is so great. Keep up the good work.

Once again you have done a superb job. The ability to comprehend, analyze, and interpret information without resorting to assumptions or mythology to fill in the gaps is becoming a lost art. I'm bombarded by material (the pace has picked up with the popularity of e-mail) from friends who send me urban legends, rumors, partisan screeds, etc. without any commentary of their own or any indication that they fully understood what they were forwarding (they may not have even read it at all). Why is it that so few even bother to check their sources? Most bogus media have glaringly inaccurate or misleading features that should cause red flags to pop up in the minds of those who are alert. Some will claim that they lack the time to do their homework, or don't have my research skills and training; from my point of view, the bottom line is and will always be that ONE SHOULD NEVER BE TOO BUSY TO GIVE AN HONEST REPORT!


I check back every day hoping to see a new essay. Thanks for all the time you put into writing them. :)

This essay kind of reminds me of the show "Penn & Teller: Bullshit". They spend each show using (gasp!) science, logic, and facts to debunk modern myths. Psychics, UFOs, near death experiences, eco-scares, second-hand smoke, all kinds of stuff. It's a great show, and funny as hell because they don't use the same restraint that Bill does when dealing with lying manipulative scumbags.

Wow. This was the best read I have had in months. Thanks. I'm passing the link to all my friends.

Excellent points all.
I especially liked the comparison of magical belief to irrational belief and reference to Sagan's importance (no matter his liberal and sometimes preachly tone) in developing a new generation of critical thinkers.
Anyone who liked this might also enjoy sci-fi author David Brin's essays on Star Wars and Lord of the Rings where he Fisks their Romantisized views.
The essays are available online at www.davidbrin.com.

Very enjoyable read Mr. Whittle. Its always good to hear a balanced view from the Muggles.

Moore really seems to have hit the jackpot with his film though, now doesn't he? His newfound global success, enormous clout, and gigantic wallet obviously rankle with those of you who’ve been angrily trying and failing at the “Greed is good, screw the hippie tree-lovers” thing for years.

For the sake of argument: as far as misdirection and trickery goes, how about these - WMD in Iraq, direct links between Bin Laden and Hussein, the concept of a clean war, a precision bomb, an axis of evil, a free press, restoring law and order in Baghdad (not to mention getting gasoline back in the pumps) and the systematic demonizing of the UN, France, Russia, China and Germany. Clearly Republicans are magicians too!

There’s still a little work to be done on the old “turn the economy around” trick though, unfortunately.

As far as old Mike is concerned, none of HIS deception involves killing people and, for your information, making successful films is just the beginning of his magical talents – I have it on good authority he also can make a family pack of Twinkies disappear in the blink of an eye.

Another fantastic essay, Mr Whittle. Kepp 'em comming. When is the book out, by the way?


Hope you don't mind; I'm going send a bunch of SF-writer wannabes to this essay.

Good essay. Faith in something is wonderful, but probably not the best way to run a government.

Excellent,but "*silicone*, nickel and iron," as in "Journey to the Implants of the Earth"? And in "the cleaner all of it's industries become," that should be "its"


As always, a very well-written essay that makes you think. I love reading your work... I only have one problem with it - it's too damn short!

Seriously. "Magic" should have gone on a bit more, I think!

Thank you Bill.



I don't have a link handy. I was involved in a long LONG discussion on this on GEnie (back before it imploded) and there were a number of interesting links posted, but accessing those is rather difficult these days.

I'll take a look around (including peering through my archives) and see if I can come up with something current.

Great essay, as usual, but the one question I have is why didn't you include Moore's butchering of Heston's several NRA speeches in your laundry list of errors in "Bowling"? To me, the way Moore edits these speeches and totally lies beyond all comprehension is the worst peice of moviemaking I've even seen.

Bravo Mr. Whittle; overall an excellent essay. In particular I'd like to thank you for the rational deconstruction of our favorite irrational target, Mr. Moore. You provided more details into how Moore wanted to "prove" his thesis (and what that thesis was) than any other debunker I've read. Most of them attack his examples and ignore the thesis, and I was having a problem understanding why anyone (even lefties) would buy into his stagecraft. Since I will only see that movie if I can arrange to not pay for it--sorry, I can't bring myself to support him in any way--I thank you for putting to rest the only remaining curiosity I had about the film.


Another incredible essay (envy, envy, envy,...)

You want to see another example of sleight of hand and misdirection? Do you have the RealMedia player? Go look at this: rtsp://rnd31sea.activate.net/am/content/video/hi/20030516-053817r508.rm (cut and paste it.)

I understand that CNN caught so much flak over it that they'll be issuing a retraction tonight (5/19) between 5 and 7 PM, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Good essay, Bill. You expressed something I've felt for years and years but never managed to articulate nearly as well.

And thanks to Howard E. Morseburg- 'Blivet' is the best nickname for Moore that I've ever seen.

Very good article, the one thing I would query is that when you described your rampage against coloured people, you're talking about your own personal feelings and generalising from a sample size of 1.

There was a study a year or so ago that sent out thousands of job applications, some with white sounding names, some with black, all with the same levels of education/experience. The number of responses the black names got was far lower than the white names. (I believe it was around 50%).

Sadly racism does exist in the US (and elsewhere) and while it's nowhere near as widespread as it used to be, it's still far too widespread.

Other than that, very good (although as Jessica points out the conservatives are just as guilty as the liberals).

Darnit, just realised that the name goes underneath - the post is by "Harry Potter" not Jessica.

Love the work in the essay. I actually had thought about trying to find the show and see it only to find the only location showing it is in Pasadena. My feeling is, if I'm going to go to Pasadena, it will be for something better than to see some of this idiot's work,like letting my daughter visit an old friend who lives there.

I only wish we could deconstruct all the copies of Moore's schlockumentary. Then we would have definitely benefitted in Arts in America.

Sapper Mike

Its silicon, the element, not silicone, the boob-enhancing man-made element, that makes up large amounts of the earth's crust and so forth.

Um -- Andrew Ducker, the "rampage against coloured people" (no racism in you, eh? Mr. Whittle did not use that expression) was satire. Go to the back of the class.

And to Bill: the Planetarium, eh? Tell me you weren't responsible for the Pink Floyd laser shows. ;)

And another thing, you make a common (flawed) analogy to dispel the Aleins visited Earth and maybe crashed their spaceship into a ranch in New Mexico theory.

Taking a digital watch back 100 years and asking a Swiss watchmaker to reverse engineer it would be pointless.

However since his time we have a very far reaching understanding of Physics (which started early LAST century), materials, chemicals, radiation, astrophyisics and more.

There are some gaps like grand unified field theory bringing Einstein's universe together with Quantum Phyisics, but hey we solved Fermat's last theorm for pete's sake! We are no Swiss watch makers as in your analogy.

Are we as advanced as what may have been aliens crashing? No. However I assume even Aliens have to follow ALL rules of physics and even silly things like gravity, inertia and so forth when a machine of their breaks down or gets jammed up by say hitting a fast moving object.

Would a spacecraft be indestructable AND capable of generating tremendous energies required for FTL travel (by any means)? Probably not. The Space Shuttle was designed to survive tremendous forces and temperatures and yet a small bit of foam hitting the ceramic tiles on the underside of the left wing caused a breach that ultimately destroyed the craft on reentry. So was the Space Shuttle underengineered or was it a fluke of circumstances that caused the accident?

All I am saying is that we understand a lot about the Universe, but we don't know how much we still don't know.

Things I have experienced lead me to believe conciousness exists above our reality in some way and can persist beyond "death" of a phyisical body. Quantum Phyisics is fiding more and more that this in fact true. What other elements of legend and myth will also turn out to be true (in some form)?

Reality is simply that, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

Another fine one, Bill.

You'll be in my 'Best of the Web" links at the Blog of Xanadu (http://blog.garageofxanadu.com)again.


Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

My choice for Best Documentary in 2004.

The problem with Moore is not that he believes in magic. I don't think he does. I don't think he believes in anything and he thinks it's really cool that he can say anything he wants and the stupid masses will make him a millionaire. He's just a hypocrite and liar and nihilist.

As for "Harry Potter" - speaking of magic! - if he doesn't think magical thinking kills people, I refer him to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Saddam and every other mystical dictator in history.

You forgot to mention that the Pyramids were built by Aliens and that the Aztecs were able to communicate with them and other such groundbreaking discoveries explained to us by crackpo... er geniuses of our time.

Most people I've talked about Bowling for Columbine said something along the lines "That guy is self-righteous ego-inflatting windbag"

All in all another fine essay from Bill Whittle

And another thing. I saw the Phoenix lights, the first time.

Yes it had happened several years before the "parachute flares" event. Last time I check flares on parachutes eventually come to earth, they do not fly in formation OVER a city and then OVER a mountain.

The ridiculous parachute flares theory is about as absurd as the government's recent claim that the Roswell incident involved a flight test dummy (which weren't even USED at the time of the Roswell incident) instead of the weather balloon pieces theory (yeah weather balloons often crash into hillsides with a debris field scattered over several hundred yards. Right).

I saw a V-formation of red lights. No birds flapping their wings, no flashing wingtip lights of any aircraft. Just a V-formation of red lights moving south and then west over South Mountain. This was also at dusk, the Sun had gone down but it was still very much light out.

Later that night a TV news report showed a few single-engine aircraft flying in formation, with tons of flashing lights that looked NOTHING like what I saw. Yeah that was really waht I saw, dumbasse news people.

Ugh. I hate disbelievers who think I couldn't POSSIBLY have seen what I did because hey YOU are the faunt of all human knowledge and YOU can't think of a way to travel faster than light (FTL) which means there are no aliens or ghosts or leprechauns. Just people with overactive imaginations. Right. Sure.

The next time a dead relative calls my name I will reply back "You couldn't possibly be real, its all in my imagination. People smarter than me SAY SO!"

I think you have a great gift for prose, but, frankly, your last several posts seem to be increasing in myopia, culminating in this post - which is riddled with hypocritical facts and statements.
The Sagan book is great - but you failed to mention that Sagan holds the biggest hoax going is Christianity. Why fail to mention his THESIS? Afraid of alienating your audience? The sceptics paradigm you mentioned is repeatedly used in Sagan's writings to debunk the very existence of God (and the garage monster is a pretty direct reference) yet you gloss over this part. Why would you pick and choose which facts to tell us right after your fireman story. I guess you didn't lie, but there's a definite spin occurring here.
I was intrigued by your statistic on obesity vs. handgun deaths. Considering you had spent so long detailing misleading facts, I decided to check out the CDC site on causes of death - you know - the U.S. goverment site - and was suprised to find that NOTHING has "many HUNDREDS times" the rate for handgun deaths. In fact, according to the U.S. government, no single thing has even TEN times the rate. What was your position on out and out lies again?
Finally, If you are sincerely arguing that our education crisis boils down to an inclusion of birth-control topics, etc., into our syllabus and not finances, I have to wonder if you have ever applied that investigative passion of yours to a topic you suspect won't turn out well for your political dogma. Spend a couple of hours researching education budgets, teacher salaries, and the triaging of inner-city schools, instead of just dropping an obviously knee-jerk, uninformed sound-bite as the conclusion to an astute observation regarding declining educational standards. You owe it to your readers and the very standards to you claim to champion.

Bill -
There is a neurological disease that can cause a person to see things that are not there - I believe it is called Charles Babbett syndrome. It usually happens when there has been damage to the visual cortex, and the hallucinations seem quite real and vivid. Not that you appear to have it, since your incident was isolated, but it is a perfect example of why we should not always trust our senses, experiences, and feelings. Great essay.

Cool, calculated and correct. Another fine essay, Bill. I thought the misdirection segment would lead to a discussion of the media, but I guess I was misdirected.

Mr. Whittle,

I just wanted to say thanks for posting such great essays before the trolls and nurglings come swarming to your comments section and show their maturity by cursing you, engaging in "Yeah, so your side does it, too!" attacks, and so on.

It always amuses me that no one who seems to follow the US Government has any sense of history anymore. The whiny libs with all of this blather about photo-ops and other smoke and mirror tricks seem totally to devolve the whole political process into a comparison of whose wee-wee is larger in the boys restroom. The sarcastic cons respond back that not only is their's larger, but their daddy fought in the war, invented water, created fire, got "Beverly Hills 90201" cancelled, and can beat up the libs daddy.

This country will continue to be great because it swings on a pendulum. We grow tired of too much change happening too quickly. When one side of the political spectrum tries to overwhelm the other, the common person grows tired of it quickly, and pushes it back the other way. (This kind of thinking applies to neither that person who opposes war in any circumstance, nor to the one who thinks that a "europellet (9mm bullet) between the eyes" solves every problem. Neither one is particularly well thought out, but their blogs are fun to read.)

I have often said something very similar what Tim said in his last statement.

"Science is what works whether you believe in it or not".

Good essay, I don't agree with all points (the film discussed, which I haven't seen, is fiction, surely?) but I do agree with the main points on sceptical thinking.

Another great essay, Bill, keep up the good work!

I want to cry out ARGH! at Tim's comment above. I remember listening to a Penrose talk in which he claimed that quantum physics is what allowed for a "mind" that seemed unfettered by physical constraints... beg pardon? Quantum physics =is= about physical reality and constraints.

In any case, I like how people have gussied up magic and given it scientific names like Quantum Physics. You're pretty sure that most people won't understand what you're talking about, so you can make it sound like Quantum ideas and experiements back up proofs for ESP and an incorporeal soul.


To Marc P.:

I believe the subject of this essay was misdirection as magic, and how Mr. Moore is a skillful practitioner of this art. Bill used Sagan's writings to support his essay, he was not writing a critique of Sagan. While an essay on Sagan would in and of itself be entertaining, for the man was truly fascinating, a portion of his writings were used to support a point within this subject. In any research paper I ever wrote, I quoted in context those points that supported what I was trying to prove. I never included the entire bibliography of a source. Did you? So why this method of attack?

In answer to your point regarding handgun deaths, let me quote from Phillip A. Lee, PhD with the following quoted directions:

Check http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/datawh/statab/unpubd/mortabs/gmwki.htm. From that page download GMWK_1997 (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/gmwki_97.pdf), open the acrobat file and go to Acrobat page number 1667 (the listed page number in the upper right is 1558). Look under ICD 922.0 for handgun accidental deaths (listed as 9220).

Statistics are only as honest as the compiler. I always keep a variation of Samuel Johnson's statement "There are liars, damn liars, and statisticians."

Sapper Mike

Fabulous as always, Bill!

Once again, I have to agree with just about everyone here. Great job, Bill.

Yet another fine essay. Thank you, sir.

Marc P.: First off, Bill said many hundreds of times the NUMBER of handgun deaths, not hundreds of times the rate, as you stated.

Second, there were under 11,000 firearm homicides in the year 2000, as compared with just under 711,000 deaths due to heart disease alone. that's ignoring all other obesity related deaths.

Homicide stats

No big quibbles about the science portion, I find some of your premises overly simplified, but basicly sound. If you are exhorting us to be more skeptical - wouldn't it be proper to post your sources for the "lies" in Moores movie.

I don't care about the movie, but credibility only comes with proof, and thats the point of your essay isn't it?


Just realized i misinterpreted Marc P.'s saying "rate of deaths" as meaning "percentage of all deaths"

Don't ask me why. I'm just a freaking moron :)

Thought I would catch the "comment bus" while I could. Love the essay, I would have boiled it down to "truth is truth, no matter how hard you question it, so feel free to use the brain God gave you and question away", but of course, that's not nearly so entertaining. Thank you for another wonderful read.

And to score geek points, so I also can go dateless for two years *grin*, there are several models out, currently being picked apart in peer review, showing that c is, in fact, a variable. The one I've read the most about is a model purporting the decaying speed of light by a Barry Setterfield. Here's a link that can give you more detail. I'm not a physicist, but even this poor composer-needed a day job-became an accountant can understand that if c isn't a constant, then physics just became a WHOLE lot more interesting.


My favorite example of misdirection was a kid getting signatures to ban the chemical dihydrogen monoxide. He explained it's a key component of acid rain, causes burns in gaseous form, and will suffocate someone if inhaled. Based on those facts, he was able to get 58 out of 60 people to agree to a ban on water.

I'm going to pitch my lot in with the several otheres that have mentioned that you cut this one too short...stopping at Chomsky and Moore is just the tip of the iceberg - and a lot of potential but related tangents to explore with this one. The description of the fireman was not so much a good lead in to the Moore portion, as it would serve as a great baseline for launching into a savaging of mainstream journalism in general - and there are a ton of examples out there to populate such a tome.

Great job Bill. Too bad about the leprachaun, and as far as Area 51 goes, a saying I've heard used in Air Force circles goes something like 'the aliens prefer strawberry ice cream.' I can easily imagine Kelly Johnson gets a chuckle, wherever he is, at all the hullabaloo about 'The Ranch'.


In addition to my appreciation for your taking this on and doing it well (as usual), I’d like to pick a few editorial nits:
In order:
This doesn’t change the point, but the Swiss watchmaker wouldn’t be expecting the noise to come from bellows or horns, but would look for some sort of mechanical chiming device or the like.
Nor does this , but mightn’t "UFOlogy’s proponents" or "UFO believers" be better than "UFO’s, proponents"?
Finally, and this isn't your nit I'm picking: Even people who agree with you are infected. Ray’s comment was:
"This is simply amazing. Thank you; I've felt many of the things you say here, but I could never quite put my finger on it and conceptualize it."
I think he meant to say "I’ve thought"…. That pesky difference between thoughts and feelings.

This was the first of your pieces I've read. Now I'm hooked. Thanks and keep up the good work!

Outstanding as usual. Thank you very much.

Well worth the wait.. but you really have to quit making me laugh in the middle of the work day. My coworkers are starting to suspect my sanity.

Don't mean to be a lovefest spoiler, but I think I should point out to you that "magical thinking," the label you've given your central thesis, is a label already well established in the literature, and it doesn't mean what you're attempting to make it mean.

Magical thinking is the long established term for a psychological phenomenon wherein a person is convinced that his merely thinking of something will make it happen in actuality, and is the sort of thinking common with children, in dream states, and in certain psychoses. Your essay rather deals with the dangers of *non-critical thinking*, which is something else altogether.

Apologies for being a party-pooper.


Well, it's morning -- a few disagreements this time, but nothing I would call "trolls" since they seem to be able to construct complete sentences and so far I haven't seen anything that I would call unfair, vulgar or hysterical. So out with the mallet!

First, thanks to all for the spelling and typo heads ups. I live in LA. I work in Hollywood. When I wrote "100 million, trillion tons of silicone" I MEANT it, dammit!

Kidding. Fixed. Thanks.

HARRY POTTER writes telling me what a swell guy MM is! Well now! Whenever you make a stand on an issue, be sure to use a fictional name with no return address -- it makes it extra-integrilicious!

Harry, it's not MM's gigantic wallet that rankles us. We're CONSERVATIVES. WE are the ones who think everyone should be rich. Consult your program. What rankles is that Micheal Moore, in the words of the compassionate left, Is A Big Fat Idiot. He is also a Stupid White Man. Oh, and a liar. Otherwise...

Naw, there's a lot of other things too. But time grows too short to deal with a problem this big. Moving on...

Your wish list of right wing "failures" is intriuging, Harry. Let's see: "WMD in Iraq" -- FOUND, MORE TO FOLLOW. "Direct links between Bin Laden and Hussein," EXTENSIVE AND INCREASING DAILY AS MORE DOCUMENTS ARE UNCOVERED. "the concept of a clean war," -- CLEANEST, LEAST COLLATERAL DAMAGE WAR EVER (and no one ever advertized a clean war, Harry. Back off the pixie dust for a weekend and let the head clear.) "A precision bomb" -- DONE, "an axis of evil" -- AXIS GETTING A LITTLE WOBBLE; TRICYCLE HAS LOST A WHEEL -- UPDATES TO FOLLOW, "a free press," -- NO, IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND SINGLE LINE OF CRITICISM OF GWB IN THE U.S. "restoring law and order in Baghdad (not to mention getting gasoline back in the pumps)" -- PAY ATTENTION FICTIONAL PERSON "and the systematic demonizing of the UN, France, Russia, China and Germany." YES, ALL OF US POLICY IS CENTERED AROUND 'HOW CAN WE DEMONIZE THE EUROPEANS. We have bigger fish to fry, Harry, than demonizing Europe. They, on the other hand...

Take your fictional arguments back to your fictional school and don't let the fictional door hit your on your fictional ass on the fictional way out.

Mr. Ducker -- As my friend Andrea pointed out, I did not actually shoot a cashier 23 times, blow off the head of a snack bar attendant, or stab an usher in the eyes with my pen. I made that part up.

Dear Tim -- I frankly am at a loss to explain why the Roswell saucer disn't just go right through the hill, since it was "vibrating" on a different "plane" than "earth-based matter," and since it operates on "higher dimensions" I thought it's ability to "invert gravity" would come as a useful safety device. As I say, I've seen the 'wreckage' photos. They were tested -- garden variety aluminum. Oh, and I don't believe there exists a single person of PhD level in Quantum Physics who thinks Roswell, et al, is anything more than a good laugh. But there's always the Bermuda triangle! (which I wrote and cut, alas)

On to the courageous, anonymous Marc P:

Marc, you may have a bit of a burr in your saddle. Sagan's thesis in THE DEMON HAUNTED WORLD, was to show how fallacious magical thinking is and how pervasive and dangerous pseudo-science and anti-science has become. To say he was trying to "de-bunk" Chritianity is not true. If you READ Sagan you will discover that he has respect for religion, as do I, but very little tolerance for religious ideas -- such as Creationism -- leaving the spiritual realm and being set up as an alternative for real science -- AS DO I. As far as "alienating my audience" goes, I don't get paid for this. I write what I want, for MYSELF. You will, perhaps, notice that I discussed Nessie as "a plesiosaur that went extinct 50 million years before man came down from the trees." Wait! Did I really write that!? Oh my God, my fundamentalist, Bible-thumping audience is bolting for the door!

Why would I pick and choose facts after my fireman story? I'm GUESSING that it was because it was an example of how picking and choosing facts allows you to make any story you want.

My awesome personal bodyguard Sapper Mike has already laid some C4 under your handgun v obesity argument, so let me say that you can study budgets, salaries and inner-city schools till your knee jerks out of its socket. This is precisely the kind of forest for the trees argument we've been hearing since public schools went to hell. In the days before sex ed, computer labs and diversity training, we had far better educated children. These things can and were taught in a single room or under a tree. You can throw all the money you want at what is essentially a social, and non-educational cirrucula, and you will get nothing but non-educated kids. And not very well socialized ones, either - as everyone can see clearly despite thirty years of your brilliant theories.

Finally, Patrick raises an excellent point. Most of the factual errors in BOC were raised by Danial Lyons in the December Forbes magazine, and The St. Petersburg times also ran an article on these issues, although the date escapes me.

Now to work. Continue talking quietly among yourselves -- anybody gets rowdy is heading for a time out, although we'll discuss it in private so as not to lower self-esteem.

Dear ACD:

Excellent point. Can we agree I split the difference? UFO's Nessie -- agreed, not magical, but non-critical thinking. What about Kyoto, though? What about so many of these other philosophies that have no factual basis, other than the belief that if we all agree it is true then it must be so?

Mr. Whittle,

As usual, another Bill Whittle essay that I will copy and paste into a Word document for my future enjoyment. One minor correction - the so-called Roswell Incident occurred in 1947, not 1946. As an aside to that, I've heard (but am too lazy to verify) that exactly nine months after the "incident", Al Gore was born. FWIW.

I realize nitpicking doesn't make me faster,stronger, or prettier, but I wonder if you meant 20th century education and not 19th when you mentioned schools in the 1960's.
It doesn't detract from my respect and admiration for your essays. When will you post Trinity? Tonight? Early Tommorrow???


From the essay...

"...took his eye off the Uranium Q-36
Explosive Space Modulator, and then came the
Earth-Shattering Ka-Boom! right outside of
Roswell, New Mexico."

I have two small boys who watch a lot of
Cartoon Network and thus their father does
also. I believe that you really want the ...

"Illudium Q36 Explosive Space Modulator!"

You can get them from Acme or an old Edmunds
catalog. Great essay, thank you.

I almost feel like going over to mr. moore's website, and spamming his e-mail account with links to this article. ha!

Mr. Whittle,

Another brilliant article. I can't wait to see how Ms. Lucas praises it (as she has done with just about everything you write -- it start with her calling you a genius, then gets flattering).

I hear the "magical" arguments, like "Bush stole the election," mainly on the left for some reason. Do you think that conservatives are more grounded?

Dandy, Bill, just plain old dandy.

I was never much of a Sagan fan; his whackier leftisms were, shall we say, off-putting - to the point where I would not make room for his work in my already-crowded reading schedule. Perhaps, though, there is some wheat hiding among the chaff.

Michael Moore, OTOH, can rot on the bookstore shelves for all I care.

'K. It rocks.

You need a link to The Amazing Randi. http://www.randi.org/

If you ever want to build a disk airplane, let me know, Barnaby's got one on a napkin somewhere. Just think of the PR possibilities.

Very good and in keeping with your other excellent essays.

It did seem to cut off a bit short, though...a lengthy and well-supported lead-in to an abrupt conclusion.

All in all, a fantastic essay. I think your essays should be required reading for high school students, myself.

Oh, yeah, and a kind of off thread comment. When I went into the local Barnes and Noble looking for a little light reading, I found the current politics/political commentary shelf quite interesting. On the right side of the top shelf was Michael Savage's "A Savage Nation" and on the left end of the shelf was Michael Moore's "Stupid White Men." Never let it be said that book stockers don't have a sense of humor...

Sapper Mike

Ah yes, the "quantum physics validates mysticism" argument. Aside from the whole issue that actual quantum physicists barely understand it themselves and it's widely regarded as one of the most if not the most difficult subjects in science, there's one minor point that most people forget: quantum effects don't scale. The Heisenberg principle and all the other ultra-neato stuff simply doesn't have any relevant impact above the subatomic level. Remember, kids: if the book you read on quantum physics doesn't have more equations than words, it might as well have been written in crayon. (No, I'm not saying I get it. I don't have the fifteen years of mind-bending math and physics background required to come close either.)

Also, a brief word on seeing things that aren't there: people often forget that what they see is not a literal representation of what is actually there. Your brain is not like a camera; it's more like a piece of VR scanning and imaging hardware. It scans the immediate environment and creates a picture based on both what is there and what it expects to be there based on the information gained from that incomplete scan- because presenting a fully down-to-the-last detail picture and keeping the "refresh rate" as high as it needs to be all the time would take more power than would be economical. This is why camouflage works; the irregular patterns don't actually look anything like a literal piece of scenery, but it's enough to fool a brain that's not expecting anything to be there into not reporting it. Motion (as Bill pointed out) and a break from the usual light-dark patterns of an unremarkable bit of scenery are the two primary things that alert the brain that it needs to devote more power to trying to REALLY see what's there. The brain is also prone to another kind of error- we're so geared toward pattern-seeking, because patterns are such a damned useful thing to be sensitive to, that we will see patterns even when they aren't there. Everybody's spotted something in the grass or the dark that turned out to be something innocuous and totally different from what they thought they saw; and the more unusual and interesting what you "see" is, the more complete the false image will become as the brain works to fill in the missing information.

Mr Whittle: let me say right up front that I've absolutely HATED your previous essays. Hated them in the sense that, after reading them, I've been wracked with a feeling of "dang, why didn't *I* write that?" Which is to say, loved 'em.

One small point here, though. You are correct in your response to Marc P. that Sagan was not a "debunker" of Christianity. But if Sagan were alive today, I guess I'd want to ask him: why not? He applies his "dragon in the garage" test vigorously to "cults", yet lays off "mainstream" religions without comment, despite the fact that they fail the same test. That is, to the extent they are making claims as to objective truths regarding "supernatural" claims, they fail the test--for example, regarding the existence of a deity. And if they decline to make any such claims, it's hard to call them "religions" any more--e.g., the sort of ultra-"modern" Christianity that avoids talking about whether this God character really exists or not, and in the process turns itself into nothing more than (as I've seen it put) a "fan club for the sayings of Jesus".

In any event, aside from this quibble I'm a big fan of Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World", and I'm glad to see it quoted at length.

Great read, Bill. Many of your points remind me of a book I once read called 'How to Lie and Cheat with Statistics'. Thanks for spreading the word!

Unfortunatley I am severley under-educated on many of background facts mentioned in the essay. My only comments are that:

While I think Bowling for Columbine should be taken with a grain of salt, it does do a good job at showing problem does exist.

Also, "The one thing we do know, with certainty, is that the more technologically advanced and wealthy the society, the cleaner all of it's industries become." I have to disagree with this. The largest increase in waste and polution occured in the begining of the industrial revoultion. Making cleaner industry costs more, and if there were no regulations forcing cleaner technology, no one would be adopting it.

Finally, the essay is well written, but seems to be a little dismal. There still has to be some magic in the world... Are you married? Do you love your wife? Try to prove it, and you'll find it is just like your invisible dragon, but I'll still believe you.


Also, a brief comment on the complaints about the incompleteness of the essay or how even though he was complaining about leaving facts out he left facts out.

Bill's target is roughly the size of a continent. He CAN'T be truly complete without writing a series of books about it. Good rhetorical style is a fine balance between logic and objectivity and trimming where you need to in order to create good flow and balance; it is, in short, what seperates a compelling essayist like Bill from pedantic technical writers such as myself. When critiquing, one must then keep that in mind- and also the question "how much impact does this point have on the overall thesis"?

Another fine job, Bill! I'm posting a link to this one for my readers - but when is a post with even more of your views on the public school system going to come out?

I eagerly await it....

Simply brilliant

Oh my word folks, just because this man writes things we can understand and that answer age old questions there is no reason to place him on a pedestal (sp?). He's already admitted that he would eject from his plane if it was going down rather than sacricing himself for the betterment of mankind.

Look at those subject titles - Honor - Courage - Freedom. Obviously this man lives in dimension other than us mortals and we musn't listen to him. He's going to cripple us with common sense and we won't know what hit us, we'll end up better citizens, informed voters, useful producers and heaven forbid - intelligent.

Perhaps Frank at IMAO can figure out some way to stop this madman before we all perish!

Bill Whittle wrote: Excellent point. Can we agree I split the difference? UFO's Nessie -- agreed, not magical, but non-critical thinking. What about Kyoto, though? What about so many of these other philosophies that have no factual basis, other than the belief that if we all agree it is true then it must be so?

Kyoto and those "other philosophies that have no factual basis, other than the belief that if we all agree it is true then it must be so," even though they all involve non-critical thinking, can also be thought of as examples of wishful thinking.

I know how hard it is to abandon a trope of which one has grown fond, but I really do think you have to lose the term "magical thinking" in the context of your essay.


Nice work, Mr. Whittle. Thanks for putting it where we can see it.

"The largest increase in waste and polution occured in the begining of the industrial revoultion. Making cleaner industry costs more, and if there were no regulations forcing cleaner technology, no one would be adopting it."

Yes, the largest increases in pollution DID occur at the beginning of the industrial revolution, but that doesn't mean the industrial revolution was or should have been preventable. And since the revolution, most major innovations HAVE tended toward the cleaner- oil is cleaner than coal, and nuclear power (when it's working) is cleaner than oil. Much of the time "clean" corresponds with "energetically efficient", which is always profitable. I also don't think Bill was arguing against regulation; I think we can all agree the fact that American rivers are no longer prone to catching fire is a Good Thing. Rather, I think it went to the larger trend of anti-technological, anti-business sentiment in environmentalism. Meanwhile, what tend to be cleaner countries- wealthy developed capitalist nations such as the U.S., or poorer communist/socialist nations such as Czechoslovakia? It's hard to convince someone to regulate when their profit margin is narrow enough to mean the difference between the presence of food and shelter or their lack.

Roy: What's it like in a binary universe? Over here we have more options than perfect one and contemptible zero, in which it's possible to deliver honest praise for good work without committing oneself to a new Bill-centric religion. Perhaps a cultural exchange can be arranged?

That essay doesn't belong in a book, it needs to be a book. Great essay, now lengthen it, publish it, and let me read it!

So, why has noone mentioned the old Doobie Brothers' song, "What a Fool Believes"?


It has a mantra-like calming effect when hummed or sung ... particularly when engaging over-stimulated, Lib Arts refugees at the Borders coffehaus on the subject of *anything*. Ah, but I digress ... "What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away..."

One reason to be angry that a UFO flight is turned into a flock of geese is that some people need magic.
They need some part of the world to be open.
If Bigfoot flies UFOs to and from Atlantis, then there is something bigger than going to the shop each day until retirement.
And going to the shop each day until retirement is necessary, to provide for the family and to feel useful (which latter may wear off after a while), but not sufficient.
Magic is necessary. Taking the roof of one's life and world is necessary.
Too bad it involves some anti-rationality in matters which really matter.

Comment on “Magic” 19 May, 2003

Dear Bill Whittle,

I applaud your new essay “Magic.” Even more I salute your general method. This seems to be to first lay a groundwork of easily accessible and engaging examples of the problem you have in mind, then gradually herd the reader along a “channelized” path defined by increasingly sophisticated analyses, assertions, and examples. Then, when you have the reader fully encircled by reasoning which has so far seemed utterly agreeable and beyond reproach, you close the gate, and introduce the intended quarry. In order to turn away from the final disposition of the alleged filmmaker Michael Moore, the reader must deny all the previous arguments that were so lucid and genuine.

Well, it should work. But it’s been said it is a mark of intelligence to be able to hold onto two mutually exclusive beliefs, though it is at least equally possible that it’s clear evidence of dumbness.

Still, in demolishing the mental confusion that leads so many to worship the likes of Michael Moore, I urge you not to dismiss as fools any who seek wisdom or insight in areas that are not the domain of rational science.

Here it’s important to stress that I can agree with just about everything you say in your essay “Magic.” What I’m addressing here could be described as some possible inferences that might be drawn from your comments. Specifically, I agree there is a dangerous fashionable rejection of rationality; of the manifold proofs that rationality is an unsurpassed tool in reducing most of life’s challenges, physical AND intellectual. (Hey, I’ll even include sociological!) That’s the one hand. On the other hand, a firm respect for rationality does not necessarily contradict an acceptance of the mystical aspects of our existence.

You cite the popular works of Carl Sagan and Anne Druyan, and make me wish I were more familiar; it’s been years since I read “Dragons of Eden” and “Broca’s Brain” but more recently I’ve read “Contact” and studied the movie several times. (A friend was involved in the effects editing.) There’s a passage in the movie depicting a TV interview with the character Father Joss which is I believe at least consistent with points Sagan addresses in his novel. He asserts that modern technology has had the effect of isolating people from each other, and of opening a growing gulf between the satisfaction we crave from life, and our ability to fulfill it with the miraculous material wealth that technology has made possible. [my recollection of the passage]

Simply, a lot of folks are deeply disappointed with life in our culture of industrial technology; in their minds, the most concrete manifestation of science and rationality. In their disaffection they mistake the incompleteness of the success as proof that rationality is somehow responsible for the disappointment. Casting about for alternatives, and being ill-prepared to judge among them, many select the most appealing and self-serving philosophies, some of which are concocted and marketed by cynical exploiters.

L. Ron Hubbard springs to mind as one for whom HELL with its lake of everlasting fire will have to be created, if it does not already exist. (If you haven’t already, score a copy of “Inferno” by Niven & Pournelle )

I believe that we are spiritual beings, experiencing an existence in a “material” world. This is not something I can prove. In fact, I think it is something that cannot be proven or disproven. I believe, as far as I understand things, that it is not even a question that science is able to address, because it involves aspects of a hypothesis that are by definition, outside the present physical reality. Now, that certainly seems to be the same class of beastie as your invisible dragon. I accept and will defend the right of other people to believe that this is not the case, but at least I am convinced these are questions worth PONDERING.

And the significance of the questions in my mind keeps returning to the dilemma of how to deal with evil, whether you define it within a spiritual or material context.

I’ll go immediately to the question that gives me the most trouble: If humans are simply the accidental accumulation of random successful biological mechanisms in an otherwise sterile and meaningless universe, and there is no higher moral / spiritual plane or authority, then there is no reason to refrain from any impulse, no matter how selfish, brutal or savage, except for immediately obvious consequences, which in many cases can be avoided. This materialist view seems to lead inexorably to the sort of totalitarian organization of society in which the state, and whatever suits its needs of the moment, justifies anything that is done to its citizen/subjects. [Read “Witness” by Whitaker Chambers.]

Returning to the movie version of Carl Sagan’s “Contact,” to dismiss the possibility that there might be a spiritual basis for ethics, morality, objective good and evil, requires dismissing as insane or mentally defective a major portion of the planet’s population. Of course, that Billions and Billions of people believe is not proof of ANYTHING. But it points to the limits of individual knowledge, compared to the vastness of even the bitty portion of the universe we’ve been able to inspect.

Steven Den Beste made a wonderful distinction, describing himself as a believing atheist, i.e., that he acknowledges his atheism is a belief, not provable by logical argument. (And I’d bet any proof he attempted would be darn persuasive.)

Well, all that simply to ask you not to cast me out of the club for believing in the possibility of God, Christ, Buddha, reincarnation, The Goddess, and all the other paths there might be to enlightenment.

Oh, and by the way, the REAL proof of the existence of leprechauns is the final onscreen rolling credit in Disney’s “Greyfriar’s Bobby,” which is possibly the only motion picture in history in which Sean Connery sings.

Thanks, Bill!

David March
animator & fiddler
Shingle Springs, CA

As usual, you rock.
I don't even mind that it takes me 3 hours to read one of your essays!
I have a friend who thinks Bowling for Columbine is a brilliant piece of work and I'm DYING to send her this link.

I can't wait to post this link for all 3 of my blog readers!


I SAW a ghost one time. I was sitting at this very computer... at night with the light out... out of the corner of my eye I saw a white ghostly hand law down on the desk, I turned to see nothing there.

Keep up the wonderful writing Bill.

This has been a really terrific experience, because these commments really do provoke a lot of very deep thought.

Regarding religion...I refuse to take up that subject because it is almost by definition a personal, emotional issue and pretty much impervious to reason and experiment. As I mentioned in the essay, I have no desire or business telling people what to believe in their heart of hearts. Our society is based upon the freedom to believe what we like, and the degree to which we have been successful is the degree to which we can agree to disagree

Where I do take up the sword is when people try to advance certain ideas as scientific -- that is, they attempt to convince me of the validity of their idea through evidence.

I feel you are entitled to choose whatever philosophy or religion you like, and I have no business poking a stick in your eye because I happen to disagree. However, if you step forward and contend that the earth is a giant flat disk carried on the back of a turtle, and you make the assertion that this is in fact factually true, then prepare for an energetic response.

Michael Moore has a vison of America about as different from mine as is humanly possible. Okay. But where he tells outright lies to advance his argument, I will speak up. There have been several occasions where people pointed out factual errors in my essays. I checked the data, apologized, and made the changes. I do make a concerted effort to use logic, reason and evidence to advance my viewpoints. If I didn't think they could withstand scrutiny, I would abandon them.

I was worried that many people would see this essay as a cranky sort of dirge. While I do not believe in magic, I do believe in awe, and wonder, and the more we discover about the universe, the more astonishing it becomes and the more determined I become to learn more about it.

The essence of Carl Sagan's world view is that when you get right down to it, "magical" things like crop circles and UFO's pale -- really PALE -- in comparison to the awesome and stunning forms that matter and energy have taken on every scale, from the quantum soup to the bubbles of galaxy clusters.

Surely creatures that can see 15 billion light years out into space, who can extrapolate the conditions of the universe in the first .0000000001 second of its existence, who can concieve of and live their lives by concepts such as honor and justice and freedom, can find enough REAL magic, enough authentic, verifiable wonders to keep us busy for as long as we live.

Bang on with 'magic'I am sure loads of people cannot tell Harry Potter from reality!. A thought given that saddam was totally prepared for his own escape even, with his expensivly bought comradeships, how many lives were consumed solely due to support from France, high profile celebs(and Mr Moore) and of cours she heards(oops I mean crowds) of the missnamed anti war protesters? in my view a good proportion of the blood spilt is firmly on their hands.I thank your president for 'doing the right thing' it is too rare these days. political correctness sucks!!!!!!!

A very good essay. But

Like I said, I saw a leprechaun when I was nine. Saw him clearly enough to stop the car. Saw him clearly enough to go back looking for him every day, for weeks, until my parents took such pity on me they put a few leprechaun dolls around the house in the middle of the night and swore up and down they had nothing to do with it – just so I could find. . .

Should be "as" not "like" (Strunk and White, 3 edition)

Sorry, but as a writer who has to connect things that make me say "huh" detract.

I suspect you rushed this article to press too early. "If I'd had more time I'd have made it much shorter." Your're last post made me expect that it would be several more weeks before we saw your, otherwise excellent, post.

The thoughts though are excellent and, because you have had 144 posts at the time of my reading, have an excellent following (When's the book).

Slow down, take your time and sharpen your prose.

Tom the Submariner.

David March, group efforts towards goals too large for one to accomplish on their own require some level of trust to be voluntarily entered into for mutual benefit (and increased wealth). Current research in game theory, and objectivist philosophy, address why it's in one's self-interest to not behave in a savage, evil fashion.

No deity required.

Mr. Whittle, once again, you have taken a tank of inchoate syrup and crystallized it into a very useful, and palatable chunk of rock candy. Something to celebrate.

Bill Whittle wrote: ”Magical thinking is everywhere today, and it is growing. It threatens the foundations of reason, individualism, science and objectivity that have delivered this success so well and for so long. It is dangerous. If we are to continue to thrive and progress, then we need to sharpen some sticks and drive a stake through the heart of this monster, and right quick.”

And, you favored us with the vital conclusion (above) near the beginning. And vital it is. Despite appearing a buffoon, Moore is deadly deadly serious, and we lose by ignoring that.

Because some will profit from our fall. What happens when the real magic stops. I don’t mean the magic you’re discussing, but the “magic” of the capital investment machinery and it’s application to produce the level of technology which makes it possible for a significant percentage of our population to indulge themselves in every irrationality imaginable, and yet are able to avoid or put off personal destruction. What happens when the these kinds of “entitlements” can no longer be fed? Pay close attention, for example, to the ignorant teenage louts lounging about in tonier sections of your town. They drive expensive cars, they’re perfumed, and they're entitled. With few exceptions, they do not know the source of their wealth. G-d help you if it’s threatened or it stops. Fear will drive them.

I think a good place to open a front in the battle--as early as tomorrow morning--for those who feel inclined, is to look into getting elected to a seat on the local school board. It's depressingly easy in most places. Isn't it time to open those school texts which are chock full of the magic Mr. Whittle addresses, and expose them to the community? Being a reasonable member of the local board is a great place to start. As Mr. W says, “magical thinking is everywhere today, and it is growing. Blogs are great, Charter Schools and vouchers show promise, but it might be time to work also from the other side. Consider the alternative.

Re Sagan offering a mechanism to deconstruct the Cult, but not mainstream religion. Perhaps he thought better of doing all the thinking for his readers. As Heinlein said “…and the numerical result is left as an exercise for the student.”

Re Roswell and alien ships, I continue to be disappointed that it’s never been successfully shown why beings who can travel faster than light, kidnap us at will, and generally use technology far superior to our own, etc. presumably display a consistent need to SNEAK around our planet (lest they run afoul of a black helicopter?)

To Tom the Submariner,

I recently had a chat with John Ringo, a SF author. He has published eight books so far, and is collaborating on numerous others. I brought up in our discussion another author's work, the total of which to date cover between 5000 and 6000 pages. I also mentioned that one had been rushed to press, and could have had better proofreading. Mr. Ringo looked me dead in the eye and stated that given a normal book runs about 230000 words, and if there's one or two off, no big deal. In his words "So what?"

Given that a one or two word error generates a 99.99% pass rate, or a fail rate of 0.01%. There's not an engineer or manufacturer in the world who wouldn't be overjoyed to produce to those tolerances. In essayist jargon, I guess that translates to a Mean Time Between Grammatical Failure Rate (MTBGFR) of around 800 - 820 words. A very decent number, I think.

Sapper Mike

Regarding tomtodd a few comments back- ha ! I wish my writing skills were good enough to chastise Bill !! :)
( notice how I used that gramatically incorrect smiley face thingy?!)

As always Bill, well worth the wait. Your essays remind me of that TV show, was it 'Connections' ?
The guy would go to explain something like how nuclear bombs are the result of the invention of the sandwich or something. Your opening premise takes a fun, logical trip and ends up comming up again at the end, finally proven true !
Oh what fun ! Gotta love the internet..

Gee, Tom, how did I get through life without you?

Your "your're" should, of course, be "your." Oh, and a question mark is customary after "when's the book" (Bill's Handy Guide to Punctuation, 5th Edition)

I suspect you rushed your comment into the thread too early. Otherwise, thanks for the heads up. I will certainly be sure to slow down, take my time, and sharpen my prose in the future!

Bill, you are essential, i say essential, reading. Twelve pages printed and 122 comments, and they're all worth reading! As Judge Smails would say: "Top notch, Top notch!"

There is a psychological term for those who insist on besieving in the magic you describe: cognitive dissonance. i call the libs the cognitive dissonance crowd. Facts and logic mean nothing to them. Belief in their particular quasi-religion is everything.

Moore is one of today's best political commisars. And he has a great following, like Chomsky. You show the simple way he deceives people with his magic. i hope many people read your essay and are persuaded by it. God bless you.

Bill, your words are MAGIC! So much of what you say focuses what my poor little brain barely percieves, and struggles to articulate.

Excellent, excellent essay. I would venture to say that this sort of phenomenon is affecting much of the mainstream religions in a way that may boggle the mind even more, especially if you are one of those who believe religion itself is nothing but magic. Oh, but the wave of relativism has sundered much that was solid in Christianity, and it is all because people want to FEEL good about God, and not be challenged.

Best regards,
Sharon Ferguson
The Brazos de Dios Cantina

Anyone who liked this might also enjoy sci-fi author David Brin's essays on Star Wars and Lord of the Rings where he Fisks their Romantisized views.

I've read them, and they were wonderful! As much a fan as I have been of LOTR, there were always parts of Tolkien's world view that made gag. I dont think I'd get along in Middle Earth. I wrote to Brin and he was very much a gentleman in his response. I hope he writes more...

Granted, there were typos and I did have to re-read a few lines because of the typos but it did not detract me from the "magic" of this essay. Considering most writers have editors, I think Bill is doing an outstanding job. Don't know if your e-mail is working Bill but I sent you a "thank-you" letter that way.

Again, thanks to Bill, but this time for opening the "comments" so we can look at each other's responses. It does give much more of a sense of community, even with the trolls pissing into the stewpot. That's almost as important to me as the essay.

I wonder where that guy from the Nederlands has got off ta?

David March

Too short. Don't worry about your essays being too long, they're not.

"This whole mess dates back to the early 1960s"? Come on, you're usually better versed in history than that. Try 1880s, at least. Arthur Conan Doyle, and his photos of wee faeries. The Oisin hoax. And on and on. The 1950s were not heaven, the 1960s were not hell. (Or vice versa, depending on your viewpoint.) The longing for the good old days dates to at least the Dark Ages, and possibly further back. It's not fair to condemn irrational thought before rational ways of thinking were developed, but rational logic has never pushed out argument by authority instead of data. Ask any new-ager .... OR any creationist.

jsm posted a link to an article he described as an example of the big lie. I checked it out and to my surprise, found it was written by Thom Hartmann.

Thom Hartmann is a friend of mine. I even managed a couple of forums for him on Compuserve. Thom is a decent person, and I respect him but his politics are much different from mine. Thom is a practioner of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). What is NLP? NLPInfo.com describes it thusly:

"Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) studies the structure of how humans think and experience the world. Obviously, the structure of something so subjective does not lend itself to precise, statistical formulae but instead leads to models of how these things work. From these models, techniques for quickly and effectively changing thoughts, behaviors and beliefs that limit you have been developed."

NLP is based in part on cognitive science work from Noam Chomsky. The basic textbooks of NLP are titled The Structure of Magic I and II, by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. In essence, the books teach you how to produce magical thinking in others. Misdirection is a major tool. In other words, how to create and use the big lie.

I guess I was really not surprised to find such coming from Thom, but I am very disppointed. You see, the big lie is only a lie to those that can recognize it as such. To those that believe it, it is not a lie at all but the big truth--a truth that results from quickly and effectively changing thoughts, behaviors and beliefs that limit you.

Yes, many of us are limited. We are limited by having a firm grip on reality and not getting lost in touchy-feely, feel-good, emotionally driven claptrap. But the reality is also that NLP works and works all too well. It is an extremely effective and dangerous weapon when directed at the unsuspecting by the unprincipled elitists who love to practice it. The Big Lie is not an accidental failure to convey relevant facts. It is a well though out and well designed NLP technique to change thought, behaviour and belief. There are a lot of people out there that are trained in NLP. There are a lot more that use it well without formal training. In the wrong hands, NLP is as dangerous as a loaded gun. Whenever anyone points their words at you, check to see if they are loaded.


A wonderful but disturbing post. Something is truly adrift
in our country and elsewhere when people abandon
critical reasoning. The last time things getting so askew
was in the 60's. More than anything you've written before,
this essay will haunt me for a long time. I'll send you an
invoice from my therapist.

To David Marsh regarding your comment:

"Simply, a lot of folks are deeply disappointed with life in our culture of industrial technology; in their minds, the most concrete manifestation of science and rationality. In their disaffection they mistake the incompleteness of the success as proof that rationality is somehow responsible for the disappointment. Casting about for alternatives, and being ill-prepared to judge among them, many select the most appealing and self-serving philosophies, some of which are concocted and marketed by cynical exploiters."

IMHO, the origins of the disaffection and the willingness
to grasp other alternatives has a much simpler origin:

If something comes for free you take it for granted.
Work for something and you will understand its value.

Most folks are woefully undereducated in the sciences.
Only when one really does the very hard grunt work of
physics, chemistry, math, engineering, and really tries to
master their principles does one appreciate the sweat,
long hours, the false starts, and pure passion it took to
create a modern technical society. Try teaching a
teenager math, and your appreciation skyrockets.

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that
"technology, significantly advanced, becomes
indistinguishable from magic" (paraphrase). This is what
is happening today in the huge gulf between techies
and non-techies.

It also explains the ease with which the undisciplined mind
finds blatant and outrageous sophistry so appealing. It
answers all the questions and leaves more than enough
time to catch happy hour.

"Bowling for Columbine" was the best 'documentary' since "This is Spinal Tap"! It's true.

This is the first time that I recall being to this blog; which is unfortunate, since it appears to be very good. (I started mine during last fall's semester.) Keep up the good work!

Outstanding, as usual, Bill. I, too, linked for the benefit of my 6 readers!!! But the mind-blower revealed was that in addition to all your talent, you channel Ramtha!!!!!!!! WOW.

Ummm... so your "fireman" story was ummm, a "lie" used to illustrate a point that couldn't be made factually enough? Hmmm... sounds a bit like some "magic" I heard about in regards to Michael and a bank and a gun?

Nice try Santana, but I pointed out clearly that what I was writing regarding the fireman was fiction only because, unlike Micheal Moore, I do not have the time in this unpaid sidelight to go and interview real firemen. If you read enough to realize that I made Jernigan up, you also read where I said I could have told a BETTER lie with a real fireman, if I had one handy.

Indicating where I am fabricating stuff, and why, is a sign of intellectual honesty. I do not recall any such asterisks in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, probably because the starfield generated by so many of them would have obscured the entire screen for the duration.

Bill, another fantastic essay.

As for MarcP, the halfwit doesn't understand the basics of economics. You don't have a clue as to long run diminishing returns to scale are and you dare to lecture him about "low pay" of the teachers? Where do you get the nerve? Certainly not from any rigorous analysis.

You say: "Spend a couple of hours researching education budgets, teacher salaries, and the triaging of inner-city schools..."

What are we to learn? That budgets increased by huge sums, and that if you sum state budgets for education, local budgets for education and the DOE budget, coupled with off-balance sheet projects for R&D you poor more money in and get less returns?

Triaging of inner city schools? You mean your precious welfare state doesn't work? Where were these problems in the 1950s, before Keynesianism and statism became "trendy" in the United States? Bill makes the shortcoming in his analysis: it's not just that the curriculum went to hell. It's that you screwed around with the market process, and now you reap what you sow. Your welfare, your minimum wage wiped out the inner cities. You tried to make people feel good and tried to derail the basic human interaction of the free market. Look at what you've done in persuit of magic.

Another point that Bill could have brought in was a tie in to Sir Karl Popper and the inherent tribalism that drive people in search of magic.

You should be ashamed of yourself. You just go to prove that you have fallen for magic, rather than the rule of law or economics. Liberals like you are disgusting; you constantly believe you can hold back the free market and when it leads to "negative externalities" (read the fit hits the shan) you think more magic is the answer. It isn't, but you will never learn, will you?

Media lies literally made me ill.

In the early 90s, almost every media outlet in North America pumped out a huge volume of lies just like the one constructed in the section of this post regarding the deaths of civilians and the fireman.

The constant drumbeat of half truths during that era almost drove me around the bend.

Fortunately, the tidal wave of propaganda began to break and at present, it is possible to get news from a variety of points of view including the beloved blogs.

If the relatively benign lies of North American propaganda did such a number on me, I can only imagine what the pure propaganda machines of the Soviets and North Korea did (and are doing) to the minds of their citizens.

To be bombarded with heavy-duty lies 24/7 with no hope of respite must be absolutely dreadful.

It would be like being chained into a theatre seat with your eyes propped opened with toothpicks and Bowling for Columbine playing on a continous loop.

Just because a magician "shows his hand" doesn't make him any less a magician.
As soon as every book, magazine, movie, and forum writer puts "astriks" around every single poetic licensing and points out every exaggerated scene intended to make a point that may be too subtle for the majority of the public, your arguement just doesn't stand with me.

And who ever proved to you there aren't any leprechauns?


To keep my comments short and sweet, I just wanted to say THANK YOU. The best moment I've seen to date on live tv was when Michael Moore got booed off the stage at The Oscars. I'm sure like everyone else my age, we all had to watch Roger and Me in high school english class, unfortunately.

Keep writing, keep flying, keep dreaming! It keeps the rest of us sane.

This URL links to an article by Larry Elder, a commentator who bills himself as "the Sage from South Central" [Los Angeles, that is.]


The article entitled " Is filmmaker Michael Moore a bigot?" compares statements Moore has made in several interviews with a description of a London stage performance he gave, seen by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a columnist for The Independent, a United Kingdom publication. Mr. Elder also includes crime statistics which he credits as from the United States Department of Justice, via writer Walter Williams.

I believe the article provides additional valuable illumination for understanding the perverse attitudes of the alleged filmmaker Mr. Moore.

The article, by a black man who is credited as a Libertarian, is author of the book "The Ten Things You Can't Say in America."

David March

This is the best essay I have read in a long time. A well crafted gotcha.

I am a minor magician. Before I was laid off, my job was to create and type incantations into a computer. When the incantations were correctly entered and in the right order, the database programs worked quite well and saved many people from doing a lot of paperwork.

It is a shame that most people do not understand the sweat that goes into creating the real technological magic that is invested in almost every thing around us.

Humans have always been subject to mind-viruses. Understanding an essay like this gives us all a little more anti-mind-virus protection.

Oh, Santana, be careful now, because when you talk about points being too subtle for the majority of the public, you really do tip your hand at being something of an elitist. What a shock THAT would be!

I do not need people to prove to me that there are no leprechauns. Likewise, I do not require proof that my cat DID NOT sneak out the window, commandeer a hidden spacecraft, fly to Venus while I was sleeping and take a core sample.

If you believe everything you are told until it is disproven, you may find yourself with a head full of junk. You might, for example, be unable to make an ethical distinction between poetic licence and outright lying.

However, since you asked, it might interest you to know that if you scaled an ant to the size of a bus, it would snap its legs and crack like an egg under its own weight. Nor would it be able to breathe -- ants breath through osmosis, and when you make them bigger, their surface area squares but their internal volume cubes.

Now if you take a man and scale him down to the size of a barbie doll or a leprechaun, he burns up for precisely the same reason. Furthermore, his limbs become so over-muscled for their weight (muscle power is determined by the section of a muscle, not the volume) that when he'd go to tip his wee little hat his arm would fly right off.

But of course, you undoubtedly knew that and were just being arch. Right?

Dear God! Were you SERIOUS?!

Another fine piece of work, Bill. And I can't agree more with some of the other comments: you don't need to worry about length at all. Less is not more in the case of talented writers.


You completely miss Bill's point. The fact is that there *was* an asterisk and Bill came clean. Michael Moore does not. Your simplified analogy falls far short of the difference between them. The whole point between what is misdirection and the truth is precisely the asterisk.

Also, just because something can't be proven, doesn't mean it exists. However, I believe that Bill is making the reverse point: why are people insisting on believing that something exists when it hasn't been proven?

Santana: read the article again. You remind me of the dwarves in Narnia at the end. Even Aslan couldn't help them.

I know a few volunteer firemen who'd happily lend their names to fill-in for the Robert Wayne Jernigan character for the book... I'm sure we could dig up a few witnesses, too!

A brilliant essay. You have demonstrated the primary problem with intellectuals today: A disconnect from reality. Facts mean nothing to the intellectual who has a thesis to defend. And as you so eloquently point out, facts can be manipulated to prove any point.


Good stuff, as always.

I have never commented on your writing before, but I will here.

You make me feel stupid, and I thank you for it. Somehow, you piece together many of my own random and disjointed thoughts and weave it into a tapestry that we both recognize. Wish I could do it myself.

My personal specialty is not knowledge, but feelings.

I'll share my thought on magic:

The real magic is this: We as humans we all have the ability to choose; and as Americans, we have right to choose, and we back each other up (despite our differences) to defend that right.

I hope we can all survive what is our biggest strength, and our biggest weakness....


David March--

Larry Elder's latest column says why he just registered as a Republican.



I'm not a fan of the Oscars, but I do hear about them both before and after the event because of the incessant prattling of the media and their drones (read: coworkers). It struck me as odd how often the "Documentary" category came up this year. "There's a documentary category? Wow, how *yawn* thrilling." Then I realized why they were hyping it so much, the media darling Michael Moore had an entry in the category.

I'm curious--how many times in the past has the Documentary award ceremony been televised as part of the greater whole, and how many times has it been an ignored blip on the back page of Entertainment Weekly? If I didn't know better, I'd say the whole Oscar award process was fixed....

Thanks, Bill.

It must get tiresome to repeatedly restate the obvious.

A is not non-A.

Wow, Bill. This is sophistry on a grand level, and I'm just surprised to see your tremendous talent used for it. "If it feels good, do it"? There's not a leftist alive who would say that that is now or was ever a reasonable synopsis of his views.

It's so easy to do what you've done here -- create a straw man to slay, and then boast of your unquestionable victory. I had expected more of you. And I'd also expected a higher standard from other conservatives. Eloquence is no substitute for rigor or truth in an argument, and I'm disappointed to see people who I might normally think of as political colleagues abandoning rational examination of your arguments because they like you so much. I like you, too, and I like you too much to let you off this easy. Leftists do have real points, valid points at times, invalid at others. You owe it to us, to them, and to yourself to be honest when you critique them, and not set up imaginary analogies which make the reader feel good, but do not remotely represent your intellectual opponents.

Interesting article. I enjoyed how you made the overall point. I personally have always been annoyed by these "legends" my whole life, and don't believe any "UFO sightings" stories (or any other legends) I've heard. That aside, your 2 counterarguments against UFO sightings stories (the "constancy of speed" and "impossible to reverse-engineer" arguments) are both logically flawed. I agree with all your other points, though. I'm just nit-picking out of tough love.

Actually, though... I do have a more general complaint as well. A life without any magic is kind of extreme, no? Einstein himself said, "Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind". Like everything else, perhaps balance is in order. If there's anything we've learned from science, it's that anything's possible. Quantum physics has revealed some awfully bizarre behaviour in the natural world, things that defy explanation, and would've been thought ridiculous 100 years ago (much like Relativity was). The greatest scientists in history were a wonderful balance of logical thinkers and dreamers. Perhaps academia has simply gone a bit too far in the "dreamer" direction these days.

One of the best blog posts I've ever read. Well done!

Dear John Plato,

I said Hippies, not leftists, went by "if it feels good, do it." Who put the two together, you, or me?

Speaking of using eloquence in place of substance, care to elaborate on the case of a straw man set up to unfairly slander the left? I gave fifteen pages of examples. If you care to make a charge, fine, make it and I can respond or apologize for my error. If you feel the left has been unfairly attacked by my making assertions, why do you come and do exactly that?

And we on the right keep hearing about the left's rational views and specific, real-world, attainable plans. Will we be seeing ANY of them anytime soon? Some of us are in our forties now, and there may be only three or four more decades left to us.

Holy Shit- you are so cool! Wow- how wonderful it must be to have all the answers and assume since it is your opinion and different from someone else's it is right! Ants, spaceships, magic,great stuff! Arch? Elitist? Hmmm....and because I come away with a different perspective from this writing, mine is wrong? Gee, I wonder how Moore feels, probably that all your perspectives are wrong and you took him totally the wrong way. Keep restating the obvious the way you see it- maybe you will eventually be able to get everyone to see life from your exact perspective... hmmm... sounds like someone I have heard about before...

Sounds like you're drowning there, Santana. Need a little time to get your breath back?

Well, at least he got the first sentence right.

Hello, Bill.

Talk about shock and awe. What a fantastic essay. I got the hat tip from Charles over at the LGF site to come check out your site. I was so NOT disappointed! You are brilliant. You touched on so many different subjects, yet you brought them all together with your "magical" theme. I am truly amazed. Thank you for your essay. I will look forward to seeing more of the same.

Dear Mr. Whittle,

I got pointed at this site from the Baen website (Ringo's Tavern) and enjoyed you essay very much. There was one part that I sort of questioned about....
I have on a cheap digital wristwatch. Don’t ask why. Now presumably these masters of gravity, wormholes and anal probes are far, far ahead of us in science and technology – hundreds, or more likely thousands of years more advanced. But let’s take my cheapo, simple, everyday wristwatch back to a watchmaker of only 100 years ago – the finest Swiss watchmaker of 1903. What could he reasonably expect to reverse engineer?
By himself.. perhaps not a great deal. However in 1885 the Edison Machine Works was open for business... You know, they bring good things to light ;). Also interesting is that the diode was invented in 1904(Sir John Ambrose Fleming). Now I do admit.. that from just a watch the reverse engineering process would have been hideously long and expensive. I thought one of the beter descriptions of 'reverse engineering' from future tech was in James P. Hogan's 'Gentle Gaint's' series (and a good read if his politics don't annoy you :). This in no way invalidates your theories however...if we accept the presumption that the government HAS something like this, THEN they would need the best minds on the planet and would be unable to hide their efforts..::Shrug:: my opinion.
They – The Government – recovered a few strips of crumpled aluminum. UFOlogists point to the picture of the Air Force officer holding up a couple of Jiffy-Pop fragments as “hard evidence” – but as for me, I’d like my anti-gravity, faster-than-light intergalactic hyper-dimensional space-metal saucer to produce something more than one-fifth the wreckage you’d expect from a Cessna 150 flown by some teenager experimenting with The Weed
Heh.. while tend not to believe that any such thing exsists, my argument would be 'escape pod' (never mind that the 'mother ship' would have been noticeable if something recquiring a pod happened). Thanks for your essay.. I'll be sure to keep an eye on your writings from now on.


LOL... now come on, why assume I am a man? Drowning? Yes, in all the logic and validity that goes beyond mere personal perspective. hehee... I just love the way writers such as yourself, do all the very things they accuse others of doing, but then twist them and explain them away without giving anyone else the benefit of the same treatment. Is it simply that you don't agree with Moore that you got pissy he took poetic licenses in his movie? If it was a view point you agreed with, would it be okay with you that some of the "documentary" was a tad made up in order to push a perspective you agreed with? Can you answer that honestly? You tell a story mightily, I will give you that. But it is still just a story and I hope that you remember that. I do enjoy a little tit for tat and I am always up for a good debate, but your logic is flawed... leprechans are not little humans, so physics, as you try to explain it, simply is not relevant. But, of course, you knew that- I mean you lost your belief in magic when you sat out waiting for the little guy who never came back and the sheer disappointment in that caused the cynic who writes about disullusionment today. Bravo or my sympathy- but I still believe in Santa Claus and I say anyone who takes the time to make any kind of movie or write any kind of book to try to staunch the bloody flow of violence, even if it isn't the way I would do it, deserves some respect.


Sounds like you've got a looser definition of poetic license than most. Moore fabricates stuff and attempts to pass it off as real. That's called bullshitting where I come from. No wiggle room allowed.

I think Moore's message wouldn't be as inflammatory if he were less deceitful in his methods. Personally I still think he's full of shit either way, but I could respect his point of view with a more honest approach.

Great essay Bill, as always. You just summed up my psych class unit on magical thinking so perfectly.

To what extent has magical thinking overtaken the euro political sphere?

Wow. At first, I was grateful just to have my Whittle fix, and then I noticed you'd turned the comments back on. Bonus! Some of us like the comments, even (especially?) the troll-smackdowns.

I think John Plato is right about the "if it feels good" model being a straw man, but as a recovering Marxist I would definitely say that leftist liberalism's basis is a belief that either humans are basically generous and not selfish, or they can be made that way with a little education. This is the sort of "magical"/non-critical thinking Bill was talking about, and it is definitely a more pleasant way to think than the alternative: human nature is not uniformly good, and it is surprisingly resistant to change. There is some basis for labelling that an "if it feels good do it" attitude.

However, I think modern hippies (who actually more closely resemble Hoffman/Rubin yippies) believe that most of humankind is evil, and will only be generous to others if forced by the state. Moore seems to think that the vast majority of white Americans are racist murderers, or want to be. That can't be a comfortable thing to think about your own nation, and plenty of modern hippies and yippies spend a lot of time angry or ashamed.

John Lennon, in his 1970 Maoist period, complained, "I really believed that 'all you need is love.' I had no idea..." He was talking about his personal life, not politics, but I think it sums up the feelings of a lot of leftists today.

The idea of “poetic license” is not a license to lie, but rather a license to fib in the service of truth. So I guess it is left to define what is a lie and what is a fib in the service of truth? Whose truth? Whose definition?

Dear Sir/Madam Santana,

Thank you for your last post. You raise a very interesting question that really cuts to the heart of the issue.

You ask, "If it was a view point you agreed with, would it be okay with you that some of the "documentary" was a tad made up in order to push a perspective you agreed with? Can you answer that honestly?"

I can. If it were a point of view I agreed with, I would not NEED to make things up -- even a tad -- in order to make a case. Not because I am always right. I have come to my present philosophy because of the many times I have been wrong. If you have to lie about data to make a point, I'm not interested.

I do not come to the table with a theory and try to manufacture evidence for it. I come to the table with evidence and try to manufacture a theory for it. If I find that what I believe in is based on large amounts of false data, I don't change the data -- I CHANGE WHAT I BELIEVE.

This is the fundamental difference between myself and Mr. Moore. This entire difference can be summed up in the presence of that tiny asterisk, which I included in my work, and which he did not. That asterisk represents at least an honest attempt at intellectual integrity. If you find such a distinction meaningless, then that is entirely your perogative.

Now, when you state that leprechauns are not human so the laws of physics do not apply to them, I would argue that a hippopotamus is not human either: push one out of the back of a cargo plane at 40,000 feet and see if physics applies to IT.

Provide a parachute. I have nothing against hippopotami.

If, on the other hand, you mean that the laws of physics do not apply to leprechauns because they are MAGICAL BEINGS, well, enjoy your walk, because that is as far as I go. Beyond that point lies madness. And the computers that we use to have this discussion on were created by people who know where that line is, and avoid crossing it like the plague. I wish you would leave behind all of electronics, antibiotics, science, math and much else when you cross that line, having not earned them. But science is more generous than I am. It gives to everyone no matter what contempt they hold it in.

I can also say, from the bottom of my shrunken, bitter, magic-free, leprechaun-betrayed heart that I am as far from a cynic as it is possible to be, as any objective reading of my work, including these comments, should show. All I ask -- and it is not too much to ask -- is that the object of my awe, reverence and wonder ACTUALLY EXISTS. Awe and wonder are powerful emotions. I don't want to waste them on people stomping down wheat in the dead of night.

I'll leave you with this:

I do not believe in Santa Claus. I do -- most emphatically -- believe in the IDEA of Santa Claus. I believe there is nothing more precious than a child who can stare in open-mouthed wonder at the sounds of hooves on the roof, and nothing more disturbing than an adult who through fear refuses to grow up and face the world as it really is.

Gee, Bill, can I translate your article into French, print it out in leaflet form and drop them over France?

I love living here in France - for over 20 years - but the credibility that the French give to astrology, numerolgy, and Micheal Moore is extremely annoying to me. And frightening!

Keep up the good work!

PS: By the way, anybody:

Well said, Bill. Both the essay and the last comment. Finding a new essay on your site is one of the highlights of my day. One of the main reasons I decided to try this blogging stuff for myself was inspiration from your writing. Keep it up, please!

I feel truly sorry for people who cannot find wonder or something greater than themselves without resorting to magic, especially when the truth is often so much more fantastic than the magical explanation. Of course, maybe I'm just a pathetic geek for finding Discoideum more interesting than people-eating strawberry jello from Mars. "It's magic"... and then it stops there. Of my many beefs with creationism, one of them is purely aesthetic: God did it in seven days by divine hand-waving... and it stops there. What a dull story as compared to evolution. But I ramble.

As far as the quality of commentary from the left and right goes, as the generously egalitarian misanthrope that I am, I'd say both wings have their heads up their asses in roughly equal proportions. Truly intelligent and logical commentators are difficult to find; the vast majority are people with an ideology they will defend unto death, based on a mixture of experience, conviction, and prejudice. Once you find the cream, what you generally find is a lot of logic mixed in with some fundamentally different assumptions about the nature of life, people, and the world, all of which are arguable. Everything in between is a mixture of degrading quality between logic and conviction. Near the bottom of which we find our trolly friend Santana, so desperate to continue admiring the loathesome Moore and reviling anyone on the other side that it's willing to pick any nit and distort everything into moral equivalency and beyond that it possibly can.

Honestly Bill, the faith in humanity you display by bothering to respond at all is striking.

Thanks, Bill. The murder rate in the United States concerns me, as several friends and family are studying and working there (I am Australian). I would be interested if you were to elaborate on why Canada - which is so similar to the US in many ways - has such a lower rate of homicide? I don't know if I accept Moore's thesis, but it is entertaining enough - and I notice that you haven't provided an alternative.

"The Ascended High Master of this Dark Art is Noam Chomsky?" How about some facts, rather than this assertion? Your next essay perhaps?


Now that is what I am talking about, or was typing about, or, awwww hell, I don't really care about that silly proper english stuff. I never was will to dedicate much time to learning it. What I will put time in is reading "My thought" put in a proper format again. It was/is a great read. I agree with everthing you have type once again. (Damn I feel like that little dog in the cartoon, what do you what to do today spike, huh?*jump* Huh?*jump*)I would say that while magic is not real and dangerous,to lose the will or ability to dream, and attempt to change the perception of what can be accomplished would also be dangerous. Imagine what the world would be like with out all the dreamers like Columbus or Da Vinci. Also count in all the SIFI children that gew up on Star War and Star Trek, dreaming of the day that they could get in to a lab and push back the boundries of science, bringing us one step closer to a world formed in the imagination. For some it is very difficult to seperate what is a dream to be worked for, and what is Magic. My hope is that one day my children will be amazed by a magician who hold his had straight out and make a coin "appear" to vanish in thin air. While behind the scenes and new machine breaks down the coin to its atoms and wisps them away to be rebuilt elsewhere.

"One to beam up scotty I am coming home."

SSgt Tid.

What a relief to finally learn that Moore has been talking through his bloated posterior.

When I saw his film I was concerned that gun crime in the US was something of a problem. How heartening to discover that he is both overweight (I hadn't noticed) a lying SOB and that the firearm problem his manipulative work addresses does not exist. Thank you Bill for making me feel better.

So could the 7,500 people aged 18 to 24 playing dead since 1997 please stop it now.

Mr. Whittle;

Another one of your wonderful essays, thanks for sharing them with us.

On another note, you had asked Gary Utter (above) about links concerning challenges to the absolute speed of light. The other night I was reading a post on the web about just this thing, see here:

"Taking A Shot At Einstein"
Seeking a grander theory, rebel physicists break a cosmic speed limit.

As for you not believing in Santa Claus. I'm crushed, CRUSHED I say!

You do good work, Bill -- very good work. And Michael Moore deserves this and then some.

But without some good negative feedback, you'll rot, just like everybody else, myself most certainly included. So here's my contribution.

First, since several of the commenters above seem to have fallen for this one: The idea that everything was going swimmingly with (insert the American institution of your choice here) until the late '60s is every bit as egregious an example of magical thinking and misdirection as the idea that we'd all be better off splitting wood than splitting atoms. In fact, they're closely related versions of the arcadian worldview, ie that we are declining from an ideal past. The truth is far more complex and less emotionally satisfying, especially to a certain type of conservative.

Carl Sagan himself bought into environmental apocalyptacism big-time (as you seem quite aware, I hasten to add). Occasional displays of mental rigor do not confer lifetime immunity from silliness. So let's all remember to direct just a bit of this examination into a mirror from time to time.

Another great essay, Bill, but at the risk of going against the flow there are a few things I'd like to say.

Much of the first part seems to exhibit a disdaing for specific beliefs. While the feel-good crystal types often deserve their ridicule, there are people who know the proper place to put their faith in every day life and still make reasoned, logical decisions. If you don't believe this, look at our own President.

I guess it's the general disdain that irks me. People, for whatever reason, need religion. In order for that religion to avoid becoming dogma, they need reason. It's easy to tear down a set of beliefs, but what have you accomplished? Much better to build intelligence and thought into those beliefs, and allow that person their small comforts in the night.

Perhaps I'm too open and forgiving for my own good. Believe it or not I'm a great opponent of management by wishful thinking, but I know that personal wishes have nothing to do with the way the world works on a day to day basis. It doesn't change that fact that a string of unlikely mistakes and coincidences allowed me to be at my father's bedside the day he died.

I guess my point is that you're right. Reason is paramount, but in our sad little animal brains belief, faith, and religion often are the only compass by which we can guide ourselves.

Oh, and I suppose I don't have to point out the problem with the dragon analogy, do I? Cuz I've got a box of quarks and a quantum black hole right here that would also pass those tests...

Umm. Just re-read that first paragraph. I should point out that was NOT a cheap shot at the President. I admire the man for being as public and devoted as he has been, and envy his conviction.

I'm damn grateful he's the guy in office, and you wouldn't believe how many people have stopped talking to me because of that. :)

Raul - we don't have a firearm problem, we have a crime problem. 95% of the USA doesn't even have a crime problem to speak of (oddly it tends to be the part where there are lots of firearms). Back out the 5% of the country that are deeply dysfunctional inner city enclaves, and the rest of the USA has crime rates, including murder that compare very favorably with Europe, Canada, etc.

If you really want to reduce our crime problem, leave the damn gun owners alone and focus on the real problem - the dysfunctional cities.

You, Raul, have been suckered by the misdirection of the magical thinkers are gun control, inc., who believe that an inanimate object "causes" people to kill each other.

Thanks Bill

I have been reading you site for a couple of months and love it, execellent essay, keep up the good work.

I just wanted to say a bit about the "Nessie" myth because i live in Inverness. Loch Ness is a very big and fascinating loch and i myself have seen many wierd and wonderfull things there. I even have some pictures that i love to show people "this could be the monster". It isn't, i know it isn't because i waited for the right moment to take the picture of the boats' wake with a low sun behind it the wake in shadow provided 3 excellent humps.

Seriously though there is no Pliesiosaur in Loch Ness, i am a Geologist but you don't need to be one to know that the theory is pure nonsense, there may be something odd in there or something pefectly normal being seen/acting in an unusual way. The most persuasive expalnation of the "beastie"(if indeed there is one) i ever read was that it may be a large nematode, the article was in the Scottish Field sometime in the late 70's. Non air breathing, mineral and sediment "eater" and invertibrate ie no need to be at the surface,probably only there if in trouble/dying, no requirement for such a large fish population and no bones.

But somehow i just can't see as many gullible tourists flocking to Loch Ness to see the "Giant Worm" as come to see "The Monster". In Scotland "Magical Thinking" is a requirement for our balance of payments (the politicos are really into magical thinking here too but that's going to strat me ranting!!).

After all, if we debunk Nessie we'll only have the Haggis to fall back on!!! And thereby hangs another tale!

Yours Ian Innes

"I do not believe in Santa Claus. I do -- most emphatically -- believe in the IDEA of Santa Claus. I believe there is nothing more precious than a child who can stare in open-mouthed wonder at the sounds of hooves on the roof, and nothing more disturbing than an adult who through fear refuses to grow up and face the world as it really is."

Your world is just your perception of it, whether you will admit to it or not. You see the world your way, and thank god, I see it my way. Keep up the good work by the way, you are a talented writer, and I love the way your readers immediately label anyone who has a different perspective on life than you do. You have a faithful following. You think you are the "one" who can free us all from the dream we call life, well Neo, good luck.



These two useful articles come from Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) who publish The Skeptical Inquirer.


"I love the way your readers immediately label anyone who
has a different perspective on life than you do"...

and one whole sentence later...

"...well Neo, good luck"

without a mailing address of course...

Bad beliefs don't have to die. They just have to fade sufficiently to no longer be a factor.

I cover one of the biggest magical beliefs that used to inform the thinking of way too many people. News of it's fade along with discussion is here:


I thought it might be appropriate to have a post by someone who's lived without electricity and running water AND who has split wood. My husband and I did the back-to-the-land thing for eight years.

And you know what, I LOVE electricity! There is nothing more wonderful than to have water come out of a tap. And refrigeration? You have no idea what it takes to keep things from spoiling without it. Having said all that, I also think there is something to be said for backing away from some of the toys technology has given us. How many times have you had a quiet moment interrupted by someone's cell phone conversation? How many people have you heard say that they can't raise children in a house with less than 2000 square feet?

The reason that magic appeals to some people is that they feel unhappy and uncomfortable with these times. They find it hard to deal with the stress and pace of modern life. So they turn to a time that they know nothing about, thinking that somehow life was simplier then. And, that's true of course, simply because the choices were limited.

I think that this is a phenomena that will not be limited to this country. I would bet, as poorer countries improve their standard of living and aquire the fruits of technology, that you will find people who long for that simplier life that they have never known.

The Haves and the Have Nots, once again

Superb Post, Bill. I was floored by it, this just made it into my essay binder its so darn good. One interesting (at least to me) observations: the whole premise can also be approached in another manner: The Haves and Have Nots. Some people have learned the essentials of logical thinking and critical analysis. Some have not. That I think is a root cause of the split. Everyone starts out life believing, because belief is easier, its critical to growth, and its a nurtured part of our collective psyche. BUT, and this is a big but, Every person needs to reach a point at which their ability to reason, to personally decide, must surmount belief. That's one of the roots of maturity; learn the rules of life, and learn to reason your way through them and accept them. Mature people may not FEEL like getting up in the morning, but they decide to go to work anyways, because they have decided it is the best thing to do. And so on. Most adults apply reason to parts of their lives, belief to others, but only a some of us (the fortunate few) can reconcile the two and live comfortably with both. I believe in God, for example. I have also decided, through critical thinking, that it is a good thing, and a beneficial belief. Some of the have nots have never made this leap. That's what sets these poor souls apart, and makes it so difficult to effectively debate them.

That's it, just my 2 cents, I hope someone finds my take interesting. GREAT WORK BILL!!!!!

Well done, Bill! I've already sent the link to a few friends. You have just got to write a book!!!

Excellent essay! I think a comment Howard Gardner once made is apropos, since much magic is believed in by people who are very intelligent and are often quite expert in some area or another:

"In most domains of knowledge, we develop very powerful theories when we are very young. School and the disciplines are supposed to reformulate those theories and to make them more comprehensive and more accurate. As long as we stay in school, we can maintain the illusion that the effort has succeeded, but ... once we leave school, the illusion disappears and there is a 5-year-old mind dying to get out and express itself...

"No one has to tell a kid that heavy objects fall more quickly than light objects. It's totally intuitive. It happens to be wrong. Galileo showed that it was wrong. Newton explained why it was wrong. But, like others with a robust 5-year-old mind, I still believe heavier objects fall more quickly than lighter objects....

"The only people on whom these engravings change are experts. Experts are people who actually think about the world in more sophisticated and different kinds of ways. ... In your area of expertise, you don't think about what you do as you would when you were five years of age. But I venture to say that if I get to questioning you about something that you are not an expert in, the answers you give will be the answers you would have given before you had gone to school."

Howard Gardner, p. 5, in
Gardner, H. (1993). Educating the unschooled mind. Washington, D.C.: Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences.

Excellent, Magical.
My first visit to your website, and I am extremely impressed.

It is refreshing to realise that others are as fed up with the fabrications and absurdities that exist within the media today.

Thank You.

PS. I loved the comments


A farmer who wanted to get a divorce paid a visit to a lawyer.
The lawyer said, "How can I help you?"
The farmer said, "I wanna get me one of those dayvorces."

The lawyer said, "Do you have any grounds?"
The farmer said, "Yes, I got 40 acres."

The lawyer said, "No, you don't understand, do you have a suit?"
The farmer said, "Yes I got a suit, I wears it to church on Sundays."

The lawyer said, "No, no, I mean do you have a case?"
The farmer said, "No, I ain't got no Case, but I got a John Deere."

The lawyer said, "No, I mean do you have a grudge?"
The farmer said, "Yes, I got a grudge, that's where I parks the John Deere."

The lawyer said, "Does your wife beat you up or something?"
The farmer said, "No, we both get up at 4:30."

The lawyer said, "Is your wife a nagger?"
The farmer said, "No, she's a little white gal, but our last child was a nagger and that's why I wants one of those dayvorces."

Looks like Santana's ox is being gored. Next time, Sir/Madam, I advise you to take the blue pill. There is no Matrix...Oh, and by the way: Way to damn the "faithful following" with faint praise! (/irony off) If you believe "reality is what you make it" (no doubt you will accuse me of attacking a straw man)then kindly get experimental verification: jump off a 40 story building. If you bounce off the pavement unharmed, you've proved your point.

datarat wrote:

"Oh, and I suppose I don't have to point out the problem with the dragon analogy, do I? Cuz I've got a box of quarks and a quantum black hole right here that would also pass those tests..."

Quarks play a role in the only explanations
currently available for the behaviour of atomic nuclei, the dragon by contrast, much like God, does not play any role in any explanation of how the world works. Similarly for UFOs, all the things that UFO nuts claim as proof of the existence of UFOs have other explanations that don't require aliens to have bizarre fixation with the human anus. As for quantum black holes, well General Relativity has black holes in it, so presumably quantum gravity will have quantum black holes but the jury's still out on that cause we don't have quantum gravity.

Dear Bill,

I have your leprechaun right here, so I know he's real. He's tied up to a chair of course, but he won't tell me where his pot of gold is, little bastard. He says he will only tell you because he remembers you and he likes you. He says he felt compelled to reveal himself to you that day, but he was hard-wired to run as soon as the car stopped, he doesn't know why (he doesn't understand this brain chemistry stuff like I do).

He claims the gold is worth at least 100 billion dollars, and I believe him - however disagreeable, he appears to be very honest. Here is my proposal: I am willing to ransom him to you for only $500 dollars. This way we can both benefit from this remarkable turn of luck (of me catching him and him turning out to be your long lost leprechaun, etc.).

What do you say, Bill? If you don't want him, I'm going to sell him on EBay, and I'd feel a little guilty about that as he so badly wants to come and live with you, and give you his pot of gold.

Here, I'll let him say a few words:


Ok, that's enough out of him, and I am not CRAZY! If anybody is crazy in this room, HE's crazy! Little nutball! Hang on while I go slap him silly.

Whew, there I'm back - but as you can see, we don't get along. He'd be safer with you, Bill - please send me the $500 and we'll be done with this! I promise I won't slap him anymore (unless you say no, that is ...)

Hoping we can make a deal, signed Sue
(oh, you can reach me via channel 5 on your TV set, make sure you hit the rewind button on your VCR at the same time and we will automatically connect)

I've had my comment above, but can't resist a question for Santana:

At your trial for (fill in FALSE charges of murder, child abuse, etc. here), how do you want the rules of evidence presented to operate?

A) According to the kind of objective, cause-and-effect standards Bill Whittle advocates, or, B) According to your own reality-is-what-one-says-it-is-world-in-your-head standards you seem to believe in?

A or B. No fudging.

BTW, if you think you cannot be subject to non-objective accusations, I suggest you Google the name "Dorothy Rabinowitz" and read about the Amerault case and past happenings in Wenatchee Washington.

I wonder how you'd relate this essay to Richard Rorty's way of looking at things...

One quibble. You are certainly correct about the dangers of magical thinking, the triviality of the Kyoto Treaty's "solutions", and the moral stature of dishonest "documentary" makers. You ask "how many people were saying we should hold out and let diplomacy work to remove Saddam? ... And so to believe that diplomacy, and not force, would remove Saddam from power was a case of deeply magical thinking." That would be bad thinking all right. Maybe you read more anti-war stuff than I did, but I never saw anyone, not even the most vehemently opposed, saying they even *wanted* diplomacy to remove Saddam. They seemed to just be against any efforts by other countries to remove him, period. Whatever other contradictions they tried to hold, they didn't seem to fall into this particular variant, of a pointless call for his removal by "diplomacy".

Thinking a little about Alan's comment.... I wonder if the popularization (and incumbent oversimplification) of quantum mechanics and relativity adds to the magical thinking. At the end of explaining them to an obtuse audience your kinda left with saying, "Ok, it's magic, now shut up."

Another thought: most of the errors of mankind result from the hubris that doesn't allow folks to say, "I don't know, I don't have enough information to make a conclusion." Mapmakers couldn't leave blank spots, they had to draw dragons.

Still another thought: religion and science are not matter and anti-matter, they co-exist quite well. Just as juggling and automobile repair do, they may have points of intersection but they address divergent questions.

Bob -
The exact quote is:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (Arthur C. Clarke)

...but check out this:


Feminism, Civil rights for African Americans, Purple Haze, walking on the moon... thank God for the American dreamers of the 1960's.

This might interest some here regarding the speed of light:

August 2002

A genuine change of pace now and in a dramatic new claim set to rock the world of science, an Australian scientific team believes that Albert Einstein's famous equation about time and space, E equals M-C squared, may be wrong.

The team, led by the eminent cosmologist Professor Paul Davies, believes that far from being constant, the speed of light is constantly slowing down.

PROFESSOR DAVIES: For about 100 years it's been accepted by all scientists that the speed of light is constant. This was the fundamental basis of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, probably the most famous theory around.

It's the theory that leads to the only formula most non-scientists know which is E equals MC squared and the C in that formula stands for the speed of light, and it's a fixed number, you can look it up in a text book.

It's a particular number and it's supposed to be absolutely constant, not only for you and me however we're moving, but also right across the universe and throughout all time.

It's one of the basic laws of physics and one of the basic laws of the universe that the speed of light should not vary and yet the evidence seems to suggest that it might be varying.

The evidence that the speed of light might be changing with time, I might say has nothing to do with my work. This is evidence that has been assembled by astronomers and most notably by John Webb at the University of New South Wales.

These astronomers have been looking at the most distant visible objects, they're called quasars, these are objects that are so far away that although they're emitting huge amounts of energy, they appear just like stars in the sky.

And it's from looking at some of the fine details of the lights in those quasar images that John Webb and his colleagues have come to the conclusion that the speed of light or something else was different a long time ago – many billions of years ago - and if that is true, then something is changing with time.

And the two something's which most people feel are most plausible to change are the speed of light or the fundamental unit of electric charge inside the atom and my recent work, in collaboration with Charley Lineweaver and Tamara Davis at the University of New South Wales, suggests that we have to opt for the speed of light varying, the other one won't do.

Bill: your prose consistently exhilarates me.

I loved the inclusion of Carl Sagan's work. Dr. Sagan was one of the first people to inspire me as well, and to make me open my eyes to the universe. It was precisely his mix of wonder and analysis which appealed to me. I still remember watching Cosmos with my parents, when I was a kid, not knowing what the hell was going on, but knowing it was IMPORTANT.

Anyway, your prose is "magic" to me. And I thank you!

Great essay. I love reading your work.

Just one thing: I felt uncomfortable with how sex education found its way among the subjects that supposedly don't need to be taught, or their inclusion in the curriculum has been damaging somehow. What on earth can be wrong with learning how the human reproductive system works? In my opinion, it's a crime to keep people in ignorance about their own bodies.

Would we rather hold on to all the squeamish misinformation that was out there for years (example: menstruation=rocks scratching the inside of the uterus)? We read owners' manuals for our appliances, for heaven's sake. How can we be afraid of learning and teaching how our own God-built bodies work?

Advertisers use this 'magic' in commercials alot. I was just watching a Pine-Sol commercial where one bucket has some really nasty, murky water. Then there is the bucket with the Pine-Sol 'don't mop with a dirty bucket' new and improved clean as a whistle where the dirt magically floats to the bottom.

While I don't find the dirt floating to the bottom as unbelievable I do question that other dirty bucket. I'm going to guess that they dyed the water brown just to make it look really worse than it would be under realistic circumstances.

Ahhh, the power of television.

Other fine examples like the flat hose give you the impression that regular hoses will tangle you up and cause catastrophies but the amazing flat hose does none of that. Or trash bags that just break and all the contents hit the floor in a disghusting display of nastiness. Really, though, I've never had the cheap trash bags break, so what makes Glad Bags so good?

Great essay Bill, keep em' coming.

Great essay--I have just a minor quibble. On a per capita basis, magical thinking isn't increasing: the level has been roughly constant throughout history and across societies. The subject matter of the magical thinking changes, though, and that's what you've noticed.

Specifically, traditional, unquestioned religious belief among citizens of the West has been declining since the Enlightenment, but the resulting vacuum has been filled with Marxism, environmentalism, spiritualist movements (from the Theosophists to today's New Agers), UFOlogy, and other magical thinking.

Can the majority learn to overcome its tendency to think magically? Or are we better off isolating them in a "virtual reality" where their faulty reasoning doesn't impact the rest of us?

Bill: Another bullseye!


"Your world is just your perception of it, whether you will admit to it or not. You see the world your way, and thank god, I see it my way."

Ah... the Postmodern drone... the multicultural Muzak of the overeducated (at least in the social "sciences"), the over-privileged and the intellectually lazy.

You obviously have not had a large, real world event recently (or perhaps ever) Santana that has forced you back to objective reality. I just did. And because of it, I thank my lucky stars for Homo sapiens with objectivity, reason, intellectual discipline, and drive.

My wife was recently diagnosed with a large menigioma (a non-cancerous tumor in her cranium). It was located in and around the area where many cranial nerves meet on the way to what they control – eye, facial movement, etc. The tumor involved many of these nerves (5th - 11th for you physiology buffs).

She was diagnosed with minimal symptoms (slight ringing and hearing loss in her right ear) with the aid of MRI - MAGIC.

She had the surgery last month and it was an amazing success. Due to the talents of the surgeons and developments in microsurgery over recent years, they were able to remove the entire tumor without severing any of the cranial nerves in the process. The prognosis for complete recovery, with no hearing loss, eye movement loss or facial paralysis is very good. - MAGIC.

To put this in perspective, the motility rate in 1990 for this procedure with a tumor of this size and location was 80%. 80 frigging PERCENT that she would have died on the table. And that was a mere 13 years ago. The morbidity rate (likelihood of permanent paralysis) was even higher - MAGIC.

You don’t need leprechauns, tarot cards, crystals, Bigfoot, or even Santa Claus, to provide magic and wonder in life. Watch a toddler take her first steps. See your 14-year-old son beam after bagging his first rabbit. Sit out on a beautiful late spring evening and watch the sunset with your wife who a mere 13 years ago would most likely be dead. That will do nicely thank you.

I love your essays and am always really happy when I stop by here and find a new one.... even when I do so while I'm at work and get in slight trouble for taking an unscheduled break to read it.

I received a BFA in college and I didn't have to take hardly any science or math classes, one class I thought would be really easy was "Cosmos" as it meant watching a TV show. Sweeet. (It was before people starting saying Sweeet, btw.)

I came in late, the blinds were drawn, I sat in the back, put in my time. Then something bad happened.

My brain got engaged. Against my will. I started to come to class on time, then I began to come in early.... as it happens the teacher was so lackadaisical about setting up the vcr and starting the tape that a lot of time the class never got to see the end of the episode since the class time would run out, so I came in and set it all up and started it right on time so I could see the whole thing before the class time ran out!

Then I read the chapters of the work book, which wasn't the actual book Cosmos, but cut out sections from it. Then I went and bought the actual book. Then I started reading (and buying) the books listed in the bibliography, some were way over my head but I read them anyway.

Then one day, many years after my college graduation, I actually got to meet Carl Sagan. I had to leave my job early and drive 4 hours to get to where he was speaking and then drive back that same night, but I still wanted to do it.

During his "talk" to a small audience (Pale, Blue Dot has just come out) he kept refering to "stickless frying pans" .... it bothered me and I corrected him, outloud, during his talk. Non-stick. I said. Loud enough for him to hear me. He looked at me and said thanks.

When he was finished speaking he let a few of us gather around and chat with him, which was very nice. I wanted to thank him for all the books he'd written and somehow I had no words come to mind that could attempt to communicate what I felt in gratitude so I just stood there listening to everyone else, but he picked me out of the small group and thanked me again for correcting him on the "stickless" thing. It embarrassed me. I felt badly that I had even opened my mouth to dare correct him! Then he added his wife always corrects him on that, too, non-stick, and he laughed. It was great, I enjoyed that. Then I told him that looking back on my college days seeing Cosmos was the only true education I got, and then I told him I was working my way through the bibliography, and I had graduated many, many years before and I still had my copy of the Cosmos workbook which had gotten me started. His reply was: "Oh, good." And then the next person asked him about whether or not pyramids preserved things, or something like that. I always felt badly that these folks seemed to pester him, but he was very gracious about sharing his time with everyone there, and the pryamid person was treated as graciously as everyone else.

He was trying to get people to understand the importance of critical thinking and most especially non-science students. He didn't like preaching to the choir, I think he enjoyed letting people like me know there was a choir somewhere and that the music was beautiful.

Anyway, that's my Carl Sagan story. Thanks Bill W., you really perked me up yesterday at work when I came across your essay. Please write more frequently!

A big fan,

PS: Another thing Sagan would say about things like the Loch Ness monster is that remarkable claims require remarkable evidence, which I am only paraphrasing, I can't remember the exact quote.

Superfabulousextraordinaryilygreat, Bill!


(A bit short, though ;-))

You're starting to get on my nerves, Mr. Whittle. Just when I think your essays can't get any better, you have to go and write something like "Magic". Damn you, sir! Is there no end to this? I surely hope not; between you and Mr. Den Beste, I am receiving a much better education than I ever hoped possible, and I'm pushing the half-century mark! PLEASE keep up the good work!!

I apologize in advance for the length of this comment. Skip on down to the next one if the length bothers you.

I know that Bill did not address religion and science directly in this essay, but they represent at least one link in the rational/provable vs. irrational/unprovable link. With that in mind, please allow me to share a little personal experience along these lines.

My father went to MIT, got his PhD in physics in 1947; he is extremely rational, logical. My mother is a musician (voice and piano); she is quite prone to "I believe it, so it's true" logic. Both are deeply religious, and I was raised in a religious, Christian home. The paradox between my parents' viewpoints never was real to me until I, too, went to MIT.

Halfway through my sophomore year I was struggling with my inherited religious convictions (...among other personal crises; Noam Chomsky was our fraterntiy faculty advisor--think there's a correlation?). I wrote my father a letter describing my beliefs and my struggles, and he responded with (IMHO) a near-perfect description of how science and belief/religion can and need to coexist.

His thesis can be summarized as follows: science provides us with a set of rules that we can universally apply. When we apply those rules to any given situation, we can rationally predict the outcome to a reasonable degree of certainty. However, there is a set of circumstances which we describe as spiritual. Some examples are: the existence of a conscience, the sense of self (ego & id), the ability to imagine, the depth and unselfishness of love, etc. We cannot prove or disprove these things through the same scientific rules; to do so is maddening and fruitless. However, there are rules that apply to the spiritual realm, and can be applied with a reasonable degree of certainty. These "rules" or spiritual "laws" include such things as integrity, prayer, hope, charity, etc. By applying these rules/laws, we can also come to some conclusions about matters in the spiritual realm with a reasonable degree of certainty.

The problems come from applying the rules/laws from one sphere to questions from the other sphere. "Hope" and "prayer" will not allow me to decide whether I need a different dopant to reduce the defects in my silicon chips nor will they tell me how to debug a complex software program. At the same time, the laws of physics and chemistry and the rules mathematics cannot describe to me how to increase my faith in mankind or whether or not to give of my free time to help the homeless.

I believe that this perspective is in agreement with Mr. Whittle's "Magic" essay. We cannot use "magic" or any of the other spiritual proofs as a basis for rational living any more than we can use science to determine whether or not we are in love.

Russ Fletcher

(Note: I find that a forum such as this comments section is a good place to share, challenge, and debate ideas of many kinds--not just those relevant to the article that was posted. I included my email address so that any who wish to continue such discussion can reach me directly, or simply reply to this post.--RGF)

Check out liberal columnist Garance Franke-Ruta's scathing critique of Moore's film at this URL:

"Moore's the Pity, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE AND Michael Moore's Urban Phobia"


Bill, Good Stuff!

Santana, Get Stuffed!

Santana wrote:
I say anyone who takes the time to make any kind of movie or write any kind of book to try to staunch the bloody flow of violence, even if it isn't the way I would do it, deserves some respect
... so, what you're saying is that the ends justify the means. ...Who else was it that said that?

John Plato,
that's the first time I've heard Michael Moore being referred to as a straw man. He'd probably take it as a compliment.

Bill, thanks for keeping comment section open, as painful as it can be at times. Your essays are excellent reading... the comments can be pretty darn interesting too.

Bill: I think that I found out what happened to your leprechaun:



"I felt uncomfortable with how sex education found its way among the subjects that supposedly don't need to be taught, or their inclusion in the curriculum has been damaging somehow. What on earth can be wrong with learning how the human reproductive system works? "

Nothing whatsoever. What is wrong, however, is the fact that in many school disctricts, students are also instructed on condom use (and provided with samples to take for the weekend), advice on how to please yourself, your friends (opposite and same sex), and exploring alternative lifestyles, with complete disregard of the wishes of the students' parents, the values of the family, and the beliefs of the students themselves. One health textbook in use today advises young readers taht they may be more comfortable exploring their sexuality with same-sex friends (sorry, don't have thereference handy). Remember, "if it feels good, do it."

Outstanding, but the best part was the humor in "the scientific name, breakfast."

VERY funny! Thanks.

Goodness me! I have been told to "get stuffed" and to jump from a building, all because I have a different perspective on this. My my my! How would you honestly feel about that if I turned out to be someone you know well? Someone you have feelings for? The intolerance and abusiveness is rampant on this forum. Silencing someone by use of threats and/or violent language really isn't necessary, now is it?
As for the poster who has gone through a life changing moment and feels he is more in pain, thus able to see the world the way it really is, you have my sympathy for your situation. To assume by a few moderate posts on someone's forum that I haven't felt pain is ridiculous. Maybe I have gone through the depths of hell that only another parent could possibly imagine and I choose to believe in "magic" because I can. It is as simple as that.
You have no idea who I am, yet a few choosen words typed into a little box in someone's forum that most of you have never met, made you feel something, made you want to vilify me, made you want to force your opinions and perspectives into the forefront.
Sounds like a spell to me.

Couldn't resist one more post- if you only believe in things that exist, and everyone else felt the same way, there would be no new inventions. If there weren't explorers, who choose to ignore the laws of physics and what is proved to be true, there would be no MRI or vaccines or computers... these things were DREAMS of someone. Science and "magic" go hand and hand, there is room for both in our world.

I will leave you with this Bill, even though it is ages old: prove to me love, prove to me that someone I love that I can no longer see, does not exist.

Remember leprechauns are not little humans but little magic white creatures. They are in fact terrified of little magic black creatures and therefore have armed themselves to the teeth. BE CAREFUL.


Have you checked out-

"Grouchy Old Cripple"

He used a "dialectizer" on you and some other blog sites. It's damn funny! Check it out!

So Bill, you're against magical thinking. And you've discovered that a large number of people seem to think that way.

I'm with you.

Then you go and call for, presumably, non-magical thinkers to run the "ship of state". But we have a process for determine who runs the ship. It's called "democracy", and it is built on the assumption that everyone's opinion is equally weighted. Your vote is equal to mine. Your vote is also equal to Jimmie Lee Thomsons*, a near-moron (68 IQ) from Wheeling, WV, who dropped out of high school in 9th grade and now runs a storefront church in Pittsburgh. And your vote is equivalent in weight to a woman I know in New York, who believes in healing people without touching them, mystical energy, and national health care.

You can't make stupid people smart, not by any means. Fully half the population have IQs equal to or below 100! Magical thinking is not, contra your assertion, something new invented in the 60s. Rather it is the default state of humanity; only a small minority have ever escaped it, and never a majority at any time in history.

It would be, in theory, possible to use the public schools as indoctrination centers for skepticism and rational thinking. But we'd need a majority to vote that way to get it to happen. By why would they, given that they are magical thinkers? Obviously it is not happening, and will not happen. Powerful forces oppose any change, and the voters will always vote For The Children.

So it would seem that any serious attempt to man the "ship of state" with skeptics means undemocratic means.

Is this your intent? What means do you propose?

* completely fictitious

LOL... now come on, why assume I am a man?

Of course. Why didn't I see it sooner.

Okay, have it your way, little boy. Go get your mommy and tell her it's time to turn off nice Mr. Computer now. Show her this message.


I must say I'm shocked (shocked, I tells ya!) that you are indulging in that reprehensable pastime, attacking a straw-man. Straw-men have feelings too!
Seriously, I wasn't making a threat. I was proposing a method by which your theory on the malleability of reality can be verified. If in fact reality is what you choose it to be (I'm open to correction if this is not, in fact, what you are saying) then jumping off a building would not present you with any danger. In fact, you would be able to prove me wrong by simply 'willing' that you land unharmed!
As for scientists and inventors, they have a disturbing tendancy to actually formulate principles that closely reflect the actual workings of the universe, and develop inventions that operate according to same, not make them up out of whole cloth. A perpetual motion machine will never happen, much as we all may want it to. The structure of reality precludes such a thing from happening. Finally, much as I hate to say it (I do so hate having to give good people bad news), your feelings (or mine) as feelings per se, don't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. It's the feelings that lead to productive actions in the real world of people and things that matter in the end.
Come back to the real world, Santana. It's a more diverse, surprising, and bizarre place than anything you or I can think up out of our own poor imaginations.

Sorry about the long post, everyone.

If you haven't read Stephen Jay Gould's "Rocks of Ages", do. It's a book length discussion on the different proper spheres of science and religion, as discsussed in many of the more intelligent (IMO) comments here -- actually, accurately summarized above by Russ Fletcher's dad. (Neat trick, since presumably that was years befre the book was written, but then Gould never claimed to have a monopoly on it.)

On another topic, while there are nutcases on both extremes, often the major difference between moderate liberals and moderate conservatives is whether they mind more when the government legislates their bedrooms or their wallets. (And if you hate both you can identify as a libertarian.) I don't see how assuming everyone on one side or the other is an idiot can be anything but a mindless stereotype. Similarly, someone logically and politely pointing out minor flaws (e.g. grammatical mistakes or even errors in reasoning) in your hero is not necessaily a troll; they merely offer him a chance to improve even farther. Bill Whittle has some good points and writes very well. Bill Whittle makes mistakes. The two are not incompatible. (Obviously this does not apply to real trolls who are not polite or logical.)

Your essay was a treat, but after reading the comments, I am worried about my own literacy. Somehow, I missed the part where you said that enjoying fantasy was bad and stated your intention to crush belief in Santa and bring about an end to all religion. I was only able to grasp that you'd rather public policy be based on the reality that we all share. Additionally, I missed the part where you stated that Carl S. is a god and his every word should be revered. Only caught a couple of graphs about his role in your introduction to logical, critical thinking. And, being a poor reader, I failed to notice when you said everything was great and super-duper until the sixties - just read blithely on believing you'd only made such claims for the American public school system.

Please accept my apologies for my failure to comprehend the fullness of your text.

Of course, I'm such a silly person that I never questioned anything about poetic license. Didn't know it was a license to lie in the service of the truth, I thought it was license to be less then Cartesian in the service of a poem. And I've obviously misread history, because, until a helpful post from Frank set me straight, I thought that feminism, the civil rights movement, and the goal of space travel all predated the sixties by decades or more. Silly silly, Mary Wollstonecraft - what was she doing writing about "The Vindication of the Rights of Women" so many hundreds of years ago, before feminism was even invented! Unlike Rahel, I was too ignorant to realize that basic biology would fail to cover all the useful aspects of sex-ed, especially the part about debunking what I have just learned is a well-known myth teaching that "menstruation=rocks scratching the inside of the uterus." How were the rocks supposed to get in there? This sex education thing really is a more complicated subject than I, with my woeful lack of erudition, had realized.

(Incidentally, one thing I do know is that, either because of the way we're built or because of what we've learned, the "helpful" Stunk and White hint from Tom the Sub. is completely at odds with what we know about reading comprehension from testing up to and including PET scans. In any case, why trust a guy who considers the following a cromulent sentence: "Sorry, but as a writer who has to connect things that make me say "huh" detract." FWIW, using "as" instead of "like" is only necessary when you must distinguish something that actually is from something that is similar... or you need to create a better rhythm or tone. (e.g., Imagine if the soap opera intro went "Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives" instead of the swanky "As sand through....") Not to say that you should ever write without rewriting, I'm just sick to death of pedants who cling to a rule book and never step back for a good long look at the wonderful world of communication and how it actually works.)

Santana -
"Sounds like a spell to me." See, that's the problem. It's not a spell. It's a reasoned response to your words. Period. Full stop. End of Story. No one made comments about your "different perspective." Comments focused on your refusal or inability to join the dialogue. The difference isn't po-tay-to puh-tah-to, it's more like 2=+2=4 versus 2+2=Rice Crispy squares with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

Excellent!.... Magic instead of logic. Damn it, why didn't I think of that.....

I enjoyed your explanation of the modern spinmeisters. Too bad that far too many college professors subscribe to this nonsense and their young prey have not developed the proper reasoning skills yet to counter this propaganda.

This can be summed up with my favorite passage of yours about viewing life through "rose-colored glasses":

"Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring our sense of wonder. ..... When a person wants to believe something, no amount of skeptical questioning, logical contradictions or contrary evidence will move them. Couple that with the example of the dragon – the constant moving of the goalposts of proof and verification, and you have the basis for modern magical thinking."

I didn't go through all 200+ comments, so someone else may have mentioned James Randi.

For years, the former stage magician has been involved in debunking paranormal claims, and has offered a substantial cash prize for anyone who can duplicate various "miracles" under controlled conditions.

He's never had to pay. Many won't even agree to the test, because Randi knows the tricks they're using, and they know he knows.

Ironically, Randi will never be as popular or well-liked as Uri Geller or (more recently) John Edward, precisely for the reasons laid out in your essay. People WANT TO BELIEVE if it makes them feel good.

And in a sense, even when Randi wins, he loses. Success for him is turning the fantastic into the ordinary. Some would rather cover their ears and sing "La La La I can't hear you!" Most of the rest already know that those Randi challenges are true con artists.

A shame he can't get more traction, but such is life.

Looking forward to your next piece!

LOL... now come on, why assume I am a man?

Of course. Why didn't I see it sooner.

Okay, have it your way, little boy. Go get your mommy and tell her it's time to turn off nice Mr. Computer now. Show her this message.

Ha! You have proven everything I am saying. You can't prove I have a mother, you haven't ever seen she exists, but you BELIEVE she does or you wouldn't have told me to go get her- now, I do believe she exists, but to go get her? Now, that would be magic...


As for the poster who has gone through a life changing moment and feels he is more in pain, thus able to see the world the way it really is, you have my sympathy for your situation. To assume by a few moderate posts on someone's forum that I haven't felt pain is ridiculous. .

Did I say one word in my post about emotional pain, mine, yours or anyone else's? I was talking about the magic and wonder in things that are objectively REAL. Sir/Madam/Treefrog, you have mistaken my argument as some kind of plea for sympathy. Or, better yet, argument by plea for sympathy.

Maybe I have gone through the depths of hell that only another parent could possibly imagine...

What the hell are you talking about? First, because of your hiding behind the veil of anonymity and "what if" games, we have no idea who or what you are. I am responding simply to what you have written in your posts. Here's an idea for you... construct an argument and defend it.

I choose to believe in "magic" because I can.

Sure, you can choose to believe in "magic", but... when my wife has a brain tumor, I choose all of the things that the Age of Reason and specifically the scientific method have brought us (neurosurgeons, anesthesia, sterile technique, double blind test studies of antibiotics, etc.) rather than a shaman waving a bloody chicken foot over her head.

Santana -
"Sounds like a spell to me." See, that's the problem. It's not a spell. It's a reasoned response to your words. Period. Full stop. End of Story. No one made comments about your "different perspective." Comments focused on your refusal or inability to join the dialogue. The difference isn't po-tay-to puh-tah-to, it's more like 2=+2=4 versus 2+2=Rice Crispy squares with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

LOL! Reasoned response?? Stuffing myself? Hippos jumping? Me jumping off a building? Calling me a little boy? Ah... the Postmodern drone... the multicultural Muzak of the overeducated (at least in the social "sciences"), the over-privileged and the intellectually lazy. You obviously have not had a large, real world event recently (or perhaps ever) Santana that has forced you back to objective reality...

Keep trying! You may be able to convert me yet!

I wish I had the time to write an elaborate thank you note...I hope that in the future that your essay's do not appear during finals week again, the temptation was too great to resist. Sticky wage models and real business cycle theory BE DAMNED! Mr. whittle posted, and I am an addict!

Thank you!

Dearest Santana

Be reassured, Oh Androgynous One, that I at least am not trying to convert you. I'm just fascinated by people with your worldview. Truly, thou art a Master (Mistress?) of Rhetoric, the envy of all the other hermaphrodites. Kudos to you, dear sir! (Madam? Miz? Other?)
I'm just expressing my feelings, after all. And isn't that the most important thing in life?
Santana: your conversation has become tiresome. Now is time on Sprockets vhen ve dance!;-)

Hi Bill!
Once again, an excellent post that echoed my own thoughts. It was quite "get out of my head"-ish. I'm glad to see that you turned the comments back on for this essay--even though a few people had to come in here and misbehave. One person, in particular, seemed to be lurking in the comments section just to feed off the responses to his/her poorly-supported flames.

Never mind. That isn't the point.

What I really came to say is that your point about believing in the IDEA of Santa Claus is a lovely one. As the mother of a five month old, I can attest that watching her develop is the only sort of Magic I need. I'll be happy letting her keep the fantasies of leprechauns, unicorns, and dragons in the nursery.

For the rest of us, though, evil wizards are corrupt politicians, dark knights are spin-doctoring journalists, and Michael Moore needs to get spin-kicked into the Cracks of Doom. When we grow up, we realize that there's real work to do in a world full of its own physical, supportable wonder and terror.

Keep up the good work, Bill! (BTW--May I link to you?)

Kind regards,

"I saw Bowling for Columbine in a small art house in Santa Monica, attended by what I think was a small knot of NPR movie club pass holders. This is like watching Triumph of the Will in Nuremburg stadium seated between Goebbels and Himmler. You know before the lights go down that they’re gonna love it."

I hate Michael Moore. I downloaded it from usenet and gave it to friends that wanted to see it with a warning that it was 100% bullshit.

Royce Dunbar: great post, and congratulations on your wife's recovery. Some similar "magic" in my own family; my mother was diagnosed with incipient glaucoma. Fifty years ago, this would have meant inevitable, eventual blindness. Fifteen years ago, it would have meant a regimen of eyedrops prescribed for the rest of her life. Instead, today it means; a one-off, in-office laser surgery procedure, which permanently fixes the problem. Wow--magic! Brought to you by the wonders of empirical, evidence-based reasoning and the scientific method.

Santana: do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of "The Demon-Haunted World". Read it carefully.

Great job, Bill!

(I agree with many of the other comments -- those I read, at least -- that the essay ended too soon. Your introduction promised a rundown of pernicious consequences, and "we will surely lose our way" doesn't quite deliver.)

First of all, I'd like to respond to Frank's remarkable post:

"Feminism, Civil rights for African Americans, Purple Haze, walking on the moon... thank God for the American dreamers of the 1960's..."

Feminism as a serious political movement predates the 1960's by at least four decades. Did I attack feminism in my writing? Have I written a word, here or elsewhere, that said I was opposed to Civil Rights for African Americans? It is my opinion that the first real step for racial equality in this country came in 1860 when the Republican party nominated Abraham Lincoln, an act so repellent to institutionalized racism that it caused seven southern states to secede outright.

Hate to break this to you Frank, but the moon landing was not accomplished by dreamers enjoying the extremely high levels of cannibis needed to listen to an entire Purple Haze album all the way through. It was accomplished by dreamers with slide rules who put more hours into disciplined study than you or I can possibly imagine.

Which brings me to our resident hermaphordite...

Now that Santana has had eight or nine posts while I was watching the Matrix, perhaps I can reply again without him getting all hyperventilated about how badly I beat up on him with facts and reason and all that unfair stuff he lamented last evening.

This is a common defense that mystics use when they run out of real arguments, namely, that rationalists are robot-like automotons incapable of a smile or seeing anything beyond that which is visible.

The precise term for this kind of statement is "goddam lie," because Santana knows as well as I do that this cannot possibly be true. People BECOME scientists precisely because their sense of curiosity and wonder makes them dream of unseen possibilities buried below the surface.

The DIFFERENCE, of course, is that unlike Santana, they have enough passion, drive, intelligence, discipline and courage to sit down and do the hard work necessary to FIND OUT. Hence the everyday miracles we see before us today, not the least of which is this little comment box.

Santana, because I am deeply concerned for your health: do you ever sleep? When you do, do you put the goalposts down, or are they mounted permanently to a brace or harness of some kind so that you can continue to move them in your shallow and frankly quite banal dreamworld?

Acquiring enough of an education to be able to GLIMPSE the truth behind quantum theory, Plank time, Relativistic Gravity and molecular biology is something that requires so much more work than you are willing to do, that your accusations are really quite insulting. Please keep them coming though; in Carl Sagan's words (regarding Velikovsky) dealing with you sharpens the mind for useful work.

In summary, then: people ready to take the time and effort to learn something factually based -- and there are large numbers of laymen like myself who are willing to invest exactly that time and effort -- are rewarded by glimpses into unseen worlds of wonder and amazement that leave your leprechauns in the utterly unimaginative worlds they belong to: look! It's like a man! Only smaller than most men you normally see!

Give me an hour in an observatory with ANYONE willing to pay attention and I will show them wonders the likes of which shame people like Santana. My argument is not that the things he believes in are silly -- many silly things, like the Ministry of Silly Walks, are essential to a sane society. My beef with these beliefs is that they are LAZY. They are a particleboard panel obscuring a redwood forest of truth.

To Tom the Submariner:

I always get tickled when grammar attacks contain errors. Can you find yours? :)

"I suspect you rushed this article to press too early. "If I'd had more time I'd have made it much shorter." Your're last post made me expect that it would be several more weeks before we saw your, otherwise excellent, post."

Yep, Gore won the election by winning the popular vote. And The Giants beat the Angels 44-41 in the World Series....


While I understand your obvious confusion on who I am due to my vagueness and lack of identification, you make some extreme leaps of judgement. Further, I understand your attempt to make me justify myself, explain who I am and why I feel the need to post on here in a way that you are uncomfortable and tired of, and why in the hell I have what seems like unlimited free time on the computer. But, as I can see I overstayed my welcome by say, oh about 8 or 9 posts, I take my leave. Just so you know, you couldn't be further off the mark in your attempt to stereotype me. Take every comment, ie... guess at who I am,turn it completely around, and there I am.
Now I have to go get stuffed, jump off various high places, turn into a man, and read up on magical potions and physics, oh wait, I already know the physics part...

...and Santana slithers back to the Democratic Underground.com....


While I am only 14 years old, I was highly impressed by the depth of the article and you succeeded in reaffirming how I felt about the subject of the piece. I look forward to future essays.

space modulators should be powered with Iludium, not Uranium. since you do not do your homework, i shan't read another word!


The question I asked earlier really was an attempt to understand the practical side of your views, and in a respectful way. I'm not eager to believe you're here just to make fun. You seem serious about this and I sort of expected a serious answer.

I'll try to state the question another way. If you stood accused of a crime you knew you didn't commit, and had to stand trial, would it be OK with you if the prosecutor laid his/her charges against you--not based on testable hard evidence, but simply on what he/she felt you "did," whatever that might be? Further, would it be OK with you if the testimony against you included hearsay and value judgements from witnesses, and was admitted by the court?

This, to me, is a simple enough idea. I don't have the philisophical acumen of the commenters here, but I would really like to know this. If you won't answer, well, I really won't know what to think.

Hey! You can call me almost anything you want, but I draw the line at a Democrat!

Okay Stephen- before I go I will answer you, but you won't like it. Most cases are based on "circumstantial" evidence- most witnesses lie or mislead and in any circumstance, there will be varying points of view. There are many "innocent" people in jail and then we would have to go into the definition of innocent. I'm sorry here, but I have been exposed to the legal system in quite detail- no, not as a criminal, and regardless of how I feel or what I would want, it is all perspectives- even evidence.
Now you know how far away my thinking is from the bulk of the posters on here, and how I cannot fathom the mindset of black and white with no room for "magic". I need magic, I enjoy magic and I believe in magic. But it is my magic, not yours and not some shaman or flushing all my RX down the toilet. It is a belief that there is something more, not necessarily faith, but a conviction that science is necessary, hell I fought for teaching evolution in the classroom, and you can hit me with all the "evidence" and scientific data and buzzwords (and yes, I do know what they mean- hey, I even got the reference regarding the dwarves and I'm only part nerdette!)but you will never shake my fierce determination that our minds are only beginning to evolve and if we limit ourselves to what we can see and touch, we will become extinct.
Now, before you all start copying and pasting and using me to show off your vast intellect, I will not be posting again.
No hard feelings- I am off to never never land...

Santana: Now, before you all start copying and pasting and using me to show off your vast intellect, I will not be posting again.

At last, proof that God exists and she is merciful!

Thank you again Bill. Another one for the three-ring binder on the coffe table.

Another good essay, with an important flaw. In this case, the introduction of Michael Moore. Everything you said about him was true, but it digressed from your main point. Misdirection is as old as politics, and an essay on that subject would be worthy. It is NOT, however, the same phenomenon as magical thinking, which is every bit as dangerous as you painted it.

The problem with misdirection is that it promotes an idea that is wrong. The problem with magical thinking is that it cannot even conceive of the possibility that it is wrong, and refuses to ever test the proposition. One accepts the tradition of Western thought, and seeks to confound it with tricks. The other predates that tradition, and repudiates it utterly at the deepest levels. It is no coincidence that today's enemies of civilization use it as a weapon (in ways completely different from Michael Moore's misdirection), and no coincidence that Hitler's regime was infamous for its own adoption of magic and the occult in its practice as well as its symbology.

Misdirection. Magic. It's a non-trivial distinction - and the Moore bit comes right at the climax of your essay, when you need to really drive the point home instead of engaging a different issue entirely.

I wonder how many readers noticed. Misdirection? No, just following the writer where he goes, not looking for the context shift. You have 2 excellent essays in here, Bill. Excellent, and tangentially related (magical thinking as a habit makes misdirection slightly easier), but ultimately different.

My 2 cents.


I read your last comment (it was loverly) aloud to Wendy.

She says, "No one says 'my beef' anymore."

She's such a brat.
And she says "Hi, Bill!"

A Mr. Richard Feyder of Fort Lee, New Jersey writes:

A Mr. Richard Feyder of Fort Lee, NJ writes:

Dear Santan Santanadana,

What's all this talk I hear about "Don't feed the Trolls?"

Dear Mr. Feyder,

Are these real Trolls? Big, hairy, sittin'-under-a-bridge Trolls? Fraggle Rock Trolls with shag carpet fur and Jim Henson's voice Trolls?

Are these trolls for catching fish? Dragging a line slowly behind the boat? "Don't feed the Trolls." Does this mean I shouldn't use bait on my fish hook? I sat on my fish hook once and got infected and then the entire rear of my behind swelled up and turned dark purple. I thought I was gonna die! They had to rush me to the emergency room and the Doctor said he could save my trot line but only if he amputated. I couldn't decide whether to fish or cut bait. It's like what my aunt Roseanne Rosannadanna always used to say, "It's always something. If it's not one thing its another. One day you're a festering ass trying to reel in the unwary, and the next day you go fishing and sit on a hook. Good night, my little Santan Santannadanna."

Bill, I really don't need to congratulate you. I'm a single stalk in the amber waves of grain.

Santana, you really worry me. (In a THC induced-high tone) Dude, are you, like, uh, one of those Dungeons and Dragons guys? (end tone) It really is quite scary. One child I’ve had the pleasure of taking care of was stabbed with a plastic knife. Ah‚ anecdotalevidence. While you enjoy your stay in never–neverland‚ could please tell the three kids that I madetheir supper‚ and that I already miss them?

Rather than getting distracted by the person abusing the musician Carlos' last name.... I saw this quote I wanted to respond to: "I’ll go immediately to the question that gives me the most trouble: If humans are simply the accidental accumulation of random successful biological mechanisms in an otherwise
sterile and meaningless universe, and there is no higher moral / spiritual plane or authority, then there is no reason to refrain from any impulse, no matter how selfish, brutal or savage, except for immediately obvious consequences, which in many cases can be avoided."

I answer that with another quote. "To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and whatever you hit, call it the target." The idea that human life on Earth is somehow special and magical is only because we are here, and drawing the bullseye around ourselves. I also disagree with the premise that the rest of the universe is sterile.

However, in spite of my belief in the PROBABILITY of life elsewhere in the universe, I also understand that with the distances involved, we will never see an example of it, or be anally probed by it - which is a source of great relief for me. :-)

I'm glad the comments are back. I think they were down just long enough for the serial trollers to remove their bookmarks.

I appreciate the difference between Magical thinkers and Manipulators. Sometimes I wonder if the more powerful among the liberal set really believe their own magic, or are really just cynical Manipulators. Frankly, I'd love to find a nice online guide for how to reduce the magical Chomskite thinkers to tears showing them how Noam has used his own NLP techniques on them to manipulate them.

By the way, is there some kind a mailing list for notification of when new essays go up?

Sorry to dissent (not really) but I don't think
a lot of this essay. It's full of a huge number
of blatant assertions and weak comparisons.
Apparently it is taken as an attack on Michael
Moore, and that's fine, but that blowhard could
be dispatched a lot more simply and directly.
But the rest of the essay, well... very weak.

According to empirical evidence, Santana is a woman, with no mother, who believes that Santa Clause buys her kids presents.

Wonderful essay, Bill. Its amazing how you communicate so many of the ideas important to me. My intellectual development began with Carl Sagan, and then to a study of free market economics and classical liberalism...this seems to be your intellectual makeup as well

I don't agree that it is a weak essay. If this were the case it wouldn't have prompted 250+ responses. Its a well-written, thought-provoking piece, packed with interesting, original imagery. Calling yourself "critic" just amplifies my perception of you as a lazy vulture, feasting upon the carrion of another person's courage and creativity. In other words - a sore loser.

My problem with its thesis has more to do with WHO it is that decides what constitutes a magical or silly argument. Personnally, I don't think you can justifiably compare the existence of Leprechauns or the Loch Ness Monster with the desire to attempt diplomatic resolutions to global dissagreements thereby avoiding war, killing and destruction. For some, guns exist to be shot at other living creatures, to others this represents a "magical" or unrealistic/mendacious view.

If you had told the majority of people in the 1920's that in 2003 inventions such as the microchip would be possible you would have been pigeon-holed as a fantasist. Someone at NASA with the imagination (ie. looking beyond reality), training and genius (genius vs. madness anyone?) to see things otherwise went and created it. It worked and now we're all posting on sites like this instead of working and getting the economy started.

Ultimately, it all comes down to one's subjective point of view and cultural identity. The people with the power to actually make the decisions are those we elect. The majority of us elect them upon the basis of election campaigns run by professional teams whose role is to create a sense of magic around their client. Soundbites, 30 second advertisements, citing irrelevant peccadillos from an opponent's youth, statistics - all evidence of the triumph of image, artifice or magic over substance.

At the same time, I want to thank Bill for making these discussions possible by opening the comments section.


It does explain why Mr. Bush made such a big fuss about the WMDs before the war!
It is so similar to the "fast motion" reflex! If we don't take care of those WMDs we'll soon be breakfast. Everyone concentrate on removing WMDs look at WMDs concentrate on WMDs and then when the trick is over ... Where were you looking sir?

And when it turns out the WMDs were just a distraction so that can pull off this whole trick you have all those people (as you eloquently explain it) who want to beleive in the magic. There is no logic than can work with them!

But if he had WMDs how come inspectores found nothing! (Conspiracy, the UN works against the US)
But if he had WMDs he would have used them or attempted to use them (We maybe he didn't think of that)
But if he had WMDs you would have found some of them by now they are supposed to be WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION! Not guns you can hide in your pocket! (Well ... You know ... We are sure we will find some ... Some day ...)

Oh well I guess it does not matter, hopefully things will be for the best eventually.

It just bothers me that, to go in this war the best thing Mr. Bush could come up with in order to align americans behind him was a dommsday wmds lie involving saddam.

A big magical show is always better than the simple truth I guess.

Anyway, great article, keep up the good work ...

I'd rather our president listen to intelligence reports and take them seriously. If we come to find out the intelligence was wrong, then we can deal with that at that time.

What would you think of the president if intelligence came to him with reports of WMD and he DIDN'T act on it--but later it was found to be true?

As a proud Irishman I find your vile slur against leprechauns profoundly insulting to my cultural heritage.

If you're looking for concrete evidence of the existence of magicians, consider Saddam Hussein: whilst hidden away in a subterranean bunker and fearing imminent assasination from all sides, he made a vast arsenal of nuclear, biological and chemical missiles vanish into thin air.

Not satisfied with this astonishing achievement he went one better and simply disappeared, along with half his family.

David Copperfield must be green with envy.

Thanks for posting your e-mail, Pat. Your courage is a beacon to us all (/heavy sarcasm off)

Alan Forrester Wrote:

Quarks play a role in the only explanations currently available for the behaviour of atomic nuclei, the dragon by contrast, much like God, does not play any role in any explanation of how the world works.

Indeed. But that wasn't the question. I was referring to the empirical verification of quarks. Right now they're mostly mathematical necessities and indirect experimental evidence.

Keep in mind that it wasn't so long ago that Radio waves were vibrations in the ether.

My rule of thumb is that if it's important to survival or to the way things work, be skeptical and verify. On the other hand, if it's sole impact is making me feel good at the end of the day, then why question it out of existence?

To me, some of the most depressing knowledge in the world is that love and hope are both chemical interactions, with love in particular being out of control of the victim.

Joe Katzman: I don't think the Moore thing was a tangent at all; an integral part of his point was that Moore's misdirection succeeds because no one questions the conclusions presented, because they want to believe that guns make people kill. An example of magical thinking. Another example might lead from the exploration of the question of whether Moore really believes all that he pushes, with the assumption that the ends justify the means, or is merely a cynical bastard playing to an audience.

As for the assertion that empiricism is believing strictly in that which is tangible, that's not true. Many things indicate their existence by their effects; evolution wasn't observed in the lab until recently, but it's left so much evidence in the structure of life that its existence is about as certain as you can get in science. Inference, logic, and Occam's razor are the tools of any skeptic. Bill is also correct in that being a scientist requires a big dose of curiosity and open-mindedness; but there is a BIG difference between believing in the supernatural and believing there is something about the natural we don't know about yet. The difference between a scientist and a magical thinker is that a scientist tests, and the other simply accepts, often getting angry at the mere notion of testing Faith is the acceptance of an idea in the absence of available evidence; I don't have a problem with it until it becomes the stubborn clinging to an idea in the face of all available evidence.

That said, I also believe firmly that some things fall outside science's domain. Science is strictly confined to that which abides by natural laws; things like God and love fall outside its purview. We really aren't as depressing as you might think.

(As for the "comforting" argument, I'm going to borrow Richard Dawkins's riposte and point out that morphine is comforting too. That doesn't mean it's necessarily good for us in all instances.)

Outstanding essay! Drives a stake into the bleeding heart of liberalism with a fury that would make Professor Van Helsing proud!

Pat -

the use of deception is, of course, the essence of propaganda. No news there.

This gets back to my point (still not answered by Bill): how can we get good policy in a democratic system, if the vast majority of people are magical thinkers?

The answer (IMO), is clear: we don't, and can't. Hence all the socialism we have voted ourselves thus far, and hence the continuing decline of the republic. Quoting Tyler: "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can exist only until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."

Tyler was writing about ancient democracies, not modern constitutional republics (which postdated him). But the logic seems to hold; it just took longer for democracy to break down the safeguards that the founders built into our system. It took some 150 years for complete break down of the original safeguards; for the Supreme Court to agree that a man growing corn on his own land, to feed to his own pigs, was engaging in "interstate commerce" and could be forced to stop by the Federal government. But it happened all the same.

Here's the difficulty I have with Bill's essay: for most of us the actual proof of the "magic" is beyond our abilities or time constraints. When I was a college student I remember one of my freshman Physics teachers used "magic" in his discussions of electromagnetism. He would start on the left side of the blackboard with some simple equations, then skip over the middle board and write the conclusions on the right side of the board. He then would say something like "It is intuitively obvious how you get from there to here." (akin to "The further calculations are left as an exercise to the student"). We used to call that the "magic step" where you take somewhat incomprehensible mathematics and the produce clean, easily understood equations out the other side.

What I did as a student was to trust the professor that you really could get from one end of the blackboard to the other--logically, rationally, and proveably. Some times I could do the math, and sometimes I couldn't--but I trusted that the professor could always do the math, and that was enough for me. Does that make me lazy? Perhaps on some level it does; but that does not make me any different from nearly all of my classmates, engineers and scientists all. The kind of intellectual rigor it would have taken to "work out the math" on every board in just that one class would have taken more than the little spare time I had.

To some degree that is the "magic" that people are believing in the world today--they are choosing which "professors" to trust, and then trusting them without rigorous analysis. The open-minded ones will read analyses done by others, and allow those analyses to change their opinions. But many (most?) simply find a source that they like, that appeals to them in presentation style or demeanor or looks or some other shallow criterion and then believe whatever that well-liked source tells them.

Yes, it's lazy. But not more lazy than 95% of the population. It is how we make sense out of the world without having to prove everything for ourselves.

Britain and the US have been described as "two cultures divided by a common language." I see a bit of that principle here.

To a prestidigitator, "magic" has one meaning. To a psychologist, quite another. To a Wiccan, magick (with a "k" to distinguish it from the other types) is "the art of changing consciousness in accordance with will.''

The human brain has ten times as many inhibitor cells as receptor cells. Decrease that ratio and you have pathologies of impulse, such as attention deficit and hyperactivity; cognitively active people who perceive so much that they can't formulate a coherent response. At worst (there's a subjective statement), you have a sociopath, acting indiscriminately on impulse.

Your wonderful, thought-provoking essay, Mr. Whittle, is magickal. That is, you chose what points to make and, consequently, what information to include and what to exclude. As an example, you might just as well have told us that the fictional Mr. Jernigan was the third eldest of five children, told us what he had for breakfast, or given us his cholesterol ratios. Giving "the whole truth" would have been pointless and, more importantly, boring. You deliberately left out a piece of information you knew to be relevant (and included spurious information) in order to make your point.

Michael Moore did the same thing in "Bowling for Columbine". More to the point of subjective reality, Mr. Moore is an entertainer and sensationalist; he knows how to get his work seen. Another dangerous truth: an articulate fool will be better known than a genius with no charisma. (If reality falls in the woods, and there's noone to hear it....)

Moore uses "magic/k" quite effectively, as do you. Since I'm capable of critical thought, I enjoyed both pieces as being excellent articulations of their disparate perspectives. I find greater value in information with which I can strongly and specifically disagree than in messages so vague I can't pin down one solid fact.

Each of you chose a subject. Criticising "Bowling for Columbine" for not being about obesity-related illness or tobacco or the misdeeds of the Child Protection Service makes as much sense as not believing in science because you're currently reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin". Rev up those inhibitor cells and focus on one thing at a time.

So what is the difference between "focusing" and "lying"? What's the difference between "the Big Lie" and empowerment, by means of creating a conceptual matrix through which to filter all that data? That, I think, is where the subjective nature of reality comes in -- and where the much-maligned for her unscientific articulations Santana has a point; I can measure the existence of your fire-breathing dragon only by measuring your quantifiable reactions to it -- the same way I can measure the existence of a quark or a black hole. If you react to it, then it is "real".

Several people have urged you to expand this essay. (I agree.) I would like to see it include the dimension of analytical thinking -- another area in which the majority of humans are vastly deficient. (Let's save time with the hate mail; I'm an elitist.) A true scientist knows you can never prove anything. After looking at the evidence of what might or might not be real, one might ask "what does it do for me to behave _as if_ this were true?"

The Loch Ness monster influences me primarily as a context for exercising critical thinking. As such, it does me good to entertain the possibility of its existence.

Santa Claus? Hmm. If I conceptualize him as the spirit of selfless giving rather than relying on him to supply my kids with underwear, it puts a smile on my face and helps me survive the winter holiday stress.

Believe that I can't do anything about a medical condition just because all the evidence supports that? Like the fellow said, "There wouldn't be hardly any progress a'tall!" No, in such a case, I elect hope (good for the immune system) in favor of scientifically justifiable despair.

War in Iraq? If it were a matter of critical thinking, no I don't believe Saddam would be ousted by diplomatic procedure. But by analytical thinking, should the US attempt to intercede, imposing a democratic government on a population where the majority do not believe in democracy? How oxymoronic is that?

Two quick tangents:

I empathize with the grammatically obsessive-compulsive. I think the editorial nit-picking was meant to communicate admiration for your work (it's good enough to be polished and published, and important enough to warrant the effort to make it perfect). Also, there's that "articulate fool vs. boring genius" issue; for many less-seasoned elitists, poor grammar and typos discredit your arguments. 'Better not risk distractions.

And finally and most ridiculously, to David March's comment, Sean Connery also sings in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People", although that may be an alternate name for "Greyfriar's Bobby" as it also features leprechauns.

I was with you until you held up Carl Sagan as the paradigm of critical thinking.

Did you ever hear Sagan's pan-spermia theory. It wasn't his theory really (it came from one of the discoverers of the DNA molecule), but he supported it one of his books. I'd call it his fire-breathing dragon in the garage --- it basically says that life on earth was started when DNA from a living organism was carried by a meteorite down to earth where it initiated the process of evolution.

You just can't escape magic thinking! It's everywhere!

Russ, I understand your point, but I think there is a huge difference between an individual who chooses to believe in magic and ignorance.

For example, I have a TV. I have NO idea how it works, but I am 100% certain that there aren't zapped and miniaturized people inside that box. I *know* there are people that understand how it works, designed it, and pipe the pictures to my home (somehow).

You don't have to understand and be an expert in everything to accept that there ARE scientific explanations for everything.

The UFO situation is another example and one which Bill used. Some people have taken a position that there ARE UFOs (and all the assorted conspiracy theories which "cover it up"). It would not matter how much evidence you'd put in front of their faces, they CHOOSE to believe their magical explanation instead. We could put them in front of a panel of the top 100 scientists in the field and they would STILL refuse to believe a logical, scientific explanation--they have decided, and made their choice, without facts, evidence, or any scientific understanding.

Choice is the big difference here. I know that Bill doesn't give too hoots in Hell if someone really wants to believe that there are UFOs buzzing around their houses. I don't care either. But I am not going to allow that someone who believes that to sit on a panel of experts to determine what U.S. space exploration policy should be.

The problem extended to someone like Michael Moore, is that he has intentionally spun a tale to convince people, who are never challenged for their *magical beliefs*. Moore is the modern day equivalent of PT Barnum. The problem, however, is that PT Barnum only ran freak shows and circus acts, he didn't intentionally manipulate the American people to vote on issues in a particular way, or attempted to influence public policy.

Um, not much to say except "Awesome essay. As usual."

Can't wait for the book, too ;)

You can defend anything if you simply redefine the term beyond recognizability.

Mrs. du Toit:

I agree with what you said; let me add to it. Here's the leap of faith that is required to understand where I'm trying to go:

I choose to trust in critical reasoning, verifiable results, logical progression, etc. and to trust people who use those methods to further their arguments. My college physics professor had demonstrated sufficient credibility to me so that I could trust his calculations, and not have to duplicate them myself (your TV example works, too: you trust the explanations of how TVs work, and have seen just enough of the science involved to "know" that there are not little people inside it).

Many, many people award their trust through less rigorous means: they way someone looks, hairstyles, voice quality, a particular club memebership (NRA, or Country Club, or Amnesty International--doesn't matter), etc.. Having placed their trust somewhere, they then suspend critical thought about the sources: its trusted, so everything it says must be true. When other sources that have not earned the trust come along--regardless of their credibility!--many people reject them out of hand. "I don't know you, and you criticize someone I do know and trust, therefore you must be wrong."

That's the end for most people--no more critical thought, no open-minded analysis, no comparison of data. Trusted person vs. unknown-person-who-criticizes/contradicts-trusted person. End of analysis.

Now...how Michael Moore got to be one of the trusted people is beyond me. His humor, his attacks on the "establishment," whatever. But Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America." Oprah Winfrey sells books by saying "read this, it's good". The celebrity influence has created trust and is powerful, and dangerous. "I liked Susan Sarandon in StepMom so...I guess I can trust her...so I guess I should be anti-Bush and anti-war." It is not so far a leap as it seems, and it scares me to death.

Bill, I always find your essays entertaining and provocative, even if I don't always agree with your politics. But now that you've jousted with Moore's dragons (easy targets that they may be)...could you now pen a similarly lengthy essay explaining the Bush/Republican tax cut plan? To my possibly deluded "loony liberal" eyes it seems like a similar case of magical realism and perhaps blatant, crass misdirection. Can you show us the light and tell us what you see that folks like myself (and Warren Buffet) do not? Or do you agree that the tax cut isn't all that Bush has cracked it up to be?

Ever your fan,

Good Grief! These few hundred comments and the furious pondering they force on this reader have put stretch marks on my brain for all the BIG THOUGHTS that must be processed.

I bet there are a bunch of folks who have skipped meals and previously favored leisure activities to plow through all this, because it seems as though this running conversation has a vivid and useful life of its own. As much as I liked Bill’s essay, I must agree with some of the comments that it is yet imperfect. Well, so what? Seems like all the comments --- because of the general good will and critical analysis by the people reading and responding --- are bound to have a sharpening effect on Bill’s reasoning and writing.

I have some sympathy for Santana (who seems at some point to have identified herself as female) because my own thinking processes sometimes seem to flow slower than super-cooled bacon grease. I think part of the problem revealed in her posts and the seemingly impatient retorts lies in the rarity of the demand for rigorous focused thinking in our modern life. I salute her for her persistence in the face of what must have seemed personal hostility; though much of her perception of hostility was due to the same sort of inattention or mental laziness that seems to have governed many of her assertions. Now I’m taking up this much space to mention Santana, because the one thing that seems most important is that people took time to read her posts, consider them, and respond. The responses were not all as civil as they might have been, but it strikes me that SHE WAS READING, and attempting in her own way to make sense of them.

One of the things that first confirmed for me the importance of Eject!Eject!Eject! was the series of comments following from a fairly insulting post by a fellow from the Nederlands back in April. There were some pretty darn vehement barbs being tossed back and forth, but people kept asking for restraint, reason, calm, and argument designed to persuade rather than skewer. It’s not certain the fellow was finally persuaded to totally switch sides, but he certainly came around to conceding that there was some merit to the opposing viewpoints.

That was a highly unusual exchange.

Try visiting democraticunderground.com.

You will weep for the future of humanity.

By the way, Michael the Intern, that was the meanest thing I think anyone had to say about Santana. Have you no compassion, sir???? ;)

To CLarsa: Thanks for pointing out my error, for which I am fairly groveling with embarrassment. You are correct, the movie was “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” and it again shows the value of having people about with sharp minds and the patience to check facts and root out poor scholarship and brazen lies.

To those who keep asserting that Bush was “mis-directing” the public by making so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction a casus belli: (1) Some very important mobile biological weapons lab/factories have been recovered, which by themselves are capable of creating sufficient amounts of anthrax, botulin, etc. to be substantial dangers; (2) Terrorists from other countries, as well as terrorist training camps, as well as documents confirming prolonged mutual relations with international terrorists have been found in Iraq; (3) Iraq is an enormous area to be searched, and it is in the nature of many of the terrorist “WMDs” that they are relatively easier to hide and disguise than for instance, fleets of aircraft, tanks, warships, tube artillery, and other conventional weapons.

So... which asylum are you guys posting from?

David March
animator & fiddler
Shingle Springs CA

The question that arises from my previous rambling poorly-punctuated post is this: how can we alter the terms of the debate so as to include more critical thought and more review of the "trusted" sources? Michael Moore is a documentarian, as far as the world is concerned. Instead of simply trying to prove them false, how can we change the rules of the debate so as to allow Moore to prove himself wrong?

Proving Moore to be a talented manipulator of the truth appears to be preaching to the choir. So how do those of us "in the choir" start to create real change in the rest of the world? We have to change the trust mechanisms. Exposing them helps--but it sounds like sour grapes to those who believe(d) Moore.

We need to create trustworthy sources that can present their case to both sides and be seen as credible. More people like,...oh...say, Bill Whittle?

Russ, coincidently, Stephen den Beste has an excellent post which describes (in Den Beste detail) the difference between induction and deduction: http://denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2003/05/Inductivelogic.shtml

The example you've given of a person's judgment of another human being is an example of induction. It cannot be proven. Deduction, on the other hand, can be proven. The problem is that far too many people don't know one from the other.

In the scientific realm we rely on deduction. This applies to many issues in the realm of public policy. Some issues (such as murder being wrong) were just handed to us and we accept them (although many people seem to want to analyze why it is so--hey, whatever floats their boat).

Then we have science that changes with new information. What we had originally was a theory that could be proven, based on the other information we had available to prove it. If one of those supporting facts or principles change (new information is uncovered), then the results of our prior conclusion is no longer incorrect. That happens all the time. We’re weren’t wrong THEN but we’re wrong NOW.

In the arena of psychology for example, we had countless theories as to why people behaved the way they did. We also thought that everything (or nearly everything) had environmental causes. Now we know otherwise. Some psychological conditions are genetic, others are brought on my chemical reactions or illness, and some have environmental causes.

It may end up, at some point in the future that we'll understand that ALL feelings and emotions have chemical or genetic origins, but we don't now. Until we do, we have to work with what we have. But I wouldn’t dismiss what we have, because we cannot rely on it with 100% certainty, and opt for a devil-possession explanation for why some people have a deep psychosis. Some might argue that it is pointless to proceed with a drug solution to a person's psychosis, when we cannot prove with 100% certainty that it will work, or that we are correct. We cannot PROVE it is correct so they dismiss it entirely. That's just stupid. 60, 70, or 80% certainty is a whole lot better than pixie dust, but for some reason, some people like the odds with pixie dust.

There are also scientists who place a greater importance on their politics than on their facts. This is true with the global warming and the rain forest models. Certain scientists WANT people to stop cutting down trees in the rain forest. They think that is bad. They create all sorts of gloom and doom theories to support their beliefs. They will produce reports that *prove* their case. But there are other scientists who had no stake in the issue and have proven the other science to be faulty. Tell someone that the rain forest is actually fine and they'll get really pissed off. They WANT to believe that human beings have that much importance on the planet. They have some sort of emotional investment in believing it. You can't reason with those people. In their case, they've attempted to use science in a deductive method, but they abandoned pure science somewhere along the way, and only focus on the facts that support their inductive conclusions.

There is nothing wrong with a little inductive reasoning. It’s just important that people know when they are doing that.

I agree with you on being baffled as to why some people take Michael Moore as some sort of expert. I can conclude (with 100% certainty) that some people DO believe him. Through induction, I know they are eeediots.

This essay has the tone of reasonableness, and Michael Moore can hardly be defended as making documentaries. But most of the reasoning is stuff about which reasonable people can disagree, so I don't find it persuasive. Above all, I think what fuels Mr. Whittle is simply wanting a bigger stage and more attention for his ideas and his right-leaning culture's world-view (maybe someone will make a pseudodocumentary out of one of his essays!). That's fine, but I don't think anyone should confuse that with an actual pursuit of what's true.

Mrs. du Toit: I read den Beste religously (pun intended). Thanks for the link.

Ben, Care to articulate and expand on "But most of the reasoning is stuff about which reasonable people can disagree" so that we can understand your meaning? Or was that simply a veiled bomb with no willingness to support your statement?

Russ's next to last post, about why rational thought shoule be applied even to trusted sources was speaking of Michael Moore, but it illustrates exactly why small corrections here need not be taken as attacks. Clarsa's (is that name after the Irish harp?) postscript illustrates even more clearly why grammar corrections are appropriate (though being also an elitist myself, I have trouble with them coming from someone who cannot write clearly). She has also articulated why I prefer to believe in magic in cases where the belief itself may actually do some good -- not in setting national policy or even my own policy, but in improving my own mood or health -- while disdaining those who can't apply rational thought to what should be rational decisions.

I am still not convinced that the war in Iraq was a rational decision.

Dichroic: Let me attempt to make a rational argument for the war in Iraq; one that I have not heard regularly in the media or or blogs, but makes sense (at least to me).

Many people said, "Why Iraq and not North Korea? North Korea has nukes and is threatening to use them and Saddam is contained? Why go to Iraq first?"

My answer: Ten years ago North Korea was in the same early stage of nuclear weapons development that we find in Iraq today. The US Government of the time chose appeasement/containment over some other form of solution to the North Korean nuclear programs, and now they have weapons. Rather than make the same mistake in Iraq and allow them to eventually produce nuclear weapons, our current President chose to first request, then demand, then threaten and then forcefully remove the nuclear threat.

Iraq will no longer be a real nuclear threat, while appeasement and containment in North Korea over ten years have only made the problem worse. All other reasons--other WMD, human rights atrocities, links to Al Qaeda, violations of UN sanctions, support for other terrorist groups, ad infinitum (while valid on some level or another)--may be enough to go to war. Removal of a nuclear threat is/was enough, especially given our belief (unprovable, but consistent with history) that Saddam would use nuclear weapons on his neighbors or on the US, if given the chance.

You are a marvel. I have been enrapturd by your site for several days now. It makes work far more bearable to be able to enjoy such intelligent and witty writing. I am so happy to have found this site, thanks to Rachel!

I am humbled as I would never be able to write like you do, and I am grateful that you DO write like you do!

At the risk of being a bit off-color- you sir, give me mental orgasams. Intellectually I am totally in love. Keep doing what you do!

>>"This is what he [Moore] wants you to believe. His European audience, generally salivating at the chance to hear an American describe his country as a bunch of idiotic, murdering, terrified racists, howls with approval."

I think this is right, but his allure is also personal. Some Europeans (and Americans) find Moore perversely appealing because he personifies their most hackneyed prejudices about Americans. He's a total package: loud, aggressive, overbearing, conspicuous and obese. If LeMonde were to commission a political cartoon contest to depict the most objectionable caricature of the Ugly American, the winning entry would look and behave exactly like Michael Moore.

Then, when he trashes his country they can say: "see...straight from the horse's mouth."

Hey, folks!
I just read in the WashingtonPost Online (link from Drudge report) that a bomb blast occured in the Yale Law School this afternoon (no injuries reported.) Since Yale was my undergraduate school, I can say with some certainty that apart from the Unabomber’s lunacy, there hasn’t been any sort of bombing there since 1970, during the strike that was called around the New Haven murder trial of several Black Panthers (just a month before the nationwide reactions to Nixon’s incursions into Cambodia.)

I guess my own personal connection makes the reality of it that much more stark. So the issues, and the questions of who is on which side, and who supports which approach to achieving the stability of civilization that seems to be teetering in the balance, all become more sharply defined for me. I still have friends in New Haven, teaching, doing research, living, making substantial contributions to general AND specific improvements of people’s lives.

Over the last three decades, only a couple of my own personal friends or acquaintances have suffered from terrorist attack, but even one is too many. I am damn tired of people apologizing for terrorists and their atrocities, defending the leaders that exploit legitimate tensions and grievances, uttering one lie for consumption by the uncritical English-speaking press, while simultaneously spewing contradictory lies for their own co-religionists. I’m sick of hearing people blame America for agonizing situations and antagonisms that have persisted since before the invention of the alphabet. And I’m thoroughly disgusted with the circular thinking of some alleged liberals who define themselves as nice, well-meaning folks, so any solution they come up with is necessarily the solution of a good person, so therefor anyone who opposes or questions it is quite obviously a BAD person.

My problem is not with Liberalism in its professed compassion and desire to better the lives of the downtrodden; it is with the unwillingness of many liberals to re-consider their solutions and assumptions when the most casual glance shows the results of their policies to be utterly disastrous for the intended beneficiaries.

So, why am I posting this rant just here?

Because the quality of thinking here gives me hope that people recognize that this is NOT just a game, that there are truly precious ideas at stake; that we have a responsibility to consider them, and to defend and advance those ideas and principles that make it possible for people to have the freedom to debate as we are debating.

In case you weren’t aware, the European Union has laws already on the books and more under consideration that make it a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment, to post statements on the internet that are deemed illegal or criminal in countries in which they appear and are read. If I understand correctly what I've read, the government of the offended country can demand the extradition of the citizen of the other country, for trial and punishment.

See the URL: http://www.rense.com/general35/pplkc.htm

or this one: http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,16588,00.html

Or do a search yourself using the key words “European Union Internet Offense Laws” or some similar combination.

David March
animator & fiddler

Brilliant Bill, just brilliant. You snagged my attention at "When I was nine I saw a leprechaun", and didn't let go till you were done. When I got to the final paragraph I thought, sh*t this is over. Can't wait for the next essay.


My pet hate is someone who compares a thought provoking essay with the intention of sparking public debate to a 'documentarian' with the intention of causing an outrage. Not because of their intentions but because I think you may have missed the point.

To leave out information irrelevant to the essay is not the same as leaving out information that may influence the outcome of the decision.

'If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one to hear it' we may upon seeing the tree prove that a tree has fallen. And using probability, scientists will prove that there is a 99% chance soundwaves were dissipated. You decide whether you believe that, or a person's reaction to a fire-breathing dragon, using no subjective proof.

sorry using subjective proof ;)

Two posts above by Leron

Rather than banging on ad infinitum with more pseudo-scientific gobbledegook, why not just state the simple truth: Moore is a liberal who hates the NRA and seeks to discredit them, Bill is a Conservative who likes the NRA and seeks to discredit Moore.

Now get back to work!


Nawwww, really? Omigod Rob, what WOULD we have done without you? Ahhh, the sweet rotting stench of moral equivalence. The reason people are argueing about it is because they come down on one side or the other. Much as I may disagree with those who agree with Moore, I won't insult them my taking the position that "Oh all sides are equally dirty, they use the same techniques, so neither of you are right" If you personally don't give a shit, say so. Then the rest of us can get on with ignoring you.

Great essay Mr. Whittle.
I am, coincidentally, reading Sagan's 'Demon Haunted World' right now, and it is prompting some serious introspection on some of my own long held beliefs (UFOs not being one of them).
As for Michael Moore? The man has no honor.

This should have been more than one essay. You lose a lot of momentum when meandering about from magical thoughts and beliefs to magical or illusory presentations.

Also, the criticisms of MarcP in this thread are a little off. First, Intelligent liberals don't just argue that we should continue to throw money at schools. They argue that we should allocate the money more efficiently. How? Well that's beyond the scope of my comment, but suffice to say that a man isn't a half-wit simply because he suggests that the problem could rest with poor teaching rather than poor curricula.

With respect to MarcP's statistics, naturally, obesity is a big problem, and heart disease alone is a much greater killer than guns, but it's not even one hundred times greater, much less many hundreds, so he is correct. Don't let that steal too much of your thunder, though, since that doesn't change the main point.

Finally, I find your treatment of religion inconsistent and disappointing. You extoll reason and rationality, but you are not willing to apply it there? Why not?

"Regarding religion...I refuse to take up that subject because it is almost by definition a personal, emotional issue and pretty much impervious to reason and experiment."

"But why bother with questions like this? If it feels good to believe that we are being watched over by advanced beings, then none of this will stop you."

None of what? I thought you weren't going to criticize religion. Oh wait. The advanced beings watching over us are aliens, and, unfortunately for them, they don't have a get out of jail free card. Too bad that those people whose lives are deeply affected by their belief in the extraterrestrial have to feel the painful burn of relentless logic, while the religious comfortably sit back and cheer you on, throwing a few torches of their own occasionally to encourage you...

Oh and one last thing:

"Your wish list of right wing "failures" is intriuging, Harry. Let's see: "WMD in Iraq" -- FOUND, MORE TO FOLLOW. "Direct links between Bin Laden and Hussein," EXTENSIVE AND INCREASING DAILY AS MORE DOCUMENTS ARE UNCOVERED..."

Please provide links on those. Every time I see a purported weapon stash or Al-Quaeda link, it's retracted within a day. They'll forget to mention that the weapons were actually just old buried materials that the UN had already accounted for, or they'll find that the chemicals aren't weapons grade, or something. As a former hawk who supported the war purely because I believed the whole WMD litany, I'd like it to get more attention. Where's Bush coming out and pointing at them? If they had been found, wouldn't the administration make a big deal of it?

In any case, about your essay, I agree with your principles, but I only wish you were willing to apply them evenhandedly to conservative ideas as well as liberal ones (if you are, great, but I must have missed it in your essay).



Thanks Bill, direct hit, again.

Do you take suggestions for essay topics? I have a few ideas that I would like to see in essay form, however the Lord did not see fit to endow me with the ability to write well and to write persuasively. It seems that He didn't do so with you.

I've read several of your essays, and generally after each is finished, I sit back in my computer chair and think to myself,"*obscenity deleted*, this dude can write!"

Thanks for being such and inspiration to me. I used to be lazy and not read much, but thanks to you I read the news, blogs, and of-course your essays.

I always wanted to thank you from bringing the "analyzer" within me, and now I get the chance... I only wish I could obsorve more and more of your writing, to help me develop mine. Yuo will always be my mentor Bill... Thanks again. and again.

Thank you so much for this essay. I'm an American currently studying in Germany...and I went to see Bowling for Columbine with a couple of my other American friends. As the movie went on my friends and I shrunk further and further down in our seats, and at the end we got out of there pretty quick. It was EMBARRASSING. People really walked out convinced (or maybe just more convinced) that America is exactly how it's portrayed in Bowling for Columbine.

Where you say..."His European audience, generally salivating at the chance to hear an American describe his country as a bunch of idiotic, murdering, terrified racists, howls with approval." is EXACTLY right. The people here (uni students at least) have been SO thrilled by this movie. I get asked constantly if people in the US are really carrying guns around everywhere they go...if you can really get a gun at a bank...etc. I can't wait to tell them that bank scene was faked!!

Thank you again for an awesome essay.

In general:
Bill your essays often make me sad that I can't get the thoughts in my head on paper the way you do. While I rarely agree with everything you say, it always makes me think.

My father taught me very young to question everything (including himself) and to draw my own conclusions. I've done my very best to do the same for my children in return. Bill, I've forwarded your URL to Dad, and I just want to thank you for encouraging more and more people to live as critical thinkers, and not just in this essay. That same view of the world is apparent in your previous works as well.

On Magic:
To those who are see this as a rigid way of life - I also read fantasy, science fiction and play role-playing games, but I KNOW they are false and I'm willing to suspend reality to enjoy them. While living in the real world I simply use a different set of standards for judgement.

Michael Moore's filmmaking skills may be incredible but I won't spend the money to have that shown to me until he stops portraying his works of creative non-fiction as documentaries. I'm certain there are some truth's in his works, but they no more meet the requirements to be a documentary than I meet the requirements to be a man.

I think I read once that scientist say a dragonfly is aerodynamically incapable of flight. Yet it does fly. (I've seen them do it, no really) What do you do when science and physics tell you one thing, but personal observation tells you another?

Well, winsty, if you've an ounce of intelligence or common sense, you realize that the "science" isn't being very scientific, and the "physics" needs more contact with the physical world.

Or you could realize that the chucklehead who said that bumblebees are aerodynamically incapable of flight was just wryly admitting that aerodynamicist's understanding of insect flight physics was a wee bit sparse, as yet, and could everyone please hold on while we try to finger this one out?

Well, Eichra if you had an ounce of intelligence or common sense maybe you would realize I was trying to make the point that science doesn't have everything figured out.

Or you could realize I was simply throwing that out for discussion.

Could everyone please hold on while Eichra pulls the bug out of his anus.

"the moon landing was not accomplished by dreamers enjoying the extremely high levels of cannibis needed to listen to an entire Purple Haze album all the way through. "

"Purple Haze" is a classic Jimi Hendrix song, not an album. The album was called "Are You Experienced", and it's actually pretty damn good even if you aren't on drugs!

I take it you don't listen to a whole lot of rock music... :^)

BTW: Even though you don't know much about classic rock, you do seem to have a handle on what America is all about. I love reading your essays. Keep 'em coming!

Dear Mr. Whittle...I loved your "Magic" and "History" articles. Is there someway I could get a reprint. I'm to dumb to make my computer print it out. I'd like to get a hardcopy so I can show it to someone a friend knows. He MUST be shown the truth of these articles. He's always writing letters to the paper critical of Bush and the war. His girlfriend even put a bumpersticker on his van which reads "regime change begins at home". Aarrgghhh! Hope you can help. Thanks. Love your writing.

Matt DeCamp:

Reference to "intellegent liberals" in the second paragraph of your comment explains the rest of it. You could just as well have stopped at that point. Your message was delivered, in full.

"Reference to "intellegent liberals" in the second paragraph of your comment explains the rest of it."

I don't understand. I see an improper capitalization (due to an edit; the word originally started the sentence), but I spelled the word correctly.

What exactly are you saying?


Exceptional work. This is the first essay I've read by you, Bill, but by gosh it won't be the last. Some of the comments have been memorable as well.

Charley Jones (overnight talk show host heard in Texas and surrounding states) recently did a careful dissection of Moore's Bowling for Columbine. That was informative, but the essay on this page is rather more thought-provoking. Thank you.

- wouldn't normally pass on this kind of thing, but seemed spot on for this article!

Dear Fellow Republican,

Because claims continue to grow that Vice President Cheney knew about and
allowed the September 11, 2001 attacks for political and strategic gain, the
Republican Party needs your moral and financial support more than ever.

Liberals are spreading over a hundred accusations that our Vice President
of the United States of America knew about and allowed the 9/11 attacks.

Fellow Republicans, we recommend not directly addressing all the details
spouted by liberals and their bleeding heart press. During a recent prayer
meeting here at Patriotic Citizens for the Defense of American Values, deep
inspiration and humility moved us to develop a special answer to the
mounting liberal propaganda. We call our answer the "Daisy Cutter Moab

Here it is:
"Even if Vice President Cheney allowed the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon,
he did so for the good of the nation. Franklin Roosevelt did this when he
allowed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor so the United States could join
the war against the axis of evil of that era." (Use in #13 below.)

Because liberals love Franklin Roosevelt so much, this answer shuts them up

Only a true leader can make the toughest decisions in order to lead his
nation to its destined greatness. Even if our President allowed the attacks
of 9/11, this proves Bush is an even bigger hero for allowing Vice President
Cheney to make such a tough, necessary decision. We elect our leaders to
lead, not flirt and carry on with interns. It was President Bush's amazing
post-9/11 leadership that unleashed the American people to free others
around the world, including oppressed women in Afghanistan and Iraqi victims
of Saddam Hussein.

You can help. Our views will win over liberal propaganda regardless of
their so-called evidence.

Please donate to the Republican party to protect the truth from the
snooping eyes of the unrighteous (liberals).

Thank you,
Patriotic Citizens for the Defense of American Values

Liberal Lie #1: In October 24-26, 2000, detailed drills were held in the
Pentagon practicing response in case an airliner crashed into the Pentagon

FACT: If God inspired the planners at the Pentagon to prepare for an attack
on their building nearly one year before the September 11, 2001 attacks,
they should be commended, not cast into suspicion.
Liberal Lie #2: Field FBI agents in Arizona notified their superiors of
information about hijackers using planes as suicide bombs, but the superiors
didn't act on this information.

FACT: The FBI management can not act on every wild claim made by field
Liberal Lie #3: In 1995 the FBI under Clinton's administration raided
flight schools looking for potential hijackers. The FBI and other gov't
agencies already knew of this specific real danger.

FACT: In government, six years is a long time and with all the FBI
personnel changes, the agency was unaware of its past diligence. It is
impossible a few high-ranking members of Herbert Hoover's esteemed FBI along
with other high-ranking officers from other U.S. intelligencies would betray
their own country by blindly following heinous orders to allow a mass attack
on their own country's civilians. Some agents would be truly patriotic
enough to risk even their own lives to uncover such a high-level crime
against the people of the United States of America.
Liberal Lie #4: A United States Air Force Intelligence Colonel at the
Monterey Language Institute U.S. Intelligence School told his class, "Bush
is a joke. He knew about 911 and let it happen." He was forced to resign.

FACT: Though this did happen, similar outbursts by military personnel about
gays in the military occurred under President Clinton. Those critical
officers also resigned.
Liberal Lie #5: Before 9-11 a con-man working for Navy Intelligence fled to
Canada with a sealed document showing the impending attacks by suicide

FACT: This person is clearly a con-man, and though he worked for the U.S.
Navy, he is unreliable and has a long criminal history during his entire
service in the United States Navy. This exposes him:
Liberal Lie #6: Russian and other foreign intelligence agencies warned the
Bush administration in the summer prior to the 9-11 attacks that hijackers
intended to use planes as suicide bombs and were soon going to attack.

FACT: Foreign intelligence sources frequently notify the United States
about many so-called impending attacks, most of which never happen.
Liberal Lie #7: Ashcroft and some other government officials did not fly
commercial flights in the weeks leading up to 9-11 for fear of being on a
hijacked plane.

FACT: Ashcroft and others as citizens of the United States of America are
free to choose any method of transportation within their means and legal
rights. They stopped flying commercial for scheduling reasons and their
heavy workload.
Liberal Lie #8: Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco was warned a few days
before 9-11 not to fly to New York on a commercial aircraft as he had

FACT: It is illogical a so-called Republican conspirator would call a
liberal Democrat Mayor to help him.
Liberal Lie #9: Vice President Cheney wanted to take over parts of the
Middle East and boost the his administration's sagging popularity. An
attack would fulfill both.

FACT: This accusation of treason against the Vice President should not
even be dignified with a answer.
Liberal Lie #10: U.S. armed forces were massing in the Middle East in the
weeks and months before the 9-11 attacks.

FACT: Though true, the forces were involved in a large military exercise.
Such U.S. military exercises occur regularly throughout the world. This was
only a routine military exercise.
Liberal Lie #11: The head of Pakistan's Intelligence agency (the ISI) was
in the United States meeting with Condaleeza Rice and others in the Bush
administration in the week before the 9-11 attacks. During that week this
Pakistani General wired $100,000 to hijacker Atta.

FACT: Pakistan is our ally, not our enemy. Iraq was our enemy, but we
liberated them and rid them of weapons of mass destruction and thwarted evil
in God's name.
Liberal Lie #12: A few years prior to September 11, 2001, Philippine
police discovered a document outlining suicide attacks with hijacked planes
in the United States. The Philippine police officer who found the document
gave it to police commanders who passed it to U.S. intelligence.

FACT: It is completely understandable and expected that such a document
would get lost on its way from a Philippine police officer through the
Philippine government then to the United States then through the US
Intelligence community. This happens all the time.
Liberal Lie #13: Families of 9-11 victims threatened the Bush
administration with going public with their questions about 9-11 after the
Bush administration stonewalled an independent 9-11 inquiry. The
Administration responded by backing an investigation led by Henry Kissinger
and by stalling the whole process. President Bush is terrified of an
independent inquiry into 9-11.

FACT: Use the "Daisy Cutter Moab rebuttal," which we feel is more
effective than diving into liberal-minded detail: "Even if Vice President
Cheney allowed the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon, he did so for the good
of the nation. Franklin Roosevelt did this when he allowed the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor so the United States could join the war against the
axis of evil of that era."
Liberal Lie #14: Attorney General Ashcroft is secretly using the powers of
the Patriot Act to investigate Vice President Cheney and others in the Bush
Administration for treasonous actions against the citizens of the United
States of America regarding the 9/11 attacks. Some members of Congress and
the Senate are also being secretly probed under the Patriot Act.

FACT: Completely false. Attorney General Ashcroft is an honest Christian
and loyal Republican committed to the cause of anti-abortion. To suggest
the Attorney General of United States would secretly investigate treasonous
crimes perpetrated by his Republican superiors is ridiculous regardless of
so-called liberal evidence. True Christians follow orders and are always
loyal to their bosses. The rumors regarding this are just that: rumors.
This is completely false.

To waken you and your friends to action, please rebut the liberal
propaganda. To view the details of their plot, study the following, but
only if you're over 30 years old (the age of Jesus when he started his
mission) and a committed Republican. Do not view otherwise!



WE SALUTE the brave men and women behind the scenes in the ONI, FBI, NSC,
NSA, CIA, MCIA, AIA, OIG, DIA, USAIC, USSS, OFAC so willing to risk their
lives for their country and every bit as brave as single and married combat
soldiers on the front lines. Their courage to serve the U.S. Constitution
and U.S. citizens even when their superiors command otherwise protects our
democracy. This commitment prevents our agents from serving evil by
covering up internal high-level crimes against their country and fellow
citizens. Only athiests and the guilty fear the truth. God is Truth. Life
is short, and our agents are committed to doing the right thing. They are
part of the solution, not the problem. To paraphrase Jesus Christ in modern
language, "Real psychopathy is not the snapping, it's the ability to
maintain a calm presence and give plausible explanations to implausible
events." Matthew 23:27-28

* Warning: Do not be fooled by liberal hoaxes trying to stop this message
by claiming it is a virus.
* Neither this email nor the Patriotic Citizens for the Defense of American
Values are authorized by or affiliated with the Republican Party, but the
Republican party needs your financial help and prayers more than ever.
* "Daisy Cutter Moab Rebuttal" is not a trademark of Patriotic Citizens for
the Defense of American Values, but can be used by Republicans only.

Gee thanks, winsty. I appreciate your concern for my anus. It's doing just fine, thanks for asking.

Really now.

There are a couple of conclusions for a rational person to reach when they hear a scientist say something so blatantly ridiculous as the matter you mentioned.

1. The scientist is being facetious. This is quite likely, but there is a remote possibility that, dammit, the scientist is so ivory tower that they haven't figured out yet that their theory should be driven by reality, not the other way around.

2. The reporter is lying. Reporters do this. It's known as "working for the New York Times". It's also known as "being a reporter". Don't tell me reporters don't, don't bother extolling the virtue of that little segment of the chattering class. I was journalism major, I know that particular lie, and I'm not impressed. Most reporting is apocrypha, and not very entertaining apocrypha at that. It's certainly nothing relating very closely to reality, and frankly, I wouldn't be at all suprised to find out that Snopes has thoroughly debunked the story about aerodynamicists saying that, aerodynamically speaking, flying insects can't fly.

Is there anything else I can help you get your panties in a wad over, or does this conclude the silliness?

Eichra, since you seem completely unable to grasp my point I will make it very simple. Bill,(in a very fine essay, by the way)uses science to infer certain things are impossible such as FTL travel, or leprechans. My point is, if scientist can not explain something as simple as a dragonfly then maybe there are aspects of FTL travel that have escaped them as well.

Obviously, scientist realize that insects can fly. The point of the article was that they could not explain it using math and physics. So MAYBE their understanding of math and physics is incomplete. GET IT?! Was the article correct? I don't know. Never claimed to.

Have I made it simple enough even for a rude, obnoxious know it all ,like yourself, to understand? Or have I overestimated your intelligence yet again?

Oh for crying out loud. Talk about missing the point. Yes, you utter twit, Mr. Whittle realizes that there's plenty that science hasn't grasped yet. Obviously. Otherwise, it would be science, now would it? It would be "The Revealed Knowledge of Einstein", or somesuch. He grasps this. I grasp this. The entire forum (minus you, of course) grasped this several YEARS ago, by the looks of it.

But you think it's a new neat nifty concept and you want to discuss it.


Eichra, please don't be so hard on winsty. For A LOT of people, this IS a radically new nifty concept. I mean, most of us already reading Mr. Whittle's essays have been raised on science fiction (come on, admit it) and have some familiarity with the concept that scientific knowledge increases over time. We've heard about
formulations like Clarke's Laws. It is old stuff to the rest of us. Now some people (not necessarily stupid ones) have been attracted here to read Bill's writing (a good sign, BTW). Concepts like this are genuinely new to them- the average person doesn't encounter these ideas in workaday life. No patronizing intended here at all folks, but I know quite a few smart but parochial people who at first consider some of these basic concepts counter-intuitive

Right. Please, Winsty, give it a rest. Or at least be more accurate. I've heard those things about the impossibility of bumblebees and dragonflies too. While I can't recall the details, I believe they were said a long, long time ago. So the accurate statement is that at one time scientists couldn't figure out just how these little critters got off the ground.

The best scientists of a hundred years ago, in some respects, knew less than the educated layman today, and much less than the best scientists of today. A hundred years ago, respected scientists gave sober opinions on why, wishful thinking aside, this crazy notion of sending rockets into space was fundamentally impossible, violated basic physics.

Science advances, and figures out things it formerly couldn't understand. Most important, science advances by trying to explain observed fact. Airborne insects are an observed fact, and always have been. Space rockets are an observed fact. Faster Than Light travel is not an observed fact.

Yes, it's true when those respected rocket-scoffers were scoffing, nobody had yet seen a true space shot. But it was less that knowledge was incomplete than, as Jim said, it was their failure to grasp a new concept. They argued that using the most powerful explosive then known as rocket fuel, the fuel could not release enough energy to lift itself into space, much less a meaningful payload, and they had all the calculations to back up their claims. Case closed, so they thought. They failed to realize that the fuel itself doesn't have to make it into space, just the payload it's pushing, and most of the fuel is in fact left near the earth as exhaust. Pioneers like Goddard knew all about that.

Anyway, our knowledge of physics is a lot closer to complete than it was back then. It's conceivable that in pursuit of a unified field theory we might find a loophole that permits FTL travel, but at this point I suspect it would be a bigger revolution than Einstein's. Winsty, you seem to be saying, on the other hand, that all we have to do is wait patiently and the development of warp drive is inevitable. I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

No,I don't think you do get the point.

1. I was wondering if the article was accurate. I thought someone might know. I had no idea this board was policed by the tight ass patrol. I am not a scientist, am I still allowed to post on "your" board?

2. If it is accurate. Does that mean a dragonfly cannot be explained by the understood laws of physics? And as simple and mundane as it is, does that make it a "supernatural creature"?

3. If it does, does that mean that other less common "supernatural" things might exist. Such as ghosts, UFOs, and maybe even leprechans.

4. Eichra, you are a jerk. An A#1 piece of garbage. If my post was so stupid why did you reply to it? Why not just ignore it, if it was so lightweight? "I'm so smart, I was a jounalism major". Big deal, maybe you should have taken a course in manners and class. Or better yet, start your own website, then you can be the petty tyrant of all you survey. You obviously don't wish to have a civilized conversation. You would rather put people down to make yourself feel more important. You must be a pathetic loser of a person.

I wanted to make sure the last two posters realize my last post was not directed at them. I don't mind people disagreeing. And I enjoy hearing from people who have more scientific knowledge than myself. It was Eichra's snotty attitude that I object to.

Ummmmm, winsty? (don't shoot...)

Just to be clear...I suspect a lot of the people posting on this board wouldn't exactly mind if a FTL drive WAS possible (the "blue sky" sense of wonder in Mr. Whittle's essays is a major draw for some of us, including me)Aside from the massive scientific value of such a thing, its effect on our society would be...beneficial, to say the least. New frontiers seem to have a healthy effect on Western cultures, after all.
I would be more optimistic if there were some kind of observable natural phenomenon that already travels FTL. Doesn't seem to be. Damn.

As our scientific knowledge grows, the body of knowledge in each field has started overlapping with that of the others. What we know of molecular chemistry is helping us learn more about genetics, for example. It's like a sort of cross-checking. Eventually, it may add up to the kind of Unified Theory that Mr. Teeter spoke of above. So far, FTL travel doesn't seem to be possible within this increasingly integrating framework of knowledge

I'm sorry you see the people on this thread as police. Allow me to be the friendly beat-cop then: We could do a great deal with what will know in the future. We could do an awful lot with what we know NOW. Our people WILL get to the stars...FTL would've got us there just a few years earlier than we would have anyway. Sorry about the long post, people.

PS If anyone wants to know more about the growth and integration of scientific knowledge, they could do worse than read the books of James Burke (the guy that did the "Connections" series' on The Learning Channel) The ones I found best on this were "The Pinball Effect" and "The Knowledge Web". Good for Liberal Artsy-Fartsy types like Yours Truly

Sorry winsty, you posted before I finished my tome

Just a little sidenote, rather inconsequential:

"anti-scientific "ancient wisdom" (and alternative medicine, and creation science, and, and..."

As a person who believes there is credible scientific evidence that an intelligent agent was in part responsible for the creation of the universe, I really must object to being called "anti-science". Let me give some interesting quotes that might explain what I mean.

Paleontologist Niles Eldredge (might remember him from your biology textbook): "No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seems to happen...Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that's how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn somehing about evolution." You may also remember learning how he collaborated with Stephen Jay Gould to propose the theory of "punctuated equilibria", which was brought on by a complete lack of explanation from Darwinists for the Cambrian explosion -- often nicknamed "the biological Big Bang".

Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago: "We conclude - unexpectedly - that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwiniam wies: its thereoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak."

Mathematicians at the Wistar Institue in Philadelphia, on the numbers involved in random mutations: "There is a considerable gap in the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, and we believe this gap to be of such a nature that it cannot be bridged with the current conception of biology."

Stuart Kauffman of the Santa Fe Institute: "It is not that Darwin is wrong, but that he got hold of only part of the truth."

There are others. Someone mentioned how Sagan himself believes life was seeded on this planet by asteroids. Francis Crick, lauded as the co-discoverer of DNA, believes it was aliens.

So a lot of very credible scientists are not satisfied with the theory of evolution. If you have AIM, I'm "hananobira". Message me and I'll go into more depth about Dr. William Dembski's design inference, or Dr. Michael Behe's irreducible complexity, or other reasons to believe an intelligent designer helped along our birth.

Maybe the fact that so many scientists are suspicious of evolution has nothing to do the with fact that magical thinking is everywhere, as someone claimed, but that there really are grounds to doubt neo-Darwinism?

In conclusion, (sorry for the longwindedness) I really wish you would edit that comment about how people that believe in intelligent design are anti-science. I LOVE science, and I can argue archeopteryx and Lamarckism and hopeful monsters with the best of 'em.

But, otherwise, beautiful, sir, simply beautiful.

Random sidenote:

C.S. Lewis, from "The Abolition of Man":
"We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The starts lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected. But that is not the whole story...The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost."

Doesn't that just say it all? That essay concerns the debate of physical reality vs. "supernatural" reality, and I highly recommend it.

In the interest of beating a dead horse bloody, allow me to throw in my 2¢ on the bumblebee/dragonfly/leprechaun/FTL/Intelligent design questions:

When it comes to the "THAT BUG CAN'T FLY!" question, what we had was a repeatable, laboratory-quality phenomenon that didn't conform to what physics/engineering predicted. When we came up with better testing equipment (in this case, high-speed cameras with film that didn't require enough light to immolate the bug under observation) we were able to observe that the wee creatures use a bit different mechanism than the original hypothesis allowed.

Leprechauns, however, don't meet the "repeatable, laboratory-quality phenomenon" test. The wee creatures in question here aren't observable. (Neither is Nessie. We've spent enough time and money trying.) Put one in a laboratory and test it, and I'll suspend my disbelief long enough to verify if it is, in fact, a mythical creature rather than a midget Irishman with bad fashion sense. But that will bring it out of the realm of the "SUPERnatural" into the realm of the natural, and the magical-thinkers can't have that. They require that there be a "higher plane."

When it comes to faster-than-light travel, I hope like hell that when/if we have a working Unified Field/Quantum Physics theory that there will be a way over, around, or through the asymptote. I'd hate to think that we're stuck in this solar system when there's so much out there out there. I concede that current theory limits us to sublight travel and the effects of time dilation if we want to push the speed limit, but, dammit, I WANT WARP DRIVE! And the keys to the Enterprise. I want to see the moons of Nebia, and the Antares Maelstrom and Perdition's Flames before I die. And I'd like to pull the trigger on a photon torpedo, while I'm at it.

Yeoman Rand is optional.

Or show me, in a lab, a little grey guy with the big black eyes and I'll borrow HIS keys.

As to "intelligent design," I see that as the manifestation of the "I WANT THERE TO BE A GOD!" desire. I don't see why people cannot accept the evidence before them: An historical record of simple to more complex creatures, with a (not unbroken) trail of features that date back to distant ancestors. Obvious branching from one type of creature to more than one - each having characteristics of the earlier. The obvious examples, illustrated by Darwin, of adaptability to environment, and so on.

If there was a "designer," it simply raises (to me) the question of "OK, where did IT come from?" We're here. There doesn't have to be a "why." Accept it. Deal with the testable FACTS.

Religion is faith. If you require evidence, your faith is weak. Whether you believe in God or Nessie. Belief in science is merely the faith that humanity is bright enough to figure it out, eventually.

Actually, the reason Niles Eldregde and Stephen Jay Gould came up with the theory of punctuated equilibria in the first place is because there's *not* a "historical record"...look up the Cambrian explosion, which I referred to in the last comment. Instead of seeing one species slowly morph into two species, then two genuses (geni?), then after millenia become two different kingdoms, what you see in the fossil record is the sudden appearance of radically different phyla, with no precursors. That's why it's sometimes called the "Biological Big Bang".

As for examining the evidence, I have. Can you tell me the difference between saltation theories and the theory of punctuated equilibria? How are they different then from the "hopeful monster" theory? How many books written about evolution have you read, and how much time have you spent studying the subject?

Like I said, there is plenty of evidence. Message me at "hananobira" and I'd gladly debate with you, but I'd rather not write any more on the subject, because we're getting rather off-topic here.

Besides, the desire for a God to exist is countered only by the desire for one NOT to. I can't remember exactly where, but in one of the books I have on evolution, several scientists go on the record as saying that evolution *has* to be the answer to our origin because "we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door". They basically continue on to state that all evidence that contradicts evolution should just be ignored for the time being, because obviously, there isn't a God. And yet these people claimed *they* were being objective. ::shrugs::

Wow, so many intellegent comments! So much reasoned debate, on BOTH sides. (And a little petty bickering between some of the players in question.) As for God, remember the brilliant observation in Douglas Adams' "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", in which God disappears in a puff of logic. Moral: Don't go trying to prove that which requires faith to exist, which is about as philosophical as this cranky old agnostic cares to get when it's this late at night.

As for FTL, from a relative standpoint, (pun gleefully intended) we're still dealing with the physics which said that certain insects can't fly. Just like the physics of 1946 said supersonic flight is impossible, the physics of 1948 said it was utterly possible. Just like it was once said that a 4 minute mile was a physiological impossibility. Once barriers are broken, a dam burst of new research allows our knowledge to surge forward so that years later, people can harumph self-righteously about the dark days when (fill in the blank) was once thought to be impossible.

Perhaps someday we will discover how to manipulate the quantum foam to make the lines run straighter than straight. After all, if light is really made up of waves AND particles, couldn't we surf them? (I can picture Bill's eyes lighting up at the possibility of flying such a craft.) Maybe then I can take that vacation I've always wanted, to a beach where the Eagle Nebula is the dominant feature in the skies. And when it happens, the physics required will make today's quantum physics look like "OK, class! Today we're going to learn about adding in the tens column!"

Anyway, for a great website about relativity, try Dave's Relativity Pages at http://www.svsu.edu/~slaven/relativity1.html

For a great book about physics (yes, such a creature is possible), check out "Hyperspace" by Michio Kaku.

For a good time, call 867-5309 and ask for Jenny.

Unfortunately for those of us who are really enjoying this little debate about science, physics, and theology, the topic at hand truly is Michael Moore (AKA "The Fat F*ck From Flint", AKA "Everyone's Favorite Asshat") and the way he showed a few kernels of truth picked from a dungpile of lies, and got an Oscar for it. There are a number of grassroots efforts to get the award revoked. The main site is (drum roll, please) www.revoketheoscar.com. If everyone who read Bill's magnificent essay would take action, we could really have an effect.

Damn, that sounds so 60's. I should go now. I await the next essay from The Captain with great eagerness.


Coming into this late, but I've spent my free time the past two nights reading the essay and the comments. It's restored a bit of faith in mankind that I had lost (yes, magical thinking, but as it's been pointed out there should be a place for it). I've read Bill's essays from the start and while I've missed a couple I plan on printing them out (with your permission) to read at work and pass around to some of the lost people. Bill you are an unbelievably eloquont person, you pull things together that many of us ahve been thinking but can't formulate into a realized concept and there lies your strength and popularity(maybe?). I would like to ask you to briefly look at one thing that has been floating on my mind regarding current American culture that I can't seem to bring to fruition. It would be the idea of Interchangeable Dreams. Why is it that we as a culture are so dissillusioned with life we accept the status quo and fit it to meet what we envision our life should be like? What does it actually take to break out of 'The Box'?

I'd also like to say I would love to be a fly on the wall in bar room disscussion between all of the commentators on your board. If ever there is a WhittleCon I'll buy the first round.

Change the picture, Rick.

Nice one Kevin

Kevin: Amen to that, buddy. I want to see warships burning off the shoulder of Orion too.

Dave: a ship that could surf quantum foam sounds very, very cool (as well as totally kewl)I'm checking out your site. BTW, apparently even many on the Left thing Michael Moore is hurting "the Cause". Here's a link: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/menutest/articles/sp03/mattson.htm

Rick: The second round's on me. I liked the comments as well (Their inspiration, Bill Whittle's essays, of course, are magnificent)

Sorry people, that disembodied voice above was me

Ms. Landrum:

Thank you for the invitation to debate the idea of "Intelligent Design," but I must decline the offer.

Instead of spending years studying the theory of evolution, I have instead studied a different topic rigorously, so I would not be able to debate you with any in-depth knowledge.

Suffice it to say that I have a "faith" that the mechanisms that brought about life on this planet are "natural" and that we simply lack sufficient data to explain everything - yet. I have a problem with equations that have blank spots in the middle, too, but inserting "then a MIRACLE OCCURS!" does not fit my worldview. Perhaps my loss.

Now, if you'd care to debate the meaning of the Second Amendment, I'm your guy.


Kevin Baker

Hey Jim, just to clarify a point: "Dave's Relativity Page" is not MY website. I just happen to share the same name. (Unlike Michael Moore, I don't want to give people a glimpse of the truth while twisting it into The Big Lie.)


noted and logged, Dave. Thanks

"WhittleCon," eh?

There's a great idea. How about when the book comes out? We can all go pick up our autographed first editions in person.

Hey, wipe the quantum foam from your lips and pour a few steins for the rest of us, eh?

David March
animator & fiddler
Shingle Springs, CA

No steins. I, like, prefer the stubbies, eh?
Okay, hosers, the first topic: snow-chains.

Hmmmmm, did someone mention a sort of Interplanetary Johnny Appleseed a few letters back, or am I still half-asleep?

"...a few kernels of truth picked from a dungpile of lies.."

How grotesquely poetic. I love it.

You killed Magic! You Bastard!

/South Park

Seriously good work. Epic in scope, sharp an a razor.

You shouldn't let a few bad comments ruin comments in general for you. Just ignore them.

Someone I know told me to have a look at this article so I just dropped by. 330 posts! Wow, you guys sure have a lot of time to waste. I mean I started reading, took it for the ugly ranting comedy piece it so obviously is (no matter what it purports to be) got bored real quick and checked out some of the comments. Much more entertaining altogether!

Some of you bozos seem convinced that old Bill is Jesus down from the cross despite the hypocritical, utterly one-sided viewpoint of his writing. And Bill - we're still waiting on those irrefutable proof links on the WMD's. If you find any, you should forward them to GWB and Blair who sure could use 'em right now, o great oracle of Republican propaganda.

My basic problem with this site is as follows: you write for fellow Americans in order to convince them of the greatness of their country.

My question is: how come they don't know it already?


Why Mikey, why shouldn't he be one-sided? YOU certainly are.
The attempted dismissive tone falls sorta flat with all the vitriol you posted. Can one spew bile nonchalantly? You sure try!
Mikey, you made my day. If YOU represent the opposition, you're doomed. Say hello to the ass-end of History for us, M'kay?

Wow, what a great debate! So many positions and points raging through these posts. Personally, I think it bears out one of Bill's points (and I quote): "When a person wants to believe something, no amount of skeptical questioning, logical contradictions or contrary evidence will move them."

How does it feel to be vindicated, Bill?

See, 332 posts in and there’s life in this tired old bitch yet... let’s go for the big 4 – 0 – 0 people:

How do you do, Jim, delighted to make your acquaintance! How nice to get such an original, elegant response from a fully paid-up member of the brainwashed Whittle intelligentsia. I take it you, like the vast majority of doctrinarian kissasses on this board, share Bill’s view as well as his tolerant attitude towards balanced debate and come here regularly to massage his ego with honey (sorry if I didn’t notice you amongst the 300 some previous posters on this board, I guess nothing you had to say caught my attention).

Thing is, Jimmy, you just ADMITTED his stuff was one-sided (as in biased, prejudiced, unbalanced, misleading or any other conventionally accepted synonym you care to mention).

All that angry, generalized, ad hominem, invective aimed (way off target) at yours truly and all the while its ME you fucking agree with! The path to enlightenment boasts many a rocky pass, huh grasshopper? As far as saying “hello to the ass-end of History” goes – great, great line, by the way – “TOP O’THE MORNIN’ TO YA, JIM”.

At the risk of laboring the point of my time wasting/reactionary freak-baiting: LINKS TO IRREFUTABLE PROOF OF WMD IN IRAQ.


Typical raving of a left wing moonbat. If you can’t attack the logic of an opposing opinion attack the person.


Nice article. I don’t agree with the helpful nits some have posted for you to change. Specifically the “Magical thinking” suggestion. Magical Thinking is of a child’s mindset, but maybe you are closer to the mark when using that term to describe belief in something that can never be proved. Irrational belief in lets say GWB stole the election, simply can’t be changed even by a recitation of the facts and the process of Presidential selection. Moonbats choose to believe whatever they want to believe- facts be dammed. You might even say its “Magical Thinking” of a childish origin.



Twistin' your tail, am I? ("Hey Mikey, he likes it!")
"All that angry, generalized, ad hominem, invective aimed (way off target) at yours truly..." Really? in only 5 lines? I must be good!
(For the record, Little Mikey's posts-- 1st one: 16 lines. 2nd one: 19 lines.)
Oh, and Mikey...I thought you said "C-ya"...I understand, you don't want to be hangin around with us doctrinaire bozos (ad hominem invective, that)
Thanks fer comin' out. Don't forget to close the door on your way out.

Mikey, you add much to this discussion board. I love your comments, they ooze intelligence.


Bill, wonderful essay... like Twain said, "... if I had more time..." Anyway, it is GOOD. I write myself, and realize that an author needs the following: Encouragement, criticism, and homemade brownies.
I hope you get your fair share of all.

p.s. My family is fine, and you still want to share a thanksgiving table with them (If you are not an Idiotarian).


The summary: "when assertion carries the same weight as proof, we will surely lose our way."

Have we, then, already lost our way? Look at the headlines of certain major news networks, the way the wording is placed to pre-position the assertion before the story, before the proof. Listen to presidential hopefuls, one of which is a VietNam vet, if you didn't know. Assertions about everything from medical insurance to taxes to foreign relations. It is all the same, as you so aptly worded it.

I am not a doomsday type, but I do fear there is a coming battle of sorts in America for the ideological direction of the country.

Bill, keep up the great writing...we need it!

Perhaps assertion already has replaced truth. From the recent news headlines, all that's really going on is Laci Peterson, Sammy Sosa, and Martha Stewart. All we have are assertions about all of them. Meanwhile on Planet Reality, another mass grave was discovered in Southern Iraq. This one contained the remains of approximately 200 children.

I'm going to repeat that, because it sounds vaguely important.

A MASS GRAVE WAS DISCOVERED IN SOUTHERN IRAQ, CONTAINING THE BODIES OF 200 CHILDREN. They appear to be children of Kurds and were murdered in reprisal for various uprisings in 1991. Some of them were discovered clutching their dolls. Yet despite this FACT, our media has been utterly silent on this. The story broke almost a week ago. I only know because I saw the article (from the Herald Sun, an Australian newspaper) linked to someone's blog.

Apparently it's easier to report fluff pieces, sensationalism, and celebrity scandal than to look into a camera and report relevant FACTS about the world at large. Why report on the evil of Saddam's regime when you can chip away at the President by asking "Where are the weapons?"

Screw the WMD's. Even if we never find them, our presence and actions in Iraq have been eminently justified.

Someone save me a seat for Whittlecon 1, the first round of quantum foam is on me!


On May 20, BillHedrick asked, " I wonder if the popularization (and incumbent oversimplification) of quantum mechanics and relativity adds to the magical thinking."

I think the answer is yes. definitely. The idea that anything is possible and physical reality does not exist until at least one "observer" interacts with a possibility (and the more observers interacting in the same way, the more real it becomes) is a popular notion among magical thinkers. I actually heard someone use the following to illustrate the power of quantum thinking:

"Take dinosaurs. People lived on earth for thousands of years but only recently discovered dinosaur bones. And then, once bones were discovered, more people believed in dinosaurs and still more bones were discovered. Soon a critical mass in belief was reached and dinosaur bones became unavoidably real for non-believers as well and started turning up all over the place. Even in places no one remembered seeing them before. This was because someone had the will power to first believe and then convince others to believe the same way."

Wow! How can you argue with that?

If I remember correctly, the inability of honeybees to fly was outlined in a short note in the original Reader's Digest Reader, copyright 1948. It's an older story than you may have suspected.

In the 1940's helicopters were oddball experimental contraptions. Practical air vehicles were all airplanes, which had fixed wings. The equations used to prove that honeybees can't fly were equations for fixed-wing airplane aerodynamics; those were the ones that applied to every air vehicle most aircraft engineers had ever worked on. The calculations proved quite correctly that honeybees cannot fly without flapping their wings. The mistake was in generalizing this to a conclusion that they cannot fly at all.

You've got me hooked, Bill. I keep coming back, re-reading articles. You had me from the one on Courage.

It's probably just me re-reading these things so many times, but I caught a typo in this one.

"look into space and time back to the fist .0000000000000001 second of the Big Bang"

Need an 'r' in that "first", there. Just thought I'd say that in case this one gets to print and I read my (hopefully) autographed copy and catch it.

In addition to 'Babbage's Complaint' (seeing things not verifiable objectively in shared reality) please look up 'schotoma'.

That little phenomenon is MUCH more widely experienced by humans, inasmuch as it is the NON-seeing of something demonstrably WITHIN the looker's visual range... that is, 'if it were a snake, it'd bite you', but YOU DO NOT visually perceive it, even having eyes open and brain engaged.

Rational thinking can be quite rewarding, but it also requires practice, coaching and perseverance.
Free thought is not free, nor does it come without a significant personal investment... and THAT IS a real Eye Opener!

Mr. Whittle -

Great essay in many respects, but (as others have said) there is a gaping omission - religion. God is no different from the fire-breathing dragon in the garage. Praying to a God (whether it be Thor or the Christian God or whatever) didn't give us the ability to call down rain; science did. There are only three arenas where people look to religion rather than science for answers - what happened in the beginning of time, what happens in the brain, and what happens after death. Science is rolling back our ignorance on all three fronties, and when we can genetically engineer brains and bring people back from the dead - or make them effectively immortal - religion will be just as useless for understanding these phenomena as it is for rain.

I can only speculate that you left religion out to avoid alienating people on the right - and not just the bible thumpers - but decent everyday folk who believe in devils, angels, heaven, God, and all sorts of other magical things. If not, could you explain whether you believe religion should be exempt from the same scrutiny dragons, leprechauns, and UFOs receive?

That one I can answer easily.

I believe this about all religious experience, but I will deal with Christianity because we are so familiar with it.

To the degree that Christianity is about redemption, repentence and forgiveness, through the grace of the Son of God, then science, and I, have no business telling anyone what to think about it as these things transcend science. Just perhaps, we might one day have a way of looking into the past, and should that day come, then many religious foundations will be avialable for scientific scrutiny.

My problem with UFO's, Nessie, The Bermuda Triangle, Crop Circles, et al, is that their proponents not only claim that such events are real, they try to cloak themselves in scientific terminology (ghosts vibrate on a higher frequency, UFO's exist on a different material plane). To that degree, they step into the arena of proof and are fair game.

I have privately, and will perhaps in the future publically and vehemently criticise those who would try to teach that the world is 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs did not exist, that fossils are frauds, and so on.

I am not in the market to 'debunk' religion because true religious belief and experience is immune to debunking. I could not prove that there is no God, because that is not a provable hypothesis.

Many Christians refer to The World, as opposed to the community of The Church. What happens in the Church -- the spiritual, metaphysical transformations -- has its own internal laws that are immune to science and scientific thought. But when those laws are presented as theories about how things work, then they step from the Church out into The World, and when it comes to knowing The World, science gives answers that can be consistently found by any person of any religion at any time.

I cannot imagine an experiment that could prove or disprove the existence of a subtle Creator. I can, however, conceive of myriad experiments that tell us how the world works, so that we can say with some confidence that if there is indeed an all-powerful God, evolution, the Big Bang, and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics are some of the wrenches and hammers in his toolbox.

Well done, very well constructed and elegant to boot. All commentary and criticism is of the kind, loving sort.

1) Typo: "...entire skyscrapers of ideaS, have..."
(Bonus prize for the first person to Dowd a 20 page essay around the quote) ;)

2) I've read Den Beste's essay about inductive vs. deductive logic (the one you referenced in here). I wouldn't normally comment on what parts of the essay you speak to, but since blogging is a subtly different beast than writing, I figured I would make the comment and let you choose whether or not to listen to it. The point you're making here essentially is discussing the failure to distinguish between heuristics and algorithms (inductive vs deductive logic). Essentially the core of the issue is not (at least in my understand of your and Mr. Den Beste's readings) is not a question of assembling heuristics, but presenting people with a verifiable deductive proof of "X", showing that a heuristic also predicts "X" in a specific case and then trying to 'misdirect' the mind into accepting a heuristic result as algorithmic. While the point itself is made, the use of terminology may have not afforded you as much leverage in highlighting the difference between 'reason' and 'magical thinking' as you would have liked. Then again, you may not want to add even more text to dive into that bit of nit-picky trivia.

3) Next time you write, disregard people who complain about length. I think doing this in two sessions (so to speak) has created a difficult situation in which one version is more complete but the other flows better (at least to my semi-literate ear).

4) I had a fourth point, but it kind of got subsumed by my second point. But I needed filler to get to point number five, and I couldn't find any last minute sponsorship to fill the slot and a station identification just didn't seem to be appropriate to this programming segment. So that was the filler.

5) The essential problem that you allude to in this is that all political science (indeed, virtually all soft science) is essentially immune to the requirement of hard deductive reasoning manifested as usable algorithms. It's sort of the problem that math runs into with arbitrarily complex problems (like all that Turing and Godel stuff). So essentially its like you've got a class of problems which must all necessarily be solved by approximation. The difference is that one has no idea of whether or not there is even a deterministic answer to be had, at all, and hence no provable theoretical model to work from. Consequently we are stuck with a completely empirical way of establishing and verifying hypothesis. Considering the late date at which the scientific method was developed, its not at all surpising that magical thinking still has such a hold on people.

6) Something about post-modernism which would make this post entirely too long.

Mr. Whittle:

My problem with UFO's, Nessie, The Bermuda Triangle, Crop Circles, et al, is that their proponents not only claim that such events are real, they try to cloak themselves in scientific terminology (ghosts vibrate on a higher frequency, UFO's exist on a different material plane). To that degree, they step into the arena of proof and are fair game.

Fair enough. While I personally don't believe, as long as people don't try to use religion to interfere with science or the teaching of science (e.g. intelligent design or geocentrism or this stem-cell thing), I have no problem with it.

Outstanding. Absolutely fantastic.

When can we pre-order the book?


Santana, enough. Whereas Bill does not personally know a fireman, I do. Two of them - they're brothers. I could tell the exact same story that Bill did, it would be based completely on provable facts. Plus I could throw in something about how they like to listen to industrial rock and death metal in their spare time.

Now, Moore claimed that the Littleton Lockheed plant makes 'weapons of mass destruction'. It does not. That is a provably untrue statement, and no matter who says it, it is still a lie.

Moore SPLICED TOGETHER a video of a speech by Charlton Heston, completely changing the meaning of his words. And no, it wasn't condensing the speech - the chronological order was shuffled MID-SENTENCE to make Heston say what Moore wanted him to say.

Oh, and Bill, never you mind the people who say your essays are too long - they always leave me wanting for more.

Plus, I'm immune to elaborate, wordy rhetoric - I just finished Atlas Shrugged the other week (and you are a FAR better writer than Rand).

My God! What a long piece of writin'!
Fascinatin' too!

And what's this about Larry Elder?

Sheesh, something else for me to go read.... :-)

Thanks. I teach teens, and how I wish I could sit some of the bright but occluded intellects down and get them to read your essay. I struggle every day to convince my students that real history is more fascinating than any movie could ever be.
I am not against fantasy, I just get broiled when it takes the place of the true knowledge that we need to survive. Sometimes I feel like the farmer who is trying to convince everyone that while the rain dance is fun and entertaining, we really need to dig that irrigation ditch.
p.s. What length problem? There are far more lines of comments on this page than there are lines of essay. That tells me it was damn good and though provoking. Thanks, again.

Excellent touch up dude. Coupla remaining typos, but those are just nits.

I have the The Demon-Haunted World on my bookshelf. I would tell my 12 year old son that he should read it as well as MAGIC. But MAGIC first.


Great essay - I have been neglecting this site & most others recently due to my hectic schedule, but it was time to check in - glad I did.

Have you ever wondered why the incredibly advanced little space aliens come to us in their high tech ships, across millions of light-years, galaxies away - in order to give us ANAL PROBES?!?!? What the hell is that about anyway! I truly hope that if we ever do get real extraterrestrials they will have better things to do. But of course, as you so elegantly pointed out, the real magic is in the cosmos itself - no need for gilding the lily.

I had to laugh about your comments about taking progress for granted - I grew up in a house with no heat & broken pipes in January, and I will take progress anytime. I know a lot of people who go camping a lot and ask me if I do it- I always tell them I don't need to go camping to experience "roughing it", as I had enough of that as a child, thank you very much. I love the outdoors, but I have had my lifetime quota of freezing my a** off. Central heating - good!

One thing that really irritates me now that I am an adult is how people assume that because I am female that I believe in all the pseudoscience crap - astrology, crystals, tarot, you name it. My answer to that is always that I find the natural world, and the universe in general, to be far more exciting and fascinating than anything supernatural.

I would like to comment on one thing - people will always love a mystery, and that seems to be hard-wired as well, so these things will always be with us; the challenge is to keep it from taking over. People (myself included) love "The Lord of the Rings" books and movies not because of the magic but because of the MAGIC - we want there to be PEOPLE LIKE THAT in the world; heroes and romantics, great adventurers. We want men like Aragorn and Gandalf to triumph over men like Grima Wormtongue and Sauron every time. Hopefully most of us know that such a world has never been and never shall be. We can only act in ways that make the world we do live in a better place, and that means embracing the benefits and discoveries of true civilization and enlightenment. We have our heroes and adventurers all right - I believe they are called scientists & astronauts.


Yeah, but "magical thinking" was around long before hippies and post-modernists, and is enshrined in the constitution that you're spruiking for. How can you write an essay like this and manage to tiptoe around God, while taking Chomsky to task for ignoring the elephant in the butter ...

Your remarks about science vs non-science all make sense, but your attempts to apply them to politics are pseudo-science in themselves. Russian communism bad, therefore, unfettered capitalism good. How scientific is that? You attack Chomsky with nothing more than vague parables that, for all we know, just illustrate your own prejudices. If Chomsky was attacking you, you know that he'd at least provide some documented evidence (with which you'd no doubt take issue, but the fact remains - one of the hardest things about reading Chomsky is plouging through the endless footnotes).

All in all, you dress yourself up in the suit of the hard-headed rationalist, immune to the follies of unsubstantiated claims, and then proceed to make a whole host of them. Only those who, as you say, "want to believe", could possibly take it seriously.

Just scrolled back on the comments to see Bill's response to the God thing. All I can say is that I'd much rather people believe in UFO's. I'm not aware of anyone flying planes into buildings on behalf of extra-terrestrials.

That of course presupposes that the belief actually caused the action.

Its quite possible that violent idiots will simply happen upon what excuses are available.

Thus, if there were no religions in the world but plenty of UFO-believing cults, maybe we would see about the same amount of violent idiots, but with different justifications.

Remember: when you chuck religion into one pot like that, you toss out Mother Theresa along with Osama Bin Laden, and you chuck the founders of 'humans have innate, natural rights' thought along with the perpetrators of 'lets throw gays from a cliff' thought.

Is it a good trade or a bad one?

Remember, Mother Theresa thought that being poor was a state ordained by God - if she had been secular, perhaps she would have used her profile to campaign for social and economic change instead of preaching against abortion while she carried out her (admittedly good) charity work.

The fact that so much good work is left to the church should be seen as an indictment on compassionate atheists, not a justification for God as an integral component of democratic society.

And I can't "chuck the founders" - they're part of history. Just because George Washington was a Freemason, does that mean that Freemasonry has some sacred, inviolable place in society? Do I have to be Jewish to believe in the Special Theory of Relativity?

As for UFOlogists rising en masse to replace religious fanatics as the terrorists du jour, that seems like a long shot. Even if it was true, though, shouldn't we attack the real source of these threats one at a time? If one gangster was threatening society, would we hesitate to lock him up because there was another waiting to take his place?

Religion is at the core of this mess we're in. Ignore it if you like.

Religion is not at the core of the mess. Fanatacism is. I know plenty of thoughtful, sensible religious folk, though I'm not myself, and not a few rabid atheists with some other cause between their teeth and tunnel vision. It doesn't matter if there's a supernatural entity, an ideology, or a person at the core: it's all the same phenomenon.

Any ideal that becomes more important than individual human lives should be very, very closely examined.

This particular fight we're involved in is against fanatics who claim a particular religion. Ookaay, that means that religion causes fanatic wars. About the same way flies cause garbage. When I was a child we were involved a a fight with two countries officially athiest. North Korea and then the Chinese got involved.
From age 18 to age 22 I was involved in yet another fight with an officially Athiest country, North Viet Nam.
The atrocities by those official athiests dwarf what the Islamofascists have managed(so far).
My parants fought Nazis, my generation fought communists in wars both cold and hot, this generation is fighting Islamofascists. Three generations, three fights, one with , Dan alleges, religion at the core.
I think that it's all the same fight. We've been involved in a generations long battle between our view of society, the State exists to serve it's citizens and various manifistations of the other view, the citizens exist to serve the State. Wether their justification is Allah or Marx or Hitler, it's the same mindset and must be defeated.

My wife once saw a little green man on top of the wardrobe.

I don't think that Korea and Vietnam, let alone WWII, fall into the category of "the mess we're in". Yes, wars can be caused by all sorts of fanatacism (not least of all Western imperialism). But the particular conflict that is occupying the world at the moment is a religious one. Yes, there are plenty of "thoughtful, sensible religious folk", but they still maintain irrationalism at the heart of their belief systems. Their "magic thinking" might not do any harm, but their religious beliefs are no more rational than those of the terrorists. If you believe in God, and if your life is lived according to what you believe "God's word" to be, and if you defend that point of view, then you have to defend every person who acts in accordance with what they see as "God's word", and that includes Islamic fundamentalists. Otherwise what you're effectively saying is "anyone who does bad things in the name of religion is not really religious", or "religion is okay as long as people believe what I believe and practise what I practise". There are plenty of moderate muslims who say that the islamists aren't really muslims, just as you're saying that they're not really religious, they just "claim" a religion. What I'm saying is that if you defend irrational beliefs, you also have to deal with the consequences of people who take those irrational beliefs further than you would like, and do things you disagree with.

Other wars have been caused by people with different irrational beliefs, or just by greed and power imbalance. I'm not claiming that religion is the cause of all human misery. Just that, this time around, it's squarely in the picture, so it's odd that someone like Bill would condemn irrationality without making a special effort to include people who believe in God.

Now that the "No War For Oil" crowd has switched their chant to "Where Are The WMD's?" I've a question for them:

"So, Where's The Fucking Oil?"

If it feels good, do it - is a pretty good slogan.

People without feelings can't make value judgements. In fact feelings guide most of human behavior. Including science in the lab. Rationality is a very small part of human behavior.

What needs to be taught is that the feelings you get from applied discipline and rational thought are about as good as it gets. As a correspondent of mine from Colorado a certain HT says: better than sex. Although he was talking about something else.

Feelings are way under rated in America today. Help is on the way. The brain scientists are finding the connections and pathways.

The hippies were not wrong. Their application was just limited to immediate gratification.

People want their magic. Which is why a virgin birthed son of God type Christ is more popular than a wise teacher human type Christ. We see evidence of this desire for magic every where.

When we see so much of a type of behavior from humans it must be in some way fundamental to their brain chemistry. What we need to do is to find a rational way to satisfy this desire that is not seriously harmful to the human enterprise.

So it may turn out that Jung was correct after all. Myth making is an essential part of being human. Harry Potter and Obi-Wan are cut from the same human cloth.

Feelings are essential. Without them we would not be human. With only them we are not human. Very interesting - no?

BTW I'm an aerospace engineer with software flying on the F-16, 747-400, SR-71 and other stuff so I know the romance of logic. The reason I do electronics and logic rather than being a brain surgeon is feelings. Brain surgery gives me no personal thrill. Making the electrons go where I want them does. Now i could tell you where my romance with electrons started but my personal history is besides the point. Playing with electrons (for me) feels very good.


It turns out that the spiritual metaphysical laws of the Church are not immune to science.

The metaphysical is a function of brain chemistry. The spiritual laws are a function of wealth generation and reproductive success.


Has some interesting stuff on why we are the way we are.

The soft sciences are becoming more predictive as we learn more about the evolution of brain chemistry.

Having spent 40+ years in the hard science/electronic engineering disciplines I must say that the current advances in brain science are breath taking and will revolutionize our understanding of human nature.

What is interesting to me is that a lot of this information is five to fifteen years old but has yet to widly influence politics or human understanding of humanity. The time is coming. It will be much like the 60s with a very much more rational basis. The hippies were not wrong. They just lacked full integration.

Logic will always have a problem with magic, but magic will continue poking and foiling the attempts of logic regardless.

Dear Bill,

Thank you very much. The fireman story was particularly sobering.

In A Devil's Chaplain (in the letter to his daughter), Richard Dawkins writes about three bad reasons to believe something: revelation, authority and tradition. The first two are there in your essay - might it be worth adding consideration of the way people invoke tradition as justification for believing irrational things?

And while we're in Richard Dawkin's appreciation mode, Unweaving the Rainbow is full of great stuff about superstition, coincidence, magic and miracles, and the reasons people are so ready to invoke a supernatural explanation.

Again, thank you for a thought provoking read.


Ah, I see. rightwing = truth, leftwing = false.

Good essay.

rightwing = 747

leftwing = magic carpet.

I do not like right/left taxonomics, is silly and divisive, instead of pursuit of reason and truth.

Excellent keep up goodwork.

Don't forget to appply Goethe as well as Newton as Science aspires only to outdo nature, in order to do so must ensure understanding of morphological processes and interaction BETWEEN object and subkect actually altering results.
Harmonics are not just part of a power principle. Nothing is 'magic', but everything is connected,

Despise such concept is to despise nature.
We are part of nature, to despise this is to despise self and endlessly try to escape fullness of interconnected life. Do not confuse this with people loving nature = people despising self.

Is wrong thinking. neither thinking that people loving science despise nature. Without nature there is no science. Nature is word invented by people who try to spiritualize us AWAY from our depencency. Nature is all things. To think of it as 'other' or' outside' is a glaring lie.

Healthfulness depends upon harmony, both physical and spiritual. Life loves life. The factory is not 'life', here is the disparity.

Congratulations for exposing Michael Moore. I mean that, it was very thought-inducing reading.
Do you also expose Corporatism sponsored violence or is that all a lie?

Where are your priorities? Like Mr Moore, you are also self-serving?

If you claim to be in pursuit of truth, what gives us the reader similar protection from your deliberately being economical with the truth, or deliberately repeating lies to discredit anyone you don't like??

What do you say to Michael moore's assertation that he was given the gun by the bank as we saw it? What you think of this is not as relevant as whether you or he tells the truth or not. That is objectivism pure and simple.

Why do you not counter his claim rather than spread your ownversion of the 'facts?'

I am not pro-Moore I am pro-truth, and if you tell the truth it's the same as anyone telling the truth.

I am pro-truth, but this I admit is impossible in today's world,because lying is so profitable when dealing with power only.

What do you say to this please because you and Michael Moore (excuse me) say essentially the same: "the world is full of lying whackos, listen to ME"


yours, bucketspoon for truth.

Ah yes. Good ol' logic. For instance, one might say that it would logically follow that someone who (in many ways rightly, I must say) criticizes the yearning for age old spiritualism would also see that it is just as ridiculous to claim that everything started going to hell in a handbasket in the late 60s as it is to say that everything started going to hell in a handbasket with the Age of Reason. Yearning for the golden years of yesterday never gets us anywhere.

I absolutely agree with your thoughtful debunking of the alleged existence of UFOs, ghosts, and company. And all of this stuff is indeed quite boring. So boring, in fact, that I must wonder at the fact that you would waste so much of your valuable time debunking these ideas.

What's worse, you delight in blaming the spread of such unscientific views on hippie college professors. For heaven's sake! Where did you go to school anyway? I was raised and educated by children of the 60s. Not a single one of these liberal minded role models ever encouraged anything other than rationalism. I daresay that many, many members of that generation feel a strong affinity for Carl Sagan, who was young there as well.

I also agree with you that George Bush was legally elected. Statistically, I strongly feel that the last presidential election was, hands down, a tie. That fact is absolutely disgusting to me. Between George "common sense" W. Bush and Al "science" Gore, who do you think *really* would be more prepared to embrace what you so deftly call "magical reasoning"? It is a manifestation of people's utter lack of interest in anything that matters that George Bush got half of the votes in that election. George W. Bush who is such a paragon of logical reasoning that my Republican grandmother actually remarked about him "...but he seems like such a *smart* man... except for during the debates... I was so embarassed for him."

To sum up: If you're going to criticize people who believe in UFOs, by all means, do so. It's a silly waste of time, but be my guest. But for heaven's sake, please don't make the logical fallacy of saying that because UFOs don't exist that the environmentalists are clearly wrong.

Incidentally, I seem to recall one episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series in which he focuses on addressing the need for action to deal with the upcoming environmental crises. I suggest you read Edward O. Wilson. He's a fan of logic too.

--A friend

"to capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest."
-Stephen Schneider

It is undeniable that many environmental crises are real. It is equally undeniable that environmentalists have absolutely no one to blame but themselves if people no longer take them completely seriously, because they quite consciously adopted a tactic of hysteria and alarmism rather than cool rationalism.

Very good Job. This is the first essay that I have seen that catches my attention and I had the will to read

About the comments on Chomsky: Bill, you must know that that guy has been misleadingly quoted out of context so often, and paraphrased so inaccurately, that any examples of his foolishness need attribution to source and context. Not that you need foornotes and all in an essay like this, but somebody like me who has seen Chomsky so often vilified secondhand is not going to automatically grant credibility to what you wrote about his stuff - in fact, those argument-free and sourceless assertions tend to lower the credibility of the rest of the essay. I haven't seen Moore's little film, for instance, but I have read Chomsky - and I get the impression you haven't. He's an odd example for this essay - magical thinking and Chomsky just don't fit together easily.

"magical thinking and Chomsky just don't fit together easily."

Sorry, Mike, but I think the two do fit together. Perhaps you have a point in regards to a matter of degree, but to say that Chomsky is not flagrantly loose with his reasoning and rational at times is not being honest about the man.

Take his stance on the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Chomsky, being a devout marxist (I hope you are aware of that), refuses to accept the ideologies culpability in the slaughter of millions of people in that country. Even though it was the stated doctrine that the educated, "bourgeois" elements (those who could read and write, doctors, teachers, etc.) needed to be 'purged', and they followed this to a 'T', Chomsky does not blame them or their ideology. Even though this same pattern of 'intellectual cleansing' has been a hallmark of marxism since Lenin took up the cause, it can't possibly be it. In fact, Chomsky is on RECORD denying there were atrocities happening in Cambodia until the evidence became to blantant to ignore or justify. When he had to acknowledge the genocide, he simply shifted the blame.

No, Chomsky believes the U.S. is responsible, because the bombing we did apparently caused those in the worker's paradise to go completely batshit and start killing people in a frenzy. Otherwise, the communists would have built a solid and stable society.
I'm sorry, but using that kind of logic, we can also say that the U.S. was responsible for the rise and genocide of the Nazis because, after all, us entering the first world war caused them to lose it. The result humiliation and financial ruin certainly helped give rise to the Nazis. Shouldn't we be to blame?
Or take this example of Chomsky, for lack of a more appropriate term, pulling 'facts' out of his ass to attack the U.S. It a letter to Salon regarding an interview it conducted with Chomsky:

"Jan. 22, 2002 | Read "The Salon Interview: Noam Chomsky" by Suzy Hansen.

Noam Chomsky states in a Jan. 16 interview with Suzy Hansen, "That one bombing [of the al-Shifa plant in Sudan], according to the estimates made by the German Embassy in Sudan and Human Rights Watch, probably led to tens of thousands of deaths."

In fact, Human Rights Watch has conducted no research into civilian deaths as the result of U.S. bombing in Sudan and would not make such an assessment without a careful and thorough research mission on the ground.

We have conducted research missions and issued such estimates for Iraq and Yugoslavia, after U.S. bombing campaigns there. In our experience, trenchant and effective criticism of U.S. military action requires factual investigation.

-- Carroll Bogert, Communications Director, Human Rights Watch"

Okay, so here is a person who by no means is a right-winger stating, quite clearly, Chomsky was LYING. Or, at best, Chomsky is deluding himself by thinking Human Rights Watch MUST have concluded what he himself believes. Which it is, I don't know, but I think it proves that Chomsky does not always rely on truth or reality when furthering his agenda. How often does he lie, or is 'mistaken'? From my (admittedly limited)reading of him and his critics Chomsky is very clever at manipulating language when he distorts facts and history, usually leaving himself wriggle room if caught in a fabrication or faulty analysis. Not surprising for a world-reknowned linguist, is it?

Lets take another example from another person who is far from a right winger; Alan Dershowitz:

"My next encounter with Chomsky revolved around his writing an introduction to a book by an anti-Semite named Robert Faurisson who denied that the Holocaust took place, that Hitler’s gas chambers existed, that the diary of Anne Frank was authentic, and that there were death camps in Nazi occupied Europe. He claimed that the "massive lie" about genocide was a deliberate concoction initiated by "American Zionists" and that "the Jews" were responsible for World War II. Chomsky described these and other conclusions as "findings" and said that they were based on "extensive historical research." He also wrote that "I see no anti-Semitic implication in the denial of the existence in gas chambers or even in the denial of the Holocaust." He said he saw "no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson’s work," including his claim that "the Jews" were responsible for World War II. He wrote an introduction to one of Faurisson’s book which was used to market his anti-Semitic lies."

Okay, so explain to me again how Chomsky has vilified, and how his reasoning is clear and factual? Sorry, Mike, but Chomsky is less than the some of his parts.

What Chomsky seems to do is this:

1) Exult in being contrarian. Well all know the type. The person who loves to argue and will take up almost any position in order to show off their mind and debating skills. He is obviously a smart man, but he wants to be known as SUPER-SMART, so he sees the patterns and codes of reality (usually political reality) that so many of us ignorant boobs miss. I can't tell if this is deliberate hubris, or something a little more disturbing.

2) Creates elaborate conspiracy theories which always seem to revolve the United States being the source of all evil in the world, except when he takes a slap at western civilization or the "Zionists" just for variety. Sometimes Chomsky reminds me of the character in A Beautiful Mind. A brilliant man whose intellect ends up feeding on itself when it cannot find sufficient mental challenges. The result is a man trying to find evidence of a massive conspiracy by cobbling together various pieces of data. He is a hero because he is the only one to see it, and thus able to stop it. Anyone who challenges him is 'part of the conspiracy'.

3) Makes himself known WORLD-WIDE as a 'dissenter' of the encroaching oligarchy, giving him fame and followers. Just curious, but if you are a linguist, even a REALLY gifted and brilliant one, how many people will ever know you or your work, outside of collegues or a select group of college students? Not many. Probably no one. So, let me just throw this out there not as a factual concept, but as a theory. If I wanted to have my superior intellect known, to have my name bandied around the world, I might want to use my language skills in such a manner as to attract as much attention as possible to myself. I would write controversial material that seemed to go against the 'status-quo' and common sense and proclaim myself to some of the darkest secrets of the world. Yep, that's how I might do it.

Anyway, Mike, I respect your opinion, but I think its pretty obvious I don't agree with it.

Keep up the good work, Bill.



Interesting thoughts, many of which I agreed with.

What you have failed to realise is that the same "magicians" who you laugh at were the forerunners of doctors and chemists and astronomers. While a lot of what they spoke was bogus, they laid the groundwork for the modern day.

People who want to believe in magic are dreamers, and let me tell you, there are two kinds of dreamers - new age idiots and people who make dreams come true - the dreamers who make a mark on the world.

For example, without the great fantasy writers to inspire the scientists and engineers, how much poorer would the world be?

People need their fantasies to inspire them to greater things.

Magic represents individual power, something a lot of people don't have. That's the appeal of it.

And as for Michael Moore - I'm not claiming he's a saint or anything, but if his work saves even one life, isn't it worth it?

If his book on Corporate policy somehow changes business legislation and makes companies act a little more responsibly, isn't it worth it?

Sometimes the ends justify the means, in this case, definitely.


No one is complaining about having fantasies or liking magic as entertainment. Magical thinking is dangerous and detrimental when it is used to make real world decisions. Carrying around a rabbit's foot for luck is one thing, buying 50 and thinking they'll make you invulnerable to bad consequences is another.

Writers do inspire scientists and engineers, but those people then have to operate on real-world principles to accomplish anything. Operating on mere 'belief' can be both a huge waste of time and dangerous.

As far as Michael Moore and the one life principal, a couple of questions to ponder:

1) What would you give up to save a life? Free speech? Freedom to worship? Property rights? Any one of these would save a life in some way. Does it make it worth it?

2) Whose life is he saving? How many will be killed in exchange? Just an example, Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine convinces a man to remove his gun from his home and his son does not find it and shoot himself. Good. Life saved. Later, 2 robbers breaks into the house, overwhelm the father whose wielding a golfclub, killing the whole family after getting nervous about witnesses. 3 Lives down.

As far as Corporate policy goes, it might be a good thing, but Moore is not an unbiased, reliable commentator. If you read and listen to him, he is completely anti-corporation nomatter what, and actually anti-capitalist. He often criticizes companies not for illegal behaviour, but for acting as a business. His over the top rhetoric makes serious criticism of corporate policy take a back seat to sensational stupidity. In a sense, he prevents or obscures legitimate discussion of the issues.

Also, being anti-capitalist, Moore does not want companies to act responsibly. He wants them to fail. What he wants is likely to be bad for business, bad for the economy and bad for workers at those companies. Most likely bad for consumers as well.

My point is that Moore's antics might not even get you to the end you are thinking of, the one you want to compromise the means for.

Howdy all,
First of all I should say who I am and why I got here. I am a junior in high school. I am a geek. I am a christian. I am not a scientist. I am not a politician. I am definitely not as "educated" as most of the people on this board, excepting maybe Josef there. I am a hyppocrit in many senses of the word. I don't know how to spell hippocryt. The one thing I have going for me is that I am the same species as some other people that happen to be somewhat smart. That, and I can rationalize things from the information given me.
I found this site, (actually I've only been to this one essay, I didn't know it was a full site of essays until the scroll bar had only about 3 inches left to the bottom), searching vivisimo for Plato and some of his stuff for a school project. I still haven't seen the word Plato, but then I kind of skipped some stuff.
To the point:
You guys are all nuts, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Granted, I might not be the "average" teenager, but I have a very skeptical set of parents and am that way my self. Nuts is a good thing though, it is really my view of most people. I've never seen any leprechans or ghosts or believed UFO conspiracies, never been to Ireland (isn't that where Loch Ness is?), actually I've never been out of the country at all. I'm totally sheltered and ignorant and young and moldable. But even I can see that everyone on this board, with the exception of a few individuals, is trying to prove themselves for some reason. Stop insulting each other, stop generalizing political parties, stop being 4. We're all on the same planet, we might as well get along.
As for my view on all this? I think it's mostly just fun to ponder for the simple fact that WE JUST DON'T know. No matter the evidence, justifications, realism, believability, or whatever else you use to make a case, the fact is there is a possibility that defies our views of possibility that anything, nothing and everything could be true. The only thing we know for sure is what we choose to know or believe or whatever. And that could be wrong. Did a "supreme omnipotent being" create the Earth and the Heavens, sending his son to die for Man's sins (that's the race there, not the gender, thought I should clarify for some particulars out there)? I believe so. But whether I am right or wrong is not a case in point. Use these forums and other media to review and argue and learn, but not to criticize. Now hug and make up.

-Not the sherrif

P.S. Yes, I made fun of josef there. I did say I was a hiyppocrytte.

P.P.S Woops I just skimmed the essay again, Loch Ness is in Scotland. Silly me!


Thank you for an excellent essay. It makes me pine for the days I was a science nerd (I did five years of mostly Biology). I returned to study Arts (over there you'd call it Liberal Arts), majoring in politics and found the thinking patterns in Arts very... uh... fuzzy. Thank God I only studied one Sociology class. (My major was politics).

So yes, I miss reading such well crafted reasoning, and I'm impressed that you had such an admirable grasp of politics, given your focus is science.

All first year philosophy students in my Arts Degree had to pass a compulsory (though small and fairly simple) reason and argument component. Most students failed, and in one class 80% of students failed even after 10% was added to all marks across the board. Several of my fellow students said they could not understand what the unit had to do with philosophy. Hmmmmm...

On the topic of heuristics, what you wrote gelled with the way I understand some aspects of moral philosophy and so on, starting from a zoological/biological perspective.

At the very base, there are tropisms and taxes - chemical reactions in bacteria, plants and so on which cause them to go towards or face 'good conditions' (eg a bacterium being propelled towards a nutrient or a plant growing upwards/turning towards the sun). There are also negative taxes (a flagellated bacterium encountering an increase in a toxin will swivel around (the flagella change their direction of rotation) and then stop and propel themselves in their new, random direction.) It is obvious that such attraction/rejection stimulus-response reactions are advantageous.

In a similar way, though using different mechanisms, animals have reactions hard- (or soft-) wired to particular stimuli, which on their own seem sensible but are sometimes contradictory.

The classic example for me is that of a nesting bird that responds to the stimulus of seeing another bird destroying eggs in a nest (any eggs in any nest) by running towards it to drive it away. So far, so good - sounds like our moral prohibition against killing the innocent.

If, however, the bird sees an alien egg in its own nest, it will be distracted from its task and will go and attack the alien egg in its nest. This also would seem to be a useful trait and perhaps comparable to property 'laws', protection of its own young, etc..

That the bird's proto-moral or proto-legal impulses are incompatible does not occur to the bird. The bird never thinks through the reasons for its actions. However, these somewhat contradictory impulses serve the bird well enough.

Partially because of finite resources and infinite desires, partially because of the laws of thermodynamics, we are always in competition with each other. This and simple accident mean that our own hardwired 'moral' or proto-legal impulses can not be built into an infallible moral system. That is why all utopias end up denying some aspect of essential human nature. I do not mean to deny the existence of 'good' and 'evil', but rather to point to a necessary compromise in some decisions.

With this in mind, whenever I have seen an unpleasant government policy, I have always looked for the conflict it is attempting to resolve. Usually there is some sort of 'problem' at its core which has unpleasant consequences no matter what is done (eg a drug addict considering a late-term abortion).

In some states, a dictator might weigh up his impulse to stay in power/alive against his impulse not to destroy the human resources that keep him there. Only when there is great tension in the system does the dictator determine that it has become necessary either to sacrifice himself or initiate a reign of terror. Either action would be senseless without the central conflict.

On the other hand, it would make no sense for a leader of a stable democracy to start killing people at the start of his term. Such simply wrong policy decisions are never debated because they never arise. Policy debates only occur where impulses are contradictory; where a conflict exists.

It's surprising that (apparently) most people do not realise this. When they see a Government policy with a negative side to it (eg invading a country kills people, breaks things, is expensive and has an element of unpredictability), instead of seriously looking for the reason, they attack the policy. Some apparently assume the government and its highly educated advisors simply have not realised the disadvantages. By simply assuming that the Government does not care that it is 'doing wrong', such people prepare themselves to fit all future policies into the 'heuristic' theory that the government is evil/cold hearted/machiavellian etc., and all defences of policy into the category of making excuses or being duped.

This fact, combined with an inability to make the necessary connection between one's own actions and their consequences, and the need to take responsibility for those consequences, also explains why people with no scientific training whatsoever will march against the Government over Kyoto. Personally I'd never take a 'political' action such as that without a lot more research! If the protestor's actions can have no impact, why march? If they do have an impact, is it not irresponsible to march without all the information?

I hope these comments have added something appreciably new to what you've written above!

IMO One weakness with the analogy between Michael Moore and the movement from one cosmological model to the next is that in the latter case, both 'before' and 'after' theses are derived from evidence using logic, at least initially. As new evidence weakens the old theory, epicycles and so on may be added to the theory, but this is just the adjustment of a theory in the absence of an alternative model.

Eventually, an alternative model that explains the problems without creating greater problems becomes available. At that point, some scientists will 'defect' to the new model, whereas those who remain on the 'sinking ship' will increasingly resort to 'magical' arguments which dishonestly obscure reality.

On the other hand, this sort of 'magical thinking' is practiced by Moore and his ilk systematically right from the start.

Trevor Stanley.

"Carroll Bogert, Communications Director, Human Rights Watch"

Okay, so here is a person who by no means is a right-winger stating, quite clearly..."

I presume that means you are saying that few right-wingers would work towards human rights, or else you are being specific and have knowledge of the political affiliation of the person in question?

Whatever, it sounds dodgy.

Moore is lying hypocritical self serving elitist piece of crap with no education or intelligence to speak of. If he ever had a logical thought it would die alone. His 15 minutes should have died in the early 80's with Roger and Me. Like a bad shock jock he just makes shit up now to get publicity the sad and scary part is that some people believe him. Other than that he is great guy.

As a geeky youth, I used to fantasize about locking Carl Sagan and William F. Buckley into a room and making them reach a consensus.

Two of the intellectual stars in my firmament, both rutlessly rational, critical thinkers, and I frankly doubt they could agree on lunch. :)

Someone once donated a phrase to my lexicon that I greatly treasure; "Man is not a rational animal; he's an animal that rationalizes."

Still, I hope my rationalizations are fine-grained and of better resolution than most; as are yours. For I must point out two things: first, that your premise here, in toto, while correct as far as it goes, would go just as far if aimed rightward.

As for magical thinking, what do you call it when 30 percent of the electorate dismiss the relevance of the economy and the war in favor of "moral values?"

That's magical thinking - and the first bit of magical thinking is that the phrase refers to morals, values, or any consistant cultural pattern that has an ethical framework.

Indeed, "moral values" is one of those beautiful phrases beloved of Rhretorictitions, and dispised by logicicians, as it appeals to emotional reasoning alone. It means something fundimental, visceral and completely different to everyone, convincing all that they share a commonality of interest when in fact, there's no broad agreement at all.

You may point out - accurately - that this would be true of the left as well. No great evidence of widespread critical thought there, either. Nor should that be surprising - I do not believe that critical thinking is taught in any public school at a level below high-school, and even then, it's taught to very few as an elective, and never called that.

As a result, fuzzy-mindedness abounds, and if one wishes to communicate the results OF real critical thought, one must speak the language of the masses. In this particular case, the republicans had a resevoir of foolishness that democrats could not access - or in fact, idiologically comprehend well enough in order to consider manipulating.

So, whatever I think of your critical thinking and conservative values - quite a lot, in fact - it's a shameful fact that critical thinking had little or nothing to do with this election, nor will it have any more to do with Administration policy than it ever has.

Remember, this is a man who attacked Iraq because God told him to. Not because it had oil, or is the ultimate strategic prize of the middle east, key to ANY sort of imposed or influenced decision, not because getting rid of Saddam has an humanitarian and asthetic purity, not because it was part of a gordian knot maintaing terrorism (an arguable point, not very compelling to me but arguable.)

Nope. God told him to.

Now, I happen to be something of a mystic. And something of a self-described magician. Nonetheless, in my own way I'm a realist; if magic occurs, has real effects, then it must come about by real, if incompletly understood means.

"Any sufficiently crude form of magic will be indistinguishable from engineering." In point of fact, we are surrounded by truly magical things every day - the internet being perhaps the most wizardly.

Anyway, thanks and blogrolled. :)

Thanks for the essay, I found it entertaining.

I'd just like to point out that if we run out of oil, which will probably happen in the middle of the next century, the culture with the highest standard of living will likely be the Australian Aboriginals. Part of their "magical thinking" includes mnomics built into the dreaming which teach minimalist survival techniques.

I'm not demeaning science. 10,000 years of civilization has produced the technology to give me corrective lenses and cheeseburgers. However, if anybody thinks that much of our current technology isn't seriously flawed then they are naive.

As a species we would appear pretty psychotic to the little green men, if they are out there. Personally I think it is arrogant to believe that we are the one and only intelligent life form in a limitless universe.

Yes I said limitless, as in infinite, unending. Please explain why astronomers and physicists have trouble accepting this. In my lifetime the estimates of its size has changed I think at least 3 times. Everytime someone comes up with a better yardstick it changes. Get over it.

The first time somebody told me that the speed of light was constant I was skeptical. Now it appears I was right. I'm willing to bet that if the human race lasts another 1,000 years the future scientists will laugh at a lot of our quaint notions.

I'm pessimistic about our survival because our species' psychotic nature. We are the only species capable of our own extinction. We are the result of random mutating monkey sex. Look at the anthropological record. A lot of our evolution was driven by agression. Weapons are among our earliest tools. The desire to dominate and the ability to destroy one another have evolved and driven much of our culture and technology. Even chimps in the wild kill and eat smaller apes when they can catch them.

Now, probably the largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, is in the hands of a fundamentalist cracker that can't reliably say nuclear. And you guys wonder why the rest of the world is a little nervous about "American agression."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big Kerry fan either. I also think Saddam was due to take a shit kicking. But isn't 100 tons of TNT for every man woman and child on the face of the earth a little more than is required? I realize if the US wasn't going to play cop we'd have to blow our rep for politeness. Now there's a myth easily dispelled by a trip to Toronto.

I keep reading about Americans wondering why gun stats are so different in Canada. We have laws that make it very difficult for "normal" people to kill each other with guns. Take a look at our per capita stats on knifings. The mutant monkeys up here are just as nasty. If they outlawed knives we'd just sharpen soup spoons. I suspect the per capita stats are also skewed because we aren't as densely packed together. We still think a million people is a big city. Even when we can still drive to total wilderness in less than 20 minutes.

By the way, the rest of the world would be very impressed if you guys could modify your political system so that you actually made the US constitution work. When you wave it at us we can't help but think about "give us you poor and downtrodden." Is the corollory "We'll keep them that way?" Sadly, it appears that political systems are one of those things that we ALL have a hard time getting to work. Bad thing is historically when an empire figures it is the pinnacle of perfection it means the cracks are going to show. Complacencey allows the really evil mutant monkeys to get too much control. The most terrifying thought to the rest of the world would be a US dictator. When you are done yelling. Go look up Caesar crossing the Rubicon. The Romans were a little shocked.

I haven't seen Columbine. Partly because I don't go to the movies to be educated. Fact is I never went anywhere to be educated. I suspected that I would find an hour of Mike Moore annoying. Just because the little bits of him I've seen made me think he'd be a smug jerk trying to make me believe something.
For that I read books. I have a simple method. When I read somebody trying to be persuasive, I go looking for the opposition. Even when I agree with the first party. Sometimes I stick with my original impression. Sometimes I change my mind. Occasionally I decide to be confused and suspend belief on both.

Was it Will Rogers that said "You can't con an honest man"?

I know he said "If dogs don't go to heaven, then send me where the dogs go."

Now there is a marvel that would impress the aliens. A species genetically engineered for loyalty to mutant monkeys that mostly don't understand the concepts that should inspire loyalty. I mean those empirical concepts like honor, dignity, compassion.

Hey thanks for the essay, and the glasses, and the cheeseburgers.

And, a question for 2005: any more public talks or lectures on schedule, Bill?

Hate to leave the last word to those who still don't get it... Thank you for the excellent essay. Obviously, it's not fool-proof, but as the saying goes (paraphrased), every time a fool-proof system is developed, a new class of fools emerges.

I am concerned by one particularly disturbing truth that has been touched on by others earlier. It seems that both Republican and Democrat leaders suffer to varying degrees from the pitfalls of non-critical thinking and/or a lack of demonstrable evidence that critical analysis has been performed in the pursuit of policy and legislation. In essence, they do indeed seem to beg for an ignorant or uninformed constituency. If the leadership does not vigorously pursue a course of illuminating the critical processes by which their decisions have been formed to the public, then the vast majority of voters will be too lazy to inform themselves of the pros and cons of any policy or legislation proposed. All we seem to get are sound-bites and rhetoric - skeletal, misapplied, exaggerated or downright misleading statistics, and of course, partisan polemics. In the end, there is little but faith and trust on which the "lazy" majority can base their opinions. I just don’t see this getting corrected without a “brave new leadership” from one or both parties to break the permafrost of the political “status quo”. Neither party appears willing to disturb the dynamics of current political processes. And I have to confess that I’m at a loss as to how the majority of voters can be weaned from the tit of ignorance without a very long-term and gradual transition from business as usual. The fact that this requires substantial and sustained effort from both leadership and constituency inclines me to believe that perhaps I am suffering from that infernal “magical thinking” as well…

Once again, Thanks for all the great essays!

Dave K.

A darned good column.

I would, however, like to add a different perspective on the issue of skepticism, even at this late date:

Consider the consequences if you actually witnessed a UFO landing. You could bring back photos, show people the burn marks on the ground from the engines, plaster casts of the footprints--- and still be dismissed as a quack or, more likely, a fraud with a dab hand at photoshop and stage effects. You could walk into the center of a press conference with a little green man in a headlock, and it would take a month just to convince people what they saw with their own eyes.

Let's consider a real-life situation: Orville and Wilbur Wright. In spite having signed affidavits from multiple eyewitnesses and even photographs, for years after their first flight they were dismissed as frauds by the Smithsonian, by science magazines and public newspapers. The local paper not ten miles from where they conducted their flights refused to send out a photographer or reporter, and lampooned them as frauds on the editorial page.

Let us also consider the Platypus. reports of this creature by "ignorant bumpkins" were laughed to scorn in the halls of science. The attitude of Skepticism was so entrenched that when scientists were presented with a pelt, one of them savaged it with a pair of scissors trying to "cut the stitches" attaching the bill to the head. It took decades to convince oh so clever scientists of the existence of a creature any clodhopper aussie settler or ignorant aborigine knew about.
(The pelt, btw, is reportedly still on display, and you can still see the scissors marks on the bill.)

The problem is not that people will believe in "magic," so much that they REFUSE to believe anything that might make them change their minds about the way things are.

And so far as I've seen, scientists and other "professional nonbelievers" deserve to be doubly damned for it... for they are often the first to see the evidence, and the last to believe what they've seen. And I'll retract THAT statement when the greatest leaps forward in scientific progress AREN'T constantly made by those OUTSIDE the scientific community, by men who have to climb over the fools blocking their way.