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The Buffoonery of Ben Stein

I recently became aware of a new documentary (to use the term liberally – no pun intended) starring and promoted by attorney, economist, political figure, former speech writer for presidents Nixon and Ford, actor comedian and game show host Ben Stein.  It’s called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  Now, admittedly I haven’t seen the film, but going on the reports and reviews I’ve read, it sounds like “no intelligence” was allowed in the making of this film — and that a few lies and deceptions were allowed.

Several of the scientists interviewed for the film are saying they were duped into the interview’s under very false pretenses given to them by the film’s producers and then, of course, their comments were used completely out of context.

From Wikipedia: The film “contends that [the theory of evolution] contributed to the Nazi Holocaust, communism, atheism and Planned Parenthood.”  Say what?!?!  They also seem to claim that there is basically a world-wide conspiracy of scientists out to silence people who espouse Intelligent Design.  Well, I can tell you there’s not conspiracy, scientists are usually pretty frank about ripping apart a very bad theory, Intelligent Design included.  This is all absolutely ridiculous, and I hope that everyone can see the absurdity of these claims.  Especially in the case of the Holocaust. To say that a biological theory formed to explain mechanisms seen in the natural world somehow led to the killing of thousands of people in the Holocaust is not just untrue, its disgusting — which actually means Ben Stein has gone beyond buffoonery, because there’s nothing amusing about such claims.

So for some further reading, I’ve gathered up some good links:

Well, that should be enough to get people thinking critically about the absurdities portrayed in the film.

I’ll use this opportunity to plug a three recent books that Ben Stein and crew should read — and soon (though I’d recommend these to everyone!):


UPDATE: I was just reading that Yoko Ono and sons are suing the film makers for using John Lennon’s song “Imagine” without permission.  The producers are claiming “fair use” saying that the song is used for commentary or criticsm, but it doesn’t appear that they are commenting on or criticising the song directly, so I would appear that there is a case.

If that weren’t enough, the band Killers were duped into licensing their song to the film’s producers.  How?  The producer’s asked them if they could use a certain song in a documentary about academic freedom.  Period.  The producers were purposely being vague in order to fool the band and record company into giving them permission to use the song.  It seems the band is not too happy about this and have posted about it on their forum.

More info on these two topics can be found on this repost of a Wall Street Journal article.  Don’t miss the two updates below the article.  They are the most telling…

Additionally they are being sued for directly copying a Harvard University/XVIVO produced animation “Inner Life of the Cell”.  They claim they they hired an independent video artist to create their film and any similarity is due to the animations depicting the same process.  However, it seems the animations not only depict the same process, but it is noted by David Bolinsky, the medical illustrator chiefly responsible for the original Harvard produced animation that, “it is astonishing that among well over a dozen functional kinesins from which an animator might choose, we both chose the same configuration of kinesin, pulling the same protein-studded vesicle, on the same microtubule” and “Can YOU believe we coincidentally picked the same camera angles and left in the same specific structures in the background, positioned with the same composition?”  Not to mention the Expelled animation is accompanied by the same music.   And they didn’t copy the Harvard video?  Right.

The lies, deceptions and copyright infringements perpetrated by the producers of this film speaks quite clearly about their ethics and true intentions.  Their tactics even make Michael Moore look like an amatuer. Even Unintelligent Design promoter William Dembsky has admitted that the film’s producers, “made sure to budget for lawsuits” and that they have retained “one of the best intellectual property attorneys in the business.”  Yeah, they obviously knew what they were doing – and what they were getting themselves into.  But to them, its all publicity!

The World is Ending!

Well, not quite. But you almost get that feeling by reading some of the major media coverage of “The Big Recession of 2008”. I’m not saying that there isn’t a downturn in the economy as of late, but you do have to wonder how much of this downturn might be attributable to a self-fulfilling prophecy, perpetuated in a large part, by the media.

Take the current top story on CNN’s RSS feed, “Poll: Three-quarters think U.S. in recession“. They needed to take a poll on that? Of course the people think that! CNN and other media outlets have been TELLING THEM that for several months now. And now, as soon as the population knows that 75% of us think we’re in a recession, CNN can take a poll again next week and they’ll probably find that 85% now think so.

Interestingly, another recent poll of “101 senior decision makers at U.S. companies with at least $500 million in annual revenues” by the Boston Polling Group found that only 37.6% think we are currently in a recession. Now, what do they know that the general population doesn’t? There’s an obvious discontinuity here. Ok, sure, another 15.8% of those executives that don’t think we’re in a recession now, do think we’ll be in one soon. But that’s still less than the nearly 75% that CNN found in the general population. And besides some of those execs are also certainly influenced by the inundation of grim doomsday recession news spewing out of every media outlet in the US and beyond on a daily basis.

At least a portion of all this recession stuff has got to be a vicious self-fulfilling cycle, predominantly perpetuated by the mass media. Tell them they’re “in a recession” enough, and they’ll act like it. The media tells us of this gloom and doom so often, that even the people who haven’t “felt” a recession personally start acting like their in one anyway. They worry about their savings more, their future. They limit spending. Less spending hurts retailers bottom lines, they report reduced sales, the media eats this up and reports on even further economics woes, creating even further paranoia in the unfortunately all too gullible public.

The media tends to do this for more than just recessions and slow downs. For many people, mass media helps to create reality. Several theories on this exist and while there’s some debate as to what extent it affects people’s reality, there is little debate about whether the media has influence at all. Skeptic.com posted a really good article recently on how broadcast journalism is flawed. It touches on the media/reality topic quite nicely. Here’s just one cited example on how the media affects our reality. Think of the prevalence of reporting on child abduction and molestation cases:

“According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in a given year there are about 88,000 documented cases of sexual abuse among juveniles. In the roughly 17,500 cases involving children between ages 6 and 11, strangers are the perpetrators just 5 percent of the time — and just 3 percent of the time when the victim is under age 6. (Further, more than a third of such molesters are themselves juveniles, who may not be true “predators” so much as confused or unruly teens.)

[…] if your child is not molested in your own home — by you, your significant other, or someone else you invited in — chances are your child will never be molested anywhere. Media coverage has precisely inverted both the reality and the risk of child sexual assault. Along the way, it has also inverted the gender of the most tragic victims: Despite the unending parade of young female faces on TV, boys are more likely than girls to be killed in the course of such abuse.”

Here we see a perfect example of media distorting and thus creating reality. It makes a good sensational story, kinda like economic woes — let’s go to press! Reminds me of the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s when the media (and a huge number of evangelical Christians) reported a flurry of ritualistic Satanic crimes, that included child molestation (of course!), which when investigated, turned out to be a non-issue, probably started by a hoax, and was perpetuated by bad investigation and interviewing techniques, and of course, “the media”.

Admittedly, the cases above didn’t start a wave of copycat molestations or satanic abuse, but they did change peoples behaviors — creating multitudes of overly protective parents that are spending way too much time worrying about the wrong things (or in the case of the satanic ritual abuse cases – completely ridiculous things).

So, while there certainly is some current economic slowdown (in large part due to the bomb dropping in the housing market) one does have to wonder — “Is it really this bad?” Probably not. And it will probably get as bad as it does simply because the media is blowing it completely out of proportion — or rather, creating a reality that is worse than reality.


UPDATE: Just after writing this I ran across an excellent article titled “Shoppers Cut Back, But That May Hurt” which further exemplifies the above quite nicely. 😉 In particular, the quote from Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University:

“In some senses, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, […] The idea that consumer confidence can crash the market or boost it tells you that it’s not always about reality.”

And also in this quote:

“I think what is at issue here is: Are people responding to real things, or are they just responding to fear?” said N.C. State University economist Michael Walden. “I’m not sure you can separate the two.”

Cheeseburger Tart?

The other day, I had a very nice slice of Olallieberry tart from Kelly’s French Bakery. As I like to cook and bake, this inspired me to go buy a tart pan last night so that I could prepare my own something-or-other-berry-tart today.

This morning, preparing to wash the pan, I removed the outer cardboard that was affixed to the pan with that ultra sticky rubber cement type stuff so often used on bakeware today. Though I had a recipe in mind from a French cookbook that I inherited from my grandfather, I do know that oft times bakeware comes with a recipe or two printed on the packaging. So I flipped the cardboard over, and there staring at me in the face, printed on this French Tart Pan, was the unlikeliest of all recipes — the Cheeseburger Tart.

What?!?

Of course, tarts are not always sweet things. One might use a tart pan to make a quiche or a Clafoutian aux Légumes. But a Cheeseburger Tart? Could you possible print a more un-French recipe on the packaging? Who would actually bake such a thing?

I mean, really, what person in this company’s marketing department (because in the past several years, at my place of employment, I’ve become convinced that it’s always someone in marketing responsible for such follies) would be scanning the vast World Encyclopedia of Food for that perfect recipe to accompany their product, and then suddenly, in a moment of pure brilliance, puts away all the cookbooks they’ve been researching through and scribbles down the recipe for a Cheeseburger tart.

And there’s another side to all of this. As with so many products these days, my tart pan was made in China. Do we really want the Chinese thinking that out of all the fine foods that can be made in a tart pan, what the Americans really want is a Cheeseburger Tart?

Or perhaps I’ve got it all backwards. Perhaps it was someone in China who created this recipe based on internet searches and the preconceived notion (or stereotype) that, when it comes down to it, all that American’s really want is a nice Cheeseburger, so let’s give it to them in tart form. If this is the case, someone please send some new Ambassadors to China!

I might expect a recipe like this on the packaging of a casserole dish sold at Wal-Mart, but a French Tart pan from Bed Bath and Beyond? Not that BB&B is some high class joint, but still. I don’t think the marketers of this pan knew who they were selling to. Did they really expect some person to arrive home with their new tart pan and burst with excitement on discovering that they had purchased, not just the tart pan, but a recipe for a Cheeseburger Tart? These two words should not even be used in the same sentence, let alone used to describe one single dish.

There’s no copyright listed anywhere near the recipe, nor can I imagine anyone wanting to claim a “right” to such a recipe. So, in keeping with two themes of my blog, Food and Buffoonery, I’ll now present you with, the Cheeseburger Tart:

Cheeseburger Tart

One 9-inch round refrigerated pie crust (notice it calls for a pie crust and not a tart shell ?!?!?)
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder and seasoned salt
1/2 tsp salt (as if the seasoned salt weren’t enough)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 can (15.5oz) Sloppy Joe mix (it just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?)
1 can (8.67oz) corn, drained (8.67???)
1/4 cup sliced black olives (I love olives, but now my stomach is really starting to turn)
8 slices medium sharp cheddar cheese
Red and yellow bell peppers (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray bottom of tart pan (finally, it’s now a tart and not a pie) with vegetable pan spray. Roll out pie crust to 12-inches (oops, it’s been demoted to a pie again). Press crust into bottom and sides of tart pan; trim edges. Bake 12-15 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.

In medium skillet, brown ground beef with onion over medium heat 8-10 minutes or until beef is no longer pink; drain fat. Add seasonings, sauce, corn and olives to ground beef mixture. Place four slices of cheese on bottom of baked crust. Add filling and top with remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake 15-20 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.

Garnish with slices of red and yellow pepper or whole petite peppers, if desired. (Note, the only remotely elegant thing about this dish is “optional”).

Serves 6-8


By the way, while I was typing this up, the Cheeseburger Tart recipe was sitting next to my French cookbook and in a moment of eerie coincidence, the ultra-sticky-rubber-cement-type-stuff that was still all over the packaging on which the Cheeseburger Tart recipe was printed affixed itself to the French cookbook, right to the page listing the recipe for Tarte aux Myrtilles, a Blueberry tart. Was the Cheeseburger Tart recipe trying to tell me something? Was the Cheeseburger tart striving for acceptance? Or was it crying for help, wishing it were a “real” tart filled with elegance and glamour — jealous in the realization that it would never make it to the refrigerated display case at Kelly’s French Bakery. Fortunately I was able to detach the conjoined recipes without ripping the cookbook.


UPDATE: I discovered that if you type “Cheeseburger Tart” into Google, the top hit is my blog posting here. I’m debating on whether that’s a good thing or not.

Buffoonery

Buffoonery – Behavior that is ridiculous but amusing

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