I don’t ordinarily do this, since I assume faithful readers eagerly seek out my work elsewhere on their own but since the fate of the earth is at stake in
this Slate column, permit me to urge you to take a look. If you’re alarmed as the facts seem to warrant, about the shakiness of our control over our (and Russia’s) nuclear arsenals, and the threat it poses of accidental nuclear war, I hope you’ll e mail it to your congress- person.
August 31, 2007
I don’t ordinarily do this, since I assume faithful readers eagerly seek out my work elsewhere on their own but since the fate of the earth is at stake in
People have asked me why I haven’t blogged further on Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake since the beginning of the month when I wrote about hearing one of Jeremy Blake’s last, pre-suicide voice-mails played over the phone. He was asking for “advice” from a friend he’d alienated with conspiracy theory allegations a year earlier. The friend got the message too late.
maybe it was the delayed shock of coming too close to things. I had started from a vast distance away, didn’t know either of them, only knew Theresa through her blog, barely knew Jeremy’s work at all. Suddenly because I’d done an admiring farewell blog post about Theresa I found myself being barraged by friends and foes I never would have met were it not that I wrote about her blog on my blog.
And haphazardly looking into things I was contacted by one of their friends who told an emblematic story about a friendship that ended abruptly with accusations (by Theresa and Jeremy) out of the blue that their friend was conspiring against them. And next thing I knew I was hearing a mild matter-of-fact voice asking his former friend for advice just before following his own inclination walking into the waves. Not waving but drwoning as the famous line (Stevie Smith?) has it. I was hearing the voice of the living dead.
But things kept getting uglier in the Theresa Duncan realm of the blogsophere. It was almost as if the virus of conspiracy theory anger had leapt from the dead to the living. All blogsopheric discussions seem to proceed toward the extreme I guess. Or as another poetm Yeats put it, “the best lack all conviction/the worst are filled with passionate intensity”.
Anyway now that the creeping vines of conspiracy theory have begun to overgrow the graves and obscure the legacies of Duncan and Blake maybe there’s a message–or messages–to be found beneath the tangled snakelike tendrils, perhaps too late as well. I’ve learned that once conspiracy theory starts growing, particularly in the blogosphere it can’t be stopped. It’s an incurable virus. It’s super rewarding! It gives people the feeling they’re really In the Know, and the invincibly smug sense of superiority over any one who doesn’t Get It that comes with it. It’s also, I should say, for some in a more understandable and forgivable way, a means of sublimated grieving.
Indeed it’s particularly ironic because from what I’ve seen and read (I’ve decided for various reasons not to quote from the angry e-mails I have that Theresa and Jeremy sent to friends accusing them of being part of a conspiracy against them), the immediate cause of death may have been sleeping pills [Tylenol PM] (in Theresa’s case) or drowning (in Jeremy’s) but the larger force behind the tragedy less likely to be a conspiracy, but conspiracy theory.
That’s my humble theory: They were strangled, driven mad by their own google abetted conspiracy madness. (all links are equal). And now their legacy is even more conspiracy theory about conspiracy theory.
Don’t get me wrong I believe conspiracies do exist, I don’t dismiss them in their entirety. What differentiates conspiracy theory from evidentiary theory, is, well, actual evidence. One proceeds from evidence to provisional conclusion. The other decides on a conclusion and declares everything it finds evidence of it.
I must admit feeling regret that I may have contributed to this myself, with my early reports that there had not yet been an official pronouncement of suicide as cause of death in the case. It seems to me that when something as unusual and unexplained as the Duncan/Blake deaths happen there should be a caution against a rush to judgment. But no evidence has surfaced to prove foul play and it’s equally bad to rush to judgment that it was murder, or, the latest, some preplanned prank where they’re still alive.
The Duncan/Blake phenomenon illustrates both sides of the blogsophere: there’s a value to a blogswarm ferreting out facts and details that the mainstream media ignores. But there’s a down side, a darkside to it; building conspiracy-haunted castles the air with no basis in fact, just an indiscriminate concatenation of google links interpreted in a uniformly sinister way. Alas not all links are created equal, not all have equal relevance, not all search engine connections are real clues.
What I don’t understand is the anger, the arrogance of those who think they know all the answers. The anger at Theresa and Jeremy, the anger at the reporters who sought to figure out what happened. Some feel that no one (but they?) has a right to be interested in the mystery of why two brilliant artists killed themselves, no one who merely admired their work should write about them unless they were really close to them. Or conversely, no one who knew them should write about them because…I can’t follow this line of reasoning but it’s out there.
It’s a fact of life, not necessarily terrible that people take an interest in the artists they admire, sometimes a trivializing gossipy interest, but sometimes because their work is inspiring in some way and one things one can learn from them as people. I always found some brilliant beautiful (and explicitly sourced) arcane literary references on Theresa’s blog which, along with its beauty and diversity kept me coming back. If she plagiarized some things, shame on her, it doesn’t take away the pleasure she brought by bringing to light those explicitly referenced writers, should it?
Her blog was a fascinating collage of text, images, genres; her voice, her persona, unique. Are writers supposed to write about the least interesting artists they know?
What began as tragedy is beginning to turn into farce with a large or at least vocal faction of the Duncan/Blake blogsophere now apparently believing they didn’t die, they’re still alive, it’s all some “Alternative Reality Game”.
Right. One begins to understand how religions start. And how religions are like conspiracy theories. They didn’t die: They Live! They’ve been resurrected, the hidden gods of art. The theory, like religion, is both a consolation for grief and a way for those “in the know” to think of themselves as superior, more righteous, holier than thou, than everyone else. In on a super duper secret.
I must admit it’s been a fascinating process to watch the way the blogosphere processes information, any fantasy can be real with no need to check it against facts. Remind me, again, of the evidence that the families of Theresa and Jeremy’s families were tricked into thinking they’d lost their children and the bodies they buried were…who again?
It’s all really sad. They hurt themselves, they hurt other people and now other people are hurting other people in their name. Makes me want to watch that Johnny Cash video cover of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”. Or hear the great Elvis classic “Hurt”. maybe an all-hurt tribute album. Every Little bit hurts. Hurts So Bad. The Big Hurt.
It was Death Week at Graceland, earlier this moth. Have you ever been there? A lot of hurt people singing “Hurt”. I think of the evocative threatening phrase ” a world of hurt” that people use to scare each other. Gonna get yourself a world of hurt.
I think what hurts me is that I’ve seen it happen before and couldn’t help. A guy I used to know named Danny Casolaro an ambitious likable free lance reporter who thought he ‘d come upon the greatest all-purpose conspiracy theory ever; he was taken in by some con men who kept offering but withholding the proof. He never found it and he was found dead in a bathtub in a motel room in Martinsburg West Virginia with his wrists slit. I came to believe he killed himself in a way to make it seem like murder so at last–at very last–people would take the conspiracy theory he couldn’t prove more seriously.
In any case he’d called me a week or so before he left for Martinsburg. He was on the verge of nailing everything down he was telling everyone. If anything happens to me don’t believe it’s suicide. But I combed through his papers with a number of other reporters after his death. All he had were secondhand ex spy tall tales and conspiracy theory retread crapola.. You can read the story in The Secret Parts of Fortune on the left.) Which is maybe why I react the way I do to conspiracy theories these days. I knew someone killed not by a conspiracy, but by conspiracy theory.
I think it’s claimed two more victims.
August 25, 2007
The timing was almost too good to be true. Shortly after the death of Joe Engressia, the blind electronics genius who pioneered phone hacking as a teenager (see post below) the news comes out today that a 17 year old New Jersey kid, George Hotz, has found a way to hack into the iPhone and “unlock” the AT&*T monopoly on cellular network providers.
It’s almost–dare I say it?–karma coming full circle. Back when Joe Engressia invented phone freaking, AT&T held a virtual monopoly on long distance lines, but Joe found a way to hack into them so that fellow proto tech-no-geek kids, many of them blind too, could create an auditory Web of their own.
Then Jobs and and Wozniak were inspired by my article on Joe and his fellow phreaks to begin the partnership that became Apple. Before long AT&T’s monopoly was broken up, and after a long time resurfaced in Apple’s iPhone contract, only to be outhacked by another teenager.
It’s funny almost all the stories about the death of Joe Engressia (aka “Joybubbles”) made it seem like phone phreaking was something out of the past, important as the origin of computer hacking and Apple but with little relevance to the present.
Suddenly phone phreaking seems like the future again. Nobody likes a monopoly.
August 21, 2007
I got a call from NPR’s “All Things Considered” yesterday asking me to talk about the the recent death of Joe Engressia aka “Joybubbles”, the legendary original blind electronics genius who invented “phone phreaking”, the prototypical techo-geek web of rebellion that mutated into computer hacking via the equally legendary “Captain Crunch”.
I’d written about Joe and Crunch for an Esquire article back in the 70’s, an article that had, and still has, on going reverberations. Two guys named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak read my article “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” (which is reprinted in %%AMAZON=0060934468 The Secret Parts of Fortune%%) when they were in college and started experimenting trying to make the blue boxes, tiny cell-phone sized, proto-computers which– based on Joe and Crunch’s “research”–allowed one to make free phone calls all over the world.
I don’t think they ever got one to work, Jobs and Wozniak, but as both have written, it was the beginning of the partnership that became Apple Computer.
They also became patrons, after a fashion, of Joe and Crunch, and the spirit of techno geek rebellion they represented can still be found in hacker culture.
On NPR I recalled visiting Joe’s lair in Memphis, filled to the ceiling with disembowelled phones which, despite his blindness he could do wizardly wonders with.
He was a great American character, a Thomas Edison/Gyro Gearloose folkloric figure and someone who, despite his hardships was a truly wonderful personality. He and the phone phreak/hacker phenomenon spoke to the love/hate relationship America has with technology: we love what tech does for us, but we love the techno outlaws who know how to subvert it and show us humans are still the boss.
About 15 years ago Joe changed his name to “Joybubbles” and dedicated his life to the sensibility of five year olds. I wondered about that, but I realized it’s about play and how hackerdom preserves the spirit of play in an increasingly antiseptic, joyless, cyberworld.
Joe deserves credit for creating, with his phone phreaking, the first electronnic web; the world will miss a lovely spirit, but it’s a spirit that lives on in the World Wide Web.
p.s. To the phone phreak historian who tried to get in touch with me about Joe. I’m sory I lost your email address. Please contact me thru the comments on this blog.
Hat tip to Gil Roth for pointing out that muderous callousness to workers is not limited to the repellant capitalist mining execs of Utah I’ve been writing about
This link illustrates the horror of miners’ life in the Workers’ Paradise of communist China.
There is a middle way, isn’t there? I’d call it “Ralph Nader capitalism”. Where corporate criminals are prosecuted and punished like the enemies of the state they are.
August 20, 2007
Bob Murray the bloated buffoon who became a media darling during the initial stages of the Crandall Mining Company disaster–until it became apparent that his mine was riddled with safety violations, that he made huge contributions to the GOP and (surprise!) got a troublesome mining safety inspector transferred–has suddenly disappeared from view.
Obviously hiding from the shame of his company’s responsibility for 9 deaths, so far, the mine co-owner whop once was SO solicitous of the trapped miners’ families, is, according to reports from some of those stricken families, no longer speaking to them, no longer “available” to them.
Perhaps for fear the fatal consequences of his blundering irresponsibility will be hung around his neck, he now sends flunkeys out to deliver the bad news.
I repeat my call for Democratic presidential candidates to go to the mining site and denounce the consequences of Republican de regulation, and call for the prosecution of those derelict in their duty to the miners. If they don’t show up I hope Ralph Nader runs again. He’ll have been proven right once again: neither party cares more about workers than corporate donations.
Here’s one os the saddest paragraphs I’ve ever read from yesterday’s AP report on the situation:
If tunneling doesn’t restart, part of the mine will have been turned into a tomb. Despite that, Moore said there is recoverable coal in other parts of the 5,000-acre mine, and the company expected to resume operations at some point. He said he didn’t discuss that prospect with family members.
Keep those profits coming, bloated buffoon. From the looks of you porcine physiognomy you’ll soon be rotting in hell.
But for godsake don’t let them re open that mine. Dissolve the outlaw company and give its assets to its workers and send its executives to the slammer.
August 19, 2007
I’m endlessly fascinated by the minds of Madison Avenue, especially trying to figure out the true purpose beneath a puzzling pitch. And there was something that kept nagging at me as I listened to endless iterations of the recent Ditech mortgage ads which seem to sustain the entire economy of MSNBC and Fox.
“People Are Smart” was the slogan. There were some cheap-looking sketchy graphics involving magicians and illusionists and a pitch for their “Smart-rate” loans.
“People Are Smart” it keeps repeating. “People” can’t be fooled by an “illusionist” which is “just another fancy word for magician.”. There was something weird about the “people are smart” illusionist riff. they were selling mortgage financing, fixed rates (in this ad) not the subprime mortgages that threaten world economic crisis. But it seems to me they’re selling something else: an excuse, a pre-emptive defense.
“People are smart” and can’t be fooled by illusion Could it be that the “people are smart” slogan is going to be the prime (or subprime) defense of the subprime mortgage sellers who, amidst the ruin of lives and families, say it wasn’t our fault, we didn’t fool anyone into doing something unwise that would result in them losing their homes to foreclosure. People are smart! They knew what they were doing when they signed the shaky paper.
People are smart! They can read the fine print. Of course Einstein couldn’t read the fine print disclaimers Ditech flashes on the screen, written in such tiny type they might as well be invisible. They’re like a parody of truth in advertising. How does the FCC or the mortgage industry regulators let them–and they’re of course by far not the only ones–get away with posting these unreadable print caveats? Why require them to run any thing at all if it can’t be read? It’s the kind of thing an “illusionist” would do, giving the shabby illusion of transparency.
Oh right, the subprime scandal has made clear the mortgage industry regulators are as deep in the pocket of the industry as mining industry regulators has been shown to be by the recent Morgan Energy Company mining disaster.
“People are smart”. Don’t blame us for their folly if that’s what it turns out to be. Blame “people”! Because smart people should be able to avoid stupidly taking our ads seriously.
Are people smart.? Well some are smart in some ways and not in others. Many people wanted to own their own homes and saw an opportunity, nothing wrong with that, it’s often admirable for those who aren’t the repellant “flippers”.
Maybe there’s some abstract merit to the argument that people should read the fine print about the risks, that it’s their responsibility, not the “illusionists” for getting tricked. That government, on coldblooded libertarian grounds, has no business protecting people from their own bad choices.
Still my reaction to this ad is that it’s subtextual denial of responsibility is not exactly a principled argument. That the “people are smart” slogan reflects bad faith, disingenuousness and attempt to wriggle out of responsibility.
People are smart; it’s not a tribute to the intellect of “people”. It’s contempt for it.
People are smart: what it really communicates is more like “Yeah, but we think we’re smarter. We think we can outsmart them.”
People are smart why didn’t Enron think of that?
August 17, 2007
If you had been watching the coverage full-time yesterday as i was you would have seen a particularly shameful moment engineered by the hideous incompetents of Murray Energy Company led by bloated criminal buffoon mine owner Bob Murray.
The day before the horrible unnecessary, criminal death of the 3 rescue workers, some other rescue workers were expressing unwillingness to continue the rescue work because of dangerous conditions that this murderous company forced them to work under. The repellant, subhuman lackeys of Morgan Energy insidiously hinted at a press conference that these workers–who were trying to raise a warning flag and save not only their own lives but the lives of their fellow workers–lacked courage. Right. I didn’t see bloated buffoon Bob Murray risk his life. No, he just, in effect, shoved the rescue workers to their death all the while trying to maintain the illusion of paternalistic concern for the miners.
And speaking of courage. After the deaths of the workers who fled from the camera’s eye, refused to show up at the next day’s press conference, hid his cowardly face from the world like the yellow dog he is? You guessed it, our Bob Murray, until now, Wilfred Brimley teddy-bear media darling.
At last I think the mask has come off, but of course it’s too late for the 3 dead and the 6 probably no longer alive.
We need to get the lives of these miners out of the hands of this sick cruel caricature of vicious capitalist.
My suggestion: all 9 or 10 Democratic candidates for president drop their intra-party wrangling, descend on the stricken mining town and tell the world they won’t leave until the mine is taken out of the hands of its killer owners. it would mean more to what the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for than anything else they’ve done. Republicans too, show that you’re not knee-jerk lick spittle lapdogs of wealthy corporate contributors.
I don’t have much hope for this but nothing in recent history has so starkly illustrated how corrupt the federal regulatory system is and how much murder of the poor is hidden behind the anti-septic phase “de-regulation”.
August 13, 2007
I don’t know about you but I’ve been watching the mining disaster coverage pretty much non stop, or anyway I’ve had MSNBC on while I’ve been working and at least initially they’d been covering it non stop. (notice the way as hope fades the coverage does too?)
In way it’s somehow similar to the failure of outrage, investigation, even attention given tot he pathetic incompetents at NASA.
You’ve probably seen the voluble Wilfred Brimley look-alike Bob Murray, the mine’s co-owner gabbing non stop in an I-really-care emtional way to make up for his (and everyone’s ) ignorance. Giving the impression that he’s doing everything that can be done to save the trapped miners. Some people seem to buy his act.
Trouble is it seems like he and his company could have done a lot more before the disaster to prevent it if you believe the record of violations reported and not–to my knowledge–denied by the company.
Thirty safety violations in the past year according to CNN.
And look at this Times report on August 14:
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Sunday that the mine experienced serious structural problems in March, and, that miners had abandoned work in part of it after pressures within the mountain caused coal pillars to burst, affecting roof conditions. The poor roof was thought to be 900 feet from where the six miners remain trapped, the newspaper said.
A woman answering the phone for Agapito Associates, a Colorado engineering company cited by the newspaper that had compiled a memorandum on how to mine other areas of the mine safely, referred inquiries to Murray Energy. At the news conference, Mr. Murray insisted the mine was safe..
And yet the reporters at the press conferences, almost to a man, tip-toe around this (that’s giving them credit for not being ignorant of it) and the coverage leaves us with an image of a deeply troubled, caring fuddy-duddy but paternalistic guy who’d do anything for his beloved employees. Disgusting!
And then there’s this amazing damning testimony of our Wilfred Brimley before a Senate subcommittee headed by Barbara Boxer just two months before the mine shaft collapse.
Testimony in which Wilfred Brimley takes off the Mr. Fuddy Duddy nice guy mask and makes the old meretricious argument that too much safety regulation could hurt the jobs and the families–oh! does he feel for the families! Why would the families suffer? Because if the Murray Energy Company had to comply with stricter safety regulations his profits would suffer and he’d have to lay of workers rather than make the mines safer.
Here’s the testimony that comes from a a blog that supports W.B. against Barbara Boxer. But read in the light of the tragedy unfolding the past week it’s a searing indictment of a greedy heartless, transparently disingenuous, mine owner and a criminally inadequate mine safety regulation bureaucracy that refused to shut the unsafe mine down.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Barbara Boxer’s Mean Left Hook
…some personal observations from the most recent hearing on global warming in Senator Barbara Boxer’s committee:
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer said that she wanted to continue hearing from all sides of the global warming debate during her closing statement at yesterday’s global warming hearing.
We have reason to doubt her sincerity.
Those who disagree with her particular view of global warming can end up on the receiving end of Boxer’s very mean left hook.
Just ask Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Company. During his testimony yesterday, Murray implored the committee to resist regulations that would inflict hardship on American families. He said he was particularly concerned about the welfare of the 3,300 people directly dependent and up to 36,000 indirectly dependent on Murray Energy for their livelihoods.
In response, Chairman Boxer introduced a Columbus Dispatch article, littered with quotes from her trade union movement allies, that questioned the safety record of Murray’s mines.
Yes, the article was way off-topic, but the point of introducing it was to impugn Mr. Murray’s reputation and undermine his credibility when he spoke of his deep concern for workers.
Senator Boxer had intended to criticize Mr. Murray without allowing him to respond, but he defended his company’s safety record, sometimes speaking over her gavel.
…author David Ridenour, firstname.lastname@example.org
Good for Barbara Boxer and her “mean left hook”. If only someone had paid attention to this disaster waiting to happen.Stories like this bring out the old fashioned populist–and Dickens devotee–in me.
Yes, Mr. Murray’s “deep concern for his workers” and the “hardship” imposing stricter safety regulations would cause their “American families”. Obscene!
What’s remarkable it seems to me the way the media continues to fall for the pathetic Wilfred Brimley act and fails to treat this Dickensian creep as the heartless greedy buffoon he is and to hold him and the bought-and-paid for mine safety regulators accountable for the tragedy of the trapped miners.
Maybe they have a future at NASA.
I’m sure others have said this but nothing’s happened. And I say this as someone who was actually there on the Cape to report on the launch of the very first shuttle back in 1981… It was over rated then, it’s a shameful death-dealing publicity stunt now.
It’s inexcusable to repeatedly risk the lives of the brave astronauts to save the jobs of the incompetent half-wit bureaucrats running NASA who keep sending up a vehicle so poorly designed that it repeatedly either sets itself on fire or comes close enough so that the entire voyage becomes about whether the voyage will be a horrible disaster. Meanwhile wasting taxpayer money on junior high level science experiments.
Not to mention putting the nation through this hideous drama of first denying there’s much of a problem, then realizing things are serious (as today when they found the “dent” was a “gash” that pierced the heat proofing tiles to the flammable aluminum hull beneath. Then going through the “emergency space walk” repair drama. And this time with some useless earthbound “simulation” of the accident gash that will supposedly let us learn more about their pathetic life-threatening incompetence in attempting to repair the useless deathtrap.
NASA: get these poor souls home safely, then turn in your space ranger badges.