Friday, May 19, 2017

People Who Went Crazy: Michael Crichton, Scott Adams, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

What makes some people just go off their rocker?

Sometimes it is disheartening to learn that your heroes have feet made of clay.   You read someone's book or cartoon, or follow their political career, and later on find out they are basically bat-shit crazy and you wonder what the hell happened.   Well, humanity happened is what, and people are fallible and prone to, well craziness.   In fact, crazy is the new norm these days, and a lot of people are trying it out.   I don't suggest you try it.

Michael Crichton, you may recall, made quite a splash with his novel about alien life run amok, Andromeda Strain, which was made into a pretty decent movie.   He repeated the play with a number of novels which started to sound suspiciously alike.   In every novel, there is some sort of super computer that everyone has placed all their faith in, and of course it goes "haywire" and tries to kill everyone.   The hero unplugs the computer at the last second and saves the day.  It is a great premise for a novel, maybe two or three, but like Clive Cussler or even Ian Fleming, they start to get repetitive after a while.  I mean, you know what is going to happen next, but you keep reading anyway.

But Crichton let loose his crazy side with one of his later novels, State of Fear, which set forth the argument that global warming was a hoax put forth by a cabal of scientists in some weird conspiracy.  I guess they were going to put the planet into a panic just so they could get more research grants.  Makes a lot of sense if you think about it - and are paranoid schizophrenic.   I am not sure where a haywire computer fits into the picture, but you can bet there is one, or it ain't a Crichton novel!

Not content with that, Crichton went on the offensive, giving lectures to "prove" global warming was a hoax.   One of his arguments was that belief in extraterrestrials was behind the global warming "hoax" - as science has degraded into pseudo-science over the years:
"My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming."
He goes on to argue that SETI - the search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life, is an example of such pseudo-science, putting  wild theories that cannot be proved or disproved in place of real science.   It is an interesting argument but a false analogy.

Regardless of whether you think SETI is "science" or not, the whole point of the Scientific Method is to produce a theory and then run experiments and collect data to either prove or disprove the theory.  You then modify the theory to fit the data and run experiments again.   This is the foundation of all science and engineering.

In Engineering we build mathematical models to describe the operation of everything from a semiconductor transistor to a bridge beam.  We can design bridges and build them and know they will hold up to a certain weight load, without having to first build a bridge and test it to failure, as our models for bridge beams are pretty exact.   When they are not - well, we learn painful lessons from that and re-work our models.  That is how science works, period and it really cannot work any other way.  You cannot design a bridge based on faith, for example.

People who believe in UFOs or aliens hidden in Area 51 are not "scientists" or even "UFO Researchers" as they are often called in the fake news press.  They are just people making shit up and passing the same old tired stories among one another and then conjecturing what blurry photographs or "eyewitness accounts" from drunk people really mean.   This is NOT Science.  It cannot be tested or verified, because every piece of evidence that contradicts their theories is simply disregarded or ignored.

The irony here is that Crichton is using pseudo-Science to discredit Science, while at the same time claiming that Science is guilty of being pseudo-Science.

I have worked with a number of scientists who are studying global warming as well as other affects on our atmosphere from various pollutants.   They don't sit around and tweet or text or facebook rumors or wild-assed theories about global warming and then debate which one sounds the best.   Rather, they have been painstakingly taking measurements - the Scientific Method - using satellites, ground stations, air sampling via aircraft, and a whole host of other techniques - to measure how the Earth's atmosphere is behaving.  They have girded the globe with a network of sensors and computers than monitor the atmosphere and collect hard data.  And they do this not to prove global warming exists but because they are charged with the job of studying the Earth's atmosphere as well as oceans.  Hence the term, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - that is their job.

In other words, global warming wasn't some cockeyed idea that someone just came up with, like the "Aliens in Area 51" conspiracy theory.   Rather, it was driven by the data, from the bottom up.   You see global temperatures rising, and CO2 emissions rising, and you start to think maybe something is up.   And one theory is that maybe our emissions of so much stored carbon in a short period of time might have something to do with this.   You go back to work, collect more data, and prove or disprove the theory - it is an ongoing thing.  The Scientific Method is never finished.

Crichton's approach, however, is nothing more than a conspiracy theory.  Global warming is a hoax because it just is, and maybe there are other explanations for the data we are seeing.   But Crichton isn't studying the data, coming up with theories, then running tests and then confirming or modifying the theories.  He - and all the other global warming hoax people - just sit in an armchair like the Alien conspiracy theory people, and pick at the edges of the data and argue, "Well, I found one inconsistency, the whole thing must be hooey!"

So it is wholly ironic to me that Crichton uses the idea of belief in extraterrestrials to argue that it paved the way for the "global warming hoax" when in fact, that sort of belief system is more akin to what the global warming deniers are doing - namely practicing pseudo-science to debunk the theory.  

But what about all the real scientists who are evaluating the data, running experiments of their own and proving global warming doesn't exist?   Well, that's the problem.  There really aren't any - just conspiracy-theory nut-jobs and politicians in the pockets of polluters who, like Crichton, just argue that science is some sort of conspiracy, without doing any real "science" to back up their claims.

In retrospect, we should have seen this coming from Crichton.   If you look at Andromeda Strain or indeed any of his books, technology is always the bad guy and governments are either corrupt or inept and playing with forces far beyond their control.   In the end, the computers, the scientists, and the government officials all get their comeuppance, with the hero saving the day by dismantling their evil technology and schemes.   These are novels that play right into the post-apocalypse libertarian narrative that is so popular in Sci Fi today.

You know what?  Michal Crichton was batshit crazy.  Fuck Michael Crichton.

But what is the deal with Scott Adams?  The author of the Dilbert cartoons at first would seem like a rational guy, an Engineer - one of us - who wryly pointed out the foibles of the tech world.  But if you dig into his past, he isn't even an Engineer, really, but rather someone who sort of fell bass-ackwards into the programming world, sort of at its periphery, early on in the game.  In other words, he is the donut-eating slacker IT guy who loads a virus into the company network while downloading Russian porn.

But his cartoons were funny - for a while.  The problem with the Dilbert series is that they are depressing after a while, and when you see some young coder or Engineer with Dilbert cartoons posted on the wall of his cubicle, you know you are dealing with a depressed person who will be unemployed shortly.

In the Dilbert world, everything is awful, vile, venal, and corrupt.  Management is clueless, fellow employees are duplicitous and lazy.  Everyone is out for himself it seems, except poor Dilbert.  But then again, in later strips, he too, apparently gives up and just tries to do as little as possible and still collect a paycheck.

But somewhere along the way, Adams snapped.   Or maybe he was always that way?  In his blog he professes bizarre opinions (OK, so do I, but I'm not a famous cartoonist!) and sounds rather paranoid.  He endorsed Trump for President, surprising many, as Trump would appear to be the model of the "pointy-haired" inept manager that Adams lampooned in his strip.

Well, OK, he's a closet conservative.  Nothing wrong with having a political opinion just because I don't agree with it.  And if that was all there was to it, I would let it lie.   But then he started posting bizarre shit about how he was endorsing Hillary, but then later retracted this, claiming that he only did it because people would be out to get him, if he "came out" for Trump.
“So I’ve decided to endorse Hillary Clinton for president, for my personal safety,” Adams adds, arguing that if Trump is in danger from the supposedly murderous Clinton crew, then so is anyone that doesn’t support Clinton.
Freaking bizarre.   And just a trifle narcissistic.  Just a wee bit!  He's so fucking important that the "Clinton Death Squads" will knock-off a third-rate cartoonist, just to be on the safe side.

I was sad to hear about this sort of stuff, as I liked the old Dilbert cartoons back in the 1990's when I was going to out to Silicon Valley on a regular basis.  Maybe there should be a law that cartoonists need to retire their creations after X number of years.  Bill Watterson had the right idea - and was a class act.  It didn't hurt that he had a Patent Attorney as a main character in his strip!  Perpetual cartoons are a bad, bad idea - and I'm looking at you, Peanuts, Blondie, and all these other comic strips that have been around for 30 years or more.

 OK, a writer and a cartoonist - arty types who are not well-connected with reality.   You'd expect them to be a little unhinged, right?   Well, what about the scion of the nation's premier political family - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.?

Well, apparently he too, has gone batshit crazy, or perhaps was always so.  And sadly, his antics are enough to turn the most ardent Democrat into a Kennedy-hater.  He joined the Riverkeeper organization, and apparently pissed a lot of people off, with a large number resigning in protest.  The organization is in decline, and when he resigned this month to apparently take up a position in Trump's anti-vax committee, the founder of the Riverkeeper organization said "good riddance!" as Kennedy was apparently claiming to be a "founder" of the organization and taking credit for the work of others.  Hmmm.... sounds familiar.

Oh, right, drugs.   Kennedy was a heroin addict and busted for possession.  Whether he still is or not we'll never know.   His life is sort of the antithesis of his Father and Uncle's lives, which were devoted to public service.  RFK, Jr. seems devoted to himself.  What a sad ending to the Kennedy legacy!  Not only do we have RFK, Jr. but nephews and cousins accused of everything from date-rape to beating a girl to death with a golf club.   Even John-John was a fuckup, flying into a dark night sky without any IFR training or certificate.

It sort of is depressing.   And maybe that's one reason public people should keep their private lives, private.   Not long ago in this country, people had private lives, and journalists didn't pop out of the bushes to shove microphones in people's faces and paparazzi didn't snap photos of you skinny-dipping in your own pool.   And if you had an affair - even if you were President of the United States, the press pool considered that sort of stuff tawdry and off-limits.   Your public persona and actions were what counted, not your private foibles.

Today, we have celebrity journalism, and we have Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger.   Everyone knows what everyone else is thinking and doing, and it isn't pretty.   Maybe this is more "honest" than our society in the past, where people lived closeted lives.   But on the other hand, maybe we lost something as well - the ability to do great things and not be judged by what we said or did in private.

If you want to be a politician or public person today, it is best not to have an opinion on anything or at least not express anything that hasn't been vetted by your advisors and lawyers first.  You had better not have a sex life at all, much less a kinky one.  And it goes without saying that you shouldn't even have a drink, much less ever touch drugs.

The sorts of people we are grooming for government and public life would be limited to Mormons and Nazis, and perhaps vegetarians.  Sometimes it is best not to know the back story on celebrities, politicians, and other famous people.   All I can say is, Scott Adams really destroyed Dilbert for me - I can't ever look at his cartoons again without looking for some hidden right-wing agenda.   Michael Crichton ruined his novels with State of Fear.  I can never read one of his books or watch a movie without thinking of his far-out right-wing views.

And RFK, Jr.?   Well, he pretty much wrecked the legacy of his family for all of history.   No small thing, really, when you think about it.   But then again, not unexpected - heirs often dissipate the wealth of their ancestors rather rapidly.  And little Bobby has done a bang-up job of that!