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  • The Rebel Alliance had lady pilots after all! 
  • Rapper Big Boi doesn’t like Obama, or government in general.
  • But let me go ahead and ruin Louis C.K. for my fellow libertarians.
  • Fuck you, too, science. 
  • I love you, Conor Friedersdorf: “he embarks on a theoretical exploration of whether it is defensible in theory to kill Al Qaeda terrorists with unmanned aerial vehicles, ignoring real-world events and unintended consequences as obliviously as a 1970s liberal extolling the wisdom of rent control.”
  • Talking to aggrandizing screen-writers is one thing, but talking to journalists is forbidden.
  • “if feminism can be put through by pestering, despite the will of the people, so can socialism, pacifism, and other isms.”
  • North Korea is doing space stuff and people are nervous.
  • Oliver Sacks would like to tell you about hallucinations.
  • Amelia Earhart’s thoughts on marriage.
  • Time‘s photos of the year include some good stuff.
  • This is a gross reason to fire someone.

Yesterday the MSNBC all-stars — Rachel Maddow, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell —  dropped into the White House’s West Wing to share their brilliant tax ideas with the President.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama listened to nothing said by  Ms. Tedious or  Rev. Al, who if he gets any smaller will be appearing in Pixar movies.

But Larry O’Donnell, despite his nightly liberal rantings, could teach the Prez (and his liberal choirmates) a thing or two about the free enterprise system and why killing what’s left of it with higher taxes and more dumb regulations is a bad thing to do.

In 2005 I asked O’Donnell, the executive producer of “West Wing” and a screenwriter,  about all the fine free-market rhetoric he was putting into the mouth of Alan Alda’s conservative Republican character.

I asked him if he really believed all that Milton Friedman stuff:

“Yes. I believe (the late supply-side economist) Jude Winniski’s arguments about how high tax rates damage the economies of poor African countries. But what I would not want to suggest about it is, if we fixed the tax rates, everything is going to be OK. The other huge problem that Africa has is American agriculture subsidies, which are a disastrous policy, I believe, on every level, in terms of what it does to poverty internationally, in terms of what it does to our misallocation of resources here. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t majored in economics in college. I just wouldn’t.”

He said not to worry — there was no inner libertarian trying to get out:

“No, no, no. I’m a European socialist, believe me – I’m far to the left. But I understand. I’m a kind of practical socialist. I know we failed. A lot of our ideas have failed, so I’m not with them anymore. I’m willing to take from a grab-bag of stuff that works….

“Unfortunately, I think respect for the market seems to be something that I have not seen anyone derive outside education. I haven’t seen people gravitate toward a natural respect for the market. And it doesn’t have rhetoric to go with it. I think the rhetoric Vinick (Alda’s character) used about it was about the best I’ve heard….

“Where Vinick was talking about the market most clearly was in the energy discussion, when they talk about government support for alternative forms of energy. And Vinick starts with, ‘I don’t think politicians are going to be very good at picking energy sources.’ And then he says ‘The government didn’t shift us from using shale oil to using the oil discovered under the ground.’ ”

The whole interview is  here but don’t tell O’Donnell’s bosses at MSNBC what he really thinks about Nike sweatshops and oil companies, or he might have to try to get a job at Fox.

 

Every trivia-savvy individual who doesn’t know much about psychology probably at least knows Stanley Milgram’s 1961 obedience experiment and Phillip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison experiment. We also know that the conclusions of said experiments reflect very poorly on human nature; we follow orders from authoritative-sounding people, even if someone is screaming in agony, we fall easily into positions of sadistic power-tripping or cowed submission, even after a few measly days of playing at prison and guard; we’re pretty bad. Obviously these experiments seem to confirm in retrospect the bloodbath that was the 20th century and the millions of people who didn’t protest, and even helped, when dictators brutalized their fellow human beings with the excuse that they were inferior in race, or politics, or purity.

A few days ago The Telegraph had a brief report on new experiments that imply that human nature may be worse still than Milgram and Zimbardo’s experiments suggest. Not only do humans tend to follow the orders of officials in lab coats or death’s heads or what have you, but they also enjoy it, they feel like they are doing right. Even more unsettling is the detail that if orders are given too often, that undermines the feeling that the atrocities are “for the greater good” and therefore are a righteous act the person has chosen to participate in. The best jackboot is the true believer, not the person cowed into submission by an authority figure.

Maybe this isn’t terribly surprising, but at the same time, the article’s connection to Nazism seems somewhat forced. At the start, Nazis depended on converting people freely to their ideology  but after a few years it’s not like there wasn’t an implied, but very real, threat of deadly force hanging over every single German. People seem to jump all too often at the idea that the Germans were very keen on slaughtering all the Jews, and I am sure that’s truer than we all wish it were  but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Yes, certainly the higher-ups in the Nazi regime, like Eichmann, were true believers, would it be any better if they weren’t? Propaganda doesn’t excuse the little guy participating in atrocities or ignoring them, but it makes it so much harder to say no.

But back to Milgram. A 45 minute video of the experiment can be viewed here, and it’s excruciating to watch, but well worth it. In brief, the unknowing subjects are told that they are “the teacher” in a task that will help ” the student” (who is in on the experiment) learn and retain word combinations. The experiment would demonstrate whether electric shocks would help the other man learn the words. Of course, the real experiment was gauging whether the subjects/”teachers” would stop “shocking” and if so, how long it would take them, based on the lab tech building up the pressure on them to continue, culminating — if they hesitated enough — in the command that “the teacher” had no choice but keep on.

Many of the “teachers” took to their task like good citizens, assuming that the guys in labcoats know what’s best, even if they exhibited signs of emotional distress. More painful than the good little drones, though, is the fellow near the very end of this video who keeps protesting and hesitating the louder the fake screams become. He asks questions, he confirms that the lab techs are responsible for whatever may happen; he is so stricken, but he just keeps going anyway. You can see in his face that he knows better, but he cannot bring himself to just say no. I wonder if he is the face of the little guy, who would have been completely average, who ends up helping with mass murders.

But before that, there are two men who diminish the misanthropy-fodder that is the video: first, there’s the man about 18 minutes in. He’s soft spoken, he wears black glasses and a suit. He starts the experiment as he’s supposed to, but as the screams grow more intense, and finally, ominously cease altogether he looks worried, and then he stops. He’s not like the poor bastard later who wants to stop so badly, but keeps waiting for permission that won’t come. “I think 345 is as far as I am willing to go under this condition,” Glasses says, pointing to the dial on the machine that says where the “shocks” become dangerous.

Now the lab tech must build up his pressure; it is essential to continue, the experiment requires it, and finally, Glasses  “has no choice.” He responds “I have a choice — I’m not going to go ahead with it.”

More interesting still is the other man who stops completely — and he  does so at at the (comparably low) level of 150 (pretend) volts of  electricity. The man also has glasses, and he wears a checkered shirt. He seems more confident than the other man. He laughs, somewhat nervously, at the start (this was apparently a strangely common reaction), when the “student” first yells “ouch!”. He chews on his hand a bit, even though he doesn’t seem to be nearly as upset as most of the other subjects.  But as soon as the voice in the other room yells that he wants the experiment stopped and that he has a heart condition, Checkered Shirt ends it. No debate, no waffling. Nobody else, not even Glasses is that self-assured in their decision to end the thing.

Once again the pressure starts, the experiment mandates that you continue, etc., culminating in “you have no choice” but to continue.  “Yes I have a choice,” says Checkered Shirt. ‘Take the check back, I’m not going to hurt the guy…I refuse.” And in the post-experiment interview, when a very relieved Checkered Shirt learns that it was a sham, he coolly take out a cigarette and offers one to the interviewer.

Why did he refuse to keep shocking the “student”?  “The hell with him, who the hell was he?” He asks breezily, in respect to a Mr. Williams, the lab-coated overlord who had been ordering him to push the button. “In my mind I was hurting that guy…To continue to hurt another human being, I don’t believe in it.”

Maybe humans aren’t that great as whole, perhaps the majority are scared, cowed rabbits who turn into wolves when ordered or pressured to tear other humans apart. But no matter how dystopian things get, there are always — always  — going to be more Sophie Scholls and more Oskar Schindlers and more Corrie Ten Booms and more World War Christmas Truces, even if there are never going to be enough of them either.

If I have a religion, it’s this; if the human race is Sodom and Gomorrah then we are saved every day by righteous people like Scholl, and Schindler, and, in a small way, even by Milgram’s exceptions; the soft-spoken guy in glasses who finally said “I have a choice ” and the brash guy in the checkered shirt who so quickly said, “I refuse.”

My photographer friend Emily O’Donnell took this at my parents’ house over the weekend. The clothing was found in the basement, courtesy of my sister years ago, no doubt; the cabbage patch doll, the fake blood, and the World War I gas mask are mine. My mouth tasted like the Somme for several hours after wearing the thing.

Emily was taking the photo for class — the theme was ostensibly propaganda — but I got more of a “Parable of the Old Man and the Young” vibe, as I am wearing furs and am protected from the war, while the child suffers. Also an every God damned war ever vibe, to be fair.

John Steinbeck’s beloved, iconic, best-selling road book “Travels With Charley in Search of America” turned 50 on July 27.

For half a century, we were told and taught that it was a work of nonfiction. It wasn’t.

“Travels With Charley” (1962) is not the true and honest account of the cross-country trip Steinbeck made in the fall of 1960. You can read about how I stumbled upon the truth about his last major work in “Sorry, Charley” in the Post-Gazette or the April 2011 issue of Reason magazine. At Reason.com you can read “Whitewashing John Steinbeck,” which for the first time publicly reveals a highly X-rated paragraph of filthy language that was cut from the original manuscript of “Charley” in 1962.

“Travels With Charley in Search of America” turns 50 this summer.

That means for half a century the young and the gullible have been misled into thinking “TWC” is the true account of his 11-week trip from Sag Harbor to California and back in 1960.

“TWC” isn’t true or honest, as I discovered by accident in 2010.

Everyone should take at least one coast-to-coast road tour of America  in their life, alone or with a dog or another human. But everyone should also know that the romantic journey  Steinbeck depicted in “TWC” was nothing like his real trip. Or one they’re likely to have.

The publisher of “Travels With Charley,” Viking Press, did a clever/devious  job of marketing Steinbeck’s last major work as a nonfiction book when it came out in July of 1962. It jumped to the nonfiction best-seller lists at the New York Times and Time magazine and stayed there for over a year.

The famous illustrations by Don Freeman on the dust jacket and inside covers created the impression that Steinbeck and Charley spent three months on the American road, roughing it and camping out almost like hobos as they carefully documented the soul of a changing nation and its people.Travels_with_Charley

Though Steinbeck himself makes it clear in the book that he stayed at a posh hotel in Chicago (for four days) and at a fancy ranch in Texas over Thanksgiving, the book’s reviewers in 1962  bought into the romantic on-the-road story line.

In those innocent days, no one questioned the “authenticity” of the cast of wooden characters Steinbeck said he met or the book’s nonfiction designation.

But how often did Steinbeck actually camp out or sleep in Rocinante during his circumnavigation of America? Not very often.

The book itself is little help. We know Steinbeck made up several of the big campout scenes — on the farm in New Hampshire (when he reportedly stayed overnight at an exclusive inn) and two nights under the stars in North Dakota (which, unless the week of Oct. 9, 1960, had nine days, was an impossible feat).

I don’t pretend to have seen every shred & shard of Steinbeck’s massive archives.

But based on the “Charley” book, his road letters, Jackson Benson’s biography and several newspaper articles, I’d say Steinbeck probably slept in Rocinante a maximum of three or four nights between Oct. 5, when he met his wife Elaine in Chicago, and early December, when he returned to New York City.

In those last 60 or so days of his trip, Steinbeck slept at the Ambassador East in Chicago four nights, at Adlai Stevenson’s house near Chicago one night and at motels in North Dakota, Montana and Seattle (probably four nights).

He and Elaine stayed at motels and resorts for almost a week as they traveled down the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Francisco, where they stayed at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco for four days.bu_francis

They then drove south to the Monterey Peninsula where they visited one of Steinbeck’s sisters and stayed until the middle of November at Steinbeck’s modest family cottage in Pacific Grove.

After Elaine flew on to Texas, John drove in Rocinante from Monterey to Amarillo. For the first four days on the road, until Flagstaff, his old friend Toby Street traveled with him — so it’s unlikely Steinbeck cuddled up in the camper with Toby on any of those nights.

When Steinbeck reached Texas, he stayed in a downtown motel in Amarillo for three or four days, spent at least several days at a nearby cattle ranch for millionaires over the Thanksgiving holiday and then visited some of Elaine’s relatives in Austin.

After Elaine flew home to New York, Steinbeck drove to New Orleans for a quick peek at the daily circus of bigotry outside a recently integrated elementary school, then headed home as fast as he could.

The last reliable date and location I have found for Steinbeck on his trip was Dec.  3, when he mailed post-cards to his agent and his editor from Pelahatchie, Ms.

While he may have grabbed some sleep in Rocinante on his sprint home, Steinbeck — road bleary and dispirited and out of gas — certainly didn’t do any leisurely camping or last-minute research into the American soul.ca_232_copy

Steinbeck was on the road for about 75 days in the fall of 1960 — from Sept. 23 to about Dec. 5 or 6.

As far as I can tell, on nearly 65 of those nights he slept in hotels, motels, resorts, a cottage, a ranch or with friends or relatives. Twice he slept in his camper on the grounds of Eleanor Brace’s house on Deer Isle, Maine; three of four times he slept in his camper at truck stops or “trailer courts.”

The number of times he slept in his camper in the middle of nowhere, as depicted in the book’s illustrations? Once or twice. He told his wife he parked by a bridge overnight in the interior of Maine. And, though there is no corroboration, he says he slept in a canyon in New Mexico by the Continental Divide and near a lake between Buffalo and Chicago.

It’s testimony to Steinbeck’s great writing skill — and the gullibility of the age — that he was able to create a classic “nonfiction” road book around such a pedestrian, comfortable journey. It’s testimony to the laziness and credulity of scholars that Steinbeck and Viking Press (now part of the Penguin Group) have gotten away with their literary deceit for 52 years.

Charley” & America in Pictures

By Bill Steigerwald

In the fall of 2010, I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley.” Along with posting blogs to “Travels Without Charley” at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

Here are some photos from Stonington, Maine, where Steinbeck visited in late  September of 1960 and I visited in September of 2010.

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It’s not hard to see why Steinbeck flipped over Stonington, Maine.

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Its main street is on the harbor’s edge.

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Boyces Motel on Main Street has rooms with and without a view.

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Homes hang over Main Street and look to the sea.

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Lobster fishermen and their gear are everywhere.

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So are photo ops.

“Charley” & America in Pictures

By Bill Steigerwald

In the fall of 2010, I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley.” Along with posting blogs to “Travels Without Charley” at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

Here are some photos from Bangor to Deer Isle, Maine, which is about 50 miles south of Bangor on the Atlantic coast.

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On the road from Bangor to Deer Isle: Maine culture in one picture.DSC_1931_copy

The bridge to Deer Isle, where Steinbeck stayed two nights on the

property of a beautiful house by the sea owned by Eleanor Brace.

The only bridge from the mainland to Deer Isle.

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Duke, who used to take care of Eleanor Brace’s property on Deer Isle, where
Steinbeck stayed two nights, gave me directions to the house.

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two nights, then drove north to the top of Maine.