Thought of the Day: Sheeple

I love to hear people say the word “sheeple.” It reveals a lot about the type of people they are. These are the kind of folks who would eagerly pay $29.99 for Alex Jones’ Blu-ray on how to make an aluminum foil hat (for a good laugh, and quite possibly a good cry, watch John Oliver’s take on this blowhard, in which he mockingly uses the term “sheeple”).

Sheeple is a fake word, a made-up term used to describe people who blindly follow a false truth…something that is made up. It’s a hybrid of the words “sheep” and “people.” Yes, that’s how clever these people are.

And what’s really funny about it is that they are using a made-up word, which in and of itself is a false truth, to describe people who they believe are blindly following a false truth. The word is meant to mock others, but by definition it also mocks those who use it.

I think there ought to be a word to mock the people who blindly accuse others of doing the same stupid shit they themselves are doing, so I followed their example and made one up for it: “hypocridiot.” It’s a hybrid of the words “hypocrite,” for someone who criticizes others for that which they are guilty of, and “idiot,” which basically sums up the type of people who listen to these lunatics and blindly follow their nonsensical theories, clueless to the fact that they are the ones who have actually been duped.

Thought of the Day: Bicycle Licenses

I love bicycles. And I think we should do more to turn our urban centers into bike-friendly places. In fact, I’m all for restricting access for private passenger vehicles and offering incentives to companies that cater to cycling commuters, including places to safely store one’s bike and on-site locker rooms so employees can shower and change into appropriate work attire after riding their bikes in on a sweltering August morning.

But I also think bike riders need to be licensed, at least in urban environments. Now I know what you are thinking…it’s a bike, for Christ’s sake. True, but one only needs to casually observe the behavior of cyclists in an urban environment like New York City to see the wisdom of this.

On one hand, New York is awash with professional cyclists who deliver food and other items on bikes. Many of these cyclists seem to either not understand or refuse to follow the laws concerning riding a bike in this city. They regularly ignore traffic signals, ride against traffic, and even ride on the sidewalks. And to compound that, a lot of them have what can best be described as a serious attitude problem, as if the rest of us are just obstacles in their way – even when we legally have the right of way.

On the other hand, with the expansion of the Citi Bike program, we also have many more casual riders, including tourists. And not only are these cyclists more likely to be less-skilled riders than those who own their own bike, but they are also less likely to be aware of the rules and regulations for safely riding a bike in this city.

This combination of aggressive and indifferent veteran cyclists along with the influx of inexperienced and ignorant new riders is a recipe for serious problems. And while the cycling community is the first to cry foul whenever one of their own is killed or injured by a negligent motorist, and rightly so, they tend to scoff at the idea that any of their kind are guilty of bad behavior – let alone the need to be licensed and regulated. It’s like dog owners, who always insist that they clean up after their pets, yet there is still dog poop everywhere you look. It’s never their fault…someone else is always to blame.

Licensing may seem harsh, but if you are a safe cyclist, then I imagine you would welcome such a measure for your own safety, to protect you from the reckless riders who pose just as much of a threat to you as they do to everyone else. Cyclist can easily reach speeds of 20-30 miles an hour, which are sufficient enough to injure a fellow cyclist in a collision, let alone a little old lady crossing the street. And now many of the delivery riders in New York City are using electric bikes, which can reach those same speeds without the need to even pedal. Plus, they ride these under-powered motor scooters as indiscriminately as some do conventional bikes, except now they can have a smoke or check their smartphones while they’re riding because they no longer have the need to even focus on pedaling.

Cyclists have demanded bike lanes. They deserve them – and more. And the city has complied, adding more than 1,000 miles of bike lanes to date, with at least 50 new miles being added each year – all at the taxpayers’ expense. The problem is that many cyclists use these bike lanes at their convenience. Imagine if motorists used the roads at their convenience, driving along sidewalks, through bike lanes, and across any pavement whenever they felt like it?

Despite the addition of all these bike lanes, you will still see some cyclists riding in other lanes of traffic, and even on the sidewalks. And those who do use the bike lanes we’ve set aside for them, at their demand, often use them inappropriately. Some travel in the wrong direction, riding against traffic, which is a hazard to both pedestrians and other cyclists (not to mention a risk for motorists), simply because they are too lazy to ride a block over and use the proper bike lane (again, imagine if motorists were just as lazy).

It seems like some of these bike riders only care about themselves. They want to be protected from everyone else, and insist that motorists and pedestrians both adhere to the laws and regulations, yet they totally ignore the laws and regulations regarding their own behavior. For example, most cyclists, though few will admit it, completely ignore traffic signals, preferring to weave through pedestrians and motor vehicles at intersections – even though the people and cars have the right of way. Be honest…if you are a cyclist in New York City, do you always stop at red lights and wait until they turn green? No, cyclists in this city do whatever the fuck they want. They want everyone else to have to obey the rules except for themselves.

We have made rules for motorists, to protect cyclists, pedestrians, and other motorists. As a result, more people feel comfortable riding bikes around the city (ridership has increased by 150 percent). Now it’s time to make – or at least start to vigorously enforce – rules for cyclists as well, to protect pedestrians, motorists, and other cyclists.

 

47 Meter Clowns

I have not seen the movie 47 Meters Down. And unless it comes on television late some night when I’m firing up the vaporizer, chances are I never will.

I have, however, seen the ads for the film. And that alone drove me to chime in here.

The premise of the film is that two women are trapped in a shark cage at a depth of 47 meters. They appear to be wearing standard scuba gear – a single tank of compressed air – which the trailer claims will give them an hour of breathable air underwater. So the decision they have to make, presumably, is whether to try to swim to the surface through shark-infested waters or stay in the cage and hope for some sort of rescue before their air supply runs out.

The problem with this premise is that, at the depth of 47 meters, which is approximately 154 feet, you would be dead long before the hour mark. In fact, on a standard single tank of compressed air, you don’t really have any time to spend at that depth.

I know this for a fact, because I used similar equipment to dive to a depth of 45 meters, or 149 feet. I was diving in the legendary Blue Hole, off the coast of Belize. When I reached that depth, I literally had to turn around and start making my way slowly back up to the surface to 1) ensure that I made it to the surface before I ran out of air and 2) give my body sufficient time (at decreasing depths) to expel the nitrogen that gets absorbed into your bloodstream at such depths.

I am not going to go into the science of why those two things occur, but they are among the first things you learn when diving. And since both of the actresses in this film apparently had to learn how to dive to make the film, and presumably were surround by professional safety divers throughout filming, it’s hard to believe that no one mentioned this to the director. In a word, the premise of the film is ridiculous.

Bottom Time
The deeper you go, the faster you consume your air. At that depth, you might have 15-20 minutes of air. And that’s the best-case scenario (for a super-fit, experienced diver). You have to figure that these ladies used up some of their air when they first entered the cage, especially being giddy with excitement, surrounded by sharks. And then when the cage became untethered and dropped 150 feet to the bottom – which, from my experience free falling that depth in the Blue Hole, takes a lot more time than you might imagine (you are falling through water, not air) – they would have used up their air supply even faster, as they began to panic.

Assuming that they somehow did have enough air to contemplate their fate once they finally reached the ocean bottom (in this case, at a depth of 47 meters), which is a really big if considering all the aforementioned factors, then they would only have one option, which is to immediately start their slow ascent to the surface through shark-infested waters. Even if they had enough air to spend a full hour down there (which, again, they would not), the prospect of being rescued in time would still be slim. It’s not like calling an ambulance. The Coast Guard would need time to travel out to the boat, assess the situation, develop a plan of action, and then execute it. And even though Coast Guard rescue divers are among the best in the business, these depths would test even their abilities and limits.

So, ascending through shark-infested waters it is. Now let’s look at Hollywood’s treatment of sharks for a moment. Even in chummed waters, sharks aren’t sitting around waiting for human meatsicles to pop out of the cage so they can tear them to shreds. They are looking for food, but they tend to be rather cautious – especially when humans are involved. And they don’t appear to be very fond of divers. In fact, when I went shark cage diving with Great Whites off the coast of South Africa, we weren’t allowed to wear scuba gear because the noise and bubbles apparently scare off the sharks.

47 Meters Up
From that depth, these ladies would need to gradually make their way to the surface. They cannot shoot straight up like a balloon, or they’d risk getting decompression sickness – the bends. My understanding is that one of the ladies in the film does attempt to swim to surface, to about the 15-foot mark, which would have likely proven fatal for her (depending upon a combination of factors, including how fast she ascended and how much time she had spent down at 150 feet).

The reason you need to ascend slowly, making what divers refer to as “safety stops” along the way, is to allow your body time (at decreasing depths, and therefore decreasing pressures) to gradually expel the extra nitrogen your body absorbs when you breathe air at that depth. And the deeper you go, the more nitrogen you absorb (to the point where, at those depths, it has a narcotic-like effect that clouds your judgement).

Personally, I use a dive computer (with a second dive computer as my backup) to calculate the depth and duration of each safety stop I need to make based on my dive profile (depth and duration) at the time. And I can’t remember how many stops I made coming up from 149 feet, or at what depths, but I do know that I made a couple of them along the way.

I do remember my last safety stop, though, which was around 15 feet. The depth surrounding the Blue Hole is about 18 feet, so I was hovering just above the sandy bottom that surrounds that deep limestone hole in the ocean bottom (it’s a vertical cave that’s about 1,000 feet in diameter and a little more than 350 feet deep). And to add to the excitement, I was also in shark-infested waters.

As I ascended from 149 feet, I spotted a few fish swimming around what appeared to be a circular cloud in the water, just above the mouth of the hole. As I rose closer to it, I began to realize that the cloud was a giant bait ball – a swarm of fish swimming in a tight circle to ward off predators. And those predators, which looked like regular fish from 149 feet below, were actually grey reef sharks – about five feet in length.

Once I reached the mouth of the hole, I cautiously swam over the lip and along the sandy bottom to just beneath our dive boat. I had been in the water around sharks before, but never while they were feeding (this was years before my South African adventure). And it was an exciting sight, right out of a nature documentary, until I realized that I still needed to surface and climb aboard the boat before what was left of my air ran out. That was a little unnerving, because when sharks are in a frenzy like that, mistakes can be made. Fortunately, I made it aboard the boat, along with all my fellow divers, without incident. And our success proves that a slow ascent from that depth, even through shark-infested waters, is indeed a viable option.

Why It Matters
So what’s the big deal? Hollywood has a long history of making movies with ridiculous plots, right?

For starters, I am concerned that this film will reinforce the stereotype that sharks are evil beasts, plotting to kill people like some deranged psychopath. The 1975 film Jaws sparked an irrational fear of – and hatred towards – sharks in the late 70s, which led to several species being hunted to near extinction. And many sharks remain endangered species today, thanks to horrific practices like shark finning, in which the fins are cut from living sharks (to make soup in places like China and Vietnam) and their bodies are then tossed back into the water where they drown, unable to swim without their fins.

This ludicrous plot may also scare people away from scuba diving, which would be an incredible shame. Our oceans are at the front lines of climate change. So, the more people who go diving, the more people will truly appreciate what is at stake – and how bad things already are. Plus, two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, so scuba diving is the only practical way to explore the majority of our planet.

Finally, it’s just sloppy filmmaking. With a little effort, or even just learning how to dive, the screenwriter and director could have realized how stupid they now look – and easily adjusted the plot so it at least makes some sense, without losing any of the drama and suspense. In fact, they could have called it 47 Feet Down and gotten the same effect with a far more realistic premise.

Trump And His Traitors Show Their True Colors

This is unacceptable. And wrong, both intellectually and morally. If you cannot disavow Nazis, White Supremacists, and Anti-Semites, then you are not fit to lead this nation. And those who apologize for him, or look the other way in hopes of achieving some political gain, are just as guilty as he is.

As for the silly people who try to pretend this about “honoring southern heritage” or “preserving American history,” stop kidding yourselves. General Robert E. Lee opposed such monuments, along with the displaying of the Confederate flag. And monuments were not erected as a tribute to war heroes, but rather to those who maintained the Confederacy’s overt racist dogma.

Those who try to claim that such symbols are valid celebrations of our nation’s history simply don’t know our nation’s history. We don’t celebrate traitors in America. For example, the 9/11 terrorist attacks are also part of our nation’s history, but that doesn’t mean we should erect statues to the terrorists who perpetrated them. We don’t celebrate those who attack our nation, and certainly not those who commit treason, which is exactly what the Confederates were all about.

Of course, you would know that if you spent your time reading books rather than staring at carved stone. The Confederacy were traitors, plain and simple. They started an armed uprising against the United States of America. They attacked and killed Americans in an attempt to leave America, because they did not share our values and ideals. Therefore, they have no place in America other than that which is given to them – as an ugly, shameful footnote in our nation’s history.

The Trumped Up President

Last week, Donald Trump made the following statement:

“Even the President of Mexico called me. Their southern border, they said very few people are coming because they know they’re not going to get to our border, which is the ultimate compliment.”

And the week before, he said the following:

“I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful.”

The problem is that neither phone call took place. There’s a word for that: lying.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s White House press secretary, has since begrudgingly admitted that those calls never took place. But instead of admitting that the President had brazenly lied to the American public, as he clearly had (and as he has often done before), she tried to spin his lies into honest mistakes, claiming that the President of Mexico expressed those sentiments in person, during the G-20 summit four weeks ago, and that “multiple members of the Boy Scouts leadership following his speech there that day congratulated him, praised him and offered quite powerful compliments following his speech.”

But here’s the thing. Trump said these were phone calls, and they were not. That’s not an honest mistake. That’s an intentional misrepresentation of the facts, which is the definition of a lie.

And why is this distinction so important? Because if he is willing to lie about the manner of those conversations, then how can we be sure that he is not also lying about what he claims was the substance of those conversations as well? Or any conversation he has, for that matter?

Sure, Trump claims that was the feedback he got – praise for his policies from the President of Mexico and praise for the greatest speech ever from the Boy Scouts. But he also claimed that he got that feedback over the phone, which was a lie in both instances. If Trump lies compulsively, even about insignificant things, how can anyone trust what he says about things that really matter?

Despite the almost comical efforts of Trump’s 24/7 DC spin machine, these lies cannot be dismissed as honest mistakes. If Trump cannot remember things accurately, as they happened, if he cannot keep the facts straight, then we really need to consider whether this 71 year-old is fit and capable of leading our nation. And if the man cannot tell the difference between a phone call and a face-to-face conversation, then we’ve got even bigger problems than a Liar in Chief.

And it’s not like these are isolated incidents, either. Trump has proven to be a serial liar. The Washington Post has documented an average of four lies per day from Duplicitous Donny since he took office. The New York Times has been running a daily recap of Trump’s lies, just so people can keep up with his ballooning body of dishonesty. And PolitiFact, a site that specializes in fact-checking political claims, has an entire page dedicated to the man’s deceit, examining more than 400 statements Trump has made as a candidate and elected official, with 47 percent of them proving to be absolute lies (that’s nearly half, folks!), 21 percent of them being mostly false, 14 percent deemed to be half-truths (or half-lies, depending on how you want to spin it), 12 percent categorized as mostly true (but still containing inaccuracies or misleading bits), and only 5 percent his statements considered to be completely truthful.

So maybe you didn’t trust Hilary Clinton. Fair enough. Maybe you don’t trust any career politician. Fair enough. And maybe you even like the promises Trump made during his campaign, and believe he was at least being honest about those. Fair enough. But given the man’s propensity for lying, how can you still stand by him?

 

Dunkirk: Abandoned On The Beach

I spent $19.50 to see Dunkirk in all its 70 MM glory last week. The accolades being showered upon the film and its undeniably talented writer/director, Christopher Nolan, had me primed for what’s been described as “a masterpiece” (Atlantic), a “tour de force” and “both sweeping and intimate” (New York Times), “incredible” (Village Voice), “a five-star triumph” (BBC), and “a work of heart-hammering intensity and grandeur” (Telegraph).

But after seeing the film, I felt cheated. And not just because I wasted the better part of a $20 bill along with an hour and forty-five minutes of my life. No, I felt cheated because I didn’t see a masterpiece, a tour de force both sweeping and intimate, an incredible five-star triumph of heart-hammering intensity and grandeur. I wanted to see that movie. I love war movies. And I really admire Nolan’s work outside the comic book genre (namely Inception and Interstellar).

Yes, there are a few moments of magic in Nolan’s Dunkirk. The scattered scenes at sea, particularly those that show a ship sinking, are some of the best you will ever see without getting your feet wet. But these are mere moments, in what is otherwise an overwrought mess of a film, lacking coherency, characters, and – above all – drama. And let’s be honest, you really need to work hard for a war film to fall short on drama.

I can understand why the British press have been so overly generous with their praise of this film. Dunkirk is one of those lingering wounds to the national psyche that needed to be healed. Even after all these years, it needed to be addressed, to provide some closure – especially as the nation faces another monumental evacuation from the Continent, with its formal abandonment of the European Union. And, in that regard, it’s almost fitting that the French are largely ignored in the film (as one could argue they were by the British leadership at the time). And not a single German shows his face throughout the picture – a war film that all but ignores the inconvenience of the enemy.

And who better to bring closure to this period in British history than the British/American cinematic auteur-of-the-moment, Christopher Nolan? Well, frankly, I can think of a number of arguably better-suited candidates. Sam Mendes, for example, though he already made his mark in the genre with Jarhead, a movie about American misadventures abroad. Ridley Scott would have been an outstanding choice, but – again – Black Hawk Down. Similarly Paul Greengrass, with Green Zone. The late Tony Scott would have also been an interesting option. As would have the late Richard Attenborough, who gave us a true masterpiece of military folly in A Bridge Too Far (fun fact: his grandson actually appears in Nolan’s film). It’s a shame that David Lean never tackled the subject. And though Leslie Norman gave it a decent go back in 1958, his Dunkirk was likely still too raw – and perhaps too sterile – to offer any real sense of closure (fun fact: Richard Attenborough was one of the stars of that film).

I have nothing against Nolan taking a crack at the war genre, but his talents were clearly wasted on this film. He is known for his mesmerizing plot twists and nonlinear storytelling, which are arguably better suited for psychological thrillers and sci-fi epics. And, sadly, he forces a nonlinear storyline on this film, which robs it of much of the drama and muddies the waters to the point where you really don’t care what happens to any of the characters.

Not that there are any real characters in this film. For the most part, Nolan denied his actors a genuine opportunity to define their characters, which makes it difficult for us to identify with any of them. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh, two of the most talented actors in the business these days, did the best they could with what little Nolan gave them. The rest are just nameless faces, often indistinguishable from one another, who pop-up periodically in what can best be described as a nonlinear mess of a storyline, spiraling like an eddy around a sinking ship.

Dunkirk is a film lost somewhere between the fog of war and memories that have faded after 77 years of reflection and regret. Nolan seemed to be more interested in trying to impress us with his craft than in doing the story justice. The critics may have declared it a victory, but most of us in the audience felt abandoned on the beach.

Thought of the Day: Capitalization

As a writer, I always strive for proper grammar. Like a musician, you need to know how to play the instrument if you want to make good music.

And as an atheist, I do not believe in God, Jesus, Satan, Allah, or Zeus. Yet these are all proper nouns, referring to deities that many hold dear. So, like the Moby Dick or Ishmael, I may not believe they actually existed but I still capitalize them. And you should, too. It is grammatically correct. Grammar Akbar!

As you may have noticed, I did not capitalize atheist. Some might argue that it is a belief system and therefore should be capitalized like the nouns that refer to the followers of other belief systems – such as Christian, Muslim, or Jew. But an atheist is not technically an adherent of a belief system. There is no actual atheism, either. There is not some doctrine held by those who do not believe in any sort of deity. In fact, that term is typically only used by theists who need to force us into some sort of category based upon their own belief system. They can only think of people in terms of their belief system, with their world clouded by their own religious views, so they assume that we are a religion of non-belief – or perhaps even anti-God. And, in fairness, there is a strain of militant atheist who act like it’s some sort of religion. Though I imagine a lot of it is just good clean fun, like my friend who insists that his mother is a devout atheist, because she doesn’t go to church every Sunday. Atheist Akbar!