Critical thinking… or lack thereof…

Today’s “big news” is “Balloon Boy was a hoax”…

And, the usual upshot of this is that the media and the public is howling for blood.

“We were duped!”

“The police didn’t do their job!”

“It’s the media’s fault!”

The fact is that everyone is to blame for this (except for Balloon Boy, himself. He’s a minor and it is hardly his fault IF his parent’s concocted this whole “show”) — If, indeed, it turns out this is a hoax.

God or Nature gave humans a brain. We have it not just to keep our ears apart. It is there to enable us to think and to make sense of the world and to survive.  That entails “Critical Thinking”. Unfortunately, most of us seem to use our brain, if we use it at all, more to keep our heads from imploding.

We don’t think, let alone think critically.

We use our brains the way water finds it’s way down hill. Whatever the most convenient path to a conclusion, that’s the one we take, even if it results in us accepting the most nonsensical and ludicrous possible outcome, that’s the one we chose and “By Gum!” that’s the one we are going to stick to.

Even better when someone else comes up with the “results” so we don’t actually have to do any thinking for ourselves.

Why should we be surprised that 1) someone tried to pull one over on us and 2) succeeded on pulling one over on us?

And, quite obviously, this was not exactly a methodically thought out “hoax”. Else, it wouldn’t have depended on the involvement of a small child who would easily spill the beans.

The police obviously didn’t think it through, either. Consulting with experts might have clued them into the fact that the balloon probably wouldn’t have been able to ascend to the heights it did with the child in tow. Using their brains might have given them the edge on the less than stellar planning of the parents. Just looking at the balloon might have given them pause to question. Did it actually LOOK as though it was carrying a weight?

The media didn’t bother checking facts or hesitate for one second to authoritatively tell the public that a child was aboard this unlikely vehicle.

The public, always willing to jump on any bandwagon, no matter how shoddily built or how absurd, went along for the (usual) ride.

Even after the fact, talk shows lined up to interview the child. His parents were more than happy to parade their child in front of the media. And, surprise, surprise, the child said something that didn’t fit the scenario. “We did it for a show”.

Of course, this, coming from a small child, could mean anything. It could have meant that he associated the cameras with TV shows and his reenactment was “for a show”. No, obviously, it MUST mean that the whole scenario was “a show”. Of course, it seems it likely was.

Adults brought up short by a child’s words and the media circus starts falling all over itself to blame everyone else for being “taken in”.

There’s a children’s story most of us remember. It, too, is about a hoax. A ludicrous, fanciful, nonsensical farce so unthinkingly silly that it couldn’t possibly work but does… until undone by the words of a child. “But he’s not wearing any clothes!”.


Humans are so ready to believe the most nonsensical and absurd scenarios rather than use their brains, ready to accept “facts” presented rather than learn the REAL facts for themselves, and then blame everyone but themselves for falling for nonsense.

People are ready to believe that hundreds of people could “manufacture” a moon landing, and then every single one of them could maintain complete silence for 40 years. Somehow THAT scenario is easier to believe than the one that had man ACTUALLY walking on the moon.

People are ready to believe that Iraq had nuclear weapons despite ample evidence to the contrary presented to them, both before and after that fact. Yet, they are also willing to believe that their own President would actually be willing to kill several thousands of his own citizens in order to bring about a war that was already inevitable by virtue of the nonexistent nuclear weapons.

Further, they are willing to believe that many of their own citizens would go along with this “conspiracy” and murder fellow citizens and remain silent, despite seeing the evidence before their own eyes.

Some of these same people actually believe that the Holocaust was “faked”.

I honestly despair of a world which consistently accepts the most idiotic conspiracy theory without once asking any one of the 5 W’s — Who, Why, What, Where, and When.

Yes, people have come up with actual conspiracy plans and have perpetrated them on us. Bush did it with his “weapons of mass destruction” nonsense which, had people actually listened to the actual experts would have avoided this terrible war in Iraq. Anyone who doubted was “A’gin us” and obviously an America-hater.

Instead, the masses fell for this one hook line and sinker and then made up an even more insane and diabolical “conspiracy” to blame the same person who pulled the wool over their eyes with a simple plan.

They never once ask themselves “Why?” or, if they do, come up with an equally nonsensical “Reason”.

Why would Bush need to murder thousands of innocent people (or as some conspiracy theorists would have us believe thousands on non-existent people) when he already had the war in the bag with his faked satellite images and arm-twisting of various countries in the UN Security Council? How would he buy the silence of the thousands of people who would have been required to keep Schtum about a conspiracy on this scale? No, easier to believe the most nonsensical and complicated and fiendish scenario rather than believe the simplest truth. America was attacked in its heart, in front of our very eyes and that in the days preceding the attacks, the media had been reporting that an attack was forthcoming (A fact… and a fact forgotten even by the media who had broadcast it).

Humans have an amazing brain and yet spend most of their lives not using it.

We have a capacity to do all sorts of good for the planet and for our fellow human beings. Yet, we spend most of our brains’ resources foolishly. Wasting them on conspiracy theories and hoaxes,  either believing in fake ones or allowing ourselves to be fooled by real ones.

If the majority of us took the time to use our brains, we wouldn’t have a media that spent all its energies trying to entertain us or falling in line with the politicians. We wouldn’t have politicians so willing (and able) to pull over on us the most blatant of scams. We MIGHT even have politicians we could trust and for whom we could be justly proud.

We wouldn’t be spending time and energy on the “Balloon Boy Hoax” or one fraction of a second even considering either the nonsensical “Moon landing” or the truly offensive “9/11” conspiracies.


On a personal note….

It was several hours between the writing of this and posting it. Those several hours was spent at the hospital with my mother who thought that, rather than call me down “all the from upstairs” it was a good idea for an 85-year old who can’t stand on a firm surface without risking taking a tumble to climb on a chair some feet away from the patio door in order to close the curtain.

She fell and took a few yards of shin off, necessitating a trip to the hospital.

I guess, given my “Elk wrangling” of last Autumn, I don’t have a lot of room to talk. But it reminds me of a friend of my ex-husband’s who had to sit down with his parents and tell them not to be doing “stupid things” after his mother, aged 89, fell off the roof while shovelling snow. “I don’t mind going to the hospital if you have a heart attack or a stroke. I am tired of rushing there after you’ve done something stupid.”

Silence is golden… as far as the media is concerned.

On April 20th, 2009, The New York Times’ David Barstow was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for three stories he published about a supposedly “independent voice”, a “dispassionate expert” on the war in Iraq who, it turns out, was very much in the pocket of military contractors, businesses seeking an edge on contracts with the Pentagon, and a Bush Administration horn-tooter.

Retired General Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, it turns out, was contracted by Defense Solutions, back in June 2007 to open doors for them at the Pentagon. Within days, McCaffrey had recommending Defense Solutions to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq. McCaffrey had given the pitch in a 15-page briefing package to Petraeus, who also happened to be “the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military”.

“Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.”

McCaffrey didn’t mention to Petraeus that he was on contract with Defense Solutions, nor did he disclose this, or his lobbying to the Pentagon when he testified before Congress, criticizing a proposal by a competitor of Defense Solutions and suggesting that Congress needed to supply 5,000 armoured vehicles to Iraq, coincidentally, the same number pitched to Petraeus at the Pentagon.

Over the years since the 9/11, McCaffrey, who was an active promoter of the invasion of Iraq  has never disclosed his active involvement with the Bush Administration and Pentagon propaganda machines, or his ties to military suppliers as a lobbyist.

“BR McCaffrey Associates, promises to “build linkages” between government officials and contractors like Defense Solutions for up to $10,000 a month. He has also earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defense industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, he is the chairman of HNTB Federal Services, an engineering and construction management company that often competes for national security contracts.”

Despite a long-standing and well publicized disagreement with Donald Rumsfeld, McCaffrey had been a very enthusiastic booster of the Bush policies, most especially those dealing with Iraq. His dispute with Rumsfeld, it appears also stemmed from his personal financial interests in promoting materials made by the companies he lobbied for. His chief complaint about Rumsfeld appears to have been that Rumsfeld didn’t want to overspend. Whereas, McCaffrey was urging the Bush government  and the Pentagon to spend.

As well as his lobbying, McCaffrey was also, it happens, involved in a surreptitious public relations campaign by the Pentagon to promote the Pentagon and the Bush Administration policies dealing with the war in Iraq. In other words, a propaganda campaign on behalf of the Bush Administration and the Pentagon.

However, McCaffrey, it seems was just one of many former military men who were involved with this campaign.

“In an article earlier this year, The New York Times identified General McCaffrey as one of some 75 military analysts who were the focus of a Pentagon public relations campaign that is now being examined by the Pentagon’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and the Federal Communications Commission. The campaign, begun in 2002 but suspended after the article’s publication, sought to transform the analysts into “surrogates” and “message force multipliers” for the Bush administration, records show. The analysts, many with military industry ties, were wooed in private briefings, showered with talking points and escorted on tours of Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

In order to promote the Bush/Pentagon slant on the war in Iraq, all these “independent analysts” were called upon by news organizations around the world to present their “independent opinions” as retired military personnel without ties to the military industry or the Bush Administration. They were, as we now know, anything BUT independent.

Since Barstow’s revelations, you would have thought that the media would be stepping up to strenuously assert that they knew nothing of “analysts'” ties to military suppliers or the Pentagon.

You would be wrong.

While the New York Times has run news stories on the issue, nearly every other major news organization, either print or broadcast has either under-reported or ignored the story completely.

Indeed, the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize awards in most new stories never made mention of Barstow or his win, at all.

NBC’s announcement was:

The Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and the arts were awarded today. The New York Times led the way with five, including awards for breaking news and international reporting.  Las Vegas Sun won for the public service category for its reporting on construction worker deaths in that city. Best commentary went to Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, who of course was an on-air commentator for us on MSNBC all through the election season and continues to be. And the award for best biography went to John Meacham, the editor of Newsweek magazine, for his book “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.”

And, of course, the very news organizations who are ignoring the story and failing to react in any way, are the same ones who allowed Pentagon and Bush Administration mouthpieces an open forum on the war in Iraq in their studios and in their pages.

Just when WILL the media pony up and accept their responsibility in either, at worst, willingly, or at best unknowingly allowed themselves to become part of the propaganda machine (if they DIDN’T know they should have done — they are in the business to find these things out!)?

Interestingly, if you Google News David Barstow, you will find few stories and none are from the major news organizations.

What is particularly shameful is that the very men who promoted a continued presence in Iraq and lied to the public about the actual state of affairs there did so for money and at the expense of young men and women who will never, ever come home from Iraq. Shameful and disgusting.

Read the Glenn Greenwald ( piece on this story.

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