Ethics Dunces: The U.S. Congress. Again

Actor Mark Ruffalo (he plays the Hulk in The Avengers  movies, but it wasn’t because of that role) was invited to testify before Congress last year on public policy involving  public health, chemistry, toxicology, and epidemiology. He has no expertise in these areas at all. The reason was that he starred in “Dark Waters,” which I wrote about here.

Ruffalo is a 9/11 truther, believing  that the U.S. government helped destroy the World Trade Center. That would be enough for me to ding him as an authority on anything, but he has embraced other conspiracy theories as well, like this one.

Never mind: he was presented to the public as an authority on pollution whose opinions on environmental matters have weight. The don’t, and they shouldn’t.

This is a repeat offense. Members of Congress are addicted to the unprofessional and insulting stunt of inviting actors and performers to testify as substantive witnesses on topics that they acted about in movies. As a professional director, I can state with absolute certainty that if an actor is really an expert in something their character was supposed to experience or know something about, 1) that actor is very unusual, and 2) there will still be thousands of real authorities who know a lot more.

Nevertheless, Congress keeps doing this, apparently believing that the public is so naive and gullible that they really believe that because a performer credibly pretends to know what a script-writer prepares to make them sound like the know, they really are experts. Sadly, a lot of the public does believe that. (More sadly, a lot of actors do too)

Sometimes, just being a celebrity activist is enough. Back in 1989, Meryl Streep was invited to testify about the dangers of pesticides. The actress knew no more about the subject than anyone who read general consumption articles on the topic. She’s not a scientist, and her activism regarding pesticides is essentially a hobby. She has no scientific training or education; she acted her way through college, went right into the Yale Drama School, and never looked back. She can, however, act like she knows more than she does. This makes her a powerful, if misleading witness. (Ruffalo’s testimony was called “powerful”)

The Congressional Hearings Digital Collection: Famous (Celebrity) Witnesses goes out of its way not to list all of the most dubious examples of this phenomenon (though you can search for them). For example, Streep doesn’t make its list of samples. Many celebrity witnesses do have legitimate reasons to testify, at least in theory: I do not quibble with calling Michael J. Fox to testify about the need for Parkinson’s disease research, for example.  Charlton Heston was head of the NRA when he testified at a 1998 hearing on “Whose Right To Keep and Bear Arms? The Second Amendment As a Source of Individual Rights.”

However, look at these:

  • Chevy Chase: 2007 hearing “Using School Wellness Plans To Help Fight Childhood Obesity.”
  • Stephen Colbert: 2010 hearing “Protecting America’s Harvest.”
  • Kevin Costner: 2010 hearing, “Deluge of Oil Highlights Research and Technology Needs for Effective Cleanup of Oil Spills” The first of three times he testified in 2010.
  • Isaac Hayes: 2001 hearing “Religious Discrimination in Western Europe.”
  • Kevin Kline: Cloning, 2002, Special Hearings
  • Dennis Quaid: 2008 hearing, “Should FDA Drug and Medical Device Regulation Bar State Liability Claims?”
  • Robert Redford:1989 hearing “Global Warming and Its Implications for California.

Yes, apparently they cloned Kevin Klein.

Oh! I almost forgot! Elmo testified in 2002 …

…for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations for 2003. Part 7A: Testimony of Members of Congress and Other Interested Individuals and Organizations. He’s listed in the data  base as “Elmo (Monster).”

When Colbert testified in 2010, I wrote,

It doesn’t matter what half-baked, foolish logic led to the idea of Colbert testifying: it is disrespectful to those on both sides of a serious and divisive issue, degrading to the nation and insulting to the public. (I would say that it debases the House, but that is obviously impossible). My guess is that Democrats think that a comedian mocking conservative positions regarding illegal immigration—not that it makes any sense at all that requiring immigrants to obey immigration laws is regarded as a “conservative” position—will amuse and satisfy their open-borders base. That does not justify turning Congress into a cheap comedy club…

And they wonder why respect for Congress is at an all-time low! If Colbert is as smart as I thought he was, he won’t risk his own credibility by getting involved with this irresponsible, shameless, silly group of elected buffoons.

Well, he wasn’t as smart as I thought he was. Colbert “testified” (that is, performed), as Lofgren sat with an idiotic grin on her face, and several members on the Committee asked the comedian questions that indicated that they thought he was serious. Then, incredibly, when the stunt was criticized, Stenny Hoyer blamed Colbert! I wrote after that,

Anyone who is not depressed and angered by this stunt had given up hope before it happened. It is absurd to blame Stephen Colbert: he was doing his job, which is to be messenger of satire, and to promote his program. It was Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi’s party, and the U.S. Congress, that abdicated their duty and made representative democracy a joke. No American should forgive this, even if the Democrats had the sense to apologize. As Hoyer demonstrated, however (and Pelosi, whose cretinous comment was, “I think it’s great!”), they can’t even muster the class and common sense to do that.

It’s all very depressing.

11 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: The U.S. Congress. Again

  1. I just remembered that Kevin Klein was in a movie called “Dave” where he played a virtual doppelganger of the President of the United States. I hope that wasn’t why he was considered an expert on cloning.

  2. How come they didn’t get all the actors who have ever played the President in a film or television show to testify during the impeachment trial of President Trump?

  3. Here is a thought, why not bring in real experts and put them in the peanut gallery with numerical cards and have them give their score to actual questions and answers.

    I can see it now Sheila Jackson Lee gets a 3.2 out of 10 because she spent all her time pontifucating and finally getting around to asking an idiotic question. Colbert might be able to eek out a 2.8 but no actor would ever score above a 5.

    If they want a TV show, make it a sporting one so we can use scorecards to rate the players.

  4. Well, what do you do with this? Hope for an electorate unwilling to put up with these fools pretending to be governing on behalf of the people and voting them out. That goes for both parties. Attending and providing credibility to this non-sense enables this to continue.

  5. Remember: 2 planes, 3 building

    Ruffalo is a 9/11 truther, believing that the U.S. government helped destroy the World Trade Center. That would be enough for me to ding him as an authority on anything, but he has embraced other conspiracy theories as well, like this one.

    I looked into this for about 3-4 months. A *truther* does not follow one fixed view. There is a wide range of speculation among those who doubt the official story. These do include what seem truly bizarre theories one one end, and extremely coherent and well-reasoned theories on the other.

    A truther begins from the incontrovertible premise that a) mere gravity could not, repeat could not, have created enough force to pulverize the buildings into a fine powder, and b) that since it was openly stated that Building 7 was ‘pulled’ (brought down by detonation) that the entire scenario — the official story — is questionable>/i>. More is going on there than meets the eye. Even if one disregards that the building owner used the language of *pulling*, nevertheless the implosion of Building 7 is challenged as being extremely unlikely/impossible. There is a very good argument there. Meaning, it must be questioned. Beyond those two factors there are dozens and dozens of other problems with all the events of that day.

    My perspective has been that we have to examine both ends of the *conspiracy* spectrum. One pole being the really way-out theories that are so outrageous as to be impossible. These have to do with *projected phantasy* that is injected into an interpretation (hermeneutics again) of these events.

    But the other side of this is to examine the mental structures of those who refuse, because it is simply devastating to a ‘belief system’, that there may have been behind-the-scenes and hidden machinations — that is, para-military involvement — in these events. That is a ‘bridge too far’ for some. They prefer to shut out the entire question from their mind. That is also a mechanism and could be said to be (or to seem) like the corresponding pole of the paranoid-phantasy version.

    Connected with 9/11 is the now forgotten Anthrax Scare. Graeme MacQueen (a Harvard-trained philologist with a strong analytical mind) offers the best versions of exploding the *official version* if the 9/11 events. All this talks are on YouTube. But the anthrax scare shows a smaller scale intelligence operation (it has all the marks) and is a way to demonstrate how these are used in mass-manipulation. If one can see the smaller event, and understand it, it can help to understand the possibility that the larger even also is questionable.

    But it has to be stated: the nature of these events are so far outside of the capacity to conclusively decide and understand that one can only say “there is more going on here than meets the eye”.

    • 5 buildings. Truthers never want to bring up those other two. Probably because they don’t have an interview of someone ‘admitting’ to ‘pulling’ them.

      As to ‘fine powder’ those were some pretty huge chunks of powder. A lot of the dust in a demolition(purposeful or otherwise) is actual dust. And these were some terrible ‘implosions’ since they spilled out into the surrounding streets and into other buildings.

      • My view is the following:

        1) Without a prolonged and dedicated research of the position critical of the *official story* one cannot even gain a sense of what the controversy is.

        2) Even with a prolonged investigation, and even considering all the critical arguments, one is left to what one has *in one’s own mind*. That is, you can only approach the entire question in your own *imagined space*. But our *imagined space* (the space where we hold our vision of things) is always incomplete. You are in this sense alone, without support. ‘The world’ of established media and ‘official opinion’ has determined, not through evidence or investigation, that the *official story* is the right one. The entire march of *the world* follows this view. And the assertion stands. A lone individual can only confront that within his or her *imagined space*. And this is the state in which we find ourselves in so many different areas. And in that is a significant problem. Hermeneutical solitude.

        3) This drives people underground. It places them in a border-land of unacceptable ideation & speculation. It produces therefore a ‘conspiracy-oriented mind-frame’. Obviously, there are indeed utterly outlandish and paranoid theories. We know this (with certainty). But here we confront an event in which thousands (many thousands) of what we understand to be *responsible and educated people* (mostly engineers, those with science background, and other professionals) openly challenge the official story.

        4) This gives the entire issue a unique feature. Now, have these people fallen into a *paranoid trap*? Are their scientifically-based opinions — say as a structural engineer — influenced by mass hysteria or perhaps by their political opinions? Why do they have the perceptions they do? Why do they entertain & cultivate them? To think about this means one has to return to Item #1, above: you have to do the research. Or not!

        5) But here is the interesting thing: you also have to study those who do not or will not consider the world-shaking possibility of a larger and orchestrated event. The mind *refuses* to go there because it senses that to do so will involve it in a dangerous, indeed a self-threatening enterprise. Even though, on a smaller scale, one has no problem examining ‘false-flag events’ or contrived, intelligence-agency orchestrated events that have been used in time of war (and outside those times of course). So, it resolves to simply brush it away and not to think about it as an act of the will. I assume there must be psychological studies of persons who for reasons of *self-preservation* opt to hold to a given belief despite contrary evidence.

        6) This is a very abbreviated mention of just a few points. Those who do, for a whole range of different reasons, choose to enter into the controversy or as they say *go down the rabbit hole* have often said that their former faith collapses. When they, or as they, discover a *new truth* they enter a difficult, shadowy realm of partial perception that is dangerous and uncertain. Some stop, unable to go further, and then set their minds to ‘forgetting’ what they formerly entertained. Some, and for obvious reasons, seek to continue forward but they do so as ‘rebels’ or from an ‘underground’. Still others — likely the majority — can neither enter fully into a position of ‘total belief’ (in larger machination) but nor can they exit from a shadowy, paranoid view that intimates that “All around me are shadowy conspiratorial events and the truth about them I cannot ever fully know.”

        • You didn’t imagine, did you? that you could get through this without being subject to a few Kafka quotes from The Castle: 🙂

          “If a man has his eyes bound, you can encourage him as much as you like to stare through the bandage, but he’ll never see anything.”

          “You misinterpret everything, even the silence.”

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