In this issue of Banter M:
Why Conspiracy Fanboys like Dan Bidondi Matter - Bob Cesca on why he invited conspiracy nut Dan Bidondi on his podcast and why, despite how crazy he is, he matters.
Disaster Porn - Ben Cohen writes about the worrying trend of our culture's obsession with recording human misery
On Shaky Ground - Chez Pazienza on earthquake fear and the extraordinary warning for San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area.
Why Conspiracy Fanboys like Dan Bidondi Matter
by Bob Cesca
I never thought Chez and I would ever agree to allowing Dan Bidondi to occupy and entire hour of our podcast. After writing about Dan's ridiculous on-the-scene report following a mysterious blast at a Rhode Island beach, the intrepid Alex Jones disciple jumped into my Twitter feed and insisted that he appear on our podcast to, among other things, enlighten us about his version of the truth.
In case you're new to the whole Dan Bidondi thing, here's a brief summary of this hairless 300lb monster. Dan is part of Alex Jones' InfoWars conspiracy theory universe, while also hosting his own video podcast called "The Truth Radio Show Dot Com." A former (semi) professional wrestler, Dan gained national attention after he interrupted the press conferences following the Boston Marathon bombing by repeatedly shouting "false flag" at various public officials. He later confronted a Rhode Island state senator about a gun control bill that was being considered there, and the senator told him point blank to go fuck himself. The senator's "gun-grabbin' cameraman" repeated the sentiment. It was the audio portion of the "go fuck yourself" incident that Chez and I latched onto on our podcast, and it was instant comedy gold. Many, many more clips followed -- each one more hilarious than the last. Between Dan's insistence that every tragedy in the U.S. is, in fact, a false flag operation combined with his cartoony voice, he's a once-in-a-career whipping boy, designed and manufactured for ridicule.
We'll talk about the substantive justifications for tormenting Dan presently. But, for now, back to the story...
So, I toyed with him a little bit on Twitter, mainly for my own enjoyment but also for the entertainment of my Twitter friends who immediately popped some popcorn and joined in. In addition to making for great radio, Dan is a perfect foil for Twitter. He's just so utterly tone deaf, earnest and not the slightest bit self-aware. Plus, there are the misspellings and, ultimately, the epic dumbstupid. And Twitter is all about brutally attacking crazies who lack the self-awareness to realize when they're being toyed with. Consequently, it was, as it usually is, a turkey shoot.
But after a few beats, Dan again publicly insisted that we have him on our show. I called Chez and we briefly discussed the possibility. Should we give him a platform for his conspiratorial gun-nut horseshit, or do we look like cowards who can't confront a certified boob like Dan. Following some back-and-forth, we decided to go for it, especially since the whole exchange with Dan was taking place in public and he so desperately wanted to (unknowingly) step into the propeller.
The deciding factor was this: Dan Bidondi might seem like a doughy goofball, and we very often treat him accordingly. However, and this is critical, he's also a dangerous goofball. He markets in ideas that make perfect sense inside his own mushy walnut brain, but to everyone else his ideas are poisonous. Case in point.
On one of Dan's "Truth Radio Show Dot Com" shows, and in the middle of an extended unhinged rant about the evils of abortion, Dan blurted out that he wanted his listeners to load up vans filled with C-4 explosives and drive them into abortion clinics. His only caveat was to make sure no one was in the buildings when it happened. Also, he was unclear whether these would be suicide missions. If for no other reason, I wanted Dan to appear on the show in order to confront him on this point. He's clearly and publicly calling for terrorist attacks, and he needed to be questioned about it.
About 45 minutes into the show, I asked him, "Why do you support terrorism, Dan?" Of course he denied it and qualified his remarks again by saying the buildings ought to be empty. But, of course, it's still terrorism irrespective of casualties. It's meant to frighten and intimidate women and medical personnel who need the facilities, and prevents them from safely expressing their freedom to work and receive medical attention.
So, I pressed Dan a little more. Do you think 9/11 would still be terrorism if there weren't any people inside the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, Dan? Yes, he said. Then what the hell is the difference between bombing the twin towers and bombing a clinic? Well, because babies are being killed in abortion clinics, he said. And this somehow justifies terrorism? Sure, he replied.
Mission accomplished. I got Dan to admit that he supports terrorism.
Combine this with the fact that he routinely insists the slain Sandy Hook children never existed, and the whole thing was a false flag to implement new gun control laws. Short of supporting terrorism, there's really nothing more ghoulish than Dan's conspiracy theories on Sandy Hook, suggesting that the parents and school officials were all in on a massive hoax -- parents and officials who, in reality, were forced to suffer through the most horrendous experience any human being can endure. And then there's Dan Bidondi whose cockamamie work suggests the mourning and the lost and the irreparable damage simply isn't real. For this, Dan can seriously go fuck himself.
But his devotion to a literal (and wrong) interpretation of the Constitution, along with his bizarrely child-like literal interpretations of demons and biblical prophecies, guide him Pied-Piper-style down these various rabbit holes.
Indeed, throughout the podcast, Dan kept repeating the "shall not be infringed" excerpt from the Second Amendment. Chez said at one point that hearing Dan say "shall not be infringed" was like hearing the Stones do "Satisfaction." Dan even confessed that citizens should be allowed to have all of the same weaponry as the U.S. military has at its disposal.
We, of course, confronted him on the substance of what he was saying, since "shall not be infringed" sounds pretty damn absolute. I created a hypothetical for Dan in which a criminal is released from prison after committing a series of heinous crimes. Should this criminal, I asked, be allowed to own as many firearms as he wants? Surprisingly, Dan said no. And that means, at least in this extreme example, that Dad supports gun regulations and that the Second Amendment can be infringed under certain circumstances.
Both of these admissions made Dan's hour of blathering and nincompoopery all worth it. Chiefly because it drove our conversation about Dan beyond making fun of his inability to say the last name of the Israeli prime minister and cut directly to the meat of why we're so merciless toward him. It's because he deserves it. He practically begs for it by marketing in monstrous ideas that have no business being ignored.
by Ben Cohen
A few years ago I went to see the American Idol finale at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. My dad worked for the company that made it and he was in town from London for the event, so I took a couple hours off work and went with him. After the show ended, I left the building with my dad and one of his business colleagues and walked over to the side of the road in order to get picked up by the driver who had dropped us off earlier. I was quite far ahead of my dad and his colleague and was busy scanning the cars to see if I could spot our driver when I heard a colossal bang that sounded like shot gun had gone off. My British fear of anything potentially gun related kicked in and I was just about to hit the floor when I saw a large taxi-van wobbling badly and veering close to the curb with one of its wheels close to coming off.
There was smoke coming off the taxi, and as I followed its trajectory backwards, I saw the blue, small Toyota it had hit. Clearly the Toyota had pulled out from a parking spot without looking and the taxi cab had hit it going at tremendous speed. From a distance, the Toyota looked fine and there didn't appear to be any serious damage to the car. But the sound was so loud I could not imagine either driver being completely ok. The taxi driver stopped his cab and got out to inspect the damage. He looked a little shaken but more irritated than anything else as he no doubt calculated the amount of money he was about to lose that day. He pulled out his cell phone and began talking almost immediately, not paying any attention to the car he had hit or the gathering crowd around that had started to take photos of the accident.
After watching the scene unfold for around 30 seconds or so, I realized no one was going to check on whoever was in the Toyota. It hadn't moved from the position it had been hit in (it had barely pulled out of its parking spot) and I couldn't quite see into the the drivers seat from my position. Suddenly, I started to fear the worst. What if the driver had been seriously injured? What if there was broken bones and blood? What if this was a real accident, like the ones you drive past on the freeway and shake your head thinking "there's no way he made it out of that one"? What if the driver was dead? I generally like to think of myself as being reasonably brave, but for a moment I did not want to go anywhere near the car for fear of what I might find. Why the hell was no one going to check though? After calming my nerves, my selfish instincts faded and I ran over to the car to check on the driver. As I neared the car, I saw a young woman frozen in her seat with a look of sheer terror on her face. I opened the door and crouched down to check on her.
"Are you ok?" I asked, looking for any signs of injury.
"I-I-I think so," she stammered.
I could not see any blood or signs of serious injury. Thank God.
The woman must have been around 27-28, delicately built and very self conscious. She was struggling to speak and seemed confused.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I-I-I don't know," she said nervously. "I pulled out and that taxi just ploughed into me. He was going so fast."
I noticed that her hands were still gripping the steering wheel, and her knuckles were turning white.
"Look at me," I said.
She turned to face me.
"You're OK. I want you to let go of the steering wheel, and focus on breathing."
I soon as I said this, she burst into tears.
I held her hand and sat with her for a couple of minutes breathing with her and trying to get her to calm down. Finally, an ambulance showed up and the EMTs took over and gently helped the woman out of her car and onto a stretcher. I stood up and see where my dad and his colleague were, and as I did, I saw how big the crowd had gotten and the number of people who had pulled their cell phones out to record what had happened. I noticed one guy casually filming me as I moved away from the car, chewing gum and grinning like he had caught a couple having sex and was about to sell the film to TMZ. The contrast between the severely shell shocked woman sobbing in her car and this toothless loser with his sagging pants and backwards baseball cap reveling in someone else's misery was suddenly too much for me to handle.
"Turn your fucking phone off you!" I barked, moving quickly towards him with a look of pure rage.
The guy started to look a little sheepish and pretended he wasn't filming anything.
"Hey motherfucker, put your goddamn phone away and stop filming, or I'll smash it all over the floor," I shouted.
The man saw I was not joking and promptly put his phone away and slunk off back into the crowd.
I still cannot come to terms with what I saw that day, the gratuitous voyeurism and the expense of human misery, and the utter lack of empathy shown by pretty much everyone on the scene other than the EMTs.
On July 13th of this month, a Honda sedan was traveling at speed toward a level crossing in Lorain, Ohio. The 17 year old driver, Zachary Goodin, was traveling with a friend and lost control of the car and crashed it violently into a house. The car caught fire, and local residents rushed to help the severely injured boys.
41-year-old local resident Paul Pelton had other ideas though, and took the opportunity to make a home video of the incident. In a Facebook post, the Lorain police department reported:
While others were rendering aid to these boys, a male took the opportunity to video this horrible scene with his cell phone. In the video, the male makes comments that the boys were 'idiots,' and holds his cell phone so that he can film these two boys who were in medical crisis. The male then opens the back door of this vehicle and leans in to continue capturing video.
He walks around to the driver’s side and video tapes the driver, and then returns to the door that he opened and continues to capture video of these boys and the interior of the vehicle. At no time does the male render assistance to the victims, or even attempt to comfort them.
Emergency responders arrived on the scene to find the 17-year-old passenger, Cameron Friend, in critical condition. He was taken to a local hospital where he later died from his injuries. Goodin survived the incident without serious injury.
Paul Pelton was arrested two days later and charged with vehicular trespassing. He has pled not guilty.
When hearing about cases like this, it is difficult not to lose faith in the human species. Pelton's extreme callousness is a symptom of a far greater problem we have created in modern society. The rampant individualism and competitiveness of our culture has separated us from one another to the point where a dying boy is no longer a dying boy, but a potential viral hit on youtube. A cursory search on the internet will deliver pretty much any form of human misery you want - from ISIS executions to rape - our voyeuristic tendencies appear to know no limits. While our ability to record every moment of our waking lives has had positive benefits, like the stunning emergence of the Arab Spring and exposing police brutality, we run the risk of detaching ourselves from real events and turning them into 2D reflections of reality for the purpose of entertainment. .
The tragic death of Cameron Friend and the ugly behavior of Paul Pelton brought back the memory of the incident I witnessed outside the Staples Center. It reminded me of the dark part of humanity that exists in all of us, and it reminded me that it must be challenged in others and in ourselves. In Cameron Friend's case it was the Lorain Police Department that sought to remind its community about compassion and human empathy. Captain Roger Watkins wrote on the department's facebook wall:
The Lorain Police Department would like to remind citizens that they are allowed and encouraged to help one another in emergencies if they can do so safely, and that rendering aid or comfort to a dying young man and his severely injured friend is a commendable and kindly act. Persons are not, however, allowed to trespass into a person’s vehicle criminally and without permission for the seemingly singular cause of filming, a young man’s dying moments, for profit.
Cameron Friend needed a hand to hold at the end of his life, not a sociopath filming him for amusement. It is an image that should be burned in our collective minds - a reminder that all of us will be confronted with unexpected tragedy, and all of us must choose what impact we have on that situation. We can choose to connect to our fellow citizens in times of need and refuse to be spectators. Because the more we choose to connect the more human we become - an ever more important concept when our culture is conspiring against us.
On Shaky Ground
by Chez Pazienza
The first time I felt an earthquake I did what almost everybody does: I froze. When I say that I did what almost everybody does, I'm not just talking about the first time he or she suddenly feels the ground move under their feet, I mean almost every time a quake hits. And make no mistake, quakes hit all the time in California. No matter who you are or where you live, if you call California home you almost certainly know the feeling of stopping in your tracks, eyes widening, and waiting to see what will happen next once the earth below you starts reminding you who's really in charge around here. For most Californians, a little shaking here and there is no big thing; it's the cost of living in a place as generally lovely as the Golden State and after a while you just get used to it. But while long-time residents laugh at the newbies who shit their pants at the slightest unexpected movement beneath them, they also understand the potentially devastating threat posed by a sudden seismic realignment of their home. It's weird, though: people out here where I live, in Los Angeles, take the thought of the earth cracking apart and bringing down a bunch of buildings in stride and yet they completely lose their minds when a few drops of water fall from the skies.
I've never been through a serious quake. Oh sure, there have been plenty of small ones -- 3.5s and 4.0s and such -- including a couple over a period of just a few weeks recently that left me wondering if it was all the precursor to something bigger on the way (since that's how it works in Roland Emmerich movies). But the last serious shaker to hit L.A. was more than 20 years ago. The Northridge quake struck at 4:30am on January 17th of 1994 -- even though it's just a myth, it really does feel like most earthquakes hit very early in the morning -- and ultimately killed 57 people and caused more than $20 billion in damages. It could be felt as far away as Las Vegas. Before that the last big earthquake to hit California was in the Bay Area. It was the 1989 Loma Prieta, a 6.9 quake that killed 63 people and injured almost 4,000 others. Those are all scary numbers and while quakes happen rarely the threat of one striking from out of the blue at any given moment is still an omnipresent threat. Like I've said more than once: I try not to make fun of my friends back east in January when they're up to their necks in snow and I'm laying out in the sun because one day they'll be able to make fun of me because the ground's still under their feet.
I bring all of this up because, according to several reports, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey just issued a pretty extraordinary warning for San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area. Tom Brocher, a research geophysicist with the USGS, says that the Hayward Fault running deep beneath the Bay Area is expected to produce a major earthquake "any day now." That kind of specificity is something researchers not only generally avoid but, as far as anyone knows, aren't even capable of. Most quake scientists will tell you that the best they can do is provide maybe four or five seconds of advance warning that a quake is coming. That's admittedly a huge advancement and if a universal warning system can be put in place it might be the sort of thing that gives, say, surgeons a last minute heads up to pull their instruments out of a patient or average citizens a chance to dive for cover, but it's nowhere near the kind of warning that would really save lives. Brocher's comments, in fact, are so surprising that I'm half expecting him to clarify his statement at some point very soon. It's possible media outlets are simply taking Brocher's point that "the past five major earthquakes on the fault have been about 140 years apart, and now we’re 147 years from (the) 1868 earthquake, so we definitely feel that could happen any time,” and turning it into the usual alarmism. But there is that nagging "any day now" quote of his that can't be dismissed out of hand.
What makes this seem like more of a confidence-is-high kind of thing is that there was a small quake along the Hayward Fault just this week. On Tuesday, a 4.0 struck the Bay Area that shook some groceries off the shelves and stopped BART for a bit but otherwise didn't cause much damage (other than some rattled nerves). This sort of seismic activity doesn't guarantee that something bigger is on the way, but when you combine it with the timeline Brocher referenced, it appears to have at least some at the USGS concerned. What's more, "The population is now 100 times bigger in the East Bay (since the 1868 quake) so we have many more people that will be impacted,” as Brocher points out. Any large quake along the Hayward Fault has the potential to cause very serious loss of life. One would hope this new warning would serve as a powerful reminded to residents of the Bay Area to bring their earthquake prep kits up-to-date, but who's to say procrastination and Normalcy Bias won't own the day and be the source of plenty of regret later. That said, if nothing happens over the next few days and weeks and San Francisco and its surrounding area is spared a major quake, that Normalcy Bias may become bulletproof. After all, if the USGS warns of a big quake and nothing happens, why listen to them the next time around?
I lived in Miami for most of my life. For maybe five months out of the year in South Florida you live with the threat of a giant storm rolling in and laying waste to everything you hold dear. As someone who covered news for a long time locally, I always kept an internal debate running in my head over what was better to have to cover, something like a hurricane or blizzard -- something you could see coming -- or an earthquake, which struck in an instant. From the cynical perspective of a news producer, at least you weren't sitting in a control room for days doing prep coverage with an earthquake. All you had to deal with was the aftermath. But as a civilian -- and a producer for that matter -- it was nice to have some time to get your affairs in order before the hand of an angry God reached down and donkey punched your life. Now that I'm here, back in L.A. seemingly for good, I'm more concerned than ever about earthquakes. Hurricanes and powerful storms. Earthquakes, powerful earthquakes, feel like the end of the world. Maybe it's just a matter of perspective but that's how it is for me these days. I'm sure more than a few of those who've relocated from here to the Southeastern coastline might feel differently. Granted, there's no "earthquake season" the way there is with hurricanes -- and I've lived through hurricane seasons where the storms have rolled one after the other toward Florida from the coast of Africa as if my state were the lead pin in a bowling alley. But still, with quakes there's always that knowledge that a big one is coming -- eventually. It's just a matter of time -- and the more time that goes by the more likely it gets.
So, when one comes, I freeze. My amygdala seizing control of me and my fight-or-flight mechanism suddenly overriding everything. I don't run or dive for cover, maybe because I've never experienced a quake that's a sharp shock, which some of the worst ones are. I just feel that roll beneath my feet and the creak of my apartment's frame or rattle of my apartment's contents and wonder what will happen next. Will everything collapse on top of me? Will gas lines explode? Will that glass-topped dining room table provide any protection at all (no)? Or will it stop as quickly as it started. The answer is always "who knows?"
But does the USGS this time around? I guess we'll know in a few days, won't we.