John Walker's Electronic House

Mind Blown

by on Aug.09, 2008, under The Rest

Penn & Teller’s Showtime show, Bullshit! is an often very good (and occasionally poor) debunking programming, in which the two passionate skeptics pick a subject of some manner of flim-flammery, and then mock it. They also do useful things like get experts to provide evidence, and less useful things like tricking members of the public in scams, to demonstrate how much people are willing to unquestionably believe.

When it’s good, it’s great. (When it’s bad, it’s last week’s about climate change, where they sort of muddle through talking about the business that’s grown up around it based on using people’s guilt, which is a valid subject, but muddle themselves with the larger issue, tearing Al Gore to pieces (which I don’t exactly disapprove of) and then pointing out that they don’t know if climate change is real or a myth). They’re never better than when attacking alternative medicines, but this week’s, on “stranger danger”, was unexpectedly superb.

But one moment was jaw-dropping. To set up the clip, you need to know the way the show works. Penn & Teller are in their white studio, taking the piss out of things between recorded segments, narrated by Penn. These segments are comprised of interviews with conmen/women, experts, or members of the public, and films of either the snake oil salespeople at work, or their own, mostly pointless, pranks. Penn interrupts the interviews to shout obsenities in frustration, or to point out where people are most openly lying. But mostly to shout, “Fuck!” So this episode has been about over-protective parents in denial of the realities of danger for children. They’ve been over the statistics, they’ve had idiots make stupid statements, and experts state facts, and then the following happens:

I think she is one of the most remarkable woman I’ve ever heard of. She is extraordinary. I write all this to celebrate her. The praise P&T give her is unique in the programme’s five year history, and is deserved. As Penn Jillette says, it’s humbling. This is her foundation’s site.

29 Comments for this entry

  • Del Boy


    I know that there’s nothing worse than a preachy, hysterical, paranoid, condescending parent for those without children but, as a father of a (nearly) two year old girl, that chilled me to the bone.

    There is no way on earth I would have the courage or strength to deal with a situation like that and, at the risk of going all Daily Mail, it’s the only crime I can think of that makes me glad the perpetrator is given a death sentence.

  • NM

    Del Boy, you are an unfortunate fool if you really believe there’s any logic to your final utterance there.

  • botherer

    I found it very sad when it was stated that he was on “death row” as if that should satiate us. It is devastating that a clearly incredibly sick and hideously abused man is now to be murdered. Not something to make me glad.

  • NM

    It makes Del Boy glad. And, sadly, as long as such things have the capacity of making people like Del Boy glad, they’ll continue to happen, because they’re part of the same sad species deficiency. Ah well.

  • Pace

    Hello, been lurking around a bit here the last day or two after Kieron linked to one of your little rants here over on RPS. Just wanted to say cheers, enjoyed what I’ve read, especially that letter to Ibis hotel. I haven’t laughed that hard in ages. You really should go and put yourself through traumatic experiences for our entertainment more often!

    And my my, quite the political arguments here lately. Since clearly everyone is eager to hear my opinion, ahem, I’ve never been able to get real worked up about the death penalty. Seems to me that a person can lose their right not to be killed if they commit sufficiently heinous acts. I’m not saying we should kill them, but I can never quite work up any reason to be upset about it. I guess I’d have to consider myself against it, but for purely practical reasons.

  • NM

    This is a chilling thing to say:

    “Seems to me that a person can lose their right not to be killed if they commit sufficiently heinous acts. I’m not saying we should kill them, but I can never quite work up any reason to be upset about it”.

    The *moment* you think you have the right to say when someone loses their *right* not to be killed is the moment when you’ve committed the most dangerous act of hubris of which humanity is capable.

    No one ever loses their *right* not to be killed. Even in extreme self defence, your aim is to protect your own life and to disable the assailant; your aim is not to kill him for the sake of killing him. You kill him if that is the final and only way to prevent his killing you. If you cannot appreciate this ethical difference then, in a very real sense, you are a psychopath. Indeed, anyone who thinks that the death penalty is ethically justified is, in a real sense, semi-psychopathic.

  • Del Boy

    Oh, shut up NM.

    All I’m saying is that a person who commits a crime of this nature should be punished more than being locked in a room for most of the day.

    I do take back the use of the word ‘glad’ though, it doesn’t make me glad at all but “just” a prison sentence for child molestation and murder doesn’t really invoke much justice to me.

  • NM

    Del Boy, thank you for revealing that you are indeed a psychopath who revels in inflicting suffering to assuage your own savage desires.

  • botherer

    Just out of interest Pace, once a government, system or whatsoever it may be, has murdered their first person in the name of capital punishment, do they too lose their right not to be killed?

    I find it astonishing that people’s thinking ends with the act of the perpetrator. Child molesters were molested. All of them. This means that their crime – without question abhorrent and hideous beyond measure – is a result of their being victims of that crime. (Before anyone gets themselves in a muddle, a minority of child abuse victims go on to abuse – but all those who do abuse were abused. And sigh, NO, that doesn’t “make it okay”, obviously). They deserve pity, treatment, and indeed to have their freedoms removed. But to desire a revenge killing seems horrific to me.

  • Pace

    Well, first off I think the revenge point is interesting. I guess there are a couple of different aspects to criminal justice; maintaining social order (clearly not psychopathic), and also revenge, sometimes hiding out inside the term ‘justice’. (psychopathic? well, maybe, at times, though inescapably human). I wouldn’t mind living in a society where the revenge aspect was completely removed, but it’s hard for me to begrudge someone theirs. In some cases. I’d like to think that if I was in the mothers position in this case that I wouldn’t want the guy executed, but who knows. Again what I’m saying is that it seems to me at some point the criminal has forfeited their rights. (Talking about truly horrible crimes here.) I’m not sure that gives us the right to execute him, but again, it wouldn’t bother me too much if it happens.

    Perhaps the real issue at play here is about the sanctity of life? This one is tough to debate (and near impossible to debate constructively), so I’ll just say that I’m being consistent with my positions on abortion and euthanasia, and hope to avoid triggering an argument. I don’t always think that blindly preserving life in all situations regardless of circumstances is always the obvious choice, though I wouldn’t argue with someone who feels otherwise.

    botherer; I’m not sure I understand the argument about the institution losing their right not to be killed. You seem to be treating an execution as a crime equivalent to murder? Well, we certainly don’t treat imprisonment the same as kidnapping. I mean, the criminal justice system imposing punishment upon a criminal is not the same as the original crime. Right? Disagree with the method of punishment if you will, but I just don’t quite follow this. (that is, executing someone because they went on a torture/killing spree does not seem like an executable offense itself, to me.)

    And if I may say Mr. botherer, your degree of compassion is actually quite touching. (I’m not being facetious here, I mean it.) If everyone was like you we wouldn’t need to execute anybody, but clearly not everybody is. I’m certainly not saying we should execute people for child molestation. And yes I’m sure each and every criminal is a product of their genes and upbringing and society. Yeah it’s a shame that it happens at all, but it does. Something has to be done, and I think that maybe on occasion capital punishment isn’t unjustified. Let’s not discount the genuine pain and suffering they cause to others.

  • Thomas Lawrence

    It’s somewhat peripheral to the point and I’m as anti-death penalty a person as you’re likely to meet, but I did want to pick up on one thing, John: according to Judith Rich Harris’s “The nuture assumption”, the correlation between being abused as a child and oneself being an abuser can be entirely explained by genetic heredity. The step-children of abusers do not become abusers. Lots of studies purporting to show this kind of thing did not control for heredity, and hence their conclusions about the effects of upbringing are suspect and often, when heredity is accounted for, are found to disappear entirely.

    This shouldn’t affect our sympathies for abusers much at all – one can no more help one’s upbringing as a child than one’s genes – but it is interesting, and little known.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    Hang on.

    Child molesters were molested. All of them. All those who do abuse were abused.

    Do we have a reliable source on that? And even if so, hmm. When people get burgled, even repeatedly, I’m pretty sure most of them don’t go and become a burglar.

    This is doubly true with people who get murdered.

  • Steve W

    “When people get burgled, even repeatedly, I’m pretty sure most of them don’t go and become a burglar.”

    What an odd thing to say; to compare the psychol… wait, that was a joke, wasn’t it?

    I’d like to see a {{fact}} tag on that “Child molesters were molested. All of them.” comment too. I’m not disputing it particularly, but it’s something I haven’t heard before, so I’d like to know where it comes from.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    Not a joke at all. As far as I’m concerned burglary, assault, rape and murder all belong to the same genus of crimes – differing only in their degree of violation, not their fundamental nature. (Burglary definitely belongs alongside those other three in nature, rather than, say, with non-personal theft like shoplifting.)

    The bit about being murdered was a joke, though.

  • botherer

    I’m kind of astonished at the stupidity of comparing being abused as an infant, with having your video nicked as an adult. Child abuse causes fundamental changes in a child’s mental development. It’s why it’s a more horrific crime even than it may first appear. There are enormous numbers of studies about this – I will dig some out at a more suitable hour.

    Thomas – I’m interested to see your data.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    I’m astonished that an intelligent adult is making the classic idiot’s assumption that someone comparing two things and explicitly differentiating their degree of seriousness means that the person is actually saying that the two things are equal.

  • botherer

    Sigh. I was not suggesting you were saying they were “equal”. I was ridiculing the stupidity of failing to recognise the difference between something wholly destructive and abhorrent happening to you while your brain and personality are forming, and having your property taken out of your house.

  • Pace

    I think they were just trying to point out that burglary doesn’t have anything to do with abused children becoming abusive adults, not just a matter of degrees.

    I just have to ask, you’re a real reverend Stuart? I’ve been curious ever since the epic piracy discussion on RPS. To be honest you don’t sound much like a reverend! No offense, just wondering.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    I have equal contempt for someone incapable of grasping the personal violation of having your home invaded, particularly if it happens repeatedly and/or while you’re still in it. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the loss of property, as even the thickest of dimwits would realise.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    I just have to ask, you’re a real reverend Stuart? I’ve been curious ever since the epic piracy discussion on RPS. To be honest you don’t sound much like a reverend! No offense, just wondering.

    I’m as real as any other Reverend.

  • botherer

    Because, you enormous buffoon, as an adult your development is complete, and a burglary, no matter how invasive or unpleasant or disturbing it may be, is not going to change how your brain develops. Child abuse defines how a brain develops.

    As I scan around looking for studies that aren’t based on calling paedophiles names, I’m finding many discussing the astonishing effects of child abuse on the brain. There’s two pages of them here:

  • Rev. S Campbell

    You think your development is complete? You think nothing’s ever going to happen to you again that changes your personality? Even as someone with a mere decade of extra life on you, I laugh a hollow laugh of pity at your unworldly naivete, even as I curse this stupid Apple keyboard for having no obvious way of accenting the ‘e’.

  • botherer

    It seems that the most commonly referenced studies are by Groth, but I cannot find the sources.

    I entirely recognise the uselessness of this, and don’t put it forward in the hope of people taking it seriously, but it quotes statistics from studies (and then fails to link or reference them correctly, and as such is suspect), but this:


    * 95% of child abusers were themselves abused as children (Groth);
    * 80% of substance abusers were abused as children (Daytop);
    * 80% of runaways cite child abuse as a factor (Denver Police Dept.);
    * 78% of our prison population were abused as children (Groth);
    * 95% of prostitutes were sexually abused as children (Conte).

  • Rev. S Campbell

    (And of course, what about people who are burgled while they’re still children?)

  • botherer

    I shall retract my “all of them” for the sake of being sensible. And stick with “the vast majority of them.” Interestingly, I’m finding the majority of the data on this subject is taking this assumption as read, and then reporting the details within it. Rather than demonstrating it.

    But anyway, I’m not an expert, and am quoting what experts have anecdotally told me, or I’ve heard experts say on the radio. Finding proof is eluding me, and it’s too late at night.

    In conclusion, everyone burgle Stu’s house.

  • Pace

    And expect to be killed.
    May as well, it’s not like there’s ‘a death penalty or anything in the UK. Bunch of pussies.

    (despite feeling a tad guilty about it this thread has me cracking up.)

  • NM

    It’s all the SNP’s fault.

  • sinister agent

    Sorry, but having your whole childhood, and more than likely your whole life, eclipsed by sexual abuse isn’t remotely the same thing as being robbed twenty years later, when your mind isn’t going to constrcut a large part of your sexuality based on those first traumatic experiences. I’ve no doubt that being robbed can be traumatic, but having stuff taken from your house has little or no bearing on your sexuality or relationships with other people, and to compare it with child abuse in terms of psycho-sexual impact is pretty ridiculous.

    People are abused and very rarely deal with it (partly because it’s natural to deny or retreat from any attempt to face those problems by the time the person is old enough to have the faculties to deal with them – by then it’s buried deep- and partly because a revoltingly large proportion of cases are hushed up by the family, or the child never tells anyone). Their problems resurface years later as their mind, like everyone else’s, goes over their childhood experiences and relationships and repeatedly relives them because they’re familiar, and they seek resolution.

    Typically it’ll come out if they have kids of their own, and however strong their determination to not do the same thing may be, if they haven’t really faced and taken steps to deal with their ordeal, they’ll more often than not end up doing exactly the same as was done to them. It’s pretty textbook psychology, to be honest, though I’m buggered if I can think of a good way to explain it. “Somewhat akin to the Electra complex” is the best I can think of right now. You must know women who had total arseholes for fathers who have spent their whole adult lives exclusively going out with total arseholes, surely? It works along similar lines, only is more intractible for its massive initial impact.

    Either way, that woman is an absolute legend. I’m more than impressed.