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TMQ Tidbits of the Week

Once again, here is the best of Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com. You can read the football bits here.

Many Intellectuals Don’t Believe in God But Do Believe in the God Particle: In 2011, physicists at the enormous CERN atom-smasher in Switzerland declared they had found matter moving faster than light. This was received with front-page credulity by the establishment media.

Football columns are not your best source of scientific analysis. Nevertheless, TMQ cautioned, “Because the claimed velocity is less than one-thousandth of 1 percent more than light speed, observer error seems the likely explanation.” Months later, CERN admitted observer error, and leaders of the project had the dignity to resign. Your columnist had no special knowledge of the research — just healthy skepticism regarding assertions of astonishing discoveries, especially when the assertions serve a self-interest, such as increased funding for CERN.

Fast forward to this summer. CERN announced it had found the Higgs boson, a long-hypothesized force carrier thought essential to the manifestation of matter and memorably dubbed the God particle by the physicist Leon Lederman. Maybe this time CERN is right, although TMQ found it odd that media dispatches were short on healthy skepticism, considering CERN’s previous big announcement turned out to be not only bogus but the result of incompetence.

“We know the Higgs is at the center of everything,” Joe Lykken, a CERN researcher, told The Washington Post. Beware of scientists claiming to “know” how the universe works, as opposed to offering educated guesses.

TMQ suspects many physicists are pretending to understand claims about the Higgs boson, in order to sound like informed insiders. But even CERN officials have trouble explicating what, exactly, they say they have found. Garance Franke-Ruta summarizes the claims, which boil down to, “The Higgs boson is some kinda particle, unless it’s not.”

Even if the latest CERN data prove correct, humanity is still in the early days of grasping elemental issues of the natural world. Suppose proponents are correct, that a Higgs boson does exist and does mediate a Higgs field. Then why does the Higgs field exist? What is the source of the quintessence being emanated? I’d venture that humanity today knows 1 percent of what is possible to know about the cosmos. How long until physicists scoff at the year 2012, when smart people actually believed there was a God particle!


Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Jim Clair of reports, “Archie Manning was just on the Colin Cowherd radio show talking about the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Program he’s working with. Manning encouraged voters to vote every day between now and Dec. 31. Not only is it crazy to vote for coach of the year after two weeks of play, the voting closes before most bowl games take place and many important coaching decisions are left to be made.” Vote early, vote often!


“Ha’kun’a Mat’ata (The Butler Did It)”: All action shows contain some nonsense. As the television critic James Parker has noted, an action series that consists entirely of nonsense is an art form. Parker thought “24” was an achievement in that sense. Inheriting this mantle is the reimagined “Hawaii Five-0,” whose third season kicks off Monday. “Five-0” has emerged as television’s most entertaining delivery system for pure nonsense.

An episode begins with a prisoner on a commercial flight killing the U.S. marshal escorting him. The murder weapon? I am not making this up: Two plastic airline knives held together with a rubber band. Passengers were unaware a murder was in progress onboard, because the marshal inexplicably did not fight back or cry out, although it would take quite a while — probably hours — to kill someone using “two plastic airline knives held together with a rubber band.”

At the Honolulu airport, the killer escapes as the plane reaches a gate. Steve McGarrett declares the bad guy “used the galley to reach the baggage compartment, then got out through the wheel well.” We see grainy surveillance-cam footage of a sinister figure dropping to the ground from a wheel well beneath the plane’s wing. The aircraft shown is a Hawaiian Airlines Airbus. Here’s info on the model; good luck finding a door from the galley to the baggage hold. Even if you could reach the baggage compartment, there’s no route to midwing, as the wings of jetliners are where fuel is stored. So: The bad guy smashed a bulkhead with his bare hands to get to the baggage hold, then swam through a fuel tank.

On “Hawaii Five-0,” a small group of cops has an omniscient supercomputer the CIA would envy. Plots regularly involve automatic-weapons fire on the streets of Honolulu. The Aliiolani Hale, a Hawaii landmark, is presented as “Five-0’s” secret headquarters, as if a Washington, D.C., detective show presented the Washington Monument as a secret headquarters. “I confer on you blanket immunity from prosecution, so you can go outside the law to stop crime,” the governor tells McGarrett. Gov, think about what you just said! Not even Oliver North had advance immunity.

All the elements of action-show nonsense are on regular display. Among them:

Good guys laugh at bullets: The McGarrett, Danno and Kono characters have been shot at close range by assault rifles. Bullets from assault rifles travel at higher velocity than handgun bullets and have devastating effects on the body. Yet minutes later, all were fine, just some gauze taped over a tiny wound, and back to wisecracking. In an episode guest-starring Sean Combs, Combs is shot in the stomach at close range at night and passes out. “Five-0” arrives in daylight to find Combs unconscious. Hours have passed, yet Combs’ bleeding stopped on its own without medical attention or pressure, although stomach wounds bleed profusely. By evening, Combs is fully recovered and able to beat up large, muscular men.

Foes who can’t die: In the pilot, the Big Bad character is shot twice in the chest at close range, then falls into deep water. A few episodes later, he’s baccckkkkkkkk.

The all-knowing informant: The good guys get key info from a stoolie who always knows everything about every criminal in Hawaii, yet is never retaliated against by the criminal element — although police officers regularly meet him in broad daylight at Waikiki Beach.

Astonishing tech: A detective uses a cellphone to send a picture of a fingerprint to headquarters. Not only is a blurry snapshot sufficient to ID a print, in 14 seconds (I counted!) the print is processed and the suspect’s driver’s license appears on the detective’s phone.

During a car chase, McGarrett calls a friend in the intelligence unit aboard an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. He asks her to reposition a spy satellite to track a car on a Hawaiian road. Not only does she MOVE A SATELLITE without permission, 6 seconds (I counted!) pass from when she types in the first command to when the orbital maneuver is complete and the location of the suspect car shows on McGarrett’s phone. It’s hard to think of anything in the Jack Bauer oeuvre that tops this for sheer nuttiness.

The aircraft carrier McGarrett calls is the Enterprise, commissioned 1961, oldest active ship in the fleet. In 2008, the Navy wanted to retire her. Congress instead voted out a $662 million refurbishment, as a giveaway to the congressional delegation of Virginia, where her home port is located. In 2010, the refitted Enterprise went back to sea; she will be decommissioned at a December ceremony in Newport News.

That’s $662 million to keep an obsolete boat afloat three extra years, when the Navy already has 10 times as many carriers as the rest of the world combined and faces no blue-water threat. Wonder why the national debt is skyrocketing? Congress keeps throwing money out the window, or in this case, overboard. The appropriation was supported by now-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who constantly denounces federal spending, unless the money goes to his state.

Inventing their own laws: Thrice, for convoluted plot reasons, the heroes go to the state penitentiary and order the release of a convict. This really is not how prisons work. Although escaping from prison is so easy in “Five-0” — like calling a cab — it’s not clear why the Hawaii Department of Public Safety bothers to maintain a Corrections Division.

Air shafts galore: The $28 million seized in a drug bust is stored in an evidence locker at HPD headquarters. The only way to reach the cash is by walking past dozens of armed officers — or using the gigantic air shaft that leads directly to the money.

Good guys ignore procedure: Learning a dangerous suspect is in a nightclub, McGarrett and Danno charge in the front door, rather than watch the exits and wait for backup. Needless to say, the bad guy escapes. Learning the guy now is holed up on a docked boat, Chin Ho charges onto the boat alone, rather than watch the gangplank and wait for backup. Needless to say, the bad guy escapes.

Scenes that make no sense, based on the previous scene: Twice, Kono, a martial-arts champion, is depicted as being sneaked up on by a lone evildoer with a gun. Commercial, then we see Kono bound and gagged with duct tape. It is impossible to duct-tape your own wrists, while the bad guy would have to put down his gun to do it.

Scenes that make no sense, period: “Five-0” is tasked to guard a dignitary mercenaries want to kill. There’s a battle in downtown Honolulu, in which half a dozen mercenaries with machine guns fire hundreds of rounds that all miss; the good guys score perfect hits with pistols while leaping sideways. Then the heroes and the dignitary jump into an SUV and peel out.

Do they — and here’s a crazy idea — drive to the nearest police station? They drive to McGarrett’s house, which he says is safe “because my house is in an isolated area.” Why would they WANT to be in an isolated area? (In another episode, when McGarrett looks out his front door, he sees a busy street.) In sunlight, McGarrett calls for reinforcements. Running from commercial, it’s pitch dark. “Why isn’t HPD here yet?” Kono asks. SEVERAL HOURS HAVE PASSED, and the “Five-0” team just noticed no help has come. As mercenaries prepare to attack, viewers are told the bad guys control the phone lines in Hawaii and intercepted the calls for backup. The National Security Agency has spent billions of dollars trying to design technology to control phones.

World situations that make no sense: It’s amazingly easy to get in and out of North Korea. McGarrett just drives in. When he’s captured, the rest of the team crosses from South Korea, then extracts, without anyone noticing. The actual Korean demilitarized zone is the most heavily guarded border in the world. “Five-0” is accompanied on its North Korean holiday by “SEAL Team Nine.” Reaching a bunker believed to be guarded by a sizeable force, SEAL Team Nine simply walks toward the front door, in daylight.

Superhuman feats: A criminal is shot in the stomach at close range, yet sprints through a warehouse evading multiple officers; steals a car and drives to police headquarters; runs through police headquarters unnoticed although blood-soaked; smashes a natural gas pipeline, causing an explosion; runs several blocks to escape. Not only does a gunshot wound have no effect on her ability to run, the entire time she is carrying a satchel containing a heavy sniper rifle with tripod.

Supervillains: One is Wo Fat, reimagined from the villain of the original show. The new Wo Fat is a mobster depicted as possessing limitless money and political connections in Beijing and Washington. The money and connections continue even after every one of his schemes is thwarted by “Five-0.”

The other is Frank Delano, who from inside prison orchestrates a split-second-timing plot to kill the Honolulu police chief, blow up police headquarters, kidnap people in two places, steal a yacht and escape from the penitentiary. Like The Joker, Delano commands an army of ultra-competent henchmen who are willing to die for him, without any explanation of why this would be so. Presenting Chin Ho with a Sophie’s choice, Delano sneers, “Don’t bother trying to call your teammates, because I control all phone lines on the island.” Huh?

Their own private reality: When the heroes smash down a door, they don’t announce themselves as police, rather shout, “Five-0!” Since viewers are told “Five-0” is the code name of a secret task force, how could anyone know what they mean? “Five-oh” became slang for police because of the “Hawaii Five-0” show of the 1970s. The way the characters shout, “Five-0!” on the current series suggests they inhabit an alternative reality in which there is an actual crime-fighting organization called “Five-0” but people also watch reruns of a Jack Lord TV show about an imaginary “Five-0.”

Wildly overstating the severity of crime on the islands: Two seasons so far have depicted perhaps 200 murders, an equal number of bad guys shot and killed by police, dozens of law enforcement officers gunned down, the murder of the governor, multiple car bombs, mass kidnappings, huge explosions, three plane crashes, sarin gas (“sarin brokers are looking for new customers,” a CIA officer says casually), a tsunami and a plague described as able to kill a third of the population of the world. In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, in the actual Hawaii there were 19 homicides, two deaths in the line of duty by a law enforcement officer, and so far as I could determine, one person shot and killed by an officer. As for huge explosions and epidemics, everyone knows these happen all the time in Hawaii!

The serious point: “Five-0” shares a puzzling trait of network crime serials — it is asserted that the only reason anyone would ask a police officer for identification is that the person has something to hide.

On TV, cops in street clothes just say, “Police” or “NYPD,” and instantly are believed. In a “CSI: Miami” episode, the David Caruso character, asked to prove he is a cop, dismissively waves his badge too far away to be seen. In a “Five-0” episode, a person being questioned asks McGarrett for proof of who he is. “This is all the proof you’re going to get,” McGarrett snaps, flashing his badge so briefly no one could know whether it was real, let alone read his name.

Why do TV script writers promote the idea that it is unreasonable to ask law enforcement officers to establish identity? No honest cop objects to this. Fake badges can be purchased in a costume store, and criminals pretending to be police are a long-standing problem. If a guy banged on the door of a “Hawaii Five-0” producer, claiming to be a detective but refusing to show ID, that producer surely would dial 911.

Of course action shows are preposterous. But it is troubling that television crime dramas imply that law enforcement officers should never be questioned. Why does Hollywood think this is a notion the American public should be force fed?

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