Stepping in It
Does technology make a post-bulls**t world possible -- or desirable?

Wore a size 16? Nope. (Sunset Boulevard/Corbis)


Toward the end of this piece, I am going to make a dry but mercifully brief argument for a corollary of technological neutralism I arrogantly (and probably unjustifiably) dub “Foster’s Corollary.” Viz., contra the optimists who think the Information Revolution is ushering in a new era of truth and transparency, notably in politics, there is no new mode of information dissemination that isn’t also a mode of information dissimulation.

But before I do that, a few fun bits of trivia:

Did you know that the only major-league catcher ever to have a 30/30 season — 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases — was Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez, who did it in the early Aughts as a Detroit Tiger?

Did you know that Marilyn Monroe, perennial paragon of American pulchritude, tipped the scales at about a buck fifty and wore a size-16 dress?

Did you know that, during development, Lockheed test-mounted a 20mm cannon on the SR-71 Blackbird but had to scrap the idea after the Mach 3+ spy plane caught up to and was struck by its own rounds?

Bet you didn’t know any of those things. And neither, as it turns out, did I, because none of them is true.

More precisely, each of them is bulls**t: Pudge Rodríguez is the only catcher ever to have a 20/20 season, and he did it in his 1999 MVP campaign while still a Texas Ranger. Marilyn Monroe weighed anywhere from 118 to 140 pounds, and at her buxomest would have probably worn a size 10, had not nearly all of her clothes been custom-made. (A pause, here, of appreciation: Per the records of Marilyn’s dressmaker, she stood five-foot-five-and-a-half, and measured a Platonic 36-22-36, the kind of figure you could set your hourglass by.) The tall tale of the overtaken bullets is told not of the (unarmed) Blackbird, but of its experimental predecessor, the YF-12, which was developed as an interceptor. And because of various truths of physics having to do with parabolas, friction, and gravity, it is highly unlikely to have ever happened at all.

I was called out on my bulls**t, respectively, by a guy in my fantasy-baseball league, a girl at a party worrying over an extra pound, and a friend with whom I was marveling over the unrivaled badassery of the American war machine. Of course, none of these inquisitors embarrassed me unaided. To a one, each expressed an initial dubiousness about the proposition I’d just put forth and turned to his or her hip pocket for adjudication in the form of the dread “smartphone.” Sixty years after computer scientists and futurists started writing about “cybernetics” and the possibility of “intelligence amplification” by wedding human minds to information technology, here we were, my every anecdote questioned by a species of skeptical Borg fact-checking me with their iPhones.

When it comes to making friends at a cocktail party, the ability to remember (or misremember) trivia like this is as valuable as wearing a Purple Heart on your lapel. At least it used to be until Al Gore invented the Internet and Steve Jobs shrunk it to the size of a pack of cigarettes and issued it to every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth. Now the most casual of conversations stands in danger of derailment by any amateur sleuth with opposable thumbs. (And I don’t think I’m the only victim here: The top auto-complete for a Google search that begins “What size . . .” is “. . . was Marilyn Monroe.”)

July 9, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 13

  • President Obama may not ignore laws he dislikes.
  • Voters should hold the administration accountable for its dangerous disclosures.
  • Why Mitt Romney should run against our 43rd president.
  • Pennsylvania is a Democratic state, but Romney could win it.
  • Three myths about the beating that changed the world.
  • Does technology make a post-bulls**t world possible — or desirable?
Books, Arts & Manners
  • Jay Nordlinger reviews Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick, by Peter Collier.
  • Tracy Lee Simons reviews Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, by Allen C. Guelzo.
  • Kevin D. Williamson reviews Alger Hiss: Why He Chose Treason, by Christina Shelton.
  • Florence King reviews Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake: A Memoir, by Anna Quindlen.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Prometheus.
  • Richard Brookhiser considers the sidewalk shed.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .