Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Mythbusters Go to Washington

As I said earlier, I watch every episode of Mythbusters. But I didn't claim to do it in a timely manner. I DVR them and watch them in clusters months after their original air date. Today I finally watched the highly anticipated "President's Challenge" episode that aired on December 8, 2010.

Even at the White House Jamie wears the exact same outfit

I had misgivings when I first heard that President Obama was going to be on Mythbusters. I just don't care for him as our president. There's hardly a policy decision that Obama has made that I've agreed with, his political and social views are almost completely antithetical to mine, and he's driven away our allies while trying to appease our enemies. However, President Obama and the Mythbusters had enough class to leave all politics out of the show. Obama's appearance was as President of the United States rather than as politician Barack Obama.

Despite my personal opinions about the President, I think it's remarkable that in a few short years Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, and the others behind Mythbusters have turned a show with such a goofy premise into an entertaining yet reasonably educational program that has earned such high-level attention. I had never before seen a non-fiction series that was able to capture the interest of kids, adults, blue-collar workers, engineers, U.S. presidents, etc.

I will have to take one political potshot; of all the things that Obama could have asked the Mythbusters to do, he asked them to revisit a myth that they've busted on two separate occasions. Obama asked the Mythbusters to attempt the Archimedes Solar Death Ray myth again. This historical myth claims that Greek genius Archimedes devised a weapon that used bronze shields to focus the sun's rays on invading Roman ships during the Siege of Syracuse (214-212 BC). Supposedly the ships started to catch fire, forcing the Romans to retreat. The Mythbusters had tested the myth in 2004, trying to set fire to a boat using a large circular array of mirrors. In 2006 they tried it again using an even larger array of mirrors. Although the ship did smolder, the legend was still deemed "busted" since the array was too large to keep focused on a moving ship and because weather conditions had to be just right for it to work. With the 2010 Presidential Challenge, the Mythbusters tested the myth again with 500 high school students focusing mirrors on the wooden boat's more flammable sail. Again they failed to confirm the legend.

So here's my partisan political jab: it seems appropriate that President Barack Obama would have the Mythbusters revisit a twice-busted myth. After all, Obama is the one who keeps trying to use Keynesian theories to fix America's economic problems. Like Archimedes' death ray, Keynesian economics have failed time and again, most notably during the Great Depression and the period of stagflation in the 1970s. The 2009 Stimulus act was simply one more in a long line failures attributable to Keynesian economic philosophy. Like the Mythbusters, Obama and other believers in Keynes' flawed ideas need to take to heart this bit of wisdom from W.C. Fields: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a [dang] fool about it."

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