Friday, January 27, 2006

With Jonah's buoyancy, rest assured.

Oh, man. I don't often run into Jonah Goldberg's blatherings, because whenever I do, they are invariably stupid. But this is abnormally stupid. We're talking, dropping-jaws stupid, stupid that makes you literally gasp aloud "Huh-whuh?", stupid that makes you marvel at the idea that the human brain can even entertain the train of thought in question. He's talking about the Titanic, and specifically, objects that might better have been used for flotation:

Rather than deck chairs, I thought all of those lovely sideboards filled with fine china would work very well, particularly if you filled them up with life jackets and lashed them to each other. It would be a pain getting them up on the deck, but fear of death and ample time would have made it quite doable. Also, going into the kitchen and smearing-up your body with lard might be a good idea too. Those English Channel swimmers do that. Still, the wisest course of action would have been to either A) not hit an iceberg or B) not build a ship that was guaranteed to sink if it did (please: emails on the superior craftsmanship of the Titanic should be kept to a minimum).


This all follows some kind of "conversation" between Goldberg and John Derbyshire in which the general subtext is, "Stupid Titanic victims -- they were on a ship with all that wood around, and we all know that wood floats, so why didn't they just huck as much wood as possible into the water and cling to it until the Carpathia arrived?" The number of ways in which this is all unbelievably stupid are too many to number, but let's give it a shot anyway:

1. Goldberg says that heading to the Titanic galley to grab some lard would have helped to insulate the victim's bodies. "Those English Channel swimmers do that," Jonah helpfully notes. Those English Channel swimmers also do their swimming in a body of water that's a bit more temperate than the North Atlantic waters that are outside of the Gulf Stream, and as this Channel swimmer notes, the slathering of lard on the body is not for insulation, but for protection from chafing due to the hours of repetitive motion inherent in swimming such a distance. A simple Google search would have helped Goldberg realize how wrong he is; but then, Goldberg is always asking his readers to do his Googling for him.

2. The afore-linked Channel swimmer notes that a number of former training partners of his suffered symptoms of hypothermia after just an hour in water that was warmer than that of the night the Titanic sank. And those are people who presumably are in far better condition than your average person who went into the water when Titanic sank. ONE hour. Carpathia arrived in four.

3. Why didn't they just chuck all the wood into the water and float around on it? Because it wouldn't have done any damn good, Jonah. Not all wood floats, and even if a particular kind of wood does float nicely, there are other factors at play here. If they tossed, say, a dresser into the sea and then clung to it, it is still highly unlikely that the dresser would have floated in such a way as to allow the person clinging to it to get out of the water. Canoes do not float in a useful way because of what they are made of; they float because of how they are made. A non-watertight wooden bureau would probably "float" in the sense that it would bob about very near the surface of the water, but the human body will do that. What was needed were ways to get people completely out of the water. (Witness the way that mantelpiece or whatever it was, in the movie Titanic, nearly flipped over when Jack tried to climb on after Rose. Things that are not designed to float may still float, but they will almost certainly do so in unpredictable ways.)

There is no reason to suppose those "nice sideboards" would have remained upright if placed in the water as a lifeboat; there is no reason to assume that they wouldn't have taken on water quickly (especially if they were bolted down, and would have had to be ripped up); and there is no reason to assume that the people on board the quickly-sinking ship would have been able to get enough of these sideboards ripped out of the walls, up the stairs, and into the water in time to be useful to more than a handful of victims. (The ship sank in just over two and a half hours.) Had the people on the Titanic followed Jonah's advice, the Carpathia would have found lots of lard-smeared dead bodies clinging to scraps of useless wood.

God, the Corner is a den of idiots. I can't believe these people get paid to poorly write such stupid stuff.

(Oh, and here's Derb, a little ways down the page:

Jonah: My gloom is vast, cosmic, and existential. It does not encompass, nor even concern itself with, the trivialities of personal survival. Placed on a sticky wicket, I will swing my bat with a will. Asked about the fate of Western civ, I'll tell you it's going to the dogs. Which is where it's going.

Oh for a black turtleneck and a cigarette, eh?)

UPDATE: Oops, forgot to attribute the original link to TBogg. And I now recall that Derb is the guy who wrote a while back that women stop being attractive to men for a few years after puberty. Yeah, that's the guy I want beside me on a sinking ship.

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