Glenn Beck Is a Nut—But I Like Him

Question: You've appeared a few times on the Glenn Beck show. \r\nWhat do you think of him?

Penn Jillette: He's a nut. I\r\n mean, he's a deep, deep nut. On a one-on-one level I like him. My \r\ntolerance for crazy people is I think high a tolerance as you're ever \r\ngoing to find. I love being around David Allen Coe. I would have loved \r\nto hang out with Tiny Tim. I can listen to Sun Ra on a tape-recording \r\nrant. I have... it's not patience, it's love for people who are... live \r\noutside the law. And Glenn Beck is that. I mean, I compare Glenn Beck \r\nmostly to Abbie Hoffman, you know. When I was a child I would read \r\n"Woodstock Nation" and "Steal This Book." And I didn't really agree with\r\n very much of any of it because it was essentially socialist and \r\ncollectivist and didn't really ring true for me. But I loved the way he \r\ndid it. I loved the outrageous poetry of it and I loved that my \r\narguments with my dad about it where my dad thought he was a dangerous \r\nnut. And I thought he was a fun nut.

And my arguments about Glenn\r\n Beck are exactly the same as I used to have with my dad about Abbie \r\nHoffman. I'm so upset that someone else compared him to Abbie Hoffman \r\npublicly before I did because I've been telling all my friends. Liberals\r\n do misunderstand it. They... liberals think the medium is the message \r\nand I believe is the message is the message and I had Tommy Smothers \r\ntear me apart for going on Glenn Beck, and he was right. Tommy Smothers \r\nwas 100 percent right. He said that by going on I gave some credence and\r\n support to some very bad ideas. I think it's exactly right.

Tommy\r\n Smothers is a hero of mine. I think he's completely right to bust me on\r\n that and I think I'm also completely right to say, "But you should go \r\non shows that you don't agree and tell the truth as you see it." I think\r\n that's also completely right. He said to me—did not say this to me on \r\nair but he said to me off air—"If Hitler had a talk show you would go on\r\n it." And I answered, "Yes and I'd try to tell the truth." And I think \r\nthat's - when I went on Glenn Beck I argue with him about gay rights. I \r\nargue with him about Mormonism. I agree with Glenn Beck on a few things,\r\n those aren't the things I talked about when I went on the show. I went \r\non in order to argue.

But it is misunderstood and I think that...\r\n I mean, my appearance is misunderstood. That wasn't your question. Your\r\n question was is he misunderstood. There's something I see done with \r\nHoward Stern. I want on Howard Stern, I've done dozens and dozens, maybe\r\n hundreds of hours with Howard Stern. I'm not a big Howard Stern \r\nlistener but if you listen to Howard Stern everyday, you develop a deep \r\ncontext for who Howard Stern is, what's important to him, what's \r\nimportant to Robin, what his morality is, what his relationships are, \r\nwhat his heart is. And I'm not talking about listening for a week, I'm \r\ntalking about listening to Howard Stern for months.

And I'm not \r\ntalking about, you know, a dozen hours over a month. I'm talking about \r\nhundreds of hours, you know. You get to know Howard Stern and when he \r\nsays something it's automatically in a very deep and very big context. \r\nAnd when someone who hates Howard Stern—there are plenty of them—pull \r\nsomething out of context, even if you get the context, even if they play\r\n you 15 minutes before and after you're really missing the context. And I\r\n think—and I don't listen to Glenn Beck very much, so I don't know—but I\r\n think with someone like Glenn Beck if you listen everyday you \r\nunderstand that the rage is also tempered by the outrageous things are \r\ntempered with a certain kind of humanity and certain kinds of other \r\nthings.

Now I disagree with him on a lot of things but I'm just \r\nsaying that there's a full person there and I think what we often forget\r\n when we're reading media, you know, you pick up a paper and read "this \r\nis what Obama said," that you forget that there is not the context of \r\nthe quote but the context of the public figure. And I think that with \r\nAbbie Hoffman when you'd read something about revolution and the violent\r\n overthrow of the United States government, unless you'd seen all the \r\npranks and the playfulness and the fun, and the sexiness, all kind of \r\nrolled in you couldn't possibly understand. You're also not supposed to \r\nbecause these are all grownups and Howard Stern knows he'll be taken out\r\n of context. Abbie Hoffman knew that. Glenn Beck knew that. So they do \r\nhave a reasonability.

But for me once you listen to somebody a \r\nlot on radio or on TV you develop a relationship with them that's not \r\nentirely different from "I got this crackpot uncle and he said this \r\nthing about how guns should be carried by deer so that they can defend \r\nthemselves." And you kind of laugh about it and everybody you're talking\r\n to knows that crazy uncle and they know what he does at Christmas time.\r\n You know, and they know that at Thanksgiving he was dancing in a hula \r\nskirt and they know all this stuff. And they also know that when their \r\ncar broke down at three in the morning that was the uncle that showed \r\nup.

They know all those things. And I think that with public \r\nfigures they're not supposed to be given that much leeway but I still \r\ndo. I still read something Howard Stern said and even if it's directly \r\ncontrary to something I believe I never think, "Well Howard's evil." You\r\n know, because I know he's not evil. I know he's a good guy and even \r\nwhen Glenn Beck says stuff that's reprehensible I say, "I sat in a room \r\nwith Glenn. He's not trying to kill people. He's not hurting children. \r\nHe's just thinking and sometimes he's thinking half-assed." I do think \r\nhe's sometimes taken out of context but I think that's also part of his \r\njob and it's okay.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

Penn says his tolerance for crazy people "is I think as high a tolerance as you're ever going to find."

7 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Here are 7 often-overlooked World Heritage Sites, each with its own history.

Photo by Raunaq Patel on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites are locations of high value to humanity, either for their cultural, historical, or natural significance.
  • Some are even designated as World Heritage Sites because humans don't go there at all, while others have felt the effects of too much human influence.
  • These 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites each represent an overlooked or at-risk facet of humanity's collective cultural heritage.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less