Knowledge vs. Belief

I started to write this post after Jim posted Unknown unknowns over at Stonekettle Station, which was a post in response to the tempest in a teapot that represented the 24 hour news cycle reporting on the clinic standoff and shooting incident in Colorado Springs. I shelved it for various reasons at first, none of them really earth-shattering. Of course, a week later and we have the inexplicable mass shooting in San Bernardino, which instantly eclipsed the previous story.

I could easily spin this into an screed against the gun lobby and their paid cronies in Washington DC who won’t let the CDC even study gun violence in an effort to figure out how to address it, considering that we have had more than one mass shooting every day of this year (2015) which has to be some kind of record that no society on the face of this earth is really interested in breaking…

…but that isn’t the article I want to write. This isn’t going to be the article I started out writing, either. The issue is much bigger than the specific subject of what we know or don’t know about a specific person set on doing wrong, or having been caught doing wrong. It is even bigger than the problem that Jim was trying to address, the 24 hour news cycle, which I agree probably represents the greatest threat to human civilization in the modern age. The need to fill time, to produce facts and counterfactuals when no hard facts are known about the specifics of the incident in question, can lead to greater and greater flights of fancy.

I turn the TV off when that feeding frenzy starts. It is hard enough to separate the wheat from the chaff on good days.  On bad days like the two events above bring, listening to the news just feeds confirmation bias until you end up looking and sounding like an idiot.

I will include the specific arguments for the Colorado Springs incident in this post, but the point that I’m seeing come into focus now that the shooter has appeared in court and indicted himself is the argument about what we know vs. what we believe. How we can know what we think we know, and how is that different than belief?

That is the reason why the 24 hour news cycle is such a threat. Being not much more than the talking heads that sold soap in the early days of television, the current crop of news faces appear to have even less familiarity with what facts are and why fact-checking is important. They are, after all, just selling soap.  Keeping the most number of eyes on the screen is how they sell soap and so the factual content of what they say isn’t the important part of the equation.  That they tell you things that reinforce your beliefs on a subject so that you will keep watching, is.

Most of the white-looking people in the US trust the police intrinsically, for example.  Most of us older types were raised on police dramas portraying the cops as the good guys who enforce the laws and keep the peace.  It is very uncomfortable for most of us to be confronted with stories if entire police departments covering up the details of killings done at their hands. And yet, time after time over the last few years, we have been shown just how human police departments are everywhere in the US.  Be it Chicago, Baltimore or Saint Louis, just about anywhere USA, there are examples of police who brazenly violate laws and procedures who are then protected by their brothers in uniform.

This really isn’t news.  If you’ve been paying attention you would have run across stories by people like Radley Balko who have been documenting police excess for several decades now.  The police are humans, they make mistakes just like the rest of us.  If you were in their place you would act no differently than they would, because that is what humans do.  But that doesn’t excuse the excess, it is a point of data that needs to be accounted for when deciding what you know or don’t know about any given subject.

For the black or brown people who are almost always the bad guys in police dramas, the revelation that cops are only human really isn’t news either. They’ve lived with the reality of constant police scrutiny for generations. So much so that stories abound of fathers and mothers cautioning their children not to become police statistics.  So it is no wonder that the chant black lives matter resounds with them. The counter offered by clueless whites that all lives matter is heard by these same people as just another call for them to sit down and be quiet. How is this possible?  How can realities and beliefs about these realities be so widely separated?

When it comes right down to it, what you know with certainty is a very small number of things. Whether it is night or day. Whether it is cold or hot. You know these things because you can test them directly with your senses. Solipsists will argue that you can’t even know those things because we are all just brains in jars at best, but I’d like us all to pretend that the shadows on the cave walls actually represent something real, and try to make sense of that.  If that much can’t be granted, then there is little point in continuing to read this.  Even less in my continuing to write.

Beyond what you can test yourself (fire burns) there are grades of factual knowledge which you can probably safely rely on.  At each point where the facts exchange hands, the ownership of that data has to be documented to be trusted. This is why, when doing research, it is important to seek out source material and not just rely on wikipedia.  The more obscure the subject matter the less reliable secondary sources are.

When watching the news on television or reading news stories on any other site than AP, Reuters or UPI you are already dealing with information that has been through at least three hands if not dozens. When you’ve gone beyond the point where the witness is being interviewed in person, you are dealing with evidence that wouldn’t be accepted in court. That doesn’t mean it is without value, it just means the news you are being offered could be just this side of fantasy.

It might even be pure fantasy. Case in point, the FOX/conservative/anti-abortion counter-narrative about the Colorado Springs shooter.  When I logged on Blogger that night, the first thing I saw wasn’t the Stonekettle Station article. The first article that caught my eye was a piece over at Friendly Atheist in which Ted Cruz voices the notion that the shooter was some kind of leftist.  No, I could not make something that stupid up myself.

Cruz is basing that characterization on a supposed voter registration form in which Dear was listed as a woman. Whether it’s a mistake, or Dear was just messing around, or simply not the right form, we don’t know, but no other evidence indicates that he was transgender.

There’s even less evidence that he was a “leftist.”

The problem that I had with Jim’s Unknown unknowns piece now surfaces. Jim mentions this story in opposition to the reports (which he attributes to Planned Parenthood) that the shooter was heard to say “no more baby parts” as he was being arrested.  But the contrast between the veracity of these two stories is as marked as they are in opposition to each other.

The statement no more baby parts was repeated by an officer to a reporter directly on the scene, a reporter who dutifully passed the comment on to their viewing audience. While that is hearsay and not evidence admissible in court; the officer, if he were to appear in court, could repeat the statement and it would be admissible.  It would also be accepted by an overwhelming number of juries who trust police officers to be truthful (see above) even in the face of so much evidence that police will lie to protect their own.

Since this case isn’t about one of their own, and since the police showed remarkable restraint in bringing a cop killer in alive, I was inclined to believe the statement of the arresting officer.  That the shooter (not alleged, he plead guilty) repeated a version of the same statement at his hearing just confirms the motivation that lead him to commit the crimes he is guilty of.

On the other hand, the preferred story of conservatives/anti-abortionists is based on what? Essentially no evidence whatsoever, more wishful thinking than anything else.  And yet it is repeated by a Republican Presidential candidate as if it was the unquestionable truth.

That is the nature of belief. It doesn’t require facts.  Facts are counterproductive because they can be questioned. If facts are presented that counter a belief, it only takes the briefest scrutiny to discover or manufacture an anomaly which the believer will use to discard the entirety of the factual information presented. Ted Cruz wants to believe that the shooter couldn’t be one of his fellow anti-abortionists. Ted Cruz believes that leftists are dangerous people, and that LGBT people are a threat to his way of life.  The story he repeats is ready-made to fit into his preconceived view of the world, and it matters not one bit that the story makes no sense on its face.  That the average liberal and LGBT person would be in support of Planned Parenthood and consequently wouldn’t see a need to attack one of their clinics never enters into the mind of a conservative repeating this laughable story.

Given the history of attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the current cloud of controversy artificially created by anti-abortion activists faking videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood selling body parts, the story of a shooter in a clinic almost serves itself up ready-made as a vehicle to attack the religious right and conservatives in general. Of course they would want to craft a counter-narrative (however flimsy) to give themselves an out, a way to disavow accountability for their actions over the last twenty years and more.

A conservative could easily counter all of the above (most probably will) with the adult equivalent of I know you are but what am I?  Since about the time that Reagan was elected, conservatives started to complain about the liberal media. Even I, for a time, fell for this notion that the media was somehow biased in general against conservatives. As the years have progressed, and conservatives have created their own outlets like FOX news, conservapedia, and uncounted news sites including the whacko fringe like prisonplanet and infowars, it has become clear that conservatives aren’t satisfied with simply presenting news from their point of view.  No, what they want is their own set of facts which are unassailable.  Unassailable because they aren’t based on anything real.

Another example is the softer, nicer language of pro-life and pro-choice adopted by the two sides of the endless argument over abortion. Having softened the language, pollsters can get majorities of citizens in the US to say they are pro-life. Who would be against life?  I’m pro-life, I’m also pro-choice; militantly pro-choice.  The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe that abortion should be legal gets lost in the conservative rush to declare the opposite, that the majority of Americans oppose abortion. This conservative view on the matter simply isn’t true as polling shows.

What has occurred since the creation of FOX news is the division of the US into two camps; one of those camps thinks they are right, and the rest of us are liberal.  In their attempt to prove that the rest of the media is based on a liberal conspiracy, conservatives have consciously created a conspiracy of their own. A conspiracy where they tell lies which they know are lies, because the ends justify the means.

When you evade the truth, when you spin tales to hide your true goals, what you get are people who believe your lies so firmly that they will act on them as if they were truths.  You get what transpired in Colorado Springs yesterday, to the embarrassment of every single person who identifies as pro-life. Remember that the next time you hear the phrase liberal media.

The Planned Parenthood Frame-up

I don’t watch gotcha films. I don’t watch gotcha films on any subject, not just on this subject. The reason I don’t watch gotcha films is because there is no way to know whether or not what you are seeing is in any way real. The protest that “these videos are unedited” is a claim which cannot be verified, in a general sense. It is possible to fake almost anything you’d like to these days, and that ability only becomes easier with time.

What I rely on instead is my established ability to sift through a large amount of written language and recognize currents through various writers and posts.  I take people at their word for goals and drives, and filter what they then say against those stated goals looking for what they say that isn’t crafted to further those goals.

That is why my first stop on visiting a site is generally the about page. This is so that I can see who funds the site, what the stated goals are, what the makeup of the management of the site looks like.  With that knowledge in hand, it then becomes possible to determine what any entry on the site is placed there to achieve.

Case in point, the recent melt-down involving Planned Parenthood selling body parts from abortions they’ve performed. As the article on the subject over at Snopes.com points out;

Fetal tissue may only be used or sold post-abortion with the consent of the woman undergoing the procedure. Although some researchers may obtain fetal tissue directly from abortion clinics at their own medical facilities, others have to purchase it from middlemen who pay fees to providers such as Planned Parenthood for specimens and then resell those specimens to researchers. Planned Parenthood maintains they charge only what the law allows (i.e., what they need to cover their expenses in such transactions), while the middlemen charge a markup to cover their processing costs. But regulation of these types of transactions is somewhat murky.

Snopes

So what the Republican candidates for President are tearing their hair over, and what the morons who lead the House of Representatives want to shut the government down over, is already illegal in the first place. It can’t get more illegal than it already is; and since Planned Parenthood and its leadership have not been charged with violating any laws, I’d bet that what we are witnessing is just more demagoguery and not real revelations on the issue.

I am a certified fan of Planned Parenthood and a fan of it’s current leader, the daughter of a former Texas Governor. Planned Parenthood provides vital and irreplaceable services for the poor all across the US, and services for women’s health (be they rich or poor) which cannot be obtained from any other provider in many areas of the US. If your response to this declaration is that abortion is murder, I direct you to my previously posted article titled simply Abortion, and to the hopefully soon completed EPHN article on the misunderstanding of what human life is. Abortion is a protected procedure that every woman will contemplate at some point in their lives.  Those women who deny this are lying to you and possibly even to themselves.

It is worth noting that the incident which is most often quoted, the one related by Carly Fiorina in the second Republican Presidential debate, never actually occurred in any of the video that Ms. Fiorina could have seen. So she was lying on national television during a debate.  This really isn’t news because candidates lie all the time (Lips are moving? They’re lying) but usually it’s about things that they’ll do if elected.  Rational types might hold out the hope that threats to end legal abortion in the US are equally lies since the President cannot override decisions set down by the Supreme Court, but there is plenty of other mischief that an activist President can do with his or her office.

The videos that started this whole fiasco are a frame job even so, cooked up by avowed anti-abortion activists (and a right-wing hate group) looking for material to indict Planned Parenthood with.  They have no remorse for the people whose lives they destroy in the process, either;

Arguably the worst aspect of this scam video, beyond the harm it will do to reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood, is the reality that Dr. Nucatela’s life is all but ruined for the foreseeable future. At this moment, anti-choice extremists are likely fanning out around the internet, collecting damaging information about her; finding out her home address and contact information; discovering whether she has children and where they go to school; planning rallies outside her house; or worse. Based on wrongful charges, she now represents Enemy Number One for googly-eyed radicals, fueled by visions of aborted fetuses and the false impression of Planned Parenthood as the Walmart of black market fetus organs.

Real people with real lives in the real world whose lives are ruined because of these faked videos. Faked in that the materials sold are not sold for profit, and are a part of a vital network of research and transplantation that saves lives.

If you doubt that this is true, then I highly recommend the episode of Radiolab titled Gray’s Donation which goes into precisely how many lives the materials from a single aborted fetus can be impacted in a positive manner.  A fetus that had no chance for life because of the birth defects he would have suffered from, in the specific instance of the Gray’s investigation.

Radiolab – Gray’s Donation – July 16, 2015

That is the practice that this anti-abortion hate group wants to end. Let these facts sink in for a minute.

I’ve taken the time to write this because I was recently sent a link to an article on Rational Review News (a site I used to follow pretty regularly) that was so patently false on its face that I found it hard to believe that the same guy I used to rely on for libertarian news could be so demonstrably wrong on the subject. Proof that, if nothing else, the Balkanization of internet information continues unabated. Clear thinking and understanding of a subject has never been more critical than it is today, nor has it ever been more wanting, apparently.


The net effect of this blatant targeting of Planned Parenthood over the subject of compensation for the cost of obtaining research materials is that Planned Parenthood will no longer accept compensation for the costs of providing them. That cost will now have to come out of other sources such as donations to Planned Parenthood, because the research work will continue and the materials will continue to be available.

One can hope that the effect of exposing this obscure process to light will lead to more transparency on the subject, but I personally doubt it.  Few people really are interested in the details of transactions that occur all around them without their noticing.  Subjects like this only occasionally see the light of day, and the outrage in response is predictable and almost humdrum in its monotonous outrage. If the individual who is outraged over fetal tissue used for research were to spend time investigating the subject of medical history and the process of obtaining materials for research historically, the outrage over the acquisition of cadavers for medical schools would be something we’d never hear the end of.  Because that, historically, was a very dark process indeed.

The anti-abortion industry having beaten this dead horse long enough will simply find another soft target to attack in their never-ending drive to stop abortion in all cases.  They really aren’t interested in truth, reality or the constraints of biology or biological life.  The procedure is evil in their eyes, and evil should not be tolerated. Their own blindness to the reality of human life ensures that the fight will never end, because women who do not want to have children will continue to end pregnancies whether the procedure is legal or not.  Whether the woman is pro-life or pro-choice, the choice occurs anyway.


The long and tortuous process of holding these fakirs accountable for their damaging actions continues to unfold in various state courts,

After the videos surfaced last year, Dan Patrick, the Texas lieutenant governor, a Republican, asked the Republican district attorney in Harris County to open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood in August. A grand jury ended up indicting Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, and taking no action against Planned Parenthood.

The New York Times, Last Charges Dropped Against Abortion Foes in Making of Planned Parenthood Video July 26, 2016

As the title of the source article states, the charges in Texas were dropped. Texas as a political entity hates itself in a very weird and self-destructive way. This comes out in events like the above, with religious crusaders elected to office attempting to score religious points in a political arena simply don’t understand what the law says even though they are trained lawyers. Luckily for justice, there are other states who aren’t as consumed with self-loathing as Texas,

Prosecutors filed 14 felony counts of unlawfully recording people without their permission — one count for each person — as well as one count of conspiracy to invade privacy.

Becerra, a veteran congressman who became attorney general in January, said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”

“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said.

The Los Angeles Times, Two antiabortion activists behind undercover Planned Parenthood videos charged with 15 felonies March 28, 2017

The problem in all these cases, and there were cases being investigated in several states after the videos were released, is that the concerns and laws protecting privacy are butting heads with the first amendment right of the press and freedom of speech. It is a near-impossibility for a public entity like Planned Parenthood to win a case of slander or libel against the perpetrators of these fraudulent videos. It might be possible to seek damages from them if they weren’t essentially penniless conspiracy fantasists in the first place. The chances of any case being successfully prosecuted against them on any grounds fades to a faint hope when you understand the hurdles placed in the way of justice in this case.

Justice would require that  Daleiden and his conspirator Sandra Merritt go in front of groups of people who think like they do and explain why what they did was wrong. This is the form justice should take, because I don’t think that they or their supporters understand the injustice they engaged in. The harm that they have committed in their blind ambition to see abortion ended in the US and across the world. Real people harmed in real ways by their delusions about life in the womb. It is criminal that they cannot be shown reason that will convince them on this subject. 

Conspiratorial Fantasies

I’m going to dive right into this. I’m going in hot. The image at right appeared on a friend’s Facebook wall recently.

The correct interpretation of facts currently on the ground is that anyone running for public office, from any party, is subject to the will of the people who fund their campaigns.  If they do not pander to the big spenders in the current climate (i.e. the corporations) then they will not get the funds they need to win.

Winning is key. Without a winning strategy, what occurs is just;

…a tale [t]old by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

The Scottish Play

All of them are working for the corporations, even the third party candidates. The Kochs owned the LP for a long time before they shifted to the Republicans. The Kochs represent some of the worst of corporate behavior, strong-arming groups that they fund trying to force them to echo the policies that the Kochs find favorable.  This will continue to be true until we get money out of politics, plain and simple.

I really have no problem with the image.  I probably don’t have a problem with the website it came from, although I haven’t spent any real time on it. What I had a problem with was where the conspiratorially motivated fantasists took the image in the wild.

I have culled most of the incorrigible conspiracists from my Facebook wall.  Every now and then a new one pops up and I subject them to the ban hammer; but generally my wall is free of their posts. Some of my oldest friends indulge in conspiracy fantasies though; and as a consequence of this I still have to deal with the odd reference to a conspiracy theory even though I find the entire subject of grand conspiracies completely ludicrous.

Let’s start with the phrase conspiracy theory. It really isn’t a theory at all.  A theory not only explains the facts in evidence, it survives rigorous testing through trial and error.  The theory of evolution is an excellent example of this. It has survived test after test, and has made predictions about evolutionary history which have been proven to be true. It is a robust theory, accepted by nearly all of the scientific community.

They aren’t conspiracy hypothesis either, which is the step in evidence below theory. A hypothesis of necessity must explain all the predominant facts it is attempting to address.  It has to be testable to be acceptable as a scientific explanation.

What we are left with is conspiratorial conjecture. They are stories that are told to entertain, for the most part. They are, as the title of this piece states, conspiracy fantasies.  When you start allowing your fantasies to replace the reality around you, a whole host of bad is waiting in the wings to descend upon you.

When my friend made a tangential reference to the Rothschild family in his Facebook post the image was attached to, rather than argue with his conspiratorial mindset directly, I linked this recent video discussing scientific studies showing that the conspiracy fantasists were more gullible than other people;


Rebecca Watson – No Shit Study: Scientists Show Conspiracy Theorists Will Believe Anything – May 18, 2015

Unfortunately for all concerned, the only fact that penetrated was that “the Pink Haired Lady says chemtrails aren’t real”  which lead him and his friends to try to convince me they were real.

Well, they aren’t real. Of course chemicals are delectable in contrails, the planes that create them are shedding molecules into the atmosphere everywhere they fly. The combustion engines they are powered by emit exhaust chemicals, which are also detectable. This really isn’t that hard to figure out.

…Unless you have a ready-made market of science denial set up specifically to use the tools of science against it. An entire method of approaching the world around us that paints the activities of others as nefarious and unscrupulous. This says more about the conspiracy fans than it does about the rest of us, but there is a large group of people out there ready to confirm your suspicions about any activity that concerns you. All you have to do is go look and leave your critical thinking skills behind.  That is, if you ever learned to think critically in the first place.

Without critical thinking we are all babes in the wilderness.

The Rothschild thing? That is an old anti-Semitic/White supremacist fabrication.  Like the whole sovereign thing. There is no sound basis for asserting that the fantasy has any reality to it, unless you have a problem with Jews. Which again, says more about you than about anyone else.

If you think the pink haired lady only dismisses chemtrails, then conspiracy theorists are as gullible as the study she talks about shows.  They lack the ability to detect when they are being subjected to satire and ridicule, and repeat satirical posts as if they are real. If I felt like messing with conspiracy fans (and I don’t) I could feed them all kinds of crazy stuff which they would buy right into. So if that kind of trolling is something you enjoy, have at it. They’ll never know you’re pulling their legs.

The conversation spiraled into a discussion of various other conspiracy tales.  Haarp was mentioned. Like Agenda 21, it isn’t anything close to what conspiracy fans think it is.  Monsanto was raised, Godwin style. It was at that point that I knew I was quite literally wasting my time.  I didn’t want to have yet another conversation where the fans throw each conspiracy they’ve heard of at me one at time, each time certain that it can’t be explained. All of them can be explained, and not with grand conspiracies. Good luck getting one of the fans to notice this fact.

Perhaps the reason why so many American’s subscribe to conspiracy theories is because they understand their culpability in allowing their government to go so far astray.  Like all the guilty parties of the world, they are quick to point to those shadowy others out there “Them! They did it! It wasn’t me!” rather than take the blame for their own inaction, their unwillingness to sully themselves with real politics.  I mean, if lizard people are running the world, why bother with democratic participation?


I really should have mentioned the latest conspiracy fantasy that has taken Texas (my state) by storm. Ever ready to believe anything said of President Obama (except this) when the military announced their latest round of training exercises Operation Jade Helm 15 the entirety of conservative Texas lost its collective mind.

My favorite clown head politician, Ted Cruz, took to the internet and the news to predict dire consequences if these maneuvers were allowed to happen (as if they don’t happen pretty much every year) Even our sitting governor had to get in on the act, saying he would call up the Texas State Guard to protect the state from the federal military. (h/t to Skeptoid for a link to Abbott’s letter)

I’ve been to Camp Mabry. I have a lot of respect for soldiers, but if that’s what is going to protect us from the US military, I think we’d be better off pleading for mercy from the feds and then asking for reconstruction aid, rather than rely on the Texas Guard to fend off the largest military the world has ever seen.  No offense fellas, but you’re just a bit outnumbered and outgunned. Just a bit.

I’d like to second the observation of a friend that suggested the US government should simply offer to pull all military bases out of Texas as a gesture towards non-aggression. All those tax dollars in the form of soldier’s pay, base construction, etc going to another state instead of Texas.

What was that? You weren’t serious? No, no I think you were serious. Seriously deranged, anyway.  You might want to get some help with that.

Paranoia is a mental illness, not a super power.

Stonekettle Station

The latest fantasist appears to be Seymour Hersh; which is too bad.  Too bad because the guy really had a marvelous resume. Not too long after his revelations on Abu Ghraib, he seemed to lose his grip on what we colloquially refer to as reality, mistaking his desire to see grand conspiracies everywhere for the demonstrable facts in a story;

Perhaps the most concerning problem with Hersh’s story is not the sourcing but rather the internal contradictions in the narrative he constructs.

Most blatant, Hersh’s entire narrative turns on a secret deal, in which the US promised Pakistan increased military aid and a “freer hand in Afghanistan.” In fact, the exact opposite of this occurred, with US military aid dropping and US-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan plummeting as both sides feuded bitterly for years after the raid.

Hersh explains this seemingly fatal contradiction by suggesting the deal fell apart due to miscommunication between the Americans and Pakistanis. But it’s strange to argue that the dozens of officials on both sides would be competent enough to secretly plan and execute a massive international ruse, and then to uphold their conspiracy for years after the fact, but would not be competent enough to get on the same page about aid delivery.

The many problems with Seymour Hersh’s Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory by Max Fisher

Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve never accepted Pakistan’s denials of knowledge concerning Osama Bin Laden’s location, since he was living near their military training academy. What surprises me on that subject is we haven’t been able to demonstrate what classes he was teaching there.  Which high-ranking official in the Pakistani government helped him take up residence in Abbottabad.

That aside, not even the Obama administration accepts that Zero Dark Thirty is anything aside from a Hollywood fantasy attempting to make sense of the disparate narratives that could have lead to OBL’s killing. They have denied that torture lead to information on OBL’s whereabouts, and have maintained that key evidence was provided by a walk-in source voluntarily, not through any kind of intense interrogation.  Only Cheney and his ilk insist that torture produced anything useful, and I’ve already said my piece on that subject. So the accusation that Hersh himself levels at the Obama administration is largely incorrect.

I offer the previous as an attempt to disarm the fantasy believer, so that when I observe that Hersh is engaging in conspiratorial fantasies it in no way means I accept any other particular narrative on the subject.  Rather it is an observation like this one detailed over on Slate;

It’s this commitment to counter narrative totality—the idea that a few legitimate questions make the entire official narrative a lie, accompanied by a certainty in a counterhistory based on theory, suggestion, and a relatively negligible amount of secondhand evidence—that make Hersh’s account reminiscent of what you might see from the professional conspiracy theorists at InfoWars. It privileges the accounts and suggestions of a few vaguely connected ex-insiders over other, more exhaustive accounts based on the testimony of people who are in a much better position to know at least some of the facts.

Slate

It is Hersh’s tone and his spittle-flecked denunciation of the US government’s complicity and cooperation with Pakistan in the killing of OBL as a publicity stunt that gets him marked as a fantasist, not the content of his counter-narrative.  Most of what he has to say on the subject really isn’t even news, if it is at all believable on its face.

This story is a baseline for conspiratorial fantasies. A gateway drug.  A building 7 in 9-11 truther language. If you can get past the point where you stop wondering how hundreds of civil employees and soldiers could have been motivated to keep silent on this subject, then you can get busy embroidering Hersh’s revelations with details of your own.

The detail of size is what makes the likelihood of this conspiracy being true so improbably remote.  Fantasists who support Hersh point to the Guardian / Edward Snowden revelations as proof that massive conspiracies can and do exist. However, it is that very story that illustrates the problem with massive conspiracies and the theories spun about them.  The NSA spying was anything but secret.  Oh, it was officially denied, and the US government would love to punish Snowden for his revelations. But the spying was itself an open secret.  Anyone interested in the subject knew that the NSA was involved in a dragnet of information across the internet.

It is a lot like the people who point to the denials of Groom Lake (area 51) being a location for testing new Air Force technologies, and then conclude that the stories of alien visitations are true.  The locals knew it was testing facility for decades. The official denials proved nothing aside from the fact that they were conducting secret tests there at some point. They certainly don’t point to any factual truth concerning extraterrestrial contact.

The NSA’s spying program is the hallmark of the inability for large conspiracies to remain secret. It is only a matter of time before the secret becomes common knowledge.  The fact that Hersh’s fantasies concerning OBL contain so little new reliable information proves that they are just that.  If they weren’t, he’d have solid witnesses willing to swear to the veracity of his complete story.  Those simply don’t exist outside of his imagination.


This post was revised and reposted in 2018. It bears mentioning that at this point in time (2018) it has been revealed that the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy fantasies were created by Russian operatives as a testbed to see if they could alter US politics by sowing discord. In a word, yes. Yes they could and did, and continued to do from this point through the 2016 presidential elections that gave us the Orange Hate-Monkey as president.

TEXAS STANDARD|Michael MarksMay 4, 2018 12:38 pm|SECURITY EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA IS WINNING THE DISINFORMATION WAR

More on this at the 2018 Version of this post.

Be Skeptical of the Skeptoid, Even

This bears mentioning, only because not mentioning it will leave me open to criticism.  I have (and will continue to) rely on Skeptoid.com for quick refutations of common folklore and mis-directed mass hysteria. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the site too often on this blog, but I know my Facebook page and G+ are littered with references to the podcast.

I do that because Skeptoid is short; generally just over 10 minutes, or a few easy pages of reading. The site also includes references for those interested in diligence (more than I can say for most sites on the internet today) and the podcast features a regular corrections episode where the narrator eats crow in public (and I wish more podcasters were willing to do the same) which is good for the soul and keeps the podcaster honest with his listeners.

However, the narrator and de facto owner of Skeptoid Brian Dunning, has been convicted of wire fraud, and will be spending several months in prison and a few years on probation after that. As someone who has been fascinated with computers for as long as I have (My uncle made the first portable computer I ever heard of.  It was built into a Suburban and was so large you had to sit outside the vehicle and access it through the side doors)  the intrigues engaged in by hackers no longer surprise me.

[A]ccording to the superseding information, the wire fraud involved causing cookies to be installed on internet users’ computers without their knowledge. If, by chance, those users later visited eBay and bought something, then an entity owned by Brian (at least in part) would be treated by eBay as if the entity’s website had driven the customer to eBay by means of a direct referral. The entity owned (at least in part) by Brian would then get a commission from eBay, as if the entity’s website had actually been responsible for driving the user to eBay. In reality, the entity’s website would not have driven the customer to eBay, and thus eBay was defrauded. Thus, wire fraud.

The superseding information charged Brian with wire fraud, occurring between May 2006 and June 2007, and on April 15, 2013, Brian pled guilty to that charge. 

from THE SKEPTICAL ABYSS: A SKEPTICAL TRAGEDY h/t to Doubtful News

 It was a clever hack job, reading through it; and it netted him a rather large sum of money.  However, contrary to the assertions of another skeptic (who’s opinion I generally respect and agree with) Brian did not defraud visitors to his websites, although his use of their computers to defraud eBay ranks right up there on my outrage meter with DDOS attacks and malware masquerading as legitimate software.

Brian stole from eBay, not his website visitors.  It would be a cold day in hell before I would trust software offered by him (or his affiliates) because of this, but the vitriol seems a little excessive;

Again, just to be clear: Dunning is a rich, convicted fraud who may soon be facing up to 20 years in prison (though more likely much less for a first offense). The very same skeptics who happily point out to Mormons that they idolize a fraud in Joseph Smith, and who tell believers of Sylvia Browne that she was convicted of fraud, are giving their money to a convicted fraud who actually used them in his criminal acts 

from skepchick.org

I get it, he defrauded eBay and now he’s going to jail.  Ever heard of phone phreaks or any of the other long traditions of thumbing your nose at the man? eBay is just another cog in the machine from that perspective; a target to be milked if you can figure out how to trick them into giving you cash.  It is not, repeat not, stealing from poor shills who are desperate for any answers (even fake ones) to the problems they are faced with.

Not that I want to soft pedal what Brian Dunning has done.  I don’t, and I don’t expect anyone who engages in illegal activity for whatever reason to be treated any differently than any other lawbreaker. That doesn’t change the veracity of the work contained in Skeptoid, which represents the effort of hundreds of people now, and the contributions of thousands.

Credit where credit is due, as well as blame.  Skeptoid represents Brian Dunning’s best work, just as the conviction for wire fraud (hopefully) represents his worst.  It will be interesting to see what he has to say for himself after the dust settles and he can speak freely on the subject.

…and Now for the Rest of the Story, the 9-11 Version

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon’s Razor

Paul Harvey dominated the radio waves when I was growing up.  It seems fitting to title a corrections post after his iconic radio narration; the hallmark of which was telling you teasing parts of the story in advance, then pitching you on whatever his advertisers told him to pitch that week, and finally getting to the truth of the story in the final segment.  Well, I don’t know that this is the final segment of the story or not, but I do have some corrections to offer on a particular subject which is bugging me at the moment, and it has something to do with truth.

Steven Novella is currently in a debate on his blog NeuroLogica with a 9-11 truther; and while I am unable to even read the articles from the 9-11 truth side of the argument, I felt the desire to offer a comment for Dr. Novella’s excellent rebuttal of the truther argument.  So I wandered back over here to my blog, looking for the well-reasoned arguments that I’ve presented in the past, only to find that none of the reasoned arguments I remember on the subject have ever been posted to this blog. Every Single Thing I’ve EVER written on the subject of 9-11 on this blog is bullshit, up to this point.  No seriously, go look, I’ll wait. See what I mean?  I was (I might still be) completely clueless on the subject, far too gullible even still.  The entries are a blatant example of the malleability of the moment and one’s experiences in it.  When I wrote that crap, I believed it (well, the plagiarism-level cut and paste on the subject of the 9-11 mosque isn’t too bad, but then I didn’t write 9/10’s of that) and it’s only been my experience online in various threads and sites that have refined my thinking on the subject of conspiracy theories in general and the attacks on 9-11 in particular.  

If I had to point to a specific moment in time or a piece of literature in particular that affected my thinking on this subject, it was Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle, and Led America into War a book suggested by Buck Field just as a passing side-comment while we were discussing the failings of the first Abramanation.  I’ve often marveled at how the apparently insignificant contents of conversational banter can have immense ramifications on the thinking of an individual (probably why I’m so fond of Connections and other works by James Burke) reading Deadly Decisions did that for me.  Suddenly all the conspiratorial thinking that fogged up my reason lifted, and I could just glimpse the million monkeys banging on keyboards producing, if not Shakespeare, then at least all the catastrophes of history that seemed to defy explanation. Humans as a group are not too bright and are prone to make decisions that lead to very, very bad outcomes.

Case in point, the attacks on 9-11.  Paraphrasing the chapters in the book detailing the failings that lead up to the attacks, the attacks were ultimately successful because that is how human systems fail.  The CIA was tracking the terrorists until they arrived in the US.  Once they were on US soil, the FBI claimed jurisdiction and promptly flushed the investigation. Not once but three times President Bush and his cabinet were advised that attacks on targets in the US using commercial airliners were being planned. None of the signals were acted upon, and nothing more is needed to explain the inaction beyond the observation that human systems fail in this fashion.  The only way to end these kinds of failures is to alter the way we think about the systems we create.

Ultimately no one is to blame for the attacks on 9-11 beyond the 11 men who successfully hijacked the planes and flew them into the buildings, because they were the ones who took those actions.


Some of the content I’ve posted other places follows, starting with proper reference links;

The first debunking site I remember going to;
http://www.debunking911.com/firsttime.htm

There were a lot of firsts for the WTC. In all the history of high-rise fires, not one has ever been hit with a plane traveling 500 miles an hour and had its fire proofing removed from its trusses. In all the history of high-rise fires, not one has ever had its steel columns which hold lateral load sheared off by a 767. In all the history of high-rise fires, not one has ever been a building which had its vertical load bearing columns in its core removed by an airliner. For Building 7, in all the history of high-rise fires, not one has ever been left for 6-7 hours with its bottom floors on fire with structural damage from another building collapse. Not the Madrid/Windsor tower did not have almost 40 stories of load on its supports after being hit by another building which left a 20 story gash. The Madrid tower lost portions of its steel frame from the fire. Windsor’s central core was steel reinforced concrete. In all the history of high-rise fires, not one has ever been without some fire fighters fighting the fires.

I find it amusing, reading the thread I pulled this reference quote from. So much crap in my head at that time; but I was starting to work through it, call it into question, laugh at it, then discard it. I wish there was something worthy of posting from that period that I wrote. There isn’t. Just more of what is already on the blog that I don’t need more of.  Well, maybe this bit;


I love the way they say “collapsed in their footprint” as if that’s even the case. Watch the full video of the collapse, and you will see the outside skin peeling away OUTWARD as the upper floors collapse through them. One can duplicate this effect with a couple of cardboard paper towel rolls. The upper floors landed in the footprint, because the perimeter structure guided those floors down onto it, as it sheared away and impacted the structures around it. Those ‘explosive’ puffs of smoke? Smoke and Air escaping through the fracture points as the upper floor forced the compressed air beneath them out (also replicatable with some basic home items) This is a pretty straightforward structural failure, and the engineer who designed it was devastated by it. Watch the video of him discussing it, if you don’t believe me. 

When the US shot down a civilian airliner, back around gulf war one, I first noticed this unwillingness of Americans to accept facts related to tragedies. There were all these theories about the plane being loaded with corpses and flown into restricted airspace, that it wasn’t the US that fired on it, etc. Silly complexifying theories that just got in the way of understanding what really happened. This 9/11 truth stuff is nothing but more of the same. Got no time for it.


That bit and the bit where I laugh at Alex Jones for claiming that he predicted 9-11.


Alex Jones lives in Austin. The syndicated radio show comes from the local AM station that I listened to (3 to 6 pm weekdays. Jeff Ward, best radio show in Austin) A couple of my friends from my time at the local LP were part of his blue windbreaker truth squad (or whatever they called themselves) They all believed what he said implicitly, but to me it’s a lot like professional wrestling. It’s real to them, but that doesn’t make it true. Has anything that he’s promoted breathlessly in the last 20 years come true? The secret prisons? Any of it? He’s playing to his market, and he’s pretty good at it. Like Coast to Coast, there’s just enough truth buried in the exaggerations to make you pause. But in the end it’s entertainment, not science. If he predicted 9/11, then I predicted 9/11. 

It was a common argument in LP circles that an attack on the US was inevitable, because of our military adventurism. Hell, it was a rare day that went by where we DIDN’T talk about what form of attack might occur, and how that would be the end of freedom in this country, because the average American was completely unprepared to understand the costs of our military adventurism, and wouldn’t realize that our foreign policy lead us to this place.


The last debunking article I’d read was this one.

At a certain point, though, debating science and theory and ideas is an exercise in futility, because the hypotheses of conspiracy theorists are not grounded in any kind of a larger understanding of the real world. “This sounds really mean,” says Erik Sofge, a reporter on the original Popular Mechanics piece and an occasional contributor to Slate. “But really, it’s like arguing over the marching speed of hobbits.”

Slate: The Rise and Fall of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory.

Here is a link to the NIST reports;
http://www.nist.gov/el/disasterstudies/wtc/wtc_finalreports.cfm 

Here is a link to the Commission report;
http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf

The final report from the NIST concerning building 7 including the modeling parameters (something I’ve been wanting to see)
http://www.nist.gov/customcf/get_pdf.cfm?pub_id=861612

Here’s the article where the AIA signs off on the NIST reports and distances itself from Richard Gage, the man behind AE911Truth.

All of Gage’s so-called evidence has been rebutted in peer-reviewed papers, by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, by the American Society of Civil Engineers, by the 9/11 Commission Report, and, perhaps most memorably, by the 110-year-old engineering journal Popular Mechanics.

What is more interesting than these bizarre and debunked conspiracy theories is the way that Gage places his AIA membership front and center in his presentations. He seems to be attempting to cloak his organization in the officialdom of the venerable 155-year-old professional institution, even as AIA wants nothing to do with his organization.

Architects Shy From Trutherism July 19, 2012

Chris Mohr (this guy) is convinced that he has rebutted (not debunked but rebutted as in disproven, shown to be invalid, answered satisfactorily, etc.) Richard Gage, and was even featured onstage in a video with Gage that Gage’s own people refused to release, as he details in the opening seconds of the video playlist here.  The videos are as riveting as watching paint dry.  I don’t recommend them.

The Popular Mechanics article on the subject;

Healthy skepticism, it seems, has curdled into paranoia. Wild conspiracy tales are peddled daily on the Internet, talk radio and in other media. Blurry photos, quotes taken out of context and sketchy eyewitness accounts have inspired a slew of elaborate theories: The Pentagon was struck by a missile; the World Trade Center was razed by demolition-style bombs; Flight 93 was shot down by a mysterious white jet. As outlandish as these claims may sound, they are increasingly accepted abroad and among extremists here in the United States.

To investigate 16 of the most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists, POPULAR MECHANICS assembled a team of nine researchers and reporters who, together with PM editors, consulted more than 70 professionals in fields that form the core content of this magazine, including aviation, engineering and the military.

In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a few theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by confronting such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we understand what really happened on a day that is forever seared into world history.

Debunking the 9/11 Myths: Special Report

…and I need to mention Skeptoid.com, which started the last conversation I had on the subject of 9-11 truth with the episode The Pentagon and the Missle.

The rabbit hole of 9-11 conspiracies these days begins and ends with Building 7.   Because of the positioning of the building on the site, it’s odd construction, et cetera, proponents of conspiracy theories always seem to point to building 7 as the most inexplicable part of the catastrophe.

However, it really is explainable, and the explanation isn’t implosion; the buildings didn’t disintegrate into dust, nor did they fall completely in their own footprints. Building 7 did not collapse at free fall velocities. 18 seconds per seismic monitoring; twice as long in duration than ‘free fall’.  I’ve toured ground zero, more than once. As a former architect I’ve studied the damage around that area numerous times. If you understand the structures, then you will understand why they failed the way they did. There’s nothing mysterious or inexplicable about that day and it’s events, not even the fact that W. ignored warnings in advance of the attacks. That is also completely normal human behavior.

Thirteen years and still no defectors from the group that set the bombs? Not one shred of documentation from the (and as a former architect, I know what documentation is required) thousands of pages of diagrams necessary to pull off a job of this magnitude? No significant amount of explosive residue (I have to say significant, because there was all kinds of materials in the buildings including trace amounts of explosives. Not enough to bring down the buildings) that leads to the culprits who made it? Nothing? Whereas (in that book I’ve already linked) you can find references to the CIA program that tracked the hijackers. Documentation for the meetings at which W. was warned of plans to attack with planes. In the NIST reports you can find explanations of how the structures failed the way they did. Etc. Etc. Etc. Mountains of evidence that support the explanation that planes struck the buildings just like we all saw, and the resultant damage and fires caused them to collapse, and to bring other buildings down with them. And against that mountain of evidence you have…?

The NIST report has been altered! It is full of errors

Anomaly hunting does not prove a counter argument; it simply points out anomalies in the data presented. In other words, because the government falsifies data, it doesn’t prove that the buildings were imploded, or the planes remote controlled, or whatever fanciful tale you prefer over the hard reality that occurred that day. In order for the data to be ‘falsified’ you have to prove intent to deceive, rather than simple error involved in a complex determination of structural failure.  Discounting all of the documentation accumulated on this subject because of errors in certain parts of the data is engaging in fallacious reasoning.

Anomalies in the data occur. That is reality not human nature. Building seven fell the way it did because that’s the way it’s particular frame failed with the damage it received. The side facing the twin towers fell first because of the damage it sustained, and it pulled the visible portions of the building back and down with it, making the collapse look “odd” from the perspective of the street (the only perspectives available) but is quite well explained by the NIST reports if you care to actually read them.

We knew about Watergate within the year that it occurred. MKultra within a decade of it’s ending. The NSA programs currently running stayed secret for less than a few years. The timeframes whereby secret operations remain unknown is getting shorter and shorter, and the more complex the operation, the less likely it will be able to remain secret for any amount of time.

The Manhattan project is another example of open secrets, like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in it’s own way. Anyone involved could have (and did) relate the incident when they felt they were clear of reprisal. Where are the confessions for the people involved in the implosion of building 7?

There is no magical waiver for illegal operations documentation, coordination and manpower. No way that planning materials can be made to disappear in a flash of smoke, rendering any copy of the record of the intense planning required to bring down structures the size of the World Trade Center incapable of being found and used to expose the conspiracy. Complex operations must be documented and coordinated. The more complex, the more documentation and manpower. People talk, and documents will be found. That is what happens. The claim that this doesn’t happen in this special instance is completely irrational.

But Thermite!

The possibility of using thermite to cut steel does not equate to thermite being used to cut steel in this instance. I can cut steel with a cutting torch, it does not mean they used a cutting torch to bring down the WTC. Even if it were possible, there has not been enough residue found on the debris to conclude that it was used in this fashion. Once again, anomaly hunting is not evidence. To paraphrase another skeptic, making selective choices amongst competing evidence, so as to emphasize the results that support a given position, while ignoring or dismissing any findings that do not support it, is a practice known as “cherry picking” and is a hallmark of poor science or pseudo-science.

PurgatoryIronworks, Dec 15, 2015 For the undying 9/11 MORONIC JET FUEL ARGUMENT (YouTube)

I love this wikipedia page. It is a page heavily edited by 9-11 truthers and it brings up and then dismisses with evidence every objection to the NIST report.  It is an excellent illustration of how all of these arguments have been had before, by people more informed than either side of an imaginary argument between me and whoever is reading this.

The desperation in truther mentality is quite amusing. Conspiracy theorists in general go through the years convinced that there is some nefarious plot afoot that will destroy civilization as we know it if it isn’t revealed to the world.

…however, these same conspiracies have been floated for decades. The bilderbergers, the Rothschilds, The JFK assassination, 911 truth, etc, etc, etc. Weirdly, the world just keeps on turning, never noticing that the plots go unchallenged by the vast majority of the population. How is it that these conspiracies have failed to take over the world? When these groups have been actively conspiring now since before the First World War?

Column 79 held up the building?

Column 79 in WTC7 being the first to fail,as suggested by the NIST report, makes perfect sense. The penthouse which is seen to drop before the facade of the building does has a corner on column 79. Had any other column been suggested to fail first, you would have to explain the kink in the facade which is visible when the building starts to collapse, and the disappearance of roof structures in that area before the rest of building collapses.

Anyone who thinks that therefore only colum 79 held up the building doesn’t understand structure or the phrase progressive failure which, contrary to the internet meme, has nothing to do with Obama. Progressive failure describes how the tall buildings we occupy are carefully crafted latticeworks of interlocking support members, the loss of any one of which can lead to the entire structure collapsing. Any first year engineering student understands this theory and works to avoid a circumstance where progressive failure would bring an entire building down.

…and if you have other questions, you might want to peruse this link for answers before postulating anything else that makes you look like an idiot.

Progressive Failure is the exact mechanism of crafted structures that implosion methods exploit in order to bring down buildings. All of the building collapses on 9-11 represented sobering problems for future engineers, because engineers specifically attempt to design buildings to not do what those buildings did anyway.

Anyone in the AEC community who clings to the implosion theory for the WTC structures is engaging in a well known psychological evasion technique, probably due to an emotional need to prove someone else is to blame aside from the engineering community. Consequently it’s actually surprising that so few architects and engineers are truthers. This speaks to the strength of the evidence, rather than the weakness of the individuals involved.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Conspiracy theorists rely on this while spinning their theories. There’s no room for the knowledge that things were different and seen differently before the incident; so the idea that you might not conclude that what we after the fact would see as a threat, would not be seen as a threat at the time. That there were vested interests denying that America could be attacked directly, and that attempts to investigate the conspirators before the attack were actively discouraged by these interests. That the government was warned multiple times prior to the attack, but then modified the narrative to remove these references after the fact, and that this is simply the way human systems have been shown to operate.

Third times a charm for this link; Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle, and Led America into War I cannot recommend the book highly enough for sorting through the noise related to the 9-11 attacks. It is not an either/or question concerning the attacks. It is a question of just how severely our government failed us.

What brought down the buildings? Waiting for proof that it wasn’t planes, fire and construction techniques that lead to their collapse is waiting on someone to manufacture evidence. Because nothing of any credible significance has ever been found that says otherwise.

99% Invisible

In My Dreams I Sound This Good While Ranting

Give this a listen, and you’ll hear what I mean.

Tim MinchinStorm by Tim Minchin (Audio only version) – Jan 28, 2009

This is topical for the conversation I was just relating in my previous blog entry (three in two days.  I’m going to burn out!) However the draft this post was based on had been hanging out on the blog interface so long that the activity Tim was involved in was Jesus Christ Superstar (I’ve had a long-time fascination with that musical) a show that is no longer playing and which had just released its DVD. So, you know. Championship level procrastination.

I tracked Storm down after listening to The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe – Podcast 184 and hearing him mention it in the interview. I already had a weakness for White Wine in the Sun.

This is posted here and now because I went trolling back through the drafts today looking for something completely different and found it. Oh, the treasures you find in the back alleyways of your long forgotten notes. 

Religion/Spiritualism? How about Pragmatism.

I updated my ghost story yesterday because I was engaged in a long running conversation on this thread on Facebook.  Started with a meme image composed mostly of the text “Religion is for people afraid of going to hell, Spirituality is for people who have already been there” can we say “false dichotomy”? I knew that you could.

I’m sticking to my guns on the subject.  Skepticism (and through it pragmatism) is how you live in the real world, not getting sidetracked by all the woo we encounter in our daily lives. If you disagree, prove any of the stuff that skeptics question. Should be easy enough if it’s true. If you know of a medium that you think of as reliable (a mediumship conference being where the image that started the thread was found) I would recommend you send them to The Million Dollar Challenge, or one of the other testing challenges (this is one of the points I’ve changed my opinion on since jotting down my ghost story the first time.  There is a value in exposing the vast number of charlatans out there who prey on the believing. The number is growing, even) They are looking to find someone with a genuine talent, and not someone engaged in cheap theatrics.   Haven’t found anyone yet.

On a related note (in case you are confused on the subject) Climate deniers are not skeptics; they are peddlers of woo as certainly as any charlatan medium who claims to speak to the dead. Deniers in general are not skeptics any more than religious people can be Objectivists; there is a standard for evidence which must be met for a belief to be established as fact in both those systems. Denying science disqualifies you from claiming the label skeptic or the label objectivist.  I only wish I could stop people from claiming labels that they don’t deserve.  The most I can do is pushback against their unwarranted claims, exposing the manipulation behind the curtain.

I don’t embark on this course because I see no value in a good yarn, or the thought-provoking nature of a good parable.  I put the brakes on this journey down woo avenue because, in the end, science is the only method we’ve ever discovered for determining what the truth is. An anecdote (like my ghost experience) remains exactly what it was. You cannot pile up anecdotes and create evidence. You simply have a pile of anecdotes.

Scientists are not altering what is acceptable evidence, or the scientific process. Those that do fall prey to false patterns and charlatans, Randi proved this by recruiting shills into some of the early paranormal studies, demonstrating that a good magician can create the illusion of paranormal activity quite easily.

The problem with any psi phenomenon is that there is no known mechanism which can explain how these things happen. Without a mechanism, there is no basis on which to gather evidence. That is where psi research has been stuck since the 60’s.

The best defense, for the flawed pattern recognition machines that we are, is to remain skeptical. Had I accepted what believers told me back when I had my experience, I’d be deep in the woo now, trying to defend photo and sound anomalies as legitimate signs of paranormal activity (probably desperately trying to prove that rods exist) rather than looking into the machines used to capture this ‘evidence’ and discovering that the machines themselves are the cause of them.

The experiences remain exactly what they always have been. Inexplicable experiences, until we find a mechanism that might cause them. Then they aren’t paranormal experiences anymore. You might say, of your own experiences “I wasn’t hallucinating” and yet it remains entirely possible. The human brain is quite an amazingly adaptive organ. The process of remembering the experience alters the experience in memory. The more times you remember it and recount it, the stronger the memory can become, lending more reality to the images you think you saw. At some point the memory ceases to be a true recollection and becomes a story you tell yourself about the event(s).

Without scientific rigor, there isn’t anything we can say we know.

Paranormal? Ghosts?

I’d like to say upfront that I am not a believer in the paranormal, and I especially do not subscribe to a belief in the supernatural. But having had experiences with what most people refer to as spirits, experiences that I cannot explain, I can’t dismiss the possibility that something exists beyond our ken.

As an example, the Wife’s father could witch water wells. All the farmers in the area aside from his farming partner swore by him. Now, this man was no ignorant Oklahoma farmer. He was a college educated man who served his country in the secret service during WWII. He worked as an extension agent later in life, teaching other farmers in the area how to make their farms produce.  He just also happened to be a water witch. When his farming partner wanted a well dug he refused to rely on that rubbish and hired an engineer to drill his well. Several thousand dollars and several hundred feet later, they hit some rather poor and slow running water that the engineers said was the best they could do. After a few months the man gave up and asked my father in law to try a hand at finding better water, which he did. About 15 feet away and 30 feet down. Better water than could be found on my father-in-law’s own property. I never saw this occur myself, and Dad has been gone several years now, so I have no way of testing the veracity of his claims, and I remain unconvinced that the ideomotor effect is a sufficient explanation for experiences like his.

Most ghost experiences are actually quite normal.  There are documented physical properties of sleeping that lend themselves to the idea of abduction (Sleep Paralysis for one) or can lead you to believe that you see people who aren’t there just as you begin to fall asleep, or immediately upon waking (I have a recurring nightmare lately where I see light patterns that remind me of Threshold. I have no idea why.  They persist into wakefulness, and have to be actively brushed away in order for me to quit seeing them) I’ve had both experiences several times, myself. Once you understand what causes them, they become far less frightening.

The problem with the supernatural or paranormal is that it doesn’t reproduce itself on demand so that your peers can verify the existence of this or that phenomenon. Time and again as I watch some show dealing with these types of stories, I think to myself “well, that could have been faked” or “this is how that chair could have moved”. It’s all too easy to be debunked unless it happens to you; and once it happens, you cannot simply dismiss the very real emotions that the experience generates.  You want the phenomena to be true, as in accepted by your peers as true. Unfortunately no one can understand what it is you experienced, no matter how much they may want to. Experiences like the one I’m about to relate aren’t easy to quantify, to set down in words with meanings others can understand in the way we mean. For myself, I’m left grasping at straws for explanations of things I only imperfectly remember even the next day.


In my years of service in the architectural field, I have spent innumerable nights in the office, working until late in the morning hours, most times all by myself. While I was generally downtown in some not-so-nice areas late at night, I was never really afraid. I’m not a large man, but I can run fast, and I do know some basic defense tactics.

When I took a job for a firm whose office was in one of the older buildings downtown, I never really thought much about the history of the place, or the particulars of it’s location, or what an impact that might have on my ability to work the late hours that are generally required of architects, but it had an impact none the less.

I was struck, at first, by how quaint the structure was. Nestled against the side of an old quarry, it was backed by an old carriage house that had been renovated into offices as well. After a few weeks of work I settled into my usual routine of staying late and cranking out the work after everyone else left. Gradually I noticed that everyone else tended to leave earlier than usual in the evening; earlier than usual for an architectural office.

After a week or so, I noticed that the place started to feel less quaint, and more threatening, especially at night. I kept hearing people walking, when I knew I was alone in the building. The sensations of wrongness started to become really disturbing after I traded places with another architect. She wanted to move to the tiny little cramped cubicle that I was in, and was willing to give up a double sized cube space in order to do it. I thought it strange that she would want the cramped space I was in, but jumped at the chance to spread out a bit in a larger space.

Slowly, over the course of the next 12 months, a spiralling series of experiences convinced me that I was either losing my mind, or that there was something wrong with my environment, something I could not explain.

I began to feel like someone was watching me. It wasn’t all the time, that I could have explained. Weirdly enough it was right about 7:30 pm, pretty much every night. I dismissed it at first as having my back to the floor entrance (a dog-leg stair from the upper floor) but I could not figure out why it didn’t bother me until evening time.

There were windows all around, but it didn’t feel like there was anybody outside. No matter how many times I looked, I never did catch anyone peeking through the windows. Peeping would have been hard anyway, technically we were on the second floor above the quarry bottom, but the front entrance was on the floor above and opened onto the original street that bordered the quarry. The window in my cube tended not to reflect any light off of it, almost like it opened onto nothing (the opposing building wall that was no more than 10 feet away always seemed invisible at night) which was a bit disturbing on its own.

I can’t tell you the number of times I heard footsteps on the upper floor, or walking down the stairs, only to investigate and find no one there. Once, with another architect present, we listened as footsteps appeared to walk the length of the upper floor and go right through a wall on their way out to the street.

Then there was the crowding and the touching. I kept feeling someone leaning over the back of my chair, pushing me into the desk. I kept having to consciously push myself away from the keyboard so that my arms would quit cramping. Something kept touching me on the neck, like fingers brushing across my skin.

It got to the point that I would leave as soon as the eyes started watching at 7:30. If I didn’t leave then, and stayed until the presence was in the cube with me, when I attempted to leave I would feel as if I was being pursued. All the lights on in a clearly vacant room, and I’m terrified that there is someone who intends me harm, right behind me. Try as I might, I could not shake the feeling.

It was all I could do to make myself walk calmly up the stairs and let myself out. There was frequently an inexplicable cold spot at the top of the stairs, where the warmest air in the building should have been. As soon as I had exited the building, the feeling would evaporate like a fog. I’m standing on a dark street, next to a vacant lot that was several feet deep in overgrowth; a place where the homeless were known to congregate, and I feel safer there, outside, exposed, than I did in the building.

I began to feel like there were two buildings in the same place at night. One was finished in the clear varnished oak and carpet that I was familiar with; the other was painted dark, cut into small rooms with old fashioned panel doors. Dingy little apartments. I can’t explain why I began to see this juxtaposition in space, I can only say that I did.

Once, when I heard a loud thump on the floor behind me, I spun around to find, just for a second, someone or something standing behind me. There and then gone again. I caught the same figure out of the corner of my eye a few more times after that. Ragged coat. Hat pulled low. Dirty worn-out boots. Watching a door in the dark hallway. Waiting for someone. Waiting for someone with violence in his heart.


I wish I could write a fitting climax to the story, but I can’t. I was let go from the firm not too long after that time, and I haven’t had any urge to go back.

I would say that this was the god’s honest truth but I don’t believe in god. It is the truth, exactly as I remember it. I didn’t believe in ghosts. I don’t know what I believe now, but I know that I can’t explain what happened in that building in the evenings. I just know that I wouldn’t stay late at work in that place again, not even if you paid me.

I could go on about the hours spent trying to find disappearing farm houses on her family property, a place we looked for several times and never could find in the same place twice. The time we spent exploring weird old graveyards across Texas. The abandoned courthouses and churches we’ve stumbled across in rural Texas and Oklahoma. Or maybe even the time The Wife and I saw a UFO streak away at impossible speed. Suffice it to say that while my ghost encounter was single-handedly the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced, it isn’t the only inexplicable thing in my life.  But even with all that, the anecdotal evidence itself is not enough for me to insist on supernatural explanations, paranormal explanations.  I simply don’t have an explanation.  Perhaps the weirdest part of all is, the lack of explanation doesn’t bother me.


Editor’s note. This post was re-edited from this previous post on the subject.  So many of my opinions from that time have changed, I feel I cannot direct someone to that post and have them understand what it is I’m trying to communicate.

This was about the same time that I went out to Antone’s with my brother to see the Boys play. After the show we drove over to his hotel where he and the Boys would load up from and head back out on the road the next day. When he realized I’d have to walk back to the office, ten blocks away at 3:00 am, through downtown Austin, he insisted I had to have a cab ride rather than walk. I told him I would call one just so he’d let me leave, but I walked the ten blocks anyway. Downtown Austin was my town, and outside on the street was safer than inside my office as far as I was concerned. I remember looking at the building from the car and deciding that I didn’t need to check anything before driving home. I refused to even go up on the porch and check that I locked the doors when I left the first time. The place scared me that much at night.

Father, Freethinker, Objectivist-Humanist

I used my post on Why I am a Libertarian as an example of how I would describe myself for many years. A decade and more of time has passed, and when I look back on this with an eye for continuity and history, I find my previous blind reliance on libertarian principles to be quite humorous.

I have never been an anarchist; in fact, anarchists are some of the people I disagree with the most. If I could point to a single reason why I almost never identify as libertarian any longer, it’s because libertarianism (especially on the web) is default anarchism. You have to struggle to get the average libertarian to admit that structure is required in society. That you need organization to build roads, do science, construct complex machinery. In fact, there is so much knowledge involved in a single field of expertise these days that it’s almost hard to find generalists with enough depth of knowledge to bridge the gap between specialists.

So this idea of the rugged individualist doing all for himself, with no one to thank for what he has other than himself is complete self-delusional bullshit.

From the hospital where most of us are born to the school paid for with tax dollars, from the roads we travel on during our working years to the social security system most of us will rely on in old age, almost nothing we experience occurs because we were the sole architect of its existence. Much less would we want to own any of the convoluted bullshit we have to deal with systems invented by madmen and executed by sadists? Better to be leaves floating on an irresistible wind than acknowledge that any of this is what we would have wanted, planned for, inflicted on others.

I played a mental game with myself for quite a long time. I still find it amusing on occasion, especially when opponents in argument will trot out the ad hominem, try to affix labels to me and my arguments in order to dismiss them. Flip the script is how you might describe it these days. How would you define yourself in as few words as possible, using only labels that others might use to discard you and your arguments. Epithets or titles applied to you by others to summarize and pigeonhole you or your views.

I could to get it down to three; Objectivist, Architect, Father (no longer licensed, so can’t call myself architect anymore. Libertarian was in second place at one point) These days the three would be more like Father, Skeptic, Objectivist; and Objectivist is left on the end simply because I still believe we can obtain glimpses of objectivity, not because I buy in to the whacky psychological ideals of Ayn Rand. That we have to be able to discern objective reality in some limited fashion unless everything we sense is complete illusion, which demonstrably is not the case. Most Objectivists these days make me cringe when they speak.

I daresay today’s Objectivists would make Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum cringe as well; but then I’m not her, was never a member of her cult of personality, don’t believe in revealed knowledge in even the vaguest sense. What I do know is that the system she describes as ideal doesn’t even resemble the current political, ideological or economic system; and the economic and political actors of today are more akin to the looters of her novels than her contemporaries in 1950 America could have been. That current self-identified objectivists laud the behavior and thinking of these people simply puts the lie to their claim of objectivity.

Consequently, when self-styled Objectivists start mouthing anarchist phrases while representing the Republican party, I almost disown the objectivist label, too. Who knows, maybe that one goes next. Would Ayn Rand have modified her ideals given the advances in knowledge about the workings of the mind and the social patterns of the human animal? I’d like to think she would have admitted fault at some point, but then that wouldn’t have been very Ayn Rand of her.


This introspection was brought on by a challenge from a fellow member of the now-defunct Dan Carlin BBS forums. Gone are all the threads and thoughts recorded on those boards, unless they are preserved somewhere on Dan’s private servers or happened to be picked up by the Wayback Machine, if even the Wayback Machine itself continues to function. 

I get no satisfaction from the knowledge that I predicted the demise of the boards years before they were taken offline by Dan Carlin, but I knew that his hands-off approach to freedom of speech, his belief in the innate goodness of people, was a recipe for disaster. That the disaster did occur was in spite of my best efforts, for years, before finally giving up. Trolls will continue to troll until barred from trolling, and it takes a judicious use of the ban-hammer to make people respect you enough to be forthright in their posting habits. If you are anonymous and without rules, driving people away with harassment is simpler than trying to reason with them. The time spent is the only cost of such behavior, and that is essentially free if you have free time to spend. Some of us have far too much time. 

But the challenge had been to be as self-reflective as you could and be open about things you might have learned since joining the forums. I believe it was cast against the more recent findings that people did not change with argument (more recent than the establishment of the forum) and the member who issued that challenge was de officiis I think. They were just another stranger on the internet, but someone who had reliably challenged me with heartfelt interrogation, always offering comments that I felt were honest. So I accepted the challenge in the fashion offered. These were my most honest thoughts of the time. They still hold some power over me.


Since writing the above, I tried out the word ‘Skeptic’ as defining me, and I find it too skeptical.  The daughter thinks Freethinker is too pretentious, but then I think pretentious defines my assessment of the importance of my thinking quite well.  So I’m going with the pretentious sounding ‘freethinker’ rather than the piss on your parade personal interpretation I get from the word skeptic (Yes, skeptics, I know that isn’t how you see the word) I would say that I approach all subjects with a healthy dose of skepticism, but I don’t enjoy the process very much.  I do love finding truths, but telling others what the truth actually *is* is a very tricky process.  A process I find I don’t do very well.

Consequently, I also feel the need to temper Objectivism with Humanism.  Objectivists will say this means I’m not really an objectivist; something else I find funny since most of them don’t see the problem with being religious and claiming Objectivism as a philosophy.  Human is the lens that modifies the world we see, and Humanism is the attempt to make our systems more humane.  I’ll take that.

Dan Carlin BBS forum introduce yourself addendum post.


What is a Freethinker?

Die Gedanken Sind Frei!

Die Gedanken Sind Frei by Dan Barker and Kristen Lems

What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.

Bertrand Russell
Pete Seeger- Die Gedanken Sind Frei from the album Dangerous Songs!?

DCBBS Archive: Ignore List

This edit is for a specific purpose. If you are reading this you’ve likely clicked a link in the footer of one of my posts. This edit is for you. I have been a member of this forum for quite some time. I only occasionally wander by here anymore, because DC has chosen to take a complete hands-off approach to forum moderation, which Dan gets into in The Decline… which used to be pegged (for a long, long time) at the top of every forum. Many of us contributed ideas for how the forums could be improved, but it became clear that DC wasn’t interested in exercising any editorial functions beyond clearing out the spam.

A few months (maybe even years) later, I created The Reason for The Decline which details (with research) exactly WHY the forums are populated with Lowest Common Denominator trolls and how that situation could be addressed. It was an answer to Dan’s burning question about the problems with the forums. Once again, nothing was done. 

At some point following that thread, I completely altered the way I post, read posts, and which posts I read. I was long opposed to ignoring people, but after wasting months of time arguing with bad actors, I established a lengthy Foes list, populated with users who have shown themselves (essentially) unable to admit error, or who are here simply to disrupt (your list is found here) If I don’t respond to a post that you think deserves a heated response, it’s likely that the poster is on my Foes list, and I am ignoring him/her for good reason; generally because that poster has proven his or her inability to frame a decent question, or respond to direct inquiries with facts. 

“Bad Actors” I define similar to Bad Faith which is outlined on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_faith

The expression “bad faith” is associated with “double heartedness”,[1] which is also translated as “double mindedness”.[2][3][4] A bad faith belief may be formed through self-deception, being double minded, or “of two minds”, which is associated with faith, belief, attitude, and loyalty. In the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary, bad faith was equated with being double hearted, “of two hearts”, or “a sustained form of deception which consists in entertaining or pretending to entertain one set of feelings, and acting as if influenced by another”.[1] The concept is similar to perfidy, or being “without faith”, in which deception is achieved when one side in a conflict promises to act in good faith (e.g. by raising a flag of surrender) with the intention of breaking that promise once the enemy has exposed himself. After Jean-Paul Sartre’s analysis of the concepts of self deception and bad faith, bad faith has been examined in specialized fields as it pertains to self deception as two semi-independently acting minds within one mind, with one deceiving the other.

I have confused Dan with this reference before (saying Buchanan was not an honest actor) so I include it here for clarity.

Having been pushed to ignore a large part of the members of the boards, it became clear to me just how much particular members alter the tone of the boards, almost always to the negative side of the ledger. It was then I created the thread “Message Board Whores” specifically targeting those members. The input on that thread lead me to realize that I really was wasting much of my time here. Consequently I almost never hang out here any longer, and only seem to get dragged back here when someone resurrects the zombie threads that I authored ages ago, most frequently Atheism is Not a Belief System; which is a thread about Atheism, not Religion, despite the inability of the average user to understand the distinction (when I started that thread, it was the only result that phrase produced in a Google search) posts there do draw me back, but they very rarely improve my opinion of the boards in general. 

…and that’s where it stands now. I ignore the members who’s contributions historically I have deemed irrelevant. If I don’t respond, that is generally the reason. If you think otherwise, respond to them yourself and see what you get. Might I suggest you start a Foes list of your own, though? It will prove to be the best option, in the long run.


In the spirit of building your own ignore list (and because I hate searching for the post that got someone on my list) let me offer an example of people I’ve found it timesaving to ignore;

Dr. Strangelove — whom I refer to as S’love, largely because I love that movie but I cannot stand this members arguments; I want to keep the two separate in my mind. His ill will pollutes the entire forum, and is largely why I no longer spend any time here. This post is one of many in which he compares me (and all atheists) to mass-murderers. I spent far too much time trying to argue with him before blocking him. He is one of many that has never admitted fault (along with ClubGOP, STCapps, Zlaxer and a few others) the number one reason for getting on my ignore list.

The Conservative — Racism remains racism whether you cloak it in legalese or not. 99.9% of the 11 million he would forcibly deport are brown-skinned; that is racism. As for the solution to the non-existent immigration problem, acknowledge the facts of the matter. Fact; to prove residency you simply need a photo ID and a utility bill (generally) requiring brown-skinned people to show more ID than that is racism. Fact; the US immigration policy itself is based on racism as it stands now and should be struck down if it is not voluntarily corrected by a future congress. Fact; employers want cheap immigrant labor, the States themselves want cheap immigrant labor, and the immigrants who come here generally need work. A guest worker program will fix that problem. Good luck getting conservatives to accept this fact. I have no time for unreformed racists.

Nergol — So “Who Kills More, Religion or Atheism?” The answer is “this is fallacious reasoning” http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4076 Nergol is a troll. There really isn’t any other way to describe him. The thread linked appeared after the subject of “who kills more” was hurled around on the Atheism thread. Just his way of stealing thunder, I guess. He’s not the only troll on the list, but he’s the only one permanently on the list for trollish behavior. Nergol doesn’t know how not to be confrontational; at least he didn’t when he went on the list.

diatribalist — whom I refer to as InquizaJamesatribalist because he is a libertarian ideologue who was once also a friend of mine on Facebook, and because he also goes under the member name Inquizitr. My fall from grace when I ceased being libertarian was the last straw for him. He cannot get past his own hatred of the disabled for accepting a handout; anybody who accepts help, generally (because he is legally disabled yet refuses to accept help) You are supposed to die and decrease the surplus population, I guess.  Diatribalist is also a member of the group that I label “Face Painters” (along with ClubGOP, Zlaxer and a few others) a face painter ascribes to a particular ideology or party to the exclusion of reality itself. The kind of person who inspires me to say “Ideally There Would Be No Idealists”.

Last because he was first, Cogent — He was placed on my ignore list because if his dangerously racist views concerning jews, the kind of targeting of jews that makes one queasy to read. He stays on my ignore list because he has the most annoying signature on the face of the planet, a series of 9-11 truth images that takes time and memory to load each and every post he creates. I don’t have the bits to waste on bullshit of that magnitude (I do rebut 9-11 claims here) He is a poster child for active moderation, and the key to why moderation is required if the forum owner wants to avoid lawsuits indefinitely.

Almost any thread I contribute to these days will have two or three of the trolls on my ignore list commenting, generally immediately after I post. Following me around like a pet. I guess I should be flattered, but I always wonder what someone who doesn’t know about ignore lists or the fact that I’m ignoring these people for a reason might think.

The Wayback Machine Archive


Editor’s note, 2019. While in the process of cleaning up old drafts and reformatting posts for the relocated website/blog, I discovered that I had copied text and links to more than a few posts I had written on the Dan Carlin BBS. I will be backdating and adding other material as I discover it and get it cleaned up to my satisfaction. This post detailed why the BBS failed in the end. It failed because without being able to remove bad actors from a system, the bad actors will come to dominate that system.

This was my list of bad actors, which was edited into my introduce yourself post on the bulletin board (Why I am a Libertarian contains the same text) By that point in my time on the BBS service, most of my original libertarian ideals that I had introduced myself with on the BBS had been washed away by sickness and harsh reality. So I washed that chirpy optimism off my introduction post and introduced a bare-bones understanding of just how wrong the average American is about most things they think they know. A bare-bones approach that I’ve now brought onto the blog as well. And so the fight goes on.