Saturday, 22 December 2012

conspiracy theorists

I despise conspiracy theorists for many reasons:

1. They do not look at all the evidence, just the evidence that confirms their preconceived notions. They enter "research" with an idea up-front of whatever bigoted view it is that they want to promote, e.g. that the government is controlled by "the Jews" or "the Illuminati" or "the Masons" or "the reptilian aliens" or "the industrial-military complex" or "the pharmaceutical industry" or whatever. They only look at evidence that confirms this, and ignore the other evidence that shows government is incompetent and incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery, never mind a huge conspiracy.

2. They diminish and belittle tragedies like HIV/AIDS, JFK, 9/11, The Holocaust, Princess Di, etc. By casting doubt on these events, they render the lives of the victims invisible on the fabric of history. It is worse than killing someone, it is utterly destroying even the memory of them. Conspiracy theorists, in my view, are worse than murderers, because they rob the victims of their only meaningful remnant: the memory of the lesson that they represent to humanity.

3. Conspiracy theorists spread views which to ignorant and stupid listeners sound plausible, and cause sociopolitical upheavals, martyrdoms, or dangerous dietary behaviours, because of lies, which the average Joe on the street is incapable of distinguishing from fact. They bluster about "them" or "they" who want to "cover up" the "truth" which the lucky conspiracy theorist just happens to "know" because some or other authority figure gave them a crackpot theory to sell. They fail to distinguish quality research from crackpottery.

4. They claim that the "official" view is "propaganda" created by "them" or "the government" or "the illuminati" or "the industrial-military complex" or "the medical fraternity" or "the reichstag arsonists" or [fill in your favourite form of big brother here]. Yet if pressed for evidence of the reasonable intent and mechanisms used by the relevant Big Brother, they are vague on details and researched evidence. Or they twist facts, or even worse, fabricate evidence. They cast doubt over things that are established facts.

5. Most importantly: They fail to ask: How is it that SO MANY people are "in" on the conspiracy and never break their oaths of silence? "Well, they're all scared that THEY will come and get them". But surely someone would be willing to be a martyr for truth and come out and tell what "really" happened? Are all those people fleeing the collapsing buildings just actors who were paid to say that passenger aeroplanes flew into them? Are ALL the scientists working on HIV/AIDS actually in the pay of a shady group of "them" whose aim is to sell ARVs to starving poor people and drug addicts? Do you really think that government is so cynical that it will kill thousands of its own people, and inflict billions of dollars of damage, just to get a pretext to go to war, when there's plenty of oil inside USA anyway? It is outrageous to suggest this. It is an affront to the memory of those who died, and the same goes for holocaust denial.

6. Conspiracy theorists take skepticism too far, to the point where they aren't even convinced when rational evidence, such as clear photos of starving people with tattoos, are presented. Rational skeptics reject theories that lack evidence: no photos, no scientific evidence. Conspiracy theorist skepticism rejects EVERYTHING as "lacking evidence" - except for their particular favourite conspiracy - and even when evidence is abundantly against them.

Explanation from Marius du Preez (paraphrase): Conspiracy theories are the same kind of thinking as religion and superstition. Because we're too ignorant to accept that there's a rational mechanistic explanation for disasters, we assume it has some "big mind" or "big force" or secret behind it, such as God or the Illuminati. Both ways of thinking are the same, and are superstitious and primitive. There is no "big plan" - either from God, or from the Illuminati, or from the Masons, or from the Jews. The "big plan" is a myth, no matter what its form. The religious and the conspiracy theorists are in effect insecure, and cannot face the fact that the world is chaotic, in the mathematical sense, and unpredictable. Such people wish to shoehorn the world into a neat mechanistic plan-based pattern, so that it all "makes sense" in the end. 

http://www.cracked.com/funny-44-conspiracy-theories/#ixzz2GtaG4t1X

http://www.cracked.com/article_21341_5-ways-every-conspiracy-theory-makes-world-worse.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/magazine/why-rational-people-buy-into-conspiracy-theories.html

--- latest debate follows ---

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10868983
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/sunday-review/the-holocaust-just-got-more-shocking.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/new-estimated-size-holocaust-apparatus-study-article-1.1277839

The neo-nazis - sorry, I mean, nazi apologisers, believe that it's a false-flag conspiracy, ie you claim that millions of your own people were killed (and provide some evidence), so you can claim a right to military action, e.g. to attack palestine and colonise it as the state of israel. Another conspiracy lunacy is the 9/11 conspiracy, also a false-flag claim: that the USA knocked over its own towers to create a justification for war against islamic states.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_flag

False flag - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
en.wikipedia.org
False flag has its origins in naval warfare where the use of a flag other than the belligerent's true battle flag as a ruse de guerre, before engaging an enemy, has long been acceptable. It is also acceptable in certain circumstances in land warfare, to deceive enemies in similar ways providing that...

I actually don't think there are any significant global conspiracies. It's just not possible to keep everyone quiet.

I think in some peoples' case, what has happened is they discovered skepticism, and applied it too strongly - to everything. So not just to God and homeopathy, but to the holocaust, 9/11, moon landings, etc. So you get a super-skeptic, who inevitably ends up being a conspiracy theorist, because he simply cannot see the difference between good evidence and bad evidence, so he assumes that all evidence is bad, and therefore, anything and everything is signs of a conspiracy.

Ivy Bedworth: Conspiracy theories can't survive in a world with google in it

Actually, Ivy Bedworth, the internet has given rise to conspiracy theories galore. The reason is the same as why christianity can survive on internet: people keep drinking the kool aid. Christians only go to christian websites, and keep drinking that kool aid. They never dare look elsewhere, and feel no need to. The same happens with conspiracy nuts. They keep going to conspiracy sites because they "tell the truth behind the lies of the government-illuminati-military-industrial-complex" or whoever is the favourite bogeyman of the day, so they also keep drinking the kool aid. A conspiracy theorist doubts everything - except his conspiracy theory. A religious person doubts everything - except his religion. A scientist doubts anything that doesn't have proper empirical evidence.

see http://www.cracked.com/article_21341_5-ways-every-conspiracy-theory-makes-world-worse.html

latest news:

http://arxiv.org/abs/1403.3344

 

Monday, 17 December 2012

gun lobby are not thinking straight

It's quite incredible how the USA is so religious about their 2nd amendment, viz the right to bear arms. It was written in a time where they'd just broken free of the oppression of the British Empire. They needed weapons in order to preserve their freedom. What, pray tell, are a few handguns in the hands of fat, untrained, macdonalds-scoffing couch potatoes going to do against special ops, Marines, nuclear weapons, drones, black hawks, etc.? Nothing. If the US govt wanted to decimate their own population, they could, whether or not that population was armed. Witness Iraq. 150 000 or so Iraqi deaths to 4000 or so American. That's a kill rate of 37:1. The US population would also not be attacked by their own soldiers because their own soldiers would simply not attack their own families. It's paranoid and idiotic.

The USA, as usual, is not looking at what the rest of the world is doing. As usual, they are sociopolitically about 50 years behind the rest of the west. Guns are banned everywhere else, more or less, except Canada. But that's because Canadians have higher education levels and social compliance levels than USA. US citizens still seem to be chest-beating macho types. "Out of my cold dead hands", as the NRA says. It's insane. The mass shootings elsewhere are few and far between. Why? Because it's hard to get hold of guns.

1. Just because I'm "allowed" to have a gun, it doesn't mean I ought to have one, or just anyone ought to have one. We do not give guns to mentally challenged persons or children or known psychopaths or people with criminal histories, for good reasons.

2. Just because I'm "allowed" to have a gun, doesn't say what kind. Where do we draw the line? I mean Uzis? What about AK47s? What about bazookas? Tanks? Nuclear weapons? What defines the reasonable limit as to what I should be allowed to have? "The people"? "The government"? Surely there are some reasonable limits on the kinds of weapons we should all have?

If you grant (1) you have to grant (2), because (2) follows from (1), in that not everyone is capable of reasonably handling, say, nuclear weapons, or AK47s.

Where do we draw the line? Start with repeating guns of any type. Allowed/not? Then ammo. Plain lead? Armour piercing? Hollow points? Etc. Where do you draw the line between military and civilian use? Or do you draw it at all?

My proposed solution: 

a. Ban all military-grade weapons, cartridges and ammunition. Possession = imprisonment.

b. Make licensing onerous and complicated, requiring psychiatric evaluation, competency testing, background checks including requirements of no affiliation to right-wing or other terrorist type organisations suck as KKK, Al-Qaeda, etc.

c. Make possession of an unlicensed weapon (for criminals etc) an imprisonable offence.

d. Make ammunition extremely expensive, e.g. $ 100 per bullet.

e. Make it illegal to give away a gun, or sell it, without the purchaser going through proper licensing procedures.

There. I fixed it.

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Some links that I like:

http://www.salon.com/2012/07/22/jason_alexanders_amazing_gun_rant/

http://ideas.time.com/2012/12/18/the-myth-of-second-amendment-exceptionalism/

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2012/12/data-helps-rebut-the-violent-video-games-cause-shootings-argument/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gun-science-proves-arming-untrained-citizens-bad-idea

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QjZY3WiO9s

http://www.theonion.com/articles/everyone-at-office-planning-shooting-spree-for-sam,30793/

http://www.theonion.com/articles/gorilla-sales-skyrocket-after-latest-gorilla-attac,30860/

Sam Harris' idiotic argument

I've heard the arguments, even from Sam Harris, about "protecting" people and people wanting to hunt. Hunting (like eating meat) is immoral. It's less immoral than buying meat at a grocery store, because you didn't take responsibility for that animal's death. But it's still murder. 

http://richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2013/1/4/sam-harris-neglects-the-most-important-evidence-about-gun

As for 'self protection', it's more likely that you will harm your own family. Most family murders in South Africa are gun crimes, perpetrated by drunk and or angry patriarchs. The American mentality has a very similar machismo to it. Guns, hunting, outdoors, fishing, contact sports, right-wing. That profile is exactly the same as our right-wingers, who typically take it out on their families.

All of these conversations amongst Americans keep ignoring the following facts:

- Europe, despite having guns, does not have this problem,

therefore

- either Europeans are more educated, or socially supported, or civilised, OR

- gun bans work.

I am not interested in the usual responses about "self protection" and "what if the Sandy Hook teachers had been armed" etc. I want an American to answer the stats:

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Thursday, 13 December 2012

interesting story on Anonymous

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/12/anon-on-the-run-how-commander-x-jumped-bai/1/

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

why solipsism is improbable

solipsism: The concern that only your mind exists and nothing else can be known. It's usually taken as a criticism or ultimate problem for empiricism. There are gigabytes of arguments for and against the view, most often against, because it is taken as a threat to empiricism. I assume your interlocutor is throwing solipsism at you as a way to show that empiricism is false.

The simple reply is: Well, I'm just a figment of your imagination, so if you imagine me going away, I will go away. However, if I exist independently of you, I would continue to badger you about your fanciful beliefs. Of course, I could be an entity like Agent Smith in the Matrix, or I could be an illusion created by Descartes' evil demon. And you'd have no way to know for sure that I was not. But that doesn't mean there's no nuanced reply.

So what is the probability of each model? Very simply put: it's harder to explain why a Matrix or Evil Demon exists, and why they go to all that trouble to create an illusory world. It's much easier to explain what we perceive as real (given scientific theories about matter), and therefore, that empiricism (that there is an objective external world) is the simpler and more probable hypothesis.

List of useful mac apps

This is mostly a note to self so that I can share with others when they ask which apps I recommend. Android File Transfer.app (*) get file...