The Flat Earthers Respawn

Flat earthWhile flat-earther might be a metaphor for a certain kid of myopic, political stupidity (think of your local council…), I learned this week that it’s also a thriving online subculture of rabidly pseudo-science wingnuts.

A couple of entertaining articles about the flat-earthers appeared on the UK’s Guardian paper site (here and here) this week (and in the HuffPost, too). They surprised, but also disturbed me. I hadn’t actually believed in flat-earthers as a modern reality: while I knew of their former existence, I thought the concept was simply a trolling mechanism to expose the silliness of other pseudo-science like creationism or anti-vaccination fears.

But, no, I was wrong. There are, apparently, people who actually believe passionately in this nonsense; a very active community exists online and right now they’re having a hissy fit over one of their own’s comments. Comments which, to an outsider, sound a lot like the gostak distims the doshes.*

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised: the internet has allowed all sorts of madness and wackiness to gain an audience, from Donald Trump to the Food Babe, from local bloggers to chemtrail conspiracists and anti-vaccination idiots. But a flat earth? Really? That’s pretty sad. The Easter bunny is more believable.

What’s disturbing is that anyone could believe such nonsense in this day and age. This stuff is seriously loony.

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The Rational Gods of Iceland

CreationismWhile 61% of Icelanders say they believe in God, according to a recent poll, absolutely none  under the age of 25 believe that their personal hairy thunderer created the world:

Less than half of Icelanders claim they are religious and more than 40% of young Icelanders identify as atheist. Remarkably the poll failed to find young Icelanders who accept the creation story of the Bible. 93.9% of Icelanders younger than 25 believed the world was created in the big bang, 6.1% either had no opinion or thought it had come into existence through some other means and 0.0% believed it had been created by God.

None. Zero. That’s pretty astounding and progressive, especially when you compare it to the USA, where 42% of Americans still have superstitious, medieval creationist beliefs, according to a mid-2014 Gallup poll:

More than four in 10 Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, a view that has changed little over the past three decades. Half of Americans believe humans evolved, with the majority of these saying God guided the evolutionary process. However, the percentage who say God was not involved is rising.

Well, a lot of Americans also believe in Donald Trump, so one can’t really be surprised at their lack of acuity, scientific education and common sense. There is some faint hope for a growth in secular (critical) thought, though, as Gallup notes:

There is little indication of a sustained downward trend in the proportion of the U.S. population who hold a creationist view of human origins. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who adhere to a strict secularist viewpoint — that humans evolved over time, with God having no part in this process — has doubled since 1999.

I’m not holding my breath for any sudden dawning of mass rationalism in the USA. Not while Trump, Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter get any media attention. It’s the home of the truther, open-carry, anti-vaccination, climate-change-denial, Tea Party and the TVangelist movements, after all. The vast majority of wingnut, conspiracy and pseudoscience sites I have seen are American made, too (local blogs notwithstanding).
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What Would $101 Million Buy?

Ark under constructionThe answer to that question could be very long. I’ll bet among all the things you thought of buying with that much, you weren’t even once thinking it could buy a 510-foot replica of the mythological Noah’s ark.

But that’s what it is buying the folks who run the Ark Encounter theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky. You can see video “encounters” of it being built. Sort of (they wouldn’t work for me, but I’m an evolutionist, so their god probably stopped me from seeing them…)

The park will open in July and, its creators promise, it will attract 1.4 million people annually. That seems a bit of a long shot, don’t you think? Are there that many people who would pay to see something made up, based on an allegory? But that will attract 16,000 guests a day, says Ken Ham.

Yes, that Ken Ham: the vocal young-earth creationist, president of the fringe group, Answers in Genesis (AiG). The guy behind the wacky creationist theme park. So now you understand. Yes, they’re at it again.

Stop laughing. Creationism isn’t just a flighty wingnut conspiracy theory: it’s a serious challenge to our educational system. Well, by “our” I really mean the Americans because Canadians don’t allow that sort of claptrap in public schools. We just look on in wonder at the stupidity. And a bit of horror. But I digress.

Ham and his wingnut friends have raised a lot of money to make a tourist attraction instead of doing something Christian with it. Feeding or housing the poor. Medical care for the homeless. You know, something unselfish and caring for the greater good.

$101 million is really a LOT of money (jumping up from $50 million in 2012 then to $73M million in 2014 and still climbing). It could do an enormous amount of good in the world.

Apparently Ham isn’t that kind of Christian. He’s the theme park fun-ride, promote your own agenda kinda Christian. But take heart: they’re making a “Ten Plagues” ride in the new park so you can have fun while not thinking about the real good $101 million could do in the world. Or about how you’re making Ham and his friends rich.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this wacky entertainment site is that apparently American taxpayers are going to shoulder a lot of its cost. As Newsweek also told us:

The money used to build Ark Encounter came from donations of almost $30 million, plus $62 million in high-risk, unrated municipal bonds backed by the project’s future revenues. If Ark Encounter never makes significant profits (and bond documents warn that it may not), neither the city nor AiG is on the hook for the bond money.

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The Political Agnostic

party politicsWatching the American political debates, especially the increasingly vituperative and acerbic Republican debates, reminds me again why I am a political agnostic when it comes to party politics. I simply cannot believe that any single political entity, any party or person, has all the answers or can dig us out of whatever hole we’re currently in.

And America, with its rigid, two-party system, has seen its electoral options, choices and opportunities reduced to caricature status. On one side, a group of frighteningly racist, homophobic, xenophobic, gun-fanatic Christianists. On the other, a woman with no clear policies but a sense of entitlement.

And then there’s Bernie Saunders, who is the closest thing to an independent I’ve seen in years. He’s the best and brightest hope American politics has seen since JFK. And unlikely to be chosen as the Democratic candidate by a political system in which both parties are built on money, graft, corruption, corporate lobbying, and catering to the lowest common denominator.

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Oh, Ann, You Do Make Me Laugh

Ann Coulter, harridanAnn Coulter, that spewing harridan of hatred, bigotry, malevolence and xenophobia makes most thoughtful people cringe. Hell, she makes even rabid, right-wing frothers cringe. She makes the Westboro Baptist morons cringe. She makes the Duck Dynasty wingnuts cringe. She out-froths them all.

Coulter represents the worst of human behaviour and thought in so many areas, blackening the eyes of even the most fervent right wing, which she alleges to defend. But you have to admit this thick-as-a-brick viper is sometimes good for a laugh.

Coulter recently endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate. Which isn’t surprising: they are siblings in vehement hate speech. But I bet it made all the other candidates relieved: her endorsement would be the kiss of death to any reasonable or moderate candidate (yes, that description is a stretch for the lot of them: they are only moderate in comparison to the frontrunners… that doesn’t reduce their collective reprehensibleness…).

It would be a better political strategy to declare themselves atheist, gay and stricken with Ebola than to accept Coulter’s endorsement. That, at least, might appeal to some voters.

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More Bad Ideas

Doh!Arguably the worst decision ever made by a Collingwood Council in my memory was to rescind the heritage permits from the Admiral Collingwood development, back in 2007. The results of that motion – moved by former Mayor Carrier and seconded by Councillor Jeffrey (the same one who sits at the table today)  – can still be seen in the empty lot at the corner of Hume and Hurontario Streets. Locals called it Carrier’s Pond for years, before it was filled in.

Had that council not put personal ideologies over the public good, the site would today be a thriving downtown development with residences,  businesses and a seniors’ home. For the past nine years, our town has had to live with the legacy of that stupid, selfish decision, and the legacy of an unwise council.

But neither the town nor the council is short of bad ideas.* The latest comes via the debate about the proposed airport development that has been hamstrung by this current council in keen pursuit of the same anti-business mentality that killed the Admiral Collingwood. I’ve written about this several times in the past few months.

A comment was posted on Facebook by one of my “friends” who wrote:

Why don’t the developers sign a letter of intent?
Interesting point: Why not make the developers promise to deliver?
Think back to The Shipyards residential development, now sitting there one-third (or thereabouts) completed. A letter of intent would not have resulted in the project being any further developed. The Shipyards project fell victim to market conditions.
Perhaps the same thing could happen a few years from now with an aviation business park. I hope not!

Aside from being surprised that someone I thought had more business (and common) sense than this, I was amazed that anyone who had even a modicum of understanding about business, development, economics or governance would propose something so overtly anti-business. Not to mention daft.

It’s also an attempt to sidestep the facts by making the disaster council created into someone else’s fault. Blame the developers instead of the problematic, unethical behaviour of council. The writer didn’t even mention the law-breaking media release sent out by renegades Saunderson and Edwards – but then, how do you defend the indefensible?

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The “Secret” Space Program Hoax

Blue avian nonsenseIt’s just one more of those wingnut fantasy conspiracies that popped up on my Facebook feed recently. It’s not a new one: the old aliens-among-us nonsense just gets recycled and re-spewed by a whole new group of ignorati who follow the scam artists, hoaxers and charlatans who in turn make their living off this stuff.

This latest group is, apparently, led by two top wingnuts. If there was an army for wingnuts, they’d be five-star generals. One is Corey Goode, described as having…

…an extensive knowledge of the Off World Colony & Exchange Program, Secret Earth Governments, MILAB & Black Ops Programs, Corey Goode is here to expose the details from his 20 years of experience as an Operations Support Specialist in Special Access Programs.

Love that gibberish and the claims people make. But wait, it gets better. Goode is described on a site he co-authors as:

Identified as an intuitive empath (IE) with precognitive abilities, Corey Goode was recruited through one of the MILAB programs at the young age of six. Goode trained and served in the MILAB program from 1976-1986/87. Towards the end of his time as a MILAB he was assigned to an IE support role for a rotating Earth Delegate Seat (shared by secret earth government groups) in a “human-type” ET Super Federation Council.
MILAB is a term coined for the military abduction of a person that indoctrinates and trains them for any number of military black ops programs.

ROTFLOL. All that malarky packed into such a small space. But as silly as it seems to the literati, it nonetheless preys on the gullible (you know, the folks who are following Donald Trump right now…). But the gullible are, it seems eager for it. Like little birds cheeping for food, they demand more of this nonsense.

Here’s a few lines from an unrelated site, “dedicated to the teaching of knowledge that was hidden from the human race all through history” (nyuck, nyuck…) that is typical of this sort of mental constipation:

No man has ever ascended higher than 300 miles, if that high, above the Earth’s surface. No man has ever orbited, landed on, or walked upon the moon in any publicly known space program. If man has ever truly been to the moon it has been done in secret and with a far different technology.

The fake-Moon-landings crowd is still out there, frothing like this beside the truthers of 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, the Sandy Hook massacre and the Obama birthers.

Goode and Wilcox make their living from gullible idiots like this. Thanks to the internet, they and their compatriots in scam have a wide-reaching platform for their idiocy which, like ants to honey, attracts the hard-of-thinking.

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Teas or Tisanes?

Real tea plant not some herbal shitI suppose it’s crotchety of me, but whenever I hear the term “herbal tea” used to refer to an infusion of leaves or fruits that contains no actual tea, I get shirty.

They’re actually not tea at all, they’re tisanes, a pleasant French word that means’herbal infusion.’ They should be called such and labelled appropriately in stores.

Tea is, properly a plant originally from China: Camellia sinensis. How the word came to be used as a descriptor for any hot drink in which leaves were infused or decocted, I don’t know, but it’s lazy language; misleading and dishonest.*

Tea drink is, of course, an infusion, but not all infusions are tea. If it doesn’t contain actual tea leaves, it should not be called a tea. Period.

The original word tea itself (te and its Cantonese equivalent, cha) have specifically meant Camelia sinensis in China since at least the eighth century CE. That’s what they meant when European traders started bringing the stuff back. The Online Etymological Dictionary explains some of its European use from the 16th century:

The distribution of the different forms of the word in Europe reflects the spread of use of the beverage. The modern English form, along with French thé, Spanish te, German Tee, etc., derive via Dutch thee from the Amoy form, reflecting the role of the Dutch as the chief importers of the leaves (through the Dutch East India Company, from 1610). Meanwhile, Russian chai, Persian cha, Greek tsai, Arabic shay, and Turkish çay all came overland from the Mandarin form.
First known in Paris 1635, the practice of drinking tea was first introduced to England 1644. Meaning “afternoon meal at which tea is served” is from 1738. Slang meaning “marijuana” (which sometimes was brewed in hot water) is attested from 1935, felt as obsolete by late 1960s. Tea ball is from 1895.

“Herbal tea” might be derived from the Latin: herba thea means “tea herb”(LAtin was still more-or-less a living language in the 16th century) or maybe it, too, came via the Dutch traders: herba thee (which also means tea herb). Either way, we ended up with “herbal tea.”

Whatever its origin, it is incorrect. It’s like pointing to a dandelion and calling it a rose garden because they’re both plants. Or handing someone a cola and calling it a cold coffee because they both have caffeine. The only thing tea and tisanes have in common is the hot water.

Why aren’t these non-tea infusions called “herbal coffees” of “herbal colas”? That would make as much sense as calling them herbal teas.

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The birth and death of privacy

Dilbert
I was in a local grocery store recently and it was my misfortune to enter, and walk most of the same aisles at the same time as a voluble woman shopper. She spent her entire time there on her cell phone. From before she entered, through the time she collected her groceries, went through the cash register, and exited, she did not once stop talking. Loudly.

And it was a very personal, intimate conversation, as I and those in her near vicinity heard. Not intimate as in sexual, but she talked about private and personal issues, about other people, her feelings, her job, and so on. Did I mention she was loud? Loud enough to hear her clearly at the far end of the aisle.

The whole store was her audience. I saw other shoppers looking at her, some staring angrily, but she was oblivious. And that made me wonder if we have, thanks to the swell of new technologies, entirely abandoned the notion of privacy that we have slowly crafted over the past three millennia.

No we haven’t, says Neil M. Richards, a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, In 2014, he published a paper on “Four Privacy Myths.” In it, he wrote:

…if we think about privacy as outdated or impossible, our digital revolution may have no rules at all, a result that will disempower all but the most powerful among us… we can no longer think about privacy as merely how much of our lives are completely secret, or about privacy as hiding bad truths from society. How we shape the technologies and data flows will have far-reaching effects for the social structures of the digital societies of the future.

It is possible, I suppose, that the woman on her phone was just an unusually rude and inconsiderate person. But I’ve seen too many similar incidents with other people to believe she is a rare example. It’s not just her lack of cell-phone manners: it was her attitude towards her personal information that caught my attention and made me research the intersection of privacy and technology.

Actually, most of our modern, Western notions of privacy are quite new, many culturally instilled only in the last 150 years. Personal privacy, as we now consider it, was not the norm before the 19th century.  (Aside from sexual privacy, which historically was preserved, but is being eroded by the vast tsunami of online pornography, including celebrity sex tapes and images…). The camera, in the late 19th century, was really the spark that lit the conversation about privacy.

Greg Ferenstein has put together a fascinating history of privacy in 46 images that shows how we developed our idea of having a private space over the ages. It’s quite enlightening.

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Slow Down and Keep Quiet

I’m tired. I’m tired of a-holes treating my town streets like their personal raceways. I’m tired of immature jerks racing along streets well over the speed limit, squealing tires, ignoring stop signs. I’m tired of drivers who think they’re above the law; that the laws don’t apply to them. That what matters is that they can do what they want and screw the rest of us.

Look, we get it. You’ve never matured beyond the show-and-tell stage. You’re releasing your inner six-year-old. You want to have a tantrum in the restaurant or the mall or some other public space like the other children, but your parents won’t go there with you any more, so you drive like a fool down side streets instead and endanger everyone else. Just to be noticed.

Just to be seen acting up in public. Show and tell all over again.

We get it. You need attention. You need to leave skid marks on the street because you think people will be awed by them.

We’re not. We just think you’re an immature a-hole.

You’re not an outlaw. You’re not a rebel. You’re not breaking free of the chains of society. You’re just a puerile a-hole with a car. You’re just being a six-year-old .

It’s time to grow up.

That’s right: grow up. When you get a driver’s licence, it’s time to act your age. It’s time to show responsibility. It’s time to be an adult. Time to put on your big-kid’s pants and act like you’re worth our attention. Without the tantrums, without the shouting. And you won’t get it by racing around the streets. What you will get is a call to the police complaining about your behaviour.

You are putting the lives of others at risk. And yes, that matters to the rest of us even if you’re not old enough to understand that. Children and pets, especially. Growing up means understanding that you don’t own the world: you have to share it with others. And you have to take their needs and wants into consideration, too. Adults understand that.

Adults understand that laws aren’t meant to be broken. That laws are not written as a test to see how much you can break them. That laws aren’t meant to cramp your precious selfish expressions or dampen your show-and-tell style. They’re meant to keep us all safe and secure.

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In Search of Kant’s Categorical Imperative

I have not read Immanuel Kant. Until recently, I did not feel at all apologetic about that statement. But when I watched the video above, I realized how much I was missing. A remarkable thinker, he proves to be, whose thoughts about society, religion, behaviour and politics appear at first glance quite akin to my own cogitations. And in many ways, his conclusions – at least as stated in the video – seem very Buddhist in nature. That “categorical imperative” seems most intriguing, and familiar in many ways, and I want more explanation.

The video, above, was posted on my Facebook timeline via Open Culture with this description:

His primary ethical mandate, which he called the “categorical imperative,” enables us—Alain de Botton tells us in his short School of Life video above—to “shift our perspective, to get us to see our own behavior in less immediately personal terms.” It’s a philosophical version, de Botton says, of the Golden Rule. “Act only according to that maxim,” Kant famously wrote of the imperative in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, “by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

I had read about Kant, of course, mostly in works about the development of Western philosophy, but not his own words.

My personal efforts to read the European Enlightenment philosophers to date has been much like wading through treacle. This is why I usually prefer a more modern, conflated synthesis. But that has the problem of distance: I end up reading an interpretation of his words, not the words themselves (which would be a translation, compounding the matter). I need to know more; I need more depth to better understand his ideas and how they relate to my world.

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The Mouse on Mars

No, that’s not the title of a 1960s’ sitcom or a 1950s’ movie. It’s what some conspiracy theorist thinks he found in a NASA photograph taken by the Curiosity Rover on Mars, in late 2014. The story was posted on the IFL Science website this week.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Why pay these poor, deluded wingnuts any attention when it’s such an obvious case of pareidolia?”

The answer is because they must be mocked in order to keep their silly gullibility from spreading to the scientifically-challenged. Not everyone who reads their content has your keen, critical eye, your cool common-sense approach, or your rigid scientific background (be it only from high school). Some folks out there beg to be deluded.

Some folks already believe in UFOs, ghosts, witches, homeopathic “remedies,” magic crystals, the NRA, and other codswallop. They are thus easily misled to believe in other nonsense.

You cannot argue with the conspiracists scientifically because that just drives them deeper into their holes where they retrench. Satire and ridicule, however, often prove more effective in keeping other gullible fools from joining them. Besides, you have to admit it’s hard not to laugh. A mouse on Mars? Chortle…

And this isn’t the only nutty thing this particular wingnut said he has “found” on Mars by looking at NASA’s images. Included in the list are a “chimp skull”, ziggurat, huge pyramid, buildings and building complexes, statue head, a Sphinx statue, a marina with shipwrecks, a blade in a jawbone, a rib bone, a femur, a saucer, a “gun camera”…

But wait, it gets better. He’s also “discovered” buildings and proof of alien life on the moon, Ceres, Comet 67P, Pluto – pretty much everywhere offworld we’ve sent vehicles, no matter how arid, inhospitable or simply daft it is (alien buildings on a comet? sheesh…).

YouTube is littered with videos purporting to be all sorts of alien structures on planets, asteroids and comets that some government agency is trying to conceal from you. And then there are the thousands of true believer websites that cater to the wingnuts (often in ways to retrieve money from their gullibility).

And just when you thought a mouse was the height of silliness, someone claims to have found a monkey on Mars. So that’s what happened to Justin Beiber’s pet….oh, well, it’s in The Express, and that paper has less credibility than a local blogger….

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