Montaigne and The Block

MontaigneI do love reading Michel de Montaigne.  And writing about him. In 2014 alone, I wrote ten separate posts about him and his famous book, Essays. But since then, my reading habits moved on to other writers and topics. I hadn’t actually been reading Montaigne in the past few years, but recently while sorting some of my books, I found him again. I started re-reading the Essays last week (and reading his travel journal, included in the Everyman edition – Frame translation, which I had not read previously).

He is such an inspiration at times. Witty, observant, genteel, curious, passionate, learned, and wise. And seemingly prescient, too.

Consider this, from Chapter 27, Book I (M.A. Screech trans):

It is not perhaps without good reason that we attribute to simplemindedness a readiness to believe anything and to ignorance the readiness to be convinced…

Consider when you read this today’s “alternate facts” being spread online, and con artists like Alex Jones, David Avocado Wolfe, the Food Babe and Gwenyth Paltrow who make their living by lying and scamming the gullible. Consider US President Donald Trump, who seems incapable of telling even simple truths, yet managed to fool millions into electing him – who still are fooled by him after his deceptions have been revealed over and over. 

Consider the anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, anti-fluoride, anti-climate change movements. Consider the people who believe in chemtrails, bigfoot, UFO abductions, angels, New Age magic, Niburu and pyramids in the Antarctic. Consider televangelists like Joel Osteen who prey on their flocks and make themselves millionaires off the backs of the weak and hard of thinking.

Consider, too, The Block on our own Collingwood Council falling for all the bizarre, paranoid conspiracy theories about the hospital, Collus-PowerStream, and the share sale. Simple minds, all. Montaigne continues:

…belief is like an impression stamped on our soul; he softer and less resisting the soul, the easier it is to print anything on it… The more empty a soul is and the less furnished with counterweights, the more easily its balance will be swayed under the force of its first convictions.

Substitute soul for mind if you, like me, don’t believe in them. How soft and unresisting the minds of The Block when the administration or Brian feeds them patent nonsense. And they believed, wholeheartedly and unreservedly, in every wild and wacky idea from day one. They still do.

Montaigne really had their number, eh? Pretty remarkable for a guy writing more than 440 years ago and half a world away. But Montaigne had no stomach for fools. Three centuries later Henry David Thoreau warned,

No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion… (Walden, Ch. 1)

Yet The Block have continued blind faith in their paranoid conspiracy theories even without the suggestion of a hint of a shred of proof. Nothing will sway their pure, unquestioning faith in either Brian or the interim CAO. Like Trump’s fanatic fans, they cannot be dissuaded from their beliefs by reason or truth. They are the True Believers, foot soldiers who march into battle never questioning their orders (a la Eric Fromm’s classic work).

Donald Frame translates Montaigne as continuing:

The novelty of things incites us more than their greatness to seek their causes.

By which he means people are easily distracted by baubles, by glitter, by bling, and seldom look beyond to uncover the truth behind the glitter. Again, just like The Block: they never once attempted to verify a single claim, or uncover actual facts about them. Actually, they have consistently done the opposite: avoided or prevented every opportunity for truth and facts to be made public. I’ve written about this before, many times. It’s all part of a deeply embedded culture of secrecy in town hall.

In Chapter 10, Book III, he writes,

Just watch people who have been conditioned to let themselves be enraptured and carried away… They become involved indiscriminately wherever there is a task and obligations…

Well, Collingwood Council watchers get to see The Block enraptured with themselves every meeting, drunk on power and indiscriminately handing out sole-source contracts like party favours. Simply because the administration tells them to. No questions asked, even by those who remain awake at the table.

It is a dangerous and fateful presumption, besides the absurd temerity that it implies, to disdain what we do not comprehend. (Chap. 27, Book I, Frame trans.)

Disdain is a regular affliction among The Block. They did not comprehend the efficient working relationship between our electrical and water utilities, so they disdained – and ended – it. At greater expense to the taxpayers, too. They didn’t understand the airport development, the water pipeline, the hospital redevelopment, the sale of the share of Collus, the new recreational facilities, the code of conduct, the Municipal Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, dividends, conflict of interest, ethics, openness and transparency – so many things they disdained.

In C.10 B.III, Montaigne also writes of his father, who was asked to be the mayor of Bordeaux (as was Montaigne himself, many years later),

He had heard it said that we must forget ourselves for our neighbour, and that the individual was not to be considered at all in comparison with the general.

In other words, before his father (and in his turn, Montaigne) took the job, he understood that it entailed elevating the greater good over his own selfish wants and needs. There was no place for a personal agenda in municipal politics. Montaigne said of his father, “…there was never a more kindly and public-spirited soul.”

How very unlike Saunderson’s Block. In our council, personal agendas and private vendettas have dominated the time at the table. The greater good has no place because The Block have no public spirit. They raised our taxes three times in order to pay themselves more each time. They voted Councillor Jeffrey an unlimited expense account to fly around the country pursuing her personal political goals (yes: unlimited expenses, with no oversight or need to justify them).

But what have they done for the rest of the community? For the greater good? Nothing, of course. They ruined the town’s reputation, ruined our relationships with our municipal neighbours and partners, they alienated the hospital, destroyed staff morale, incurred enormous new expenses and hired unnecessary staff, delayed an airport development with hundreds of jobs, and created a rift with the Ministry of Health – all to serve their personal agendas.

The brave public spirit of Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd are no match for the power of the selfishness and the unrelenting nastiness of The Block.

In this chapter, Montaigne also makes a salient point that relates well to all those sole-sourced consultants and lawyers the interim CAO has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on:

For it is not new for the sages to preach things as they serve, not as they are.

Screech translates sages as “clever men,” but the meaning is the same: these people tell you what you pay them to say and their advice is as valuable as the ink and paper wasted to print it. As the old saw goes, a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time. And a lawyer is someone who keeps the watch. They’ve been bought to reinforce the administration’s preconceptions, and reinforce the conspiracy theories, nothing more.

There is one quotation in Ch.10 in which The Block align perfectly with Montaigne. It involves his municipal administration:

I am accused of doing nothing when almost everyone else was guilty of doing too much! (trans. Saul Frampton)

The public continues to compare the many, community-minded accomplishments of the last council with the utter lack of them in this term.

I could go on, picking up lines to quote and comment on, but I will stop for now. My point, I think has been made here and in previous posts: authors have been writing about politics, about human behaviour, about morality and ethics and responsibility since writing was first invented. Little good it has done us, in no small part because The Block Don’t Read. And even if they did, their ideology doesn’t allow them to accept anything that contradicts or informs them otherwise. Facts have as little place in their ideology as ethics or the greater good.

But some of you, dear readers, are considering running for council next election (I already know a half dozen who have made this claim). For all our sakes, I encourage you to read about politics, ethics, laws, morality, responsibility and, yes, philosophy. There is always something to be learned by those – unlike The Block – with an open mind.

I hope you will also choose – because it’s always a choice how we act – to put the community first in all your decisions. To break the culture of secrecy and be open, honest, transparent and engage the public. To ask questions, to use reason and to assess all options and get facts before deciding. What a difference that would be from this term.

Collingwood deserves better and you have a chance to be helps us get it back.

Brian just keeps bashing our hospital

What a horse's ass (head shown for reference)I see DM Saunderson continues his assault on our hospital with his motion on the upcoming Sept. 11 council agenda:

Whereas the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital has received information from the Ministry providing additional comments regarding their redevelopment submission;
And Whereas Council is concerned this information may be of serious significance and impact on healthcare provision in the future;
Therefore be it resolved that Council herein request comments directly from the Ministry regarding the Hospital’s Phase 1A and 1B redevelopment submissions.

But apparently he is unaware the answers have already been posted on the hospital’s website. They’ve been there for the past three weeks. Anyone in the public can read them.

Apparently Brian doesn’t bother to read such stuff. That would mean he has to actually do his job as an elected official and check on the community he’s supposed to represent. He is probably too busy conniving in back rooms with his Block cohorts to waste time with such trivialities as being the sort of real deputy mayor his predecessors were.

Besides, The Block Don’t Read. That’s been well established this term. Reading means they might learn something, and they already know everything. And it’s hard work, too.

But you, dear reader, are smarter than them (so is a bag of hammers, but let’s not get into name calling) and you will read the comments from the Ministry of Health and Longterm Care and the hospital’s responses to same. And if we share anything in common, you will see that most of it is pretty technical, related to clinical issues and process, and very dry. Hardly the stuff of conspiracies. Dull stuff, really. Nothing sly or underhanded.

But, despite having it all out there for anyone to read, Brian bulldozes ahead with his motion, suggesting there’s something lurking in the shadows, something we’re not being told, a shadowy presence like Collingwood’s own New World Order. Or maybe he blames the former council (The Block always have someone else to blame…)

What claptrap. I trust you, dear reader, are more mature and more wise than this lot.

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The work of politics

Alvin TofflerPolitics is like many other skills, jobs and pastimes in that it requires work to succeed. Hard work, sometimes, for some folk, and easy for others, but always it requires attention, study, and focus. It isn’t something you can do when you’re not paying attention or even when you’re napping at the table (no matter what our own somnambulant councillor thinks… or more likely, doesn’t think at all).

It isn’t something you can do effectively if, like our Block, you try to do it casually, or part-time, or whenever you feel like doing it, without paying attention or without effort.

To become good at it requires consistent, deliberate effort. if, that is, you actually give a damn about your role. Yes, I know: there are those who don’t believe the essence of being a politician is to care for the people who elected you. They think it’s to care for yourself, to feather your own nest, to find funds and appointments for your buddies. But enough talk of The Block for a bit. (Don’t worry: I’ll return to them soon.)

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell postulated that it takes 10,000 hours of effort to excel at anything – music, business, software coding, sports, writing. That has been since debated and, by some, debunked. Some have even expanded his idea to 20,000 hours. But regardless of the numbers, everyone agrees that while some people have innate advantages and skills they aren’t enough: to master a profession they still need to work at it.

And the reverse is true: some people have no recognizable skills whatsoever (see, I told you I’d return to them). So no matter how many hours they put in, they never advance their skill set. Nor, it seems, do they care to. The Block epitomizes the rise of the anti-intellectual in local politics.
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Cultural appropriation is the new gluten free

Cultural appropriationLike food fads, political fads wax and wane as the gnat-like attention span of their followers gets diverted by the Next Big Thing. Political Correctness has of late given birth to Cultural Appropriation just like the gluten-free food fad gave rise to lectin-free food fad.

All such fads are fuelled by the earnest desire of some people to avoid thinking and follow the crowd over the intellectual cliff. They’re not about analysis, research, and objectivity: they’re about being on the Latest Thing bandwagon.

All fads teeter on a basic misapprehension; sometimes it’s a fabrication, other times a misunderstanding, and other times simply a con. Anti-vaccination faddists, for example, believe that vaccines cause autism. You can present reams of evidence that debunks their core belief, but they won’t get off their bandwagon to investigate, let alone change their erroneous belief. You can ridicule chemtrails, flat earth, alien abductions, angels, ghosts, homeopathy and Bigfoot all you want – it won’t shake the faith of the true believers. Just look at the uber-wingnut Food Babe and her gormless followers…

Like food fads, political fads are steadfast until they aren’t. But in the interim, people get pleasure out of pointing fingers and accusing others. Shaming and name calling. Such is the state of the Cultural Appropriation fad: calling out those who deliberately or even inadvertently “appropriate” another culture has replaced the accusations of bigotry, racism, bullying, cyberbullying and misogyny among the Upright Politically Correct Watchdogs for Cultural Appropriation Violations (UPCWFCAV).

Wikipedia tells us that Cultural Appropriation is:

…the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.[1] Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.

If you even so much as think of rolling seaweed and rice together and you’re not Japanese, watch out: the UPCWFCAV will have you skewered on social media or through indignant letters to the editor. If you dare pluck a balalaika and you’re not Russian, think of getting a Chinese-character tattoo and you’re not Chinese, make a taco and you’re not Mexican, wear dreadlocks and you’re not Jamaican, or admire a totem pole and you’re not First Nations… watch out. The UPCWFCAV will be on you in a flash.

But the UPCWFCAV aren’t made up of Japanese, Russian, Jamaican, First Nations or other natives protecting their culture from exploitation. They’re mostly white, urban (and suburban), leftish Westerners with too much time on their hands and hankering for a suitable cause in which to sink their well-maintained teeth and inject some meaning into their lives.
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WiFi hysteria again

Scared of wifiEvery so often, old crackpot ideas, hoaxes, cons and plainly silly pseudoscience resurface online under the guise of Trump-like alternate fact. Scary stories about chemicals in your food, fake health tips, and Facebook-stealing-your-photos nonsense compete for attention with actual news and factual stories. The old bromide about wireless signals (WiFi) killing things is just one to come back to life this week on Facebook.

(You already know Facebook isn’t a reliable source of anything factual, even though factual content does get shared now and then. More common are the wingnut conspiracies, hoaxes and codswallop, along with cute kitten videos. Facebook is the place where what was once called the fringe has a cozy place alongside the mainstream, and New Age charlatans prey on fears and fantasies.)

This latest story beings pread on FB comes from a UK site called “Stop Smart Meters” originally published in 2013. SSM is one of those wacky “all wireless is evil and the government is behind it” sites that thrive despite the overwhelming scientific research that debunks their crazy notions. Break out the tin foil hats. These sites are to electronics, physics and biology what the Food Babe is to nutrition and chemistry: bunkum.

While it’s easy to scoff at this as just a fringe community, it’s more tragic that usually reliable media sites and sources (like ABC News) picked up the story and reprinted is, uncritically, without analysis or examination. This only helps spread the bunk and give it a semblance of credibility, while diminishing that of the media itself. It’s worse when these articles use words like proof or proven alongside the conjectures, allegations and fantasies.

Whether they be about chemtrails, creationism, magic crystals, auras, ayurveda, homeopathy, angels, chakras, UFOs or anti-vaccination claptrap, these pseudoscience sites all feed off each other, spreading the viruses of ignorance and fear. They share one another’s stories as if publishing on one wingnut site gives the conspiracy credibility. And they have a huge, gullible audience who treat their version as gospel and any debunking as a Satanic attack. Plus, they usually have some magic potion or bean to sell you for protection against those things that go bump in the night…
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Antarctica’s icy hoaxes return

ClaptrapUnder the thick ice of Antarctica lies buried the remains of an advanced civilization, dating back 55,000-65,000 years. So startling was this discovery that world leaders were flown in to the perennially frozen continent to witness for themselves the proof of alien presence on our planet.

Or not. Well, really not. Not at all.

You don’t really believe that claptrap about Antarctica, do you? I tried to warn you about this malarky in 2013. It’s a hoax that just won’t die. Or rather a series of hoaxes.

No, there’s no buried civilization on the southern continent. Humans can barely survive there today with all the high-tech gear and clothing they bring. It’s been that way for the past 34 million years (its deep freeze began about 37 million years back and it’s been iced over the past 15 million).

By the time modern humans began to populate the planet, it was a solid mass of ice. It was even too hostile for the Neanderthals before us – had they even had the technology to reach it (they didn’t). The ice is as deep as 10,285 feet (3,135 meters) and covers 98% of the land. NO civilization now or earlier has built on its ground – only a handful of temporary shelters have ever been built and they rest on the ice.

No “flash frozen” remains of people and buildings have been found under the ice, human or otherwise. None. World leaders never visited archeological sites on the continent because there aren’t any. Nor are there “mysterious” structures or alien remains and there are no tanks or military units defending finds from curious eyes.

It’s all one of those wacky New Age alt-fact hoaxes that keep spreading online, the intellectual equivalent of herpes. This latest one – the flash-frozen archeological site – is from the mind (and I use that word loosely) of uber-wingnut Corey Goode, whose grasp on reality is somewhat shy of an infant’s grip on a car tire. But he has followers who hang on his every word, no matter how wacky and illogical his fantasies are. (and they are increasingly so… he believes there is an “Interplanetary Corporate Conglomerate” building bases down there and claims to have been abducted by “Sigmund from a USAF/DIA/NSA/NRO secret space program…”)

It’s easy to scoff and say this is just the fringe. Goode is clearly not playing with a full deck. You can guffaw and say that someone would have to be bonkers to believe this diaphanous piffle, but we’re a gullible society. You can’t take it for granted we are smart enough to spot a con job. We’re not. This stuff has to be debunked constantly so it doesn’t suck in more of the gullible.

Goode’s nutty notions about under-the-ice ruins are not alone. A story about an alleged “human settlement” found in the Antarctic under 2.3 km of ice keeps resurfacing (if you’ll forgive the pun) on social media and people still fall for it. But the clue to the hoax should have been readily apparent even to the hard of thinking. Look at this photo:
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Dividends for dummies

DividendsA dividend, as defined by the Business Dictionary, is “A share of the after-tax profit of a company, distributed to its shareholders…” This is reiterated in the description from the Oxford Dictionary: “A sum of money paid regularly (typically annually) by a company to its shareholders out of its profits (or reserves).”

So in order to pay a dividend, you need to make a profit. Otherwise all your revenue goes to operating expenses, salaries and taxes. And a dividend isn’t paid to just one person or shareholder: if one shareholder gets one, then every shareholder gets one. Dividends are NOT automatic, are NOT paycheques.

Now say you were a shareholder, and you stripped the revenue stream away from a company you own shares in, and in doing so, you reduced its profit to zero, and say you also caused it greater expenses – say by forcing it to pay more for legal advice or transportation and accommodations for out-of-town shareholders – would you still expect a dividend?

Common sense tells us no. No profit: no dividend.* But common sense is an uncommon attribute at our council table.

On March 13’s agenda, there was a letter from Collus-PowerStream saying the board had decided not to pay a dividend for 2015, and would decide about 2016 after it examined the company’s audited financial statements. (on the Rogers TV broadcast, it starts at 0:18:13, just after the lengthy, self-serving “community” announcements… go past Councillor “Sleepy” Ecclestone’s painful “moved by myself” grammatical error to 0:22:22).

This, course, sent The Block into a tizzy. At 0:22:37 Sleepy again does another “moved by myself” gaffe to introduce a motion to request “an explanation of why the board has chose (sic) not to declare a dividend…” and to “express our concern and disappointment.”
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Which do we need more?

Dialysis machineThink about all the many and varied kinds of equipment a hospital relies on to provide modern, efficient patient care today. It’s the sort of equipment we want – we NEED – our own hospital to have to provide us and our visitors with the best treatment possible, so none of us have to leave the region to get that care.

Try to imagine all the types of lifesaving and diagnosis equipment that we should have – not only new items, but replacement devices for when machines need service or repair. You can search online for information about hospital inventories and make your own list. But here are some ideas…

You would likely include devices like a dialysis machine, or modern diagnosis equipment like a CAT scanner. Or an ECG machine. A spirometer. A nebuliser. Vacuum autoclaves. Surgery couches. Examination lights. Ophthalmoscopes. Otoscopes. Oximeters, cauterizers, dopplers., ultrasound scanners. Ambulatory blood pressure monitors. EKG machines. Anesthesia machines, sterilizers, defibrillators, patient monitors, surgical lights, beds, X-Ray processors and viewers, gastroscopes, colonscopes, ventilators, pulsoximeter, oxygen concentrator, gynecology couch, delivery beds, fetal monitors, uterine aspiration kit, microscopes, blood analyzers, centrifuges…

And this is just a cursory sample. A modern hospital needs a huge array of equipment today. Every item is something someone will need, sometimes simply to survive.

Pile of reportsNow ask yourself, which does the hospital need more? Any of these devices, tools or machines – or a pile of paper? Which will best serve the needs of providing patient care? Which will save lives?

You see, the Block on Collingwood Council, and the town’s administration, don’t want the hospital to redevelop on the preferred site, a mere two-minute drive from the current site. And to make that location more difficult, this group have thrown up bureaucratic roadblocks and procedural hurdles. Delaying tactics. One of those is to demand more reports. More paperwork. Mostly unnecessary work for outside consultants, but costly stuff. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they want the hospital to pay for them.

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GIS for CGMH

I wanted to give you a graphic comparison for your consideration. It’s one you can do for yourself with very little effort – so little in fact, that even The Block could do it. If, that is, they had any interest in doing something that might challenge their rigid ideology. Or take their attention away from their witch hunts for even a nanosecond.

But you, dear reader, are smarter than they are, and I can sense you are already intrigued. So let’s get started. Open your web browser and go over to Simcoe County’s map site at maps.simcoe.ca/public and zoom in on the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital. Get close enough so you can see the property outline.

General and Marine HospitalNow use the site’s measurement tool (click the ‘advanced’ tab on the left or the word ‘advanced’ on the upper right of the status bar). When the advanced toolkit flies out, click tools at the top, then measure. The third item on the toolbar allows you to draw a polygon on the map. Use your mouse to trace around the G&M property. It should look like the image on the right of this column. More or less – it really shouldn’t include the road allowance at the top of the property as I did, but you can leave it out.

Double click to complete your drawing and the property will be shown as a blue overlay. By the way, you can click on my small maps to see a full-size version.

The area of the property is shown on the toolbar to the left. It should read about 12.8 acres or 5.2 hectares, give or take, depending on the accuracy of your lines (you can improve the accuracy by zooming in closer).

Now clear the overlay (the red “x” on the toolbar). This time, try to figure out where the property lines would be if the hospital/town expropriated enough land to equal the 12 hectare (ha) site that is the hospital’s preferred location for its redevelopment, on Poplar Sideroad.
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Ghostly claptrap

Ghosts are fakeDoes the Large Hadron Collider Actually Disprove Ghosts? That’s the question asked in a recent article posted on Gizmodo. Well, of course it doesn’t. The LHC doesn’t disprove invisible pink unicorns, either. It can’t disprove what doesn’t exist.

No matter how many wingnut websites promise to reunite you with your long lost loved ones (for a fee, of course), ghosts are all in your imagination. Along with goblins,orcs, vampires, werewolves, dragons, angels, fairies, demons, and, yes, invisible pink unicorns. Nothing the LHC does will change that.

Sure, ghosts make for great stories and allegories, add spice to religion and make charlatans rich. As literary figures go, they’re indispensable for whole genres of fiction and generally entertaining in the movies. But in the real world they join Harry Potter and chemtrails as imaginary creatures.

To be fair, the author of the article is using the words of someone else to extend his own thoughts on the stuff of the universe (as I am doing with his words as my own springboard). The actual source goes back to comments made by physicist Brian Cox, speaking on the BBC’s show, The Infinite Monkey Cage (listen here)

What Cox actually said was,

“If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies.”

Cox’s point seems to be that if anything persists after death it would leave an energy trail and the LHC – its sensors being so good at identifying energy signatures – would have spotted it.

But no one is really looking for ghosts with the LHC. Nor should it be used for such frivolous purposes. It wasn’t designed to be used in some fake-reality TV show episode about the afterlife, one of those egregiously silly “ghost hunter” episodes. But if it were, and something was there that had any measurable energy, the LHC would very likely find it.

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Hoax: Five-meter giant skeletons

Fake, thanks Photoshop!Once again, the internet is being circulated with fake news that grabs the gullible by their grey matter. This time’s it’s a regurgitation of a 2014 hoax – then recycled in 2015- claiming the skeleton of a five-meter tall giant was unearthed in Australia. Accompanying the reports are risibly Photoshopped images that even a child could see are fakes.

As a report on Hoax-Slayer noted:

Supposedly, the skeleton was found near Uluru in central Australia and was 5.3 meters long. The report also claims that an ancient ‘megalithic civilisation’ has been discovered at the site.

You have to shake your head. The source of the bogus story this month (it’s spew, not “news”) is a site renowned for publishing egregious bullshit: World “News” Daily Report. The first photo shows not human remains, but those of a mammoth.

And the so-called, quoted Professor Reese? Or the quoted Professor Adam Goldstein? Or the alleged discoverer Hans Zimmer? More fiction. No such persons work or teach at the University of Adelaide, nor ever have. (Another Hans Zimmer is a composer, author of popular film music for Pirates of the Caribbean and Gladiator)

The WNDR has been publishing crap related to this stuff long before this. In 2013, it published a hoax piece about the “lost” Uluru civilization (Uluru is the native name for Ayer’s Rock) that was so outrageously phony that even the UK’s Daily Mail didn’t buy it. But that didn’t stop WNDR from regurgitating their codswallop – almost verbatim – again this month. In their recent story, the WNDR writers claim:

A team of archaeologists working for the Australian National University, who were proceeding to an excavation near the sandstone rock formation of Uluru, has unearthed the ruins of a large precolonial city dating back to more than 1500 years ago.

Claptrap. All of it fake. Not to be outdone, another of these fake story sites took the tale, even using the same photographs, and spun it all into a tale about a “lost” civilization found at El-Kurru in Sudan. hoping, I suppose, that the conspiracy theorists and New Age dimplebrains who feed off this crap wouldn’t look too closely.

But a lot of people do take it seriously; they share this stuff on social media without taking the time to check out the facts. They swallow the hoaxes whole. Just like our local council has done with the reports on Collus-PowerStream, but I won’t digress into that right now.
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The subtle art of Mark Manson

Life, sometimes...I have a healthy skepticism towards anything labelled a “self-help” book – especially those that aim at making your life happier or more fulfilled through some fad, superstition or pseudoscience. I am, as you know from this blog, cynical towards the unending volume of New Age woo hoo, fads and pseudoscience that pollutes bookstore shelves and the internet.

I’m more of the “life’s a bitch and then you die” outlook kind-of-person than someone in search of a happy-platitude guru. I don’t post pictures of kittens, puppies or angels on my Facebook timeline. I’ve never been into that cosmic happiness-bucket list self-esteem-boosting selfie thing. Even in the Sixties when Timothy Leary was leading the charge for better living through chemistry, I was skeptical about claims of instant gratification available through the all-of all-the-answers-to-be-found-within-my-(book/religion/teaching/drug/politics) outlets for mass gratification.

Or mass gullibility. But people want answers to the meaning of life, and in our culture they want them quickly. Sometimes it’s easier to just take what you’re fed than work them out the hard way. Take the red pill and I’ll give you all the answers you need to know. Religion has been handing the red pills out for our entire history. Self-help or self-improvement books have been close behind, with us ever since the dawn of writing.

“Self help” books are really oxymorons: they’re someone else telling you what to do. They’re author help, not self help, like the old paper Arthur Murray dance steps on the floor which you carefully step across without the music. Life lessons on how to live, love, shop, drive, code, wash your dog, plant your garden. Often these books are little more than sales pitches for more of the same; for subscriptions, or additional products. Snake oil wrapped in cotton candy.

But some run deeper. Some are lessons in philosophy and politics drawn from personal experience and deep thought. Some aren’t as much step-by-step lessons as invitations to think about the options and consequences. True, not many today, because thinking is too hard for the selfie generation and interrupts their obsessed gazing at their smartphones, but now and then a book pops up in the self-help section that makes me look twice. Such is the case of Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (HarperCollins, 2016).

After all, isn’t that just what you feel like sometimes? Not giving a f*ck. I know I sure do. Especially after an hour on Facebook or watching Collingwood Council drag us into municipal despair.*

I had to buy a copy with a title like that. But what really sold me was the chapter titled “You Are Not Special.” Yep, I need to read that one.

I’m tired of the ‘I’m special, you’re special, we’re all exceptional’ folderol, the awards for losing instead of winning, the deflection of constructive criticism in case it dents a bubble of precious self esteem and the claptrap about indigo children. No, you’re not special. Neither am I. Indigo children are just spoiled kids with loopy parents. We’re all just one out of seven billion. There weren’t angels attending your birth, the gods don’t favour you and unicorns don’t follow when you commute to work. Get over it.

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I missed my calling in quackery

Deepak ChopraI missed my calling. I realize that, now I am semi-retired and counting my pennies. But I could have been like Deepak Chopra: rolling in dough, had I been astute enough to see the trends. Too late, I suppose, for me, but maybe not for you.

All my life I have criticized and lampooned New Age notions as fuzzy-headed, pseudoscience codswallop. But I should have embraced them because, it seems, there’s money to be had in conning and conniving. Lots of it. Instead of debunking and deconstructing the diaphanous piffle that gets spewed from these folk, I should have been plagiarizing from them. 

I’m a writer. I could easily tossed together a word salad of New Age bafflegab liberally spiced with buzzwords, phrases and aphorisms lifted from classical and Oriental sources. Written a pretentious self-help book full of woo hoo, like Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret” or “The Power” – bestselling pap for the hard of thinking. Both of which were the butt of a merciless critique in 2010 in The New York Times:

“The Power” and “The Secret” are larded with references to magnets, energy and quantum mechanics. This last is a dead giveaway: whenever you hear someone appeal to impenetrable physics to explain the workings of the mind, run away — we already have disciplines called “psychology” and “neuroscience” to deal with those questions. Byrne’s onslaught of pseudoscientific jargon serves mostly to establish an “illusion of knowledge,” as social scientists call our tendency to believe we understand something much better than we really do. In one clever experiment by the psychologist Rebecca Lawson, people who claimed to have a good understanding of how bicycles work (and who ride them every day) proved unable to draw the chain and pedals in the correct location.

Or I could have written a New Age book that tossed science and reason out the proverbial window and filled the pages with pseudoscience nonsense, like that supreme wingnut, Masuro Emoto’s cringeworthy book, The Secret of Water. He claims water’s feelings can be hurt by yelling at it. Stop laughing: that’s just what landed me here. Follow the path to riches instead. Embrace your inner con artist.

My book would be replete with similar deep-sounding but essentially meaningless statements and nebulous epithets that no one can quite counter because to do so makes the challenger seem shallow and dim. Like these (can you guess the sources?):

“The unexplainable unfolds through existential molecules.”*
“Your heart is the continuity of a symbolic representation of facts.”*
“The goal of meridians is to plant the seeds of karma rather than desire.**
“You and I are dreamweavers of the quantum soup.”**
“There is no fixed physical reality, no single perception of the world, just numerous ways of interpreting world views as dictated by one’s nervous system and the specific environment of our planetary existence.” ***
“No matter how closely you examine the water, glucose, and electrolyte salts in the human brain, you can’t find the point where these molecules became conscious.” ***
“Consciousness conceives, governs, constructs, and becomes the activity of the body.” ***

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The 10 Worst?

Tin foil hat
Skeptoid just published its top-ten worst anti-science websites and I’m sure you won’t be surprised at the awardees, especially not the regulars like Mercola, Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra and Food Babe (aka the Worst Assault on Science on the Internet). Predatory quacks, crackpots and fakirs you will easily recognize. Surprisingly, the uber-wingnut David Wolfe was absent this year.

Some of these sites sugar-coat their nonsense with pseudo-spirituality, usually some mashup of New Age codswallop and ancient mumbo-jumbo. Many ascribe their claptrap to traditional – non-medical, unproven and anti-science – practices like ayurveda or Chinese folk medicine, both of which can not only be harmful but often are damaging to other species and lifeforms. Others use rhetorical bafflegab to confuse people (Wolfe is a master at this tactic).

Having a top ten for pseudoscience and conspiracy claptrap is fun, but it’s identifying the point-oh-oh-one percent of that junk. There’s so much of it that no list – the top 100, the top 1,000 – could even scratch its infected surface. It’s hard to pick which of these hysterical charlatans and con artists should be rated among the top, they are all so despicable, foolish and greedy. Yes, greedy: they are all about the money: they have never been about your wellbeing, health or safety. Everyone of them is selling some snake oil.

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Flat earthers? Must be a spoof…

Flat earth and the BibleAt first, I thought a story on Tech.mic titled “Meet the People Who Believe the Earth Is Flat” was satire. You know, a parody of those zany conspiracy theorists who believe in such nonsense as chemtrails, gluten-free, the government staged the 9/11 attacks, homeopathy, vaccines cause autism, Trump is a good presidential candidate, astrology, creationism, climate change is a hoax, Collingwood Council has ethics, and the rest of the rampant silliness and stupidity that haunts the Net.

And it would be easy to write: wingnuts are almost too easy to lampoon. But no one can really believe the earth is flat, can they? I mean, come on: how stupid do you have to be? It’s gotta be a spoof.

Flat earth belief – or more properly, platygeism – goes beyond mere gullibility into the realm of a self-induced ignorance coma. As Rational Wiki succinctly puts it:

It is probably impossible for any single example to fully disprove flat-earthism, simply because there is always an ad hoc explanation for any given, apparently-contradictory phenomenon. However, it’s quite difficult for a flat-earthist to explain away all of the problems with flat-earthism and maintain a consistent theory, mostly because the “evidence” they provide is circumstantial, and generally pulled out of their asses.

But the article referenced a Facebook group, sites and some YouTube videos. A lot of them. If it’s a spoof, it’s a convoluted one with lots of seemingly disparate players. As conspiracies go, this one is easily debunked.

And they weren’t the sort of economic “flat earth” believers Thomas Friedman referenced in his book. Nor are they the metaphorical “flat earther” that Trump supporters are often described as. These are the mythical Dark Ages* sort of flat-earther dressed in New Age clothes. You know, the no-science, no-logic, no-education, superstitious piffle sort of believer with access to the internet. The kind that increasingly populate the dark corners of the web to grow conspiracies and wingnut ideas in the dark.

As I read, I started to get worried. This didn’t look spoofish at all. It looked frighteningly real. As if these people actually believed against all reason, all science, all geography, all physics and all astronomy that, yes indeed, we do live on a flat surface. As if these people were actually the most stupid on the planet and proud of it.

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