Category Archives: Skeptoid

Conspiratorial Fantasies


Going to dive right into this. 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.

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;

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.” – Jim Wright 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. 

From: 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 counternarrative 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. 

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.

Tiptoeing through Gender Issues

I’ve been a fan of John Varley’s SF since the Wife first introduced me to it. Common in most of Varley’s work is the idea that sex was something you could change on a whim. That you might actually simply choose to be sexless as a statement (which lead to other perversions) that you could become female in order to have children (something I might have done) but then reverse to male in order to have more strength for work later in life if strength was something you needed. The idea that sex was a irreversible state you were assigned to at birth would be a foreign concept in a Varley future. The one part of Varley’s futures that I really didn’t have a problem with.

I’m starting with the subject of John Varley’s futuristic SF because I want there to be no confusion about my overall intentions while discussing this subject. The subject of gender, of sex, and changing it. This is about categorization. I’ve breached this subject a few times now in other places, and I’m not convinced that the overall subject, false categorization; the creation of groupings which don’t actually exist, really is understood as the point of it all.

This is not about nature, or about god. There isn’t some stamp that is placed on us at birth that says we have to be either female or male. Sexual attributes appear on a curve, just like all other attributes that we possess. Some small percentage of people identify more with the opposite sex than their own external appearance. Some even smaller group have sex organs for both sexes.

I mentioned in a parenthetical above that I might have opted for changing my sex to female had that been an option, for the purpose of having children.  This is a true statement.  The Wife has problems with the birthing of children.  Had she been born even a generation before ours, she probably would have died in childbirth; which is a very sobering thought. So sobering that I would have willingly changed places with her in order that we could have the children we both wanted, and save her the risk to her health. But that wasn’t possible. Still isn’t possible. If it were, it would be possible for her physiology to be altered in a way that allowed her to have children without dying, without my having to change my sex.

But would I do it anyway? I’ve always been a nurturer. Played with dolls as a child.  My mother had to explain to me why I couldn’t take my dolls to school with me. How the other boys would not understand and would make fun of me.  Giving up the dolls did not change who I was. I’d sooner spend an hour rocking a baby than doing almost anything else. Had I needed to carry my own children to term I’d like to think I’d have done it, despite the pain involved.

I’m not afraid of being mistaken for female, on the other hand. If you put a wig and breasts on me (as on most men) I’ll look like a dude with a wig and breasts.  Just like most men will.  So my status as male is secure; so secure that I would look stupid trying to be anything other than male.

I can understand being personally convinced that you are in the wrong body. I understand the quandary, or at least like to think I do. I’m just not willing to concede that gender is a thing. A thing that can be altered. A thing that can be altered without altering the sex of the person.

This fact is easily demonstrable. If you gave the people who want to change their gender the option of simply modifying their birth certificates (which in a general sense is impossible) the vast majority of them would probably change the sexual designation on their identity papers and give up the gender argument.  It is only the documentation’s immutable status that  makes this entire argument so convoluted.

Hawaii is now allowing people to change their sexual designation on their birth certificates without having to undergo surgery. Only time will tell if this fixes the problem of sexual designation for public purposes. Personally I don’t think the problem will go away until there aren’t restrooms separated by sex; removing the requirement to declare sexuality just to relieve yourself. I know a lot of women who don’t like this idea (yes, dear) and yet I can’t think of any other way to address the inequality presented by separate restrooms.

Documents are fallible, as humans are fallible. Some drunken buffoon on duty at the delivery ward at night can’t uncross his eyes and figure out if the baby in front of him is male or female, and writes the wrong identification out on the birth certificate. Maybe the child just has ambiguous genitalia. Who knows? What is certain is that people are being asked to live their lives as one sex, when they know that they are not of that sex.

If you accept that the sexual role you will want to play as an adult can be determined by an outside observer at the time of your birth, then you might as well assume that there are also innate designations of dominant or submissive; that BDSM roles are also assigned at birth. That you might not want to play either role, or find the concept that you will have to play one or the other role insulting is beyond the comprehension of the record keeper. Obviously everyone will be in one group or the other. It has to be that way, right?

The birth certificate as an unchangeable document just doesn’t add up to a rational system capable of being defended, from a sexual designation point of view at least. What if you are physically capable of handling any role at birth? What if no sexual role mentally suits you as an adult?  What if you think that role-playing should be left to fantasy and not real-world interactions?

Gender isn’t a thing.  Gender is a perception. More than that, gender is the perception of an observer, the identity the observer assigns in their head when dealing with other people. Gender is the presentation that you attempt when you dress in a particular fashion.  Wear your hair a particular way. In the choices of accessories.  You cannot dictate what gender someone will assign to you before they meet you. It is the interaction which will define how they deal with you as a person. You can prime that interaction with overt displays of the gender you want to be seen as, but that doesn’t (especially for men trying to be women) mean that you’re going to pull it off without looking silly.

It is actually easier to pass as a man than it is as a woman. Most men (as the Wife has discovered) will treat the unknown other as an equal, as a guy, if the woman simply acts like a man. Dresses like a man. Even if she is curvy.  It was common in earlier times when gender roles were more strictly defined for women to pass themselves off as men. To simply assume the role of male, and do it so flawlessly that most men they dealt with never knew.

Jason Robert Ballard/FTM Magazine

We hold ourselves up to ridiculous standards of beauty. We idolize and worship the prettiest among us as if they are representations of ourselves.  It is a fantasy that a regular person can ever match the beauty of models, as if even the models look that good in poor lighting.  This is not a trans-gendered man, this is just a man. More of a man than I ever have been, if static beauty is a measure of manliness (could do without the tattoos, but it isn’t my body, so knock yourself out) Just as this person is a woman. What this is, more than anything else, is an error in record keeping; a bug in the process of sexual identification which needs to be addressed. This is a manifestation of the worship of documentation as some immutable testament to what is good and natural instead of serving as a reference to what is real and substantial.

Geena Rocero

I’ve been barraged with this lately from many different corners. It’s been on Skeptoid. I’ve argued about it on Facebook. It’s in my e-mail newsfeed. I’ve watched several TED talks on the subject. The celebration of the trans-gendered, and the labeling of the rest of us as cis-gendered. The idea that a minority can dictate to the majority what labels that majority will wear is farcical on its face. Never mind the fact that it is an invented label and not a correct usage of the terms. Just trying to give fair warning here.

On top of that, just exactly how do you determine who the cis are?

I’d like to speak to all the lumpy old people out there for a minute or two. You know who you are. You remember how, when you were growing up, everyone told you that you had to do this or that, or you weren’t manly? You had to paint your face, be happy and agreeable, like to clean house (or at least pretend to) or you weren’t feminine?  And you, being who you are, either hesitantly agreed, said nothing, or offered a rebuttal; but then went on to ignore everything said on that subject by others and just went on to live you life like you wanted anyway? Are you trans or cis? Dom or sub? Do any of the many labels others want you to wear matter in the slightest? Or are these labels annoyances that you’d just as soon not have to deal with?

Just because the majority don’t go around complaining about the gender stereotypes they are saddled with, doesn’t mean that they are cis in any measurable way.

I’ll happily give up gender specific pronouns, given alternatives that don’t sound forced in conversation. I have no problem using they instead of he or she. Their instead of hers or his. Don’t have a problem with mixed-sex restrooms since I hate urinals in the first place and won’t use them. Wouldn’t put them in restrooms that I designed unless told to. I don’t see the problem with allowing people to change their sex designation on their identification.

I’m just not willing to accept that gender is a thing separate from sex. Not willing to adopt an invented label just because people who want to change their sex have been forced to wear the label trans. I’ll happily support your right to not have to wear that label, either. Not going to start loving sports, hating house cleaning, or conforming to the myriad of gender stereotypes that are out there in the world.  I’m not cis. I’m not trans. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t presume to put labels on me that I don’t freely adopt. That statement should echo with quite a few people out there.

My children have friends that are struggling with this issue right now. Children and young adults who want to know what labels they should put on themselves. A few of them I’m actually quite worried about. To them I want to say STOPDon’t harm yourself.  Be who you are, don’t try to change to fit some perception that other’s hold for you. We love you just the way you are. There is no need to change. To pretend. Just be. Try to be happy, if you can.  Experience all the joy you can wrap your head around. Good advice, no matter what label you want to hang on yourself.

I expected to get pushback from the trans community because I thrash that communities insistence that there is a thing called cis.  Instead what I got was a whole lot of hell from non-trans people who kept insisting that trans was a problem.  I continue to disagree with those people.  No matter the source of pushback, no matter the source of the attempt to label non-trans as cis, there still isn’t anything called cis.

The reason why there isn’t a thing called cis is the same reason why there really isn’t a thing called natural; at least in the experience of everyday average human beings. The reason why cis and natural are not things you can define is because there is no default property or state which is then modified by biology or human intervention. There is just the world as it exists in all its riotous varieties of life and experience. Human modification of things from their natural state renders objects that are in many ways still natural since humans are themselves creations of nature. Something manmade is not necessarily something that is unnatural.

There were several comments on this post that were lost when I shifted commenting back to Blogger comments from G+ comments. This was an unanticipated and unavoidable outcome from my perspective. I hadn’t realized that comments would actually disappear from G+, I figured they’d stay there and you just couldn’t see them on the blog. I was tired of having to fight pitched battles on G+ that were visible on the blog and I was equally tired of seeing my posts to G+ show up as comments on the blog posts I was promoting on G+, so I migrated back to the Blogger comment structure which also allowed me to write comments with HTML code that would display properly. Things change and loss of information is always a potential outcome during change. The form this blog is published under is likely to change to a more mobile friendly framework shortly, and that itself may cause some information to be lost. My apologies if this troubles people who like things to stay the same. However, those comments are gone, gone, gone and that leaves me struggling to grasp the arguments that I can no longer reference for clarities sake. My apologies if I tangent while trying to present the argument thrust at me previously, an argument that is now lost.

There is a common misconception among the people who believe in concepts like cis or natural; the misconception solidifies with conscious modification of whatever the thing is. A thing that was natural becomes unnatural. A thing that was cis is now trans. This misconception manifests in belief that genetics are absolute and deterministic. That XX yields women and XY yields men and there is never a miscommunication. That if you have a penis you are a boy and if you have a vagina you are a girl. This kind of rigid codification is not the reality of life as it occurs, but I couldn’t explain or produce an exception to the presumed rule that was thrown at me. Until now.

Listening to LatinoUSA today I was introduced to the concept of Intersex.  Intersex people can be male, female or both simultaneously, or even neither as the case may be. These individuals have been the subject of millennia of mistreatment by both society and the medical community. Mistreatment that is only now being rectified, and then only in places that honor the UN declarations on human rights for the most part.

By Jonathan.MarcusOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

It is possible to have sexual development produce these vague outcomes because a fetus doesn’t have any sexual variation until after the seventh week of gestation. Specifically, the story in the LatinoUSA piece was of an individual suffering from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome producing an outcome of externally male appearing genitals but with no ability to produce secondary sexual characteristics at adulthood because the male sex hormones had no effect on her cells. She was subjected to corrective surgery against her wishes in her teens, surgery which made her female, the gender she identifies as today.

There are several different scenarios that will lead to a fetus not developing along expected male/female lines producing individuals who fall into one of the other two possible sexual outcomes neither/both, outcomes which don’t actually have accepted labels or words to define them. Yet. But what this information does provide is an explanation of how you can be of one genetic type and not be of the sex for that genetic makeup.

Given the potential permutations of complex organisms like humans beings, it is quite likely that any number of LGBT people could have some form of intersex affectation that has never been discovered. Many people who want to be identified as cis may actually be affected by one of the many diseases and syndromes that lead to what was once seen as a serious handicap requiring emergency surgery to correct as soon as possible. In the end it benefits us all to accept that there isn’t a clear-cut dividing line between boys and girls and to end these ridiculous rules of separation along sexually predetermined lines. We harm ourselves in trying to set such rigid boundaries to our own sexuality.

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 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. 


 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 


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 find myself completely unable to even bring myself to 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 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, 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;

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’ve read;

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.”

The NIST reports; 

The Commission report;

The final report from the NIST concerning building 7 including the modeling parameters (something I’ve been wanting to see)

AIA signs off on NIST reports, 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.

Chris Mohr (this guy) is convinced that he has rebutted (not debunked but Rebutted, 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. 

…and I need to mention, 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!” I hear you saying. “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. 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. 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. 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. Paraphrasing 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.

I love this wikipedia page; heavily edited by truthers, it brings up and then dismisses with evidence every objection to the NIST report.  Truly, 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 builderburgers, the Rothschilds, The JFK assasination, 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, since 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) and the premature disappearance of roof structures in that area.

Anyone who thinks therefore only 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) wherein 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 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