Archive for May, 2015
Personally speaking I have never identified as ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’. Whenever I fill in a survey, to try to identify which party I should support, I am usually left none the wiser. In the 2015 General Election, I went onto an online website, selected the four issues I felt the most strongly about and then selected four statements I agreed with the most; I identified with four different political parties. Ultimately I blanked my ballot paper.
One reason I could never side with either the left or right (apart from ideology) is the level of hatred that is apparently acceptable. Supposedly tolerant and caring lefties threw parties in 2013, to celebrate the death of an 87-year-old grandmother with dementia, who had not held political office for decades.The right of course are not immune from bigotry – Osborne and IDS talk about a negligible chunk of disability claimants as if they were the norm. Presenting all disabled people who claim social security, as being drug users, alcoholics and con artists, is in the same league as claiming all Muslims are terrorists or all gay people have HIV.
One London Mayoral candidate recently revealed he had more trouble outing his support for the Conservative Party than for being gay. There is plenty of evidence to suggest this reflects a wider trend – the ‘shy voter Tory’ factor lead to erroneous opinion polls in both 1992 and 2015. Conservative voters it seems are all tarred with the same brush. The idea that 11.5 million people all vote for the same reason is ludicrous. This is in the same league as making sweeping statements about Catholics or Italians. I’m sure there are a lot of Conservative supporters who fit into different groups – there will be some people who are simply misinformed – and I do not mean this to sound patronising – we are bombarded on a daily basis by misinformation that the establishment and mainstream parties seldom (if ever) challenge.
Daniel Hannan faced a backlash on Twitter from SNP supporters. What did he do? Promoted fiscal independence for Scotland. Yep, he was criticised for agreeing with the SNP. Why is this? Did ‘lefties’ criticise Douglas Hogg for voting against the Iraq war, David Davis taking a stand against detention laws or John Redwood voting for the abolition of the House of Lords?
My point is – attack the policy not the person. Agree with the policy – not the person. Just because you disagree with someone, that does not give you the right to bombard them with abusive twitter messages.
Recently Norman Tebbit ate some ‘humble pie’. After attending a food bank, he conceded that they were not a source of free food. Anything he had said prior to that, was based simply on misinformation. By engaging with him, the foodbanks made him realise his mistake and shared it with his readers in the Telegraph (some of which may have eaten humble pie themeslves). If the foodbanks had decided to tweet abusive messages to Tebbit or simply blocked him, he would have continued promoting the misinformation.
We talk about out of touch politicans (and rightfully so) but what about out of touch activists? How many people were genuinely shocked when Cameron scraped past the finishing post in May 2015? After all, no-one they followed on twitter intended to vote for Cameron – given the high concentration of Green supporters, they followed, surely a green party majority was inevitable? Yes, I generalise and exagerate here – but my point is – know your enemy and engage them. This is not an attack on either side – there is anecdotal evidence to suggest Britain First block anyone who disagrees with them.
Know which battles to pick
Of course there are some people – die hard rightwingers who refuse to even discuss it with you. I recently saw a tweet, which declared Osborne to be a ‘genius’ and the ‘best chancellor since world war 2*’, I politely pointed out that Osborne has doubled then national debt, increased the deficit, cost the UK our AAA credit rating** and wages had stagnated for the longest on record. Obviously I did not expect a lengthened response; after all people have a 140 character limit on twitter. I did not expect however ‘you lie’, ‘you lefties lie, no wonder labour lost’ or a photo of Ed Milliband with the word ‘loser’ below it. He then showed me two links to his blog (which amongst other things complains about homosexuals hijacking the word ‘gay’). I tweeted back, but already had resigned myself to this being a lost cause. Someone rejecting facts that are contrary to their political perceptions, and immediately pigeon-holing someone in a group of people they dislike, is the equivalent of attempting to reason with a 7-year-old who puts their fingers in their ears and starts singing, when a friend tells them Santa does not exist. People like this (in either party) stifle political debate. If someone responds to facts with insults and mud-slinging it is pointless to try to engage with them.
There are plenty of surprises of course – Enoch Powell (a former Conservative leadership candidate) announced his decision to vote Labour in the 1970s. In the 1990s Emma Nicholson defected from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Democrats. Neither of these decisions were career motivated. People often make decisions about which party they support at a very young age – and their political allegiance can later change – either shaped by their life experience, or they no longer identify with their party.
So next time a friend reveals their blue colours, don’t unfriend them on everything, just engage with them about politics; who knows you may help them see they have been misinformed on key issues. Or alternatively don’t let it spoil your friendship – if people as politically opposed as Ian Paisley and Martin Mcguniess can be friends and Her Majesty The Queen can be friends with Robin Cook and Micheal Foot (both of which wished to abolish her), I’m sure the average labour supporter can find some common ground, with their Tory friends.
*Given Second Lord’s of the Treasury have included John Major, Norman Lamont and Jim Callaghan, there is hardly any competition for this nominal title anyway.
***Previously he had staked his reputation on saving our AAA credit rating.
An estimated 1 billion people watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon in 1969. The Apollo 11 landings were the culmination of a project that had cost countless billions of dollars and several lives. Five more successful missions were made. One was aborted. Due to government budget cuts, later missions were cancelled. No-one has been to the moon since 1972.
Some people however believe that the moon landings never took place. Within a couple of years of the final moon landing, Bill Kaysing, self published We Never Went to the Moon: America’s 30 Billion Dollar Swindle. In his book he outlines why in his opinion the moon landings never took place and claims that a feasibility study, carried out by NASA showed that the chances of a successful moon landing were 0.0017%.
Lunar conspiracy has remained popular since. The most prominent living proponents of the myth are Bart Sibrel, David Percy and David Icke.
The myths surrounding it range from the entire mission being fabricated to the photographs being forged, with the actual mission taking place. I intend to examine the claims (and careers) of the most prominent proponents of this conspiracy. There are apparently innumerable pieces of hard proof that the moon landings were filmed in area 51, by Stanley Kubrick (along with 400,000 members of NASA who have all remained quiet for the last 40 years). Rather than wade through the morass of websites dedicated to bringing down NASA (googling ‘the moon landings were faked’ gives you 163,000 results), I shall be analysing the main claims made in the ‘documentary’, Did we really land on the moon?
The show opens with a disclaimer:
“The following programme deals with a controversial subject. The theories expressed are not the only possible interpretation. Viewers are invited to make a judgement based on all available information.”
1. Claim: the flag is moving in a vacuum
2. Claim: Identical backgrounds
Explanation: I personally find this unconvincing as most mountains and hills look similar (particularly seen from the distance).
3. Claim: The moon landings were filmed on Area 51
Flaws with this argument: studies have shown that the soil in the moon footage acts nothing like any soil on earth, the soil is very fine, yet any clouds generated settle almost instantaneously.
4. Claim: No blast crater is visible for any successful moon landing and no dust is on the footpads of the LEMs.
Explanation: The LEM would have pushed dust rather than blasted it. In addition, studies have shown that the dust behaves in a way that could not be reproduced on earth.
5. Claim: LEM design – a prototype LEM was flown by Armstrong on Earth. The LEM made it 300 feet into the air before crashing. Armstrong was forced to eject with seconds to go. Yet the LEM landed correctly six times.
Explanation: the crucial word here is ‘prototype’. The first prototype plane of the Wright Brothers struggled to get off the ground, yet no-one is suggesting Concorde is a myth.
6. Claim: The footage is grainy and blurry and black and white – Bart Sibrel argues that this was deliberate to make it hard to spot any flaws in the footage.
Explanation: Yes the footage is unimpressive, but this could be said about any live broadcast made in the late 1960s/ early 70s.
7. Claim: When the footage speed is doubled astronauts appear to be running as if on earth.
Flaws with this claim: Attempts where made on the show Myth Busters to convincingly recreate footage either by slowing the footage or walking slowly and then speeding up the footage. Neither result was convincing and the men carrying out the experiment moved in a distinctly odd fashion.
8 – Claim The shadows on the footages are pointing in different directions despite their being one source of light (the Sun)
Explanation: Actually there are other sources of light – the moon reflects sunlight (which is how we can see from Earth in the first place). The mythbusters reproduced similar photographs with a model of the moon landing and a single light source.
9. Claim: being outside the protective Van Allen belts would have caused the astronauts to die.
Flaws with this argument: Dr. James Van Allen (the man the belts are named after) disputes this:
“The claim that radiation exposure during the Apollo missions would have been fatal to the astronauts is …nonsense.”
According to Bart Sibrel’s website he “has been making movies for over twenty-five years, during which time he has owned five production companies and produced films shown on NBC, FOX, CNN, BET, USA, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”. This extremely grand claim suggests he is in the same league as James Cameron or Alfred Hitchcock. There is however little evidence to support this: Sibrel’s IMDB entry lists him as producing a single, self-published film. As far as I can tell he makes his living as a taxi driver. Sibrel attempted to sue Buzz Aldrin after Aldrin punched him, (Sibrel insulted Aldrin and called him a liar). His claim was thrown out of court. (The punch has been watched by nearly three million people and can watched/enjoyed here.)
Similar ‘documentaries’ at least give NASA and scientists a chance to offer explanations and facts. Bart Sibrel’s ‘documentary’ however does not. All of the arguments made in his movie go unchallenged. SIbrel opens by describing The Tower of Babel, The Titanic and the space race – the three are apparently equated. Sibrel is implying that the space race was an equally flawed and doomed project. Sibrel makes vague accusations as the ‘documentary’ progresses. He mentions problems that NASA encountered (the hubble space telescope and the challenger incident). It is true that neither of these things went smoothly (the challenger incident was in particular a tragedy) but this does not prove the moon landings were too advanced for NASA.
Having established that NASA was as technology advanced as the Amish, Sibrel launches into the traditional arguments that are used by the conspiracy theorists; the Van Allen belts, the shadows, etc. The movie does not offer any original arguments or anything in the way of evidence. I would seriously advise against watching this.
David Icke is probably the most famous conspiracy fool in the world. Whatever ludicrous myth you hear, you can guarantee David Icke believes it. The main myth he promotes, is that the world is apparently controlled by a group of aliens who masquerade as human beings. In countless books and lecture tours he has made numerous insane claims (without any proof), stating (amongst other things) that injections received by HIV patients give them HIV (they were healthy already), 9/11 was staged, the Napoleonic Wars were organised to make the Rothschild family money, Hurricane Sandy was organised by Obama and World War Two never happened. His belief that the moon landings were nothing other than a film (directed by Stanley Kubrick) is just the tip of a very crazy iceberg.
Ralph Rene was a university dropout who worked as a carpenter. He was clearly a man with delusions of grandeur; he published a non-fiction book which “reduces Einstein’s [theory of] Relativity to an absurdity” and another which he describes as “A simple proof using stellar observations and plane trig that Newton’s massive Equatorial Bulge is just a figment of Newton’s imagination.” In addition to ‘disproving’ the works of two of the finest minds in history, Rene is another person who insists the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated and lays out his arguments in ‘World Trade Centre Lies and Fairytales”. His book about the moon landings was entitled “NASA Mooned America!”
Another event from history, which has long been a victim of conspiracy nonsense, is the sinking of the RMS Titanic. As always, rather than trawl the internet and read the various books, I shall be analysing something that makes the standard claims. For this I have selected the ‘documentary’ Why They Sank the Titanic
Urban legend: The Titanic was secretly switched with its sister ship, RMS Olympic. The ship was then deliberately sunk as part of an elaborate insurance scheme.
Reality: The Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage in 1912. Four days later it collided with an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.
Origins of the myth
Patrick Fenton, who lived in Australia regularly told people that when he had worked as a seaman on the Titanic, he had witnessed an explosion on the ship which had caused it to sink, rather than the collision with the iceberg. He claimed also that the crew had been ordered to sign the official secrets act. There is however no record of him working for the White Star Line or serving on the Titanic. His name is also absent from the list of survivors.
Main claims made in the ‘documentary’.
Claim 1. It was an insurance scam.
The Titanic was owned by the White Star Line – which was owned by Bruce Ismay and Lord Pirrie. The White Star Line was a subsidiary of the International Mercantile Marine Co (owned by J . P. Morgan). The Titanic was insured for roughly 2/3 of it’s value. The tragedy cost the White Star Line over two million dollars, with J P Morgan’s company going bankrupt. It’s clear therefore that if it was an insurance scam it was poorly executed.
Claim 2. The two ships were almost identical, which would have made it possible to switch the ships.
This is partly true. Photographs of the Olympic were often used to advertise the Titanic. Nevertheless there are fundamental differences that would have been impossible to hide. As historian Mark Chirnside argues: “you simply cannot pass off a one-year-old ship for a new one. Too many people would have noticed things such as the inevitable wear and tear”. In order to be successful the conspiracy would have had to be concealed not just from the crew and staff but “A number of Titanic’s passengers [who] had sailed on Olympic before and it is hard to believe that they would not have noticed that they were travelling on exactly the same ship”
Claim 3. Chief Petty Office Wilde wrote a letter to his sister saying “I still don’t like this ship.”
I have not been able to find a reliable source, confirming the existence of this letter. Even if this letter is authentic it’s worth noting that it’s an ambiguous statement; as arguments go, this is one of the weaker.
Claim 4. The iceberg should have been seen in time and avoided.
David Blair, the original Second Officer, was removed from his post when the Titanic docked at Belfast. He forgot to hand over the only key to the cupboard containing the ships binoculars.
Various accounts state that the iceberg was a black-berg – an iceberg which due to constant melting is clear rather than white (similar to black ice on roads). It would have been difficult therefore to see the iceberg far away.
Claim 5. The Titanic was launched hastily, without fanfare and was not open to the public for inspection.
Over 100,000 people witnessed the launch of the Titanic. The White Star Line had a policy of not breaking bottles on ships, but it did fire rockets.
Claim 6. The ship was only ‘half full’ and ‘over 50’ 1st class passengers cancelled at the last minute.
The luxury cruise liner industry, was extremely competitive so it was not unusual for there to be vacancies in first class. The people who cancelled included Henry Clay Frick who was forced to cancel after his wife became hospitalized in Italy. The claim of 50 passengers does seem to have any basis – and other accounts indicate the ship was actually 2/3rds full.
Claim 7. The inquiry was a cover up.
After the tragedy, the British Prime Minister organised a full inquiry, chaired by Lord Mersey. Lord Mersey’s inquiry was indeed criticised as a whitewash. However given the Government’s own responsibility (they had signed off the ship and their own regulations had allowed the ship to travel with insufficient lifeboats) it was not surprising. Plus the three most senior officers had all drowned, so even an impartial mediator, would have struggled to do a thorough investigation.
Claim 8. First Officer William Murdoch should have hit the iceberg straight on rather than try to port around it.
After the lookouts reported seeing the iceberg, First Officer Murdoch, ordered the engines into reverse and for the ship to go starboard. This meant that the ship hit the iceberg broadside, and breached five compartments (the Titanic could stay afloat with any four of its sixteen compartments filled with water). Murdoch did not necessarily make the wrong decision though. 9/10ths of an iceberg are under water. Hitting an underwater object can be devastating to a ship; the Olympic itself (which Murdoch had sailed on only months before) had suffered devastating damage after a propeller had hit an underwater ship. Murdoch also had only literally seconds to make a decision.
Claim 9. The Californian was intended to be used as a lifeboat.
The SS Californian – under the command of Stanley Lord was 19 miles away from where the Titanic sank. Allegedly it was supposed to collect the crew and passengers. Given not a single survivor was picked up by the Californian, then we can assume that either a) it was the most poorly executed survival strategy in history or b) it was not in fact intended to be a lifeboat.
Claim 10. On the Hull of the Titanic wreck, several letters have fallen off and the letters ‘M’ and P’ can be seen
The footage used in the documentary is claimed to be the footage collected by Dr. Robert Ballard. Ballard himself has dismissed the idea that the ship he found, was actually the Olympic, masquerading as Titanic.
Claim 11. – Captain Smith slept fully clothed in the chart room on the night of the sinking.
This conflicts with a claim by a survivor that Smith slept in his cabin.
Claim 12. The Titanic had trouble recruiting firestaff, during a coal strike.
It’s worth noting that firestaff had a high suicide rate. This conflicts also with the fact that there were 150 stokers on board.
It is clear that there is no hard evidence to support the claim, apart from circumstantial evidence, misconceptions and a lot of speculation (the standard ingredients used to make a conspiracy ‘theory’).
I do not give conspiracy myths undue credit by calling them a theory. I personally feel that any theory should be based on vigorous research, revising the original hypothesis, presenting the findings to the scrutiny of your peers and ultimately being prepared to abandon your theory, if someone is able to disprove it. So called conspiracy ‘theorists’ do not adhere to these rules at all. They are fanatics; they grasp hold of a crazy idea, twist, distort (and apparently fabricate) data to fit the ‘theory’, present their findings to all and sundry and become angry with anyone who finds flaws in their research.
Twisting and turning everything until it fits a certain viewpoint and shouting down anyone who tries to challenge you is a dangerous way of thinking. It is not questioning things or fighting the system; on the contrary it is slavishly following something without question and becoming a member of a pseudo-cult.
Scientists tend to cut their teeth at University before forging theories. The theory that the earth was spherical was put forward by such genuises as Aristocole and Copernicus. Even now this idea is refuted by the flat earth society. David Icke is a former footballer, politican and journalist. Yet his concept of a hybrid alien-human species is accepted by his worryingly large flock. Whenever a scientist puts forward a theory they are expected to have credientials and training, yet with conspriacy fanatics, it seems the less expertise you have, the more your followers will believe you.
The conspiracy fanatics
I refuse to give conspiracy fanatic credit by calling them ‘theorists’. A theorist is someone who has backed up their arguments with extensive research and peer reviewed journals. Albert Einstein’s theory of revelativity was backed up by such research. David Icke’s claims about the ‘illumanti’ are based on (what he all but admits) are auditory hallicutaions).
The fact of the matter is this. You can’t win an argument with a conspiracy fanatic. If someone refuses to accept a peer reviewed journal, an academic essay, a news report, a newspaper article or a scientific textbook as fact then there isn’t really much else I can offer. No, I was not on the Titanic so I can’t say from first hand experience that it was not the Olympic. But neither can David Icke or Alex Jones. Listening to them rambling and then claiming it ‘makes sense’ does not prove anything either. How often do friends declare your symptoms match a diagnosis which you concede ‘makes sense’? GPs do not accept diagnosis because they ‘make sense’ – they require blood tests and other such hard proof.
Are there government cover ups? Yes of course there are – Thatcher attempted to conceal the sinking of the Belgrano – presumably because it was a PR problem – however both Clive Ponting and Tam Daylell are still alive 30 years after the event. And I do concede that the historical consensus about the likes of Lincoln, Ghandi, Churchill, FDR and Columbus are inaccurate. Lincoln and Ghandi were racists, Columbus was a genodical maniac and FDR and Churchill have dubious economic and human rights legacies. This does not mean however that we are misled about either men – legends were built around these people. When an historical figure becomes worshipped because of certain events, the other stuff is ignored.
There is nothing sinister however at the root of it all.
Why you can’t win an argument with a conspiracy fanatic
There’s an old saying – you can’t beat chess against someone who refuses to play by the rules.
An argument between a conspiracy fanatic and a rational person will go thus:
CF: David Kelly was murdered.
RP: It was suicide.
CF: That’s what they said it was.
RP: He was worried about his pension.
CF: That’s what they said it was.
To put it simply if someone claims there is a big cover up going on – well you can’t disprove it – in the same way you can’t disprove that there is an invisible cat hiding in my garage (or if indeed I have a garage). If someone insists that official reports are all lies but insane ramblings in David Icke’s novels are factual then it is impossible to win the argument with them.
The ‘sheeple’ cliche
One of the most overused terms on these occasions is ‘sheeple’; a portmanteau of sheep and people. I should make it clear that I believe in questioning things, thinking critically and keeping an open mind – but as this video brilliantly explains, don’t open your mind so much your brain falls out!
MPs are very good at finding ways of justify their salary. The most popular one was recently outlined by former Prime Minister/ wanted war criminal, Anthony Blair:
“Only an ex-politician can say this – politicians are not really well paid by the standards of the private sector. This restricts the attractions of a political career, at exactly the time when we most need the gene pool of our politicians to be varied, vibrant and vigorous.”
Interestingly enough Blair reputedly declared that the fireman’s requested pay rise (back in 2003) was ‘Scargillite’. The implication of course being that yelling during PMQs requires a special breed of person, but anybody can put out fires. During the many weeks of the year that Parliament doesn’t sit, the country functions perfectly well, yet when firemen strike the consequences are all too clear.
This argument of Blair’s is flawed and based on the false premise that money attracts the skilful instead of the greedy. Success in the private sector is not achieved by merit or hard work – but by nepotism (the worst example of this being the Rothschild family’s dominance in the banking sector).
The amount of MPs is, thankfully negligible and the competition for each post is fierce. If the post was advertised, at a job centre this is how it would read:
Salary: Starting level £65,000 (plus expenses and subsidized bars and restaraunts)
Experience required: None
Holiday time: 84 days a year
Candidates must be over the age of 18 and not a member of the House of Lords or have been sent to prison for over a year
Can you imagine a situation where any job like that would be short of applicants? Captain Smith was paid $6250 (roughly $150,000/£95,000 in modern money) yet that did not stop him from crashing the Olympic, the Republic or the Titanic. Fred Goodwin’s salary of £4.2 million in 2007, was not a safeguard against the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
At the moment the House of Commons is (mostly) full of greedy, ruthless and independently wealthy people. Increasing their perks and salary would just simply exacerbate the situation.
If politics was about talent then the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be someone with experience in the financial sector, or had demonstrated economic prowess, rather than simply being someone who happened to attend school with the PM. One of the few cabinet posts in history, which has required experience is the Lord Chancellor. However under the Blair government the requirement for the Lord Chancellor to be a judge was removed, Charles Falconer – the last Lord Chancellor to sit on the Woolsack even suggested that judges should stop trying to be politician’s – as if to imply that someone with a university education was not capable of reading out a speech prepared by a civil servant, or answering sarcastic questions in parliament. Chris Grayling is now Lord Chancellor, he is not a trained lawyer and his lack of expertise shows. It is hard to imagine Quentin Hogg attempting to ban books in prisons or claiming that the UK could leave the European Court of Human Rights, whilst remaining in the EU (one of which has been declared illegal by a court, the other of which has been questioned by legal experts).
If we want to attract talented people to politics, then requiring them to have actual talents or relevant experience would be far better. Over the last 30 years or so career politicians have become the norm; Cameron himself started his ‘working’ life as Norman Lamont’s joke writer. Yes, you read that correctly.
Cabinet posts at currently handed out at the whim of the Prime Minister, reaped from a pool of MPs who are in their party, although, to paraphrase Sir Humprey, a third are too old, a third are too young, so the PM is forced to use the remaining third. Prime Minister Monti of Italy appointed a technocratic cabinet in 2011. Would appointing a senior doctor as Minister for Health be such a bad thing? Would an experience headmaster, do more damage than Michael Gove ever did? Would this be democratic? Well yes it could be – the winning candidate could stand in a by-election – or parliament could simply ratify the appointment in a free vote.
In short – don’t require MPs to be more greedy – require them to know what they are doing!
Dan Hannan, made an excellent video about Citizen Legislators.