Triggering a Debunker

I’ve had an interest in UFOs since I was a kid. In fact, I know exactly when my interest started: in 1973.

That year– and I know what year it was because I moved a lot as a kid and know where I lived when this happened–  a classmate told me and others that his grandfather had told him of the time he saw pieces of a crashed “flying saucer” when they were brought to the military base he was stationed at in Ft. Worth, Texas, following its crash in New Mexico.

This was my first introduction to the story of the 1947 Roswell UFO crash… even though the kid never mentioned Roswell, but just said: “New Mexico” (I knew of the town of Roswell for other reasons).

Recently, including on Quora just a few days ago, the standard debunking approach has been the claim that after the initial buzz and headlines, the Roswell “crash” was satisfactorily explained and forgotten until the late ’70s or early ’80s, when it was revived and sensationalized to sell books and TV shows.

Back to the Quora “debunking”. An ex-military guy was explaining away the story and dredging up the tale about it not being spoken of again after July 1947, for 30 years or so.

I replied that I knew, first-hand, that this wasn’t true, and told what I knew from 1973.

The guy almost flipped out on me. He said this wasn’t “first-hand knowledge” at all, that I had been fooled by the conspiracy theory like everyone else.

Never mind that I clearly stated that I wasn’t saying the debris was extraterrestrial or anything, just that I knew when I had heard the story and it didn’t match the debunkers’ claims. Maybe it was a weather balloon test dummy mishap Project Mogul balloon. Or not. That wasn’t part of my claim.

My first-hand knowledge is that I heard the story before the story was supposedly revived and sensationalized, so that specific claim can’t be true. That’s all. I have no first-hand knowledge of any other part of the event (or non-event). Yet this one small point triggered him.

I saw in his over-the-top reaction the same reaction I get from statists when I point out the errors in their thinking and claims. Any reality which doesn’t match what they are desperate to believe is met with hostile denial.

Of course, the guy’s Quora profile says he is “ex-military” so he may have an agenda to promote.

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9/11 Every Month — Where’s the Outrage?

The headline on Hans Bader’s piece at the Foundation for Economic Education is true as far as it goes: “Lifting the Ban on Kidney Sales Would Save 30,000 American Lives Annually.” Bader draws on an earlier essay by Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy, who in turn riffs on findings published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

The TL;DR: “Many Americans die every year because they need kidney transplants, in large part due to federal laws banning organ sales. … [A]n average of over 30,000 Americans have died each year, because the ban prevented them from getting transplants in time.”

My preferred version of the headline: “The US government, as a matter of policy, kills 30,000 Americans annually.”

That’s 2,500 Americans every month.

And that body count consists only of Americans who die while awaiting kidney transplants.

It doesn’t include those who die waiting for hearts, livers, or lungs that never arrive because patients — or their insurers — are forbidden to pay live donors, or the survivors of those who die with intact, transplantable organs, for those kidneys, livers, and lungs. Adding those deaths would almost certainly push the number above 2,977 every month.

What’s special about 2,977? It’s the number of people killed by terrorist attackers (excluding the attackers themselves) on September 11, 2001.

As you may remember, Americans got pretty exercised about 9/11. Heck, we still DO get pretty exercised about it (for a recent example, note the reaction to US Representative Ilhan Omar’s “some people did some things” comment).

But every month, month in and month out, year after year, the US government kills that many or more with its policies. The public response? Crickets.

The federal ban on paying donors or their survivors for organs is premised in a weird claim that paying donors or survivors for organs would be “unethical.”

It’s OK — it’s “ethical” — to pay the surgeons. And the nurses. And the anesthesiologists. And the providers of anti-rejection drugs. And of course — of course! — the “medical ethicists” whose opinions underlie the ban.

Only the people who physically provide the indispensable elements of organ transplants, the organs, get empty envelopes come transplant payday.

Where’s the outrage? The US has been at war for 18 years straight now, with 9/11 as the excuse. But 9/11 every month barely raises eyebrows. The politicians and the “ethicists” they’ve listened to remain at large. And, yes, they are well-paid.

Scary stories about homeless people with drug problems selling kidneys for crack, or being denied transplants for lack of money are just that: Scary stories.

If the purchase of organs was made legal, insurers (presumably including Medicare and Medicaid) would leap at the opportunity to save the money now wasted on expensive care for patients slowly dying as hope fades. A market price would emerge and people with good organs would respond to the incentive — probably mostly in the form of prospective post-mortem donors looking to ease their families’ losses.

Of course, there would be a place for ethical considerations in that process. Hopefully better considerations than the currently prevailing ones.

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What Intelligence and Insanity Have in Common

The brain’s ability to make connections.

There are many forms of intelligence. But all of them I can think of have a lot to do with making connections.

Mechanical intelligence sees the connections between parts of a machine. Social intelligence sees connections between people. Physical intelligence makes connections between actions and re-actions. Creative intelligence sees connections between disparate ideas. Entrepreneurial intelligence sees connections between different goods or services, or a new nexus between supply and demand.

A low intelligence person takes the discreet items in the world individually at face value. A high intelligence person sees causal chains, analogies, parallels, and processes that bind the discreet items in various webs.

If you’ve ever witnessed a high connections person in action, it’s fun and surprising. Where most people would see an umbrella over the lunch table, they’d see a wooden pole with canvas, think about their friend who sails boats, wonder about the material that makes sales vs. table umbrellas, then parachutes, then the different levels of wind-flow needed in each application. Before long they’re working out how you might have a single supplier for each item, or a new kind of material. This is how theories and businesses begin.

Our brain dices the world into discreet units for a reason. Seeing connections is a super power, but it can also be a curse. If you can’t unsee them, and your brain goes on a high speed runaway connection binge, you might lose your grip. Each event, object, and activity cannot be encountered and engaged discreetly if your brain is reeling six levels deep on connections.

There’s a reason meditative or hallucinogenic states where everything feels connected and all is one cannot persist while you try to brush your teeth and go to the office. Most of life is encountered in bites. And most of it has to be.

I think conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs have a ton of connection intelligence, but not a strong enough dissection filter. They see too many connections too much of the time. Pretty soon, everything reminds of everything else. Hence things like the “Illuminati confirmed” meme, where every shape, color, name, and logo on every product and commercial gets quickly connected to some kind of other symbol with occult meaning.

People often accuse paranoid conspiracy types of being stupid, or failing to see the meaning of things. The problem is they see too much meaning. They can’t stop seeing meaning.

The trope of the mad scientist, or brilliant mathematician who descends into ravings with old age show the same problem. Too many connections.

But there’s something interesting going on in there too. These are not stupid people, or people to dismiss out of hand. They see too many connections to handle, many of which aren’t useful. But they see a lot of useful connections the rest of us miss in our fragmented world. There’s insight to be found here.

I’m not sure exactly how to cultivate the ability to make connections and guard against connection overload at the same time. But I suspect most of us are in far more danger of making too few connections than too many.

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Pardoning Assange Would be the First Step Back Toward Rule of Law

On April 11, the ongoing saga of journalist and transparency activist Julian Assange took a dangerous turn.  Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, revoked his asylum in that country’s London embassy. British police immediately arrested him — supposedly pursuant to his “crime” of jumping bail on an invalid arrest warrant in an investigation since dropped without charges but, as they admitted shortly thereafter,  actually with the intent of turning him over to US prosecutors on bogus “hacking” allegations.

The US political class has been after Assange for nearly a decade.

In 2010 WikiLeaks, the journalism/transparency service he founded, released information revealing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department cables exposing — among other things — Hillary Clinton’s attempts to have American diplomats plant bugs in the offices of their UN counterparts (Clinton, at one point, tried to raise the possibility of having him murdered for embarrassing her so).

In 2016, WikiLeaks released Democratic National Committee emails — provided by an as yet unidentified whistleblower — exposing the DNC’s attempts to rig the Democratic presidential primaries in Clinton’s favor.

At no point has Assange been credibly accused of a crime. He’s a journalist. People provide him with information. He publishes that information. That’s an activity clearly and unambiguously protected by the First Amendment.

Even if Assange was a US citizen, and even if his activities had taken place in territory under US jurisdiction, there’s simply no criminal case to be made against him.

So they’re manufacturing one out of whole cloth, accusing him of “hacking” by asserting that he assisted Chelsea Manning with the technical process of getting the 2010 information to WikiLeaks.

But once again: Assange is not a US citizen, nor at the time of his alleged actions was he anywhere that would have placed him under the jurisdiction of the United States.

Even if he did what he’s accused of doing, the current state of affairs is the equivalent of the city government of Chicago asking Norway to extradite a French citizen on charges of not cutting the grass at his villa in Italy to the specifications of Chicago’s ordinance on the subject.

There are certainly criminal charges worth pursuing here.

The US Department of Justice should appoint a special counsel to probe the Assange affair with an eye toward firing, seeking the disbarment of, and prosecuting (for violations of US Code Title 18, Sections 241, Conspiracy Against Rights, and 242, Violation of Rights Under Color of Law) the DoJ bureaucrats who hatched this malicious prosecution.

The first step in the process, though, is for US president Donald Trump to pardon Julian Assange for all alleged violations of US law on or prior to April 11, 2019.

Assange is a hero. Time to stop treating him like a criminal.

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The History of History

It would be interesting, though very difficult, to study how history changes.

I don’t mean how the sequence of human events changes from the present into the future, I mean how the past changes. Since it exists only in memory from our present perspective, the stories we believe about the past are the past. But those stories aren’t fixed. They change all the time.

I’ve seen some books and studies that look at a few historical events and document the ways in which history textbooks dealt with them in, say, the 1950s vs today. The changes are often dramatic, but presented in a deadpan Orwellian fashion as if it has always been this way, nevermind what we used to say.

And it is of course true that history is mostly written by those on reasonably favorable terms with the dominant political powers. When those change, histories also change.

Imagine if the German army had won World War II, or the Soviet Union had won a nuclear showdown with the United States. Do you think the dominant historical narrative would be the same? Not only would the telling of those conflicts be different, but the story of all previous history would be different. There is little reason to believe our current historical story is any less biased.

And in most cases, you can’t easily go to the evidence to prove which version is true. Evidence is scant. Most of history, especially ancient history, is based on one or two fragments or artifacts that get translated by one or two people who then get referenced by others who get referenced. If you wanted to find out whether a particular ancient figure was real, you might find the best you could get was someone who wrote a story about them, and it’s unclear whether the story was intended as fiction. There is no harder evidence for many things in history.

This does not make history a scandal or conspiracy, but it ought to cause humility. It needn’t cause paranoia about being lied to. In fact, I find it thrilling. It means the world is full of so much more mystery than we assume if we simply accept dominant narratives as provably true.

It is useful to think probabilistically about history (and everything else). If you experience something firsthand, you can be certain it happened. If a trusted friend relays a story, you might be slightly less certain. By the time you’re hearing fifteenth-hand someone referencing an nineteenth century scholar’s belief about when the Sumerians built the Ziggurats based on one type of textual analysis, the probability is it totally accurate should be a lot lower.

In Orwell’s dystopia, history gets changed by the politically powerful at moments notice by changing the official story. While I do think it’s easier than most of us assume to change the dominant historical narrative, it takes a lot more than changing some government documents or publicly funded textbooks. Academics and professional historians are the easier part. Artists and novelists are the more important part.

When you think about the American West, or Ancient Egypt, or Medieval Europe, you have a lot of ideas that are pretty coherent and consistent with other people’s ideas about these things. While most are not contradicted by history books, they didn’t originate there. It’s not the source material that causes us to believe historical narratives as much as it is the fictional narratives built on top of it. Even though we know A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a fictional narrative (built on top of another at least mostly fictional narrative of Arthur), the historical setting becomes a little more real in our brain every time a fictional story uses it as a backdrop.

A handful of movies like Jurassic Park that portray dinosaurs as predecessors to birds probably do more to make that part of the historical narrative than whatever studies or researchers they are referencing.

On the one hand, the power of art and fiction to shape our beliefs about the past is a bit troubling. I takes very little evidence from very few sources for a bunch of stories to spin up and make us believe things with higher probability than warranted, simply because it is repeated in so many stories on top of stories.

On the other hand, it’s cause for comfort. It’s empowering. I means an Orwellian regime is going to have a harder time controlling the past. Sure, they can handle the subsidy-sucking professoratti, but to control the narratives of all the artists and story-tellers? A Herculean task. In fact, the inability to control rebel creatives has brought down many a dictatorship.

History is not a fixed thing. Our knowledge is so slim. This makes probabalistic thinking important. It makes the stories we tell important. It makes the lenses through which we view the past important.

History has a history. The way it’s presented today might not be better than it once was or could be. It’s useful to think about ways it might better be told and understood.

(Bonus: Here’s a great video on ways of seeing the past.)

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Sorry, Scott: “Climate Change” is a Power Grab

On a recent podcast, Scott Adams almost had a meltdown when confronted by the evidence that many of his listeners believe “climate change” hysteria is all about a power grab by those promoting it. He says this means people have been hypnotized by the media they get their news from.

There’s a flaw in his belief: I don’t partake of the “news”, and the “news” I accidentally get exposed to is from all over the statist map. I also don’t know whether AGCC is real, whether it is a net negative, or anything else about it– other than the fact it doesn’t justify violations of life, liberty, or property by any government.

Yet I do know he’s wrong to deny “climate change” is about a power grab, and here’s why.

He makes the mistake of insisting that someone show him the one person who is seeking to consolidate his or her power using the excuse of “climate change” through something like the “new green deal”. That’s looking for the wrong thing.

Every “law” increases government power. This means any new “law”– no matter what it’s about– is a power grab for the whole collective known as “government”. Any individual who has hitched their wagon to that coercive collective is going to gain power with each new “law”. Of course, any individual connected to government, who lusts for power, is going to advocate for something which will increase government power and will, therefore, increase the individual government cog’s power. Maybe not to the point of that one person being the King of Earth, but enough to cause that person to advocate for the new “law”. In the hope of gaining power. That’s a power grab.

It’s neither mysterious nor a conspiracy theory. It’s human nature and the nature of the political means.

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