False Flag Fables

FalseFlag

Whoa, that’s a whole lot of conspiracy idiocy rolled into one meme!

For those of you who aren’t up on your conspiracy lingo, a “false flag” is a horrific event allegedly staged by a government but made to appear as if it is executed by somebody else, usually an enemy of that same government.  If you find yourself involved in a conversation with a conspiracy theorist, you might hear him claim that 9/11 or the Sandy Hook massacre were false flags.  Hardcore conspiracy theorists can assert that any disaster, even hurricanes and earthquakes, are false flags staged by nefarious government organizations.  To the truly committed anti-government conspiracy theorist, there is no event so disastrous, no loss of life so horrendous, that he cannot trivialize it by attempting to distract the mourning public with his cry-for-attention batshit theories.

Have I given the impression that I don’t much care for conspiracy theorists?

Oh, let’s be clear.  I’m not saying that false flag operations never happen.  Governments are made of people, and people are notoriously crappy to each other.  The American government has certainly been involved in more than its fair share of shady doings.  For example, according to declassified documents, the United States considered launching an elaborate false flag operation in the 1960s to justify a military attack on Cuba.  The plan would have involved:

  • faking an attack on the United States naval base at Guantanamo,
  • sinking an American military ship in Cuban waters, and
  • blowing up unmanned military and civilian aircraft in or near Cuban airspace, then blaming the destruction of the planes on Cuban MiG fighter jets.

The desired outcome of these false flag operations was to foment anti-Cuban sentiment among the American public, thereby cementing our desire to wage war against the island nation.  Pretty shady, right?

So far be it from me to say that false flags are always loony conspiracy theories.  But at the same time, I try to embrace a position of healthy skepticism whenever somebody cries false flag.  And that’s the problem (well, one of the problems) with career conspiracy theorists.  Their dedication to labeling every tragedy as a false flag not only detracts from their credibility, but it also lessens their audience’s ability to critically evaluate the evidence surrounding a tragedy and make informed opinions.  It becomes an instinct among the conspiracy-minded…a reflex, if you will.

And what about this meme, this steaming pile of bovine excrement?  To me, if the author really has advance knowledge of an impending false flag attack, then he has a responsibility to divulge the location and time of said attack, so that his readers might protect themselves.  The author’s inability or unwillingness to provide those critical details indicates that either:

  1. The author has no such knowledge, and this meme is merely a pre-emptive tactic to claim that the next national tragedy is a false flag and say “I told you so”, or
  2. The author is more interested in sowing fear and paranoia than in saving American lives, in which case, to hell with him.

Seven Medical Mythteries

If you want to know the fastest way to spread BS, disguise it as medical advice.  The following memes were produced by a website called myhealthtips.in and featured on the Facebook page Library of Most Controversial Files, whose interests include “popular conspiracy theories”.  I’m not sure what constitutes a popular conspiracy theory, but make of that what you will.

SleepyTime

It’s hard to find scientific information about human sleep cycles.  Googling the question is next to pointless, because there are thousands of websites that purport to be “experts on healthy sleep”, and which nevertheless parrot information that was probably generated by somebody without a medical degree.  It can be difficult to determine what constitutes expert advice and what doesn’t.

In any case, the idea that there is a best time for sleep is contentious and is by no means established scientific wisdom.  Historians tell us that in olden days, people slept in two chunks of about 4 hours each, separated by a 1-2 hour period of wakefulness in the middle of the night.  People would routinely use this wakeful period to visit the john, read, pray, or ahem, perpetuate the species, if you catch my meaning.

The advent of modern technology – in particular lighting – may have contributed to the decline of the 4-2-4 sleep cycle, but it did not quell people’s need for sleep.  In modern times, doctors recommend that a healthy adult should get between 7 and 8 hours of quality sleep a night.  Some people claim to get by on fewer than 7 hours, but in general neurologists find that prolonged periods of inadequate sleep can lead to a decline in mental functioning.  In case you need help with the math (perhaps because you haven’t been getting sufficient sleep); 10:00 pm to 4:00 am is only six hours.  As far as I can tell, no scientists are advocating a six-hour sleep schedule.

The important thing to take away is that each person is different, and needs different amounts of sleep in different increments.  You should sleep the number of hours that allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to function.  Don’t base your sleep schedule on a meme.

WarmMedicine

This almost sounds like one of those “fake advice” memes produced by mean-spirited people to dupe gullible folks into ruining their own health and/or property.  Most medical websites I consulted recommended taking medicine – especially gel capsules – with cool water (not cold or hot).  Water is important to help the medicine go down, but using hot water can apparently accelerate the rate at which the pill’s protective coating dissolves.  This might prematurely expose the medicine to digestive enzymes, which can abate its effectiveness.

If you’re concerned about the proper temperature of water to use when swallowing a pill, ask your doctor or contact the medicine’s manufacturer directly.  Either of those sources will be much more valuable than advice from a meme.

MedicineWalk

There may be a kernal of truth to this one, but it’s still misguided.  According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, lying down after taking a pill may slow the pill’s progress through the esophagus, which might lead to irritation of the esophagus.  However, I couldn’t find a source that corroborated this meme’s advice to do physical activity after taking medicine.  Some medications alter heart rate and blood pressure, both of which are also affected by exercise.  Depending on the medicine you took, a post-dose workout might be unwise.

As always, ask your doctor.

HeavyMeals

Overeating in general is not a good idea, but there’s no merit to the idea that you shouldn’t have a large dinner after 5:00 pm.  In fact, a search of more than 4800 scientific journals failed to turn up even a single article backing up this claim.

It is true that eating a hearty, healthy breakfast will make you less prone to overeating later in the day; however, you shouldn’t feel guilty about sitting down at 8:00 pm for a reasonably-portioned meal with family or friends.  As always, moderation is key.

WaterMorning

I’ve already written a post about how ridiculous it is to claim that one’s hydration schedule significantly affects one’s health, so I’ll just link to that post and move on.

I will say this: for crying out loud, stop using plastic water bottles (unless you live in a region with a tainted water system, that is).

BrainPhone

Um, your brain is pretty much dead-center in your skull.  It’s not significantly closer to one ear or the other.  And why would that matter anyway, unless you think that… oh lord, you’re one of those cell phone/radiation/cancer theorists, aren’t you?

PhoneBattery

Yep.

Okay, there’s just so much wrong here that I’m at a loss for where to start.

Radiation often gets a bad rap, but radiation isn’t always harmful.  Radiation is a catch-all term for the waves and particles that are given off by an energetic source.  Yes, cell phones give off radiation, but so do light bulbs, human bodies, and bananas.  And yes, nuclear waste gives off radiation as well, but don’t let that scare you.  When you’re talking about radiation and health concerns, there are two questions you have to ask yourself: what kind of radiation are you dealing with, and how much are you receiving?

Cell phone radiation is sometimes placed into the microwave category, which gives lots of people pause.  Microwave radiation – isn’t that the same kind of radiation that’s used to cook food?  Well, yes and no.   A microwave oven focuses radiation with a frequency of 2450 Megahertz into a relatively small space.  That particular frequency causes water molecules inside the food to spin and dance around, which generates heat and cooks the food from the inside out.  A typical microwave oven expends about 1200 watts of power while cooking.

A cell phone, on the other hand, can operate at a range of frequencies from 1850 to 1990 MHz, or from 824 to 894 MHz.  All of these frequencies are lower than the microwave oven’s frequency of 2450 MHz, which means that cell phone waves carry less energy per photon than cooking microwaves do.  Also, water doesn’t respond as strongly to the frequencies given off by cell phones, which means that cell phones cannot possibly be used to cook popcorn (despite the hoax videos you might have seen).

Furthermore, the power output of a cell phone is much smaller than the power output of a microwave.  Although sources vary, the average number is about 1 watt.  So let’s put that into perspective; the average cell phone’s radiation power output is about 1200 times less than the power produced by an operating microwave oven.  In other words, it takes a cell phone about 20 minutes of continuous usage to output the same amount of energy that a microwave oven puts out in one second.  Also, since cell phones typically don’t have directional antennas, about half of that energy is going away from the user’s head, which further mitigates the risk.

Of course, you might argue that the danger of a cell phone’s radiation is due to something other than thermal damage.  Perhaps you believe that a cell phone’s radiation will screw up your DNA and cause tumors to grow out of control.

At least one major study refutes this notion.  The INTERPHONE study, conducted in 13 nations, was unable to establish a causal link between cell phone usage and brain tumors.

Now I’m reasonably certain that somebody will comment with a link to a study showing that cell phone radiation does negatively impact human tissue.  I understand that even among scientists, there are opposing camps regarding to what extent cell phone radiation affects humans, and what we ought to do about it.

Whichever side you fall on, the notion that cell phone radiation is 1000 times stronger when the battery dips below ten percent is utter rubbish.  Batteries do not work that way.  The power output of your cell phone varies with signal strength; when signal strength is low, the cell phone beefs up its transmission power in order to compensate.  I suppose it could be true that if you’ve been in a signal dead zone for several hours, your battery could have drained due to your phone’s persistent efforts to maintain a link.  In that case, a prematurely drained battery could be a warning sign (in addition to the low-bars symbol helpfully offered by your cell phone) that your cell phone will be transmitting with more power.

But…and this is important, so pay careful attention…there are lots of other things that can cause a cell phone’s battery to drain, so a low battery does not necessarily mean your cell phone will fry your noodle.  And even if the cell phone is transmitting with more power, all cell phone manufacturers design their products with built-in power output limit.

So what’s the bottom line?  Are cell phones killing us, or aren’t they?  Well, there’s no good evidence that they are, but if it concerns you that much, then you should stop using your cell phone altogether, and not just when the battery is low.

Drowning in Stupidity

Atheist Drowning

Once again I would like to extend my profound thanks to Friend of the Blog @IbrahimKaher for pointing me toward this particularly idiotic meme.

Darwinism refers to the theory of evolution by natural selection as published by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species.  According to Darwin, the great variety of life on Earth is attributable to a few simple tenets:

  1. There are limited resources, so there will always be competition, between and within species.
  2. There are variations within a species that can be passed from parent to child.
  3. If one of these variations enables an organism to gather resources more effectively than her competitors, then she will be better nourished, and consequently live longer and produce more offspring.
  4. Over many generations, favorable traits will multiply within a population while unfavorable traits will diminish, if not disappear entirely.

Darwin went on to explain how the long-term aggregation of small changes could lead to large-scale changes, and eventually to the immense biodiversity evident in Earth’s panoply of life.

There is nothing particularly atheistic about Darwinism.  Darwin’s theory neither supports nor refutes the existence of God, which is the only question that atheism addresses.  The only way you can convince yourself that Darwinism is atheistic is if you staunchly refuse to budge from your position of literal Biblical creationism.  If you believe that Earth and all of its modern life was spoken into existence by a divine creator, and if you believe that any statement to the contrary is against God, then there is no end to the branches of science which you will interpret as atheistic.  In that case, you should remove yourself from the scientific conversation altogether, because you are in no position to offer helpful contributions.

Perhaps the meme’s author is confusing Darwinism with social Darwinism.  Social Darwinism is the application of the phrase “survival of the fittest” to all aspects of human culture, including economics, politics, and ethics.  There is no overarching definition of fitness with which all social Darwinists agree, but in general, the strong (or fit) thrive while the weak (or unfit) languish.  Social Darwinism has been associated with (and blamed for) ideas from laissez-faire capitalism to eugenics, racism, and Nazism.

The main idea here is that atheists are not inherently social Darwinists, nor are Christians inherently selfless altruists.  Both atheists and believers count good and bad people among their ranks.  If an atheist performs a selfless act, it’s because he wants to do so (and most likely, because his social upbringing conditioned him to do so); not because he fears an eternal punishment for not doing so.  In my opinion, the same is true for believers.  Yes, the faithful justify their good deeds (if such things require justification) as manifestations of God’s grace, but strip away the layers of ingrained belief, and you find that they are simply good people who are emotionally rewarded for doing good things.

Now let’s address the meme’s claim that selflessness is inconsistent with Darwinism.  If you wish to apply Darwinist principles to explain altruistic behavior, you can easily do so.  Humans are social animals.  We live in groups because it benefits us to do so.  For social animals, tribal cohesiveness is key to our survival.  Altruism stems from a time when a person’s social group consisted of closely related individuals.  If you perform a selfless act, perhaps even one in which you risk personal harm, in defense of a tribal mate, then you have ultimately strengthened your bloodline.  You have perpetuated your kind, and in doing so have served the single greatest purpose that evolution demands.

If you’re a Christian, you can’t claim ownership of morality any more than an atheist, Muslim, Jew, or Hindu can.  Your morality – my morality – all of our moralities – stems from the fact that we are human.  We do good by helping others because it strengthens us as a species to do so.  Whether you believe you are serving God or Darwinian principles, selfless devotion to our species is your birthright.

The Trillion-Dollar Question

Trillions of Trillions

This meme appeared on Facebook accompanied by the caption: Share with as many as you can!!!  People need to understand

I’m not sure what the author wants people to understand, but the only message I’m taking away from this meme is that the author doesn’t know how numbers work.

When it comes to naming huge numbers, there are two scales.  If you were educated in an English-speaking country, you most likely learned the short scale.  In the short scale, a one followed by six zeroes is called a million, like this:

1,000,000 = 1 million

Multiply 1 million by 1000, and you’ve got a billion:

1,000,000,000 = 1 thousand million = 1 billion

Every three zeroes that you tack onto the end of the number causes it to get a new name, like this:

1,000,000,000,000 = 1 trillion

1,000,000,000,000,000 = 1 quadrillion

1,000,000,000,000,000,000 = 1 quintillion

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 = 1 sextillion

If you were educated in a Continental European nation, you probably learned the long scale.  On the long scale, 1,000,000 is still called a million, but there the similarities end.  Numbers don’t get a new name until they have accumulated six more zeroes, so a billion on the long scale is 1 million million, or 1,000,000,000,000.  This is what we short scale users would call a trillion.  And the number that long scalers call a trillion is equal to what we would call a quintillion (with 18 zeroes).

1,000,000,000 = 1 thousand million (sometimes called 1 milliard)

1,000,000,000,000 = 1 billion

1,000,000,000,000,000 = 1 thousand billion (or 1 billiard)

1,000,000,000,000,000,000 = 1 trillion

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 = 1 thousand trillion (or 1 trilliard)

And so on…

This meme starts with the number $1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (18 zeroes), which the author refers to as a trillion.  That would be correct if the author were using the long scale.  But the author is clearly a proficient English user, and his meme seems to be directed toward an American audience (since the United States National Debt now stands at just over 18 trillion dollars, according to The Concord Coalition).  I’m at a loss to explain how this combination of numbers and words could wind up on the same meme!

Regardless of what the author calls $1 x 1024, he’s just wrong.  That’s more than the combined value of all the money on Earth; many times more, in fact.  The United States’ debt isn’t anywhere near that value, nor could it be, unless the government decided to build a Death Star after all and didn’t tell anybody about it.  From the outset this meme contains faulty – some might say ludicrous – information, and it just goes downhill from there.

In order to demonstrate how much a trillion (or quintillion) dollars really is, he decides to break it down to minute-by-minute spending.  Now this is a noble effort if you want to impress your audience with the hugeness of a number, but why does he start counting 2015 years ago, during the time of Christ?  The United States wasn’t around to accrue debt back then!  It’s a completely arbitrary start date, unless the author is one of those people who mistakenly believes that the United States is 2015 years old.

Still, let’s go with it.  The author’s first task, which he spells out for us in plain English, is to divide one trillion (whatever you hold that to be) by 2015.  Because why not, I guess.

The author comes up with the following quotient: $496,277,915,632.77 – about 500 billion dollars.  But when I divide 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 by 2015, I get a substantially larger result: about 500 (short scale) trillion dollars!  I started with the same two numbers he did, but somehow my answer came out 1000 times larger than his.  Huh.

Okay, I thought, let’s give this guy the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he really does know what a short scale trillion looks like, and he mistakenly typed too many zeroes in the numerical representation at the top of the meme.

But that doesn’t work either.  If we assume that he meant to divide $1,000,000,000,000 (1 short scale trillion) by 2015, we get about $500 million, or one one-thousandth of the quotient he listed.  So depending on which version of a trillion he started with, he either overshot or undershot the correct answer by a factor of 1000.

This guy is trying to make a statement about the size of the national debt, but he doesn’t seem to have the mathematical chops to process the numbers involved.  Call me cynical, but I am not hopeful that this will improve as we go on.

Next, our intrepid numbersmith divides by 365 since, as we all know, there are 365 days in each and every year, right?  Interestingly enough, the author manages to get this calculation correct; or I should say, the answer would be correct if the number from which he started were correct.  If you divide $496,277,915,632.77, the author’s solution to his first self-imposed math problem, by 365, you do get about $1.36 billion.  But remember, his first calculation was off by a three orders of magnitude, so this tiny mathematical victory isn’t really anything to celebrate.

The author competently divides his result by 24, then once again by 60, to conclude that you would have to spend about 1 million dollars per minute for 2015 years in order to spend $1 trillion.  But since the author’s initial error has continued unchecked into the final calculation, we know that’s wrong.  If you were trying to spend a short scale trillion in 2015 years (accounting for leap years), you would only have to spend about $944 per minute in order to do so.

After his mathematical gymnastics, the author’s dismount is a stunning non sequitur from a large national debt to an imminent crash.  We’re left to ponder whether the author really is crazy (his word, not mine!).  Personally, I don’t think he’s crazy.  Ignorant, perhaps.  Unwilling to think critically, maybe.  But crazy?  No.

The sad thing is: he’s right about the national debt being huge, and it is a topic worth discussing.  But the author does himself no favors by couching his argument in numerical misconceptions and mathematical blunders.  I’ve said this before: a meme is just about the worst way to communicate important ideas.  It would be much wiser to link to a scholarly article about the national debt, and about its looming implications, than to try to condense an entire debate into a half-assed meme.  When you try to push an agenda in meme form, you don’t convince the opposition.  You simply paint a target on your back that is irresistible to pedantic assholes like me.

Stupidity Gone Viral

Charlie Sheen Mosquito

If this is your reaction to seeing a mosquito at Charlie Sheen’s house, then you are unforgivably stupid.

For anybody who hasn’t heard, Charlie Sheen, the former star of Two and a Half Men who made “Winning” 2011’s most annoying catchphrase, recently announced that he is HIV-positive.  HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and despite denialist claims to the contrary, it is the virus that eventually causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  A person with AIDS has a severely depressed immune system.  As a result, he or she might succumb to diseases that healthy people don’t normally contract, or which they are able to fight off if they do.

In the early 1980s, when HIV was first discovered in the United States, a newly-infected person might have a decade left if he was lucky.  Now, HIV isn’t necessarily the death sentence that it once was.  With treatment to suppress the growth of the virus and to quell opportunistic infections, a person infected with HIV today might reasonably expect to live long enough to die of other, non-HIV-related causes.

Still, HIV is a life-changing – if not life-ending – diagnosis, so it might be helpful to learn how HIV is transmitted, and to decide whether we really need to bathe in Off! mosquito repellent before visiting the Sheen residence.  Have a seat, kids: it’s time for the After-School HIV Special.

Generally, HIV is transmitted in bodily fluids, so the quickest way to become HIV-positive is to swap liquids with somebody else who is HIV-positive.  The most common routes of HIV transmission are through sexual contact and the sharing of injection drug paraphernalia.  An HIV-positive mother-to-be can also pass the virus to the developing fetus in her womb, or she can transmit the virus via breastfeeding.

Health care workers also assume a small risk of HIV infection due to the danger of being accidentally stuck with needles used on HIV-positive patients.  There is an even smaller risk to blood and organ transplant recipients, but advanced screening techniques have done much to minimize this threat.

And what about mosquitoes?  Surely those damned winged bloodsuckers up the HIV risk factor by a thousand, what with their indiscriminately poking their probosces into one unwitting donor after another, right?

Well, no.  Not that a mosquito particularly cares about spreading disease, but she is prevented from spreading HIV by several factors.  First, the construction of a mosquito’s blood-straw does not allow previously-sucked blood to flow downward into her most recent host.  A mosquito’s mouth parts have two tubes: one carries saliva downward and the other draws blood upward.  The saliva contains chemicals that prevent your blood from clotting, but it does not contain HIV from previously bitten humans.  And why not?

Because HIV is digested in the mosquito’s gut.  In a human host, HIV binds to T cells and begins replicating, but mosquitoes don’t have T cells.  The virus has nothing to attach to in the mosquito’s gut, so it simply gets broken down by the insect’s vile brew of digestive enzymes.  HIV never migrates from the mosquito’s belly to its salivary glands.

So, the virus cannot follow the gut-to-salivary-gland route that some other pathogens – notably malaria – follow.  But what about a more direct route of infection?  Mosquitoes are sloppy eaters, and they rarely use napkins.  When a mosquito leaves her host, she’s likely to have a bit of blood clinging to the end of her schnoz, and if that blood were HIV-positive, couldn’t she inject it into her next host, especially if she decided to feed again within a very short period of time?

Sure, that’s possible…in the same way that it’s possible to win the lottery twice and be struck by lightning five times within the same ten-minute period, and to reach the hospital just in time to see your wife giving birth to octuplets, just before she announces that she’s leaving you for Charlie Sheen.  Which is to say, it isn’t very possible at all.

Surprisingly, the virus count in an HIV-positive person’s blood is pretty low.  It’s highly unlikely that the blood stuck on the end of a messy mosquito’s maw contains even a single virus, let alone a large enough virus load to start a new infection in the mosquito’s next host.  Natalie Peretsman, writing for scienceline.org, reckons that if a mosquito were to drink from an HIV-positive person whose blood virus level was 1000 per milliliter, and if that mosquito were to immediately feast on a nearby healthy person, there’s still only a 1 in 10 million chance that the mosquito would transmit even a single virus to the healthy person’s blood.

So what have we learned?  Mosquitoes transmit many dangerous diseases, but HIV thankfully isn’t one of them.  You needn’t fear a mosquito at Charlie Sheen’s house, unless it turns out that Charlie Sheen has also contracted malaria, dengue fever, or chikungunya.

On a personal note, the vectors of HIV have been known for decades, and it’s well established that mosquitoes are not among them.  To make a joke like this either (A) portrays devastating ignorance of (and indifference towards) a very real public health issue, or (B) says that you’re the kind of person who thinks it’s hilarious to paint yourself and your supporters as blithering idiots.  In either case, shame on the person who made this macro, and shame on anybody who shares it.  Abysmal ignorance isn’t funny.  Stop glorifying it.

Ebolanati

CNf0yVRUsAAOLRw.jpg large

I would like to thank Twitter user @IbrahimKaher for suggesting this vomitous meme, and the website from which it came.  I would also like to apologize for taking so long to cover it.  Unfortunately, professional concerns have kept me from updating my blog as frequently as I would like to.  But enough excuses…on we go!

Let’s talk about The Illuminati.  I used to think that the Illuminati were sort of a joke, the go-to reference for people who wanted to goof about vague, shadowy conspiracy organizations.  To blame the Illuminati for anything is sort of like claiming that Earth is flat, or that the Moon landings were faked.  The rest of us look at you and laugh, because we know you can’t really be serious, right?  Nobody actually believes in the Illuminati, do they?

Well…

Apparently some people do believe, and they believe hard.  (And some people believe – or claim to believe – that Earth is flat, and that the Moon landings were faked…but those are memes for another day.)  So before we address the Ebola nonsense, it behooves us to take a close look at the Illuminati.  If this blog disappears forever shortly after this is posted, you’ll know it’s because they got me!

The original Illuminati were a secret fraternity founded in Bavaria in 1776…and shut down by the authorities nine years later.  During their brief run, they were populated by the intellectual elite of Bavarian society: doctors, lawyers, judges, and politicians.  Despite their limited membership (at the height of their power, the Illuminati claimed between 650 and 2,500 members, depending on how you count them), the Illuminati had their fingers in many aspects of upper society.  Ironically, it was their pervasive presence in politics that would lead to their ruination.  As their numbers swelled, loose talk among their ranks precipitated an unintended transition in their status as a “secret” society.  The existence of the group, and its perceived influence in the court and in the political arena, became common knowledge.  This sparked considerable unrest among the uninitiated.  In 1785, Charles Theodore, duke of Bavaria, issued an edict banning all secret societies, including the Illuminati.  Officials raided the homes of known Illuminati members and published their secret documents.  With their cover blown and their influence dissolved, the original Illuminati effectively ceased to exist.

Some modern fraternal organizations have assumed the name Illuminati; some of them even claim dubious links to the original Bavarian Illuminati.  There is no evidence that any modern Illuminati organizations enjoy the same power and influence allegedly wielded by their namesake, nor that the original Illuminati persist.

But what does evidence matter to a conspiracy theorist?

Ask a true believer, and you’ll learn that the Illuminati are still alive and well; that they are more pervasive and influential than ever before.  To a conspiracy theorist, the Illuminati are a worldwide group of politicians, bankers, celebrities, and other high-profile, high-power individuals who serve as society’s puppet masters.  (Check out this delightful Gawker article for a partial list of the more visible Illuminati members.)  Apparently, the Illuminati start and stop wars, manipulate currency, and rig elections.  Their ultimate goal: nothing less than the establishment of a New World Order, a worldwide authoritarian government.

Of course, the Illuminati know that a one-world government will never succeed without the complicity of the governed.  And what better way to generate compliance than through fear…particularly fear of a deadly virus?  Yes, that’s right, folks: Ebola is an Illuminati tactic to disrupt the natural flow of business and politics.  Presumably the world’s most elite movers and shakers will swoop in and assert their authority over the crumbled remains of society, and we’ll all be glad for them to do so.

Before we proceed, I would like to point out an interesting bit of irony: the meme’s author suggests that the Illuminati seek to instill fear and panic via their controlled release of Ebola, but what does this meme spread if not fear?  I mean, look at it!  Creepy faces, skinless humans, spatters of blood everywhere?  I know: this meme is the work of the Illuminati!  Those crafty bastards!

Moving along:  the major problem with this meme (other than the questionable design choices) is that Ebola was eventually brought under control.  Despite its frightening spread, including into the United States, it did not result in a worldwide closure of borders.  Governments did not collapse; on the contrary, they did what they could to ensure the health and safety of their people.  And they were eventually successful; in the past day, Sierra Leone has been officially declared Ebola-free, according to BBC News.  Only a handful of Ebola cases persist in neighboring Guinea; even so, the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea remains open, albeit with heightened health screening in place.

Ebola had an enormous impact on the lives and cultures of the people in the hardest-hit nations; that much is certain.  Yet despite the devastation wreaked by the virus, life marches on.  Governments, whatever their shortcomings, remain intact; there is no evidence that any shadowy organizations have seized control.  No evidence, the conspiracy theorist would argue, is exactly how the Illuminati want it.  But that’s the problem with arguing for the continued existence of the Illuminati as a worldwide governing body: you can’t use zero evidence…as evidence.

Simply Stupid

guns

Once again the fertile soil of the gun control debate has yielded a meme of absolute asininity.  My favorite part of this meme is at the end, when the author brazenly asserts that if you don’t understand (and presumably agree with) his point, as expressed in this half-assed meme, then you are an intellectual lightweight.  Well, anonymous author, I beg to disagree.  The gun control debate is not so simple, and anybody who thinks it can be expressed in such simple terms does not really understand it himself.  Of course, I have a sneaking suspicion that many pro-gunners don’t want to understand the intricacies and implications of gun control.  They have a single-minded dedication to a goal (unfettered access to unnecessary firearms) and anything that demonstrates the idiocy of that goal is anathema.

As I’ve said before, I’m not necessarily in favor of banning all guns, but they should be heavily regulated.  Obtaining a firearm ought to be a real chore, similar to getting your driver’s license.  You ought to have to check in regularly to make sure you haven’t lost any of the completely necessary weapons you own.  Even then, I won’t be convinced that putting more guns into the hands of untrained citizens makes for a safer society.  If you want to convince me of that, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this meme.  Gun advocates, you do yourselves no favors by creating and sharing memes like this one.

Let’s start at the top, shall we?  The bad guys look absolutely ticked that the good guys have guns, which I find comically ludicrous.  Any bad guy who despairs that his life of crime will be derailed by the presence of good guys with guns has only to examine the data.  How many mass shootings – indeed, how many shootings of any kind – have been stopped by an armed citizen?  Spoiler alert: it’s not that many.

The fact is that good guys with guns very rarely stop bad guys with guns.  In fact, according to FBI data, for every “justifiable homicide” (which could arguably be called a good-guys-with-guns scenario) in 2012, there were thirty-four criminal gun homicides, seventy-eight gun suicides, and two accidental gun deaths.  Let me restate that, folks, so the message is not lost: statistically, you are twice as likely to accidentally shoot yourself to death as you are to use your gun to kill a criminal.  Less than one percent of gun-related deaths are caused by a good guy with a gun stopping the commission of a crime.  Sorry, gun advocates, but that argument simply doesn’t hit its target.

Furthermore, if good guys with guns deterred bad guys with guns, then certainly the amount of gun violence would have risen in recent years.  After all, the General Social Survey report entitled Trends in Gun Ownership in the United States, 1972-2014 (PDF) shows that the number of Americans who own guns, or who live in a household with somebody who owns guns, has declined over the past 25 years.  Fewer gun owners = more crime, right?  Well, no.  Gun homicide rates have actually decreased by 49 percent since a peak in 1993, according to the Pew Research Center.

Let’s pull this all together.  The number of people who own guns has been decreasing over the last few decades, as has the rate of gun violence.  I’m not trying to say that A causes B; after all, I understand that correlation is not the same as causation.  But…and this is important, so pay attention, gun advocates…these data do not show that gun violence decreases when there are more gun owners, nor that it increases when there are fewer.  The implication made by the top part of this meme simply is not true.  No matter how often gun advocates parrot the words of Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, there is no evidence to suggest that good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.

If you’re a gun advocate and you’re not already frothing mad at me, frantically scrolling down to find the Comment link, perhaps I can push you over the edge with my dissection of the second part of this meme.

If good guys don’t have guns (or if they have to work harder to get them, and are held accountable for what happens to them) then bad guys will have fewer guns.  Allow me to explain how.

A study (PDF) published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, in 2001, interviewed criminals who were serving time for gun-related crimes.  When asked where they obtained the firearm they carried while committing the crime that landed them in prison, about 40% divulged that they obtained their guns from their social network; i.e. from friends and family.  Another 40% claimed to have obtained a weapon from street or illegal sources.  The “illegal sources” category was not further subdivided, but one presumes that this percentage includes stolen guns.  Not surprisingly, very few criminals obtained their guns through usual legal channels: retail stores, pawn shops, etc.

Aha, the gun advocate might now be saying, that proves that criminals don’t get their guns from legal sources!  Harsh restrictions on law-abiding citizens will do nothing to stop criminals from obtaining weapons.  Well, not so fast.  ATF agent Jay Wachtel, speaking to PBS Frontline, says that stolen guns account for only 10 to 15% of the guns used in crimes.  In other words, 85 to 90% of the guns used in crimes were given to the criminal willingly, often by people who had acquired the guns through legal means.  In some cases a person agrees to purchase a gun for another person who would otherwise be unable to buy one.  In other cases a corrupt gun dealer makes an under-the-table sale to a buyer who wishes to remain anonymous.  In all of those cases, tougher restrictions on the legal sale and trading of guns – and harsher punishments for people who break the rules – would reduce the number of guns that eventually find their way into the hands of criminals.

So, there isn’t any conceivable way in which this meme is correct.  There’s no good evidence to suggest that a more heavily-armed American public will deter gun crime, nor can it be argued that disarming honest people will result in more criminals committing crimes with guns.  And for heaven’s sake, you’re not stupid if you disagree with the point this meme is trying to make.