He’s Back

Alevo, Astute Political Commentator, has returned with a scathing patriotic rebuttal of my Misplaced Pride post (see the bottom for his comments).

Where have you been?


Stop Sending Me Lies!

Most people have at least one person who sends them forwarded emails constantly. Instantly distinguishable by the “Fwd:” in the subject line and the

> usually
> very >> poorly
> formatted text,

(not to mention that they’re coming from “that friend who sends those friggin forwards”), these emails are generally inane, sometimes profane and occasionally hilarious.

I have a few friends that fit into this category of e-mailer. Some have a great track record and I always read their forwards, others I delete as soon as I see the “Fwd:” in the subject line. But every so often I get an email, often from someone who very rarely sends forwards, that fits into a different category: the earnest warning email, the earnest boycott email, the earnest petition email. I’m here to make it clear to all of you who engage in this practice: stop making yourselves look like fools. Stop sending me these lies!

Let me start with the earnest warning emails. These follow a well-established formula: start by warning of a grave and urgent threat, describe what to look out for, and then urge the recipient to act like a good citizen and pass it on. I recently received an email that said that the latest scheme hatched by clever deviants and muggers is to hang out in parking lots at shopping centers asking women to smell a sample perfume. BUT IT’S NOT PERFUME! IT’S ETHER, AND IT CAUSES YOU TO PASS OUT, LEAVING YOU UTTERLY VULNERABLE!

Except that’s complete nonsense. You can’t render someone unconscious with a sniff or two of a substance, and there has never been a credible report of this happening. Just like you don’t have to worry about someone calling your cellphone and asking you to press 9, leaving you with massive phone charges, like the email I received today. Stop sending me bogus warnings!

The earnest boycott emails follow another established formula: establish a case against a particular company (Starbucks doesn’t support the war in Iraq), tell you what you shouldn’t be buying from them (coffee), and then urge the recipient to act like a good consumer and pass it on. I just got an email, pretty much identical to one I received last spring, urging me to boycott Petro-Canada so that oil prices come down. The idea that by boycotting a Canadian refinery and petroleum distribution company we can cause world oil prices to fall seems silly at best, but that didn’t stop the author from urging me to pass it along to everyone I knew. Stop sending me misguided and illogical boycotts!

Then there’s the earnest petition emails. I distinguish between petition emails that ask me to sign by going to a website and entering my information, and the petition emails I get that ask me to add my name to a list contained in the email and pass it on with instructions to send it back to the original author when it gets long enough. Petition emails like the former make sense. Petition emails like the latter lead to lists that look like this:

> Andrew
> David Uzbeki, AUSTRALIA
> Susan Higgins, I totally agree and I think that this is ridiculous
>> Dave H.
>> this is bullshit
>> Ziggy

I don’t think legislators take “petitions” like this very seriously. And how does forming a petition like this even make sense? If the list is 200 people long and you’re supposed to return it at 300 people, and I forward it to 5 people, it just split into 5 different copies where the first 200 people will be the same and the last 100 will be completely different. To make matters worse, this split occurs every time someone sends it to more than one person. All you’re really doing is clogging inboxes with digital versions of “Ahmed was here”. Stop sending me self-indulgent digital crap!

I’m always getting (generally untrue) warnings about computer viruses. These emails are the REAL viruses, designed to be as infectious as possible (SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!) and they’re spread by well-meaning but gullible people who don’t realize they’re the Internet equivalent of a juicy cold-sore on the mouth of a compulsive lipstick sampler.

You can fight the herpes of the Internet by protecting yourself with Snopes. They live to debunk this stuff, and to give the green light to the occasional tidbits of truth that pop up in my inbox. They researched the perfume rapists, the press-9 scammers, the Starbucks and gasoline refinery boycotters so I didn’t have to. So before you forward, check Snopes.

And please, pass this along to everyone you know.


More on Failure of Leadership

After writing about the lack of leadership in this country a few days ago, I thought it was interesting to find an article in the Globe today that addresses that same issue. Entitled “Poor leadership in Ottawa hurting Canada, CEOs say”, the article is about a declaration by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives that warns “a failure of leadership by Ottawa on the economy has left the country without a long-term strategy to survive increasingly brutal global competition”.

Although I’m sure I would disagree with some of what they’re saying, given the heavy corporate perspective (including executives from our major banks), I thought these quotes were interesting because they reveal the same dissatisfaction with our leadership I’m so frustrated with:

“As a political entity, Canada is a nation adrift. A minority federal government is frittering away the fruits of years of sacrifice.”

“In the political arena, the very idea of strategic policymaking is drowning in the swirling search for momentary tactical advantage.”

“What really matters to Canadians is not where our political parties stand in the polls five minutes from now, but what kind of country our children will inherit over the next generation.”


More on Hutchison

What follows is a response made by a visitor to a post I wrote some time ago called “The Discovery Channel is Bogus!”. Read the original post and the response here to get the context.


Richard, thanks for dropping by the site. I appreciate your comments, and I’d like to respond to them one at a time, starting with this one:

“an object is either held [by] a magnet or it isn’t. once a magnetic field is too weak to hold an object up, the object falls, there is no medium ground that would allow an object to be slowly lowered. and even if this was possible, it does not explain why the objects flip around and move horizontally also.”

There was no “middle ground” where the object was being “slowly lowered”. The object was on the surface of the wood and then would reluctantly detach, but as soon as it lost contact with the wood it immediately rose (or fell, I would argue) off the screen. This is consistent with an object that is held in place behind the wood (it’s interesting that the surface is wood, a material with no magnetic properties) by an electromagnet with decreasing current – as soon as the object loses contact with the surface the magnetic field no longer holds it in place and it falls. I did not see any video that showed the object moving horizontally once it detached from the surface.

“he mentions the string as if it is proof positive that [H]utchison is a fake. but i guess he fails to realize that in order for his theory about the electromagnet and upside down camera to be accurate. the toy UFO would have to be standing on the end of the string instead of hanging from it.”

In the case of the object held by a string, an electromagnet isn’t necessary, all you need is a string (in fact, I said that that clip didn’t “fit in well with my upside-down electromagnet hoax idea”). All that’s happening here is an object attached to a string, a laughably transparent trick. Watch this video, where you can clearly see a string in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. I think it speaks for itself.

You also say that my “most convincing point is that [H]utchison himself dresses funny and has unusual stuff in his apartment”. How Hutchison looks or what he has in his apartment is irrelevant to my criticism and was merely included for some flavour and context, it’s certainly not my “most convincing point” or even a point at all.

I am not familiar with all of the so-called Hutchison Effects, so I will limit my criticism to his claims that he is able to inexplicably overcome gravity and levitate objects. This is a clear case of pseudoscience – false claims that do not comply with the scientific method. His levitation “experiments” have these characteristics of pseudoscience:

– They contradict experimentally established results
– They fail to provide an experimental possibility of reproducible results
– They violate Occam’s Razor

I think an explanation of these three characteristics would be interesting to many of my readers. First, his “levitation” contradicts experimentally established results. In fact, his claims to be able to levitate objects run counter to a vast body of theories and evidence, like Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (which deals with gravity among other things) and the enormous number of experiments that have verified this theory.

Second, his levitation “experiments” fail to provide reproducible results. An experiment should be reproducible, that is, you should be able to tell someone else what to do to get the same results you got. That’s why real scientists document every step of an experiment, so that other scientists can try it themselves to see that it works or doesn’t work. Hutchison doesn’t do that, maybe because instructing someone to tie a string to an object and jerk it around is a little embarrassing.

The third characteristic is a really damning criticism of Hutchison’s levitation claims, which is that they violate Occam’s Razor, the principle that when “multiple explanations are available for a phenomenon, the simplest version is preferred”. When looking at Hutchison’s levitation claims, we are faced with two possibilities: 1) that Einstein was wrong and our conception of space, time and gravity is thus completely incorrect, in spite of the fact that this theory accurately describes the motion of the planets, has been verified in thousands of experiments and has led to inventions like the atom bomb, or 2) that an eccentric fraud is dangling some objects from a string and claiming levitation or otherwise deceiving people.

Einstein produced theories (subsequently verified by experiments), Hutchison produces videotapes. Whether or not he deceives people using string, magnets or some other mechanism is irrelevant. I have seen videotape that looked entirely real of a man capable of flying from building to building because he shoots a sticky web from his hands, but that doesn’t mean I think Spiderman really exists. David Copperfield is able to make a 747 vanish in front of crowds of people, but no one believes it’s anything more than large-scale sleight-of-hand.

Hutchison’s levitation claims don’t even stand up to common sense. If he could levitate objects in the 1970s, where are the inventions today that are based on his inventions? The invention of jet engines quickly led to jet aircraft, why hasn’t the invention of levitation led to levitation aircraft? Aren’t the applications of such an invention obvious?

What’s interesting to me about your impassioned defense of Hutchison is that you care so much. There are scientific theories and experiments that are even more remarkable than what Hutchison claims to be able to do that are genuine (for instance, the relative nature of time, knowledge that Einstein, once again, brought us) but I doubt that you feel as passionate about these theories as you do about Hutchison’s claims or probably many other pseudoscientific claims.

I think this is because pseudoscience is much like religion: it satisfies people’s desires for the unexplainable, the mysterious, the supernatural. If objects can levitate, perhaps we can levitate ourselves and fly – perhaps we can invent a time machine – perhaps there are aliens among us. When real science comes along to debunk these claims, the believers in pseudoscience react emotionally, not rationally, because these criticisms strike at that inner desire to believe in “something more”. Or perhaps just because they realize that they just don’t stand up to rational criticism.

If you get a chance, pick up a copy of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, which does a great job of comparing pseudoscience with the genuine scientific method.


A Little Late-Night Ugliness

We’ve been sleeping with the window open lately because it’s been cool at night, so it’s comfortable. The problem is that our street seems to get a fair amount of foot-traffic, including loudmouthed drunks heading home from who knows where on weeknights (on the weekend, I am a loudmouthed drunk, so I sleep soundly through any commotion).

Last night was a little different though. I woke up because there were people outside talking loudly and aggressively just in time to hear this vile tidbit of racist nastiness:

“We don’t need no coons around here, ya fuckin nigger”.

Right away my adrenaline started going, because I expected the next thing I’d hear would be violence and I’d have to call the cops. I considered looking outside, but I was in that night-time sleepy mode where even a bladder on the verge of exploding is not enough to make you get out of bed.

But I didn’t hear anything more except the voices fading into the distance. I don’t think whoever this comment was directed to responded, which is probably a good thing for them in terms of safety.

I had trouble falling back asleep because I was angry. These travelling groups of punks are a scourge in this city. Like packs of hyenas they bark and snarl when they’re with each other, but when they’re by themselves they skulk by without a peep.

The worst part is there’s so little you can do. If you’re black and they verbally assault you, you better just keep on walking because if you so much say a word, you’re gonna get hurt, and by the time the cops get there they’ll be long gone. If you’re indoors and hear something like I did, you better keep quiet too, because while they might retreat if you threaten to call the police, they will surely be back to destroy your property. Those who do get assaulted (like me and other people I know, including one person recently who is in danger of losing an eye due to an unprovoked assault by a carload of jackasses) often don’t even bother reporting it, because it’s not taken especially seriously by police unless it causes serious injury or death.

So abuse goes by unconfronted and justice remains undone. Perhaps this is one of the costs of living in a free society – you can’t do anything to stop these people from associating with one another, from roaming around late at night looking for opportunities to do harm, from casting about racial slurs in the hopes they’ll reel in someone brave or foolish enough to confront them.

In the end, they do get what they deserve. Eventually, if they manage to stay out of prison or avoid messing with the wrong person, they will find themselves old, weak, jobless, depressed, unfulfilled, drug- or alcohol-addicted. Life will unravel as a dreary landscape of low-rent apartments, low-paying jobs or lower-paying welfare. The sexy tight-jean wearing honeys who look up to their violent escapades will fatten and take to wearing jogging pants, puffing two packs a day and swearing at them for being so utterly useless. Drunk enough to overcome their revulsion with each other one night, they’ll screw, conceive and produce a dirty-diapered child who reminds each of them of the other’s faults, which to them will be enough of an excuse to treat the child poorly, or even abuse it.

And so the cycle begins again.

Funny how anger can turn into pity and even compassion…

Life, politics, code and current events from a Canadian perspective.

Adrian Duyzer
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