Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Mass Shooting Kabuki Dance

Image Source:
https://millennialpolitics.co/texas-thoughts-prayers-gun-violence/
It goes like this, with variations on the theme:
  • A lone gunman opens fire at a soft target (public school, university, movie theater, church...), killing multiple (sometimes dozens of) victims.
  • In the fog of breaking news, when facts are few and far between and the body count isn't even known, family, friends, and acquaintances of the shooter express dismay that he (almost surely a "he") was capable of such an heinous act. "No one had any idea..."
  • In the fog of breaking news, politicians and pundits express their sympathy, offer their hearts and prayers, and stake out their positions, which are the same as after the last mass shooting:
  • Republicans lament, "If only there'd been an citizen with a gun, the carnage could have been stopped...," "The shooter was obviously troubled, crazy..."
  • Democrats declare, "Access to guns is the problem [Note: It is.], we must Do Something!"
  • If the President is a Republican, he (Presidents are always "he") offers his heart and prayers, laments the absence of a good citizen with a gun, etc. etc....
  • If the President is a Democrat, he (see above) offers his heart and prayers, calls on Congress to Do Something, decries the historical lack of Congressional action because of that pesky gun lobby, etc., etc.... 
  • The fog of news begins to clear, details of the shooter's social media history are reported, other friends and family speak out. The signs were there, but no one acted...
  • NRA spokesmen declaim, "They guy was crazy! Obviously a mental case. If only there'd been a good citizen with a gun..."
  • A bill or two to implement "common sense gun controls" such as increased background checks, restrictions on gun sales to the mentally ill, etc. is introduced in Congress.
  • Outraged NRA spokesmen complain, "You can't restrict Second Amendment Rights! Every citizen, even the mentally ill, has a right to bear arms! And background checks are intrusive and an invasion of privacy!"
  • Legislation fails, dies in committee most likely.
  • A few news articles include the latest mass shooting in pieces about the history of mass shooting in America.
  • Outrage subsides.
  • Months pass.
  • Rinse, repeat.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Does Fox News Source Its Reports from Facebook Memes?

Here's that Facebook meme again, with added clarification
A couple of days ago I wrote how a Facebook meme completely misrepresents the Nunes Memo in order to promulgate a false narrative about the Trump-Russia investigation, originally begun under then-FBI Director James Comey then carried on by Special Counsel Robert Mueller appointed after Comey was summarily fired for not dropping the investigation.

(I figure if Donald Trump reads this blog he'll stop at that first sentence since it's too complex.)

OK, now that we know Trump isn't reading this, ThinkProgress.org has a report that summarizes Fox News reporting on the Nunes Memo. The sub head is "Fox News is talking about an alternate reality memo that does not exist." I think it does exist. The "memo" Fox News is reporting on is the false Facebook meme I wrote about two days ago.

Why do I think this? Here are the Fox News talking points ThinkProgress highlights:

  • The Steele dossier formed the basis for the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign - Points 1, 2, and 3 of the meme.
  • The memo describes surveillance of the Trump campaign - Points 4 and 6.
  • The FBI didn’t disclose any partisan motivations of the dossier - Point 5.
  • The dossier undermines the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation - That's the whole point.
I think that's a pretty amazing correlation.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Nunes Memo and Fake News

Facebook meme which completely misrepresents Nunes Memo
I've seen this SUMMARY OF THE MEMO meme shared on Facebook a few times. While it may represent what some people want you to believe about the Nunes Memo, it misrepresents the memo and the facts on every point. I've read the memo as well as much of the publicly released Congressional testimony and other open source reporting. Unlike this meme or the Nunes Memo itself, I will provide links to my sources. You don't have to just take my word for it. All referenced links were accessed on February 4, 2018.
  1. Two false allegations in one sentence. First: No, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC did not hire a former spy to do oppo research on Trump. A conservative website, the Washington Free Beacon, hired Fusion GPS to do the research on Trump in September or October of 2015. After Trump won the Republican nomination a law firm for the Democrat Party hired Fusion GPS [Glenn Simpson Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, August 22, 2017 pg 63, "‘Journalism for rent’: Inside the secretive firm behind the Trump dossier", Washington Post, Dec. 11, 2017]. Fusion GPS subbed out the work to Christopher Steele, a former agent of British MI6 [Journalism for rent]. Second: Fusion GPS was not hired to "concoct a fake dossier on Trump." Nor did they subcontract Steele to do so. The work was standard opposition research [Simpson Testimony pg. 63-64].
  2. Neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC gave the Steele dossier to the DOJ or the FBI. Christopher Steele took the info to the FBI after he determined that then-candidate Trump was possibly compromised by Russia [Simpson Testimony pg. 159-162].
  3. The worst you can objectively say about the Steele dossier is that it is partially verified and otherwise unverified [A Second Look at the Steele Dossier, ]. No evidence that I am aware of has discredited any of its allegations. Calling it "fake" is, well, fake news.
  4. All you have to do is read the Nunes Memo to know this one is false. There was no "Trump wiretap" requested. The DOJ/FBI requested a FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page, not Trump. And the request was made in October 2017, about a month after Page left the Trump campaign in September. [Nunes Memo].
  5. The memo is vague on whether or not the FISA court was informed about the political connections of the Steele dossier [Nunes Memo] although other reporting states that it was disclosed [Rep. Schiff: Steele dossier's political motivation disclosed in FISA application, CNN.com, Feb. 3, 2018]. This is just one of the points the Nunes Memo obfuscates to give the impression of some sort of vast conspiracy.
  6. Publicly available information including the Nunes Memo itself does not support the allegation that the FISA court was defrauded [Nunes Memo]. And to reiterate the Trump campaign was not wiretapped. This even misrepresents the already shaky claims of the Nunes Memo.
Any time you see something like this GIF shared on Facebook you should take it with a grain of salt. Heck, a bushel of salt. It is more likely than not misleading (at best) or flat out wrong (at worst). I have no idea who the source of this particular meme is, but based on descriptions of what the Russia-linked groups [Black Friday Report: On Russian Propaganda Network Mapping, Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say, Washington Post, Nov. 24, 2016] did I would not be surprised to learn that they were involved.

As to the title of this post, "The Nunes Memo and Fake News", what's the difference?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Wrong On So Many Levels: Ceto's New Friends

Ceto looks pretty Grey to me.
This is an expanded and updated version of my original review of Leah Haley's children's book Ceto's New Friends. You can read the original on Amazon.com.

A children's book about alien abductions is wrong on every level you can imagine.

Leah Haley is a former self described alien abductee, now self described government mind control victim, who has written a book about her experiences, Lost Was the Key (1993). In addition to this book, she has written a children's book called Ceto's New Friends (1995). Haley wrote both books before she determined she was a victim not of alien abductions but of government mind control experiments.

The children's book describes the adventures of two human children, Annie and Seth. One day while playing outside, Annie and Seth encounter a classic Grey alien (although Haley disputes this description of it) named Ceto. "Ceto cannot talk with his mouth. He talks with his eyes."

Ceto makes friends with the children and coaxes them into his spaceship.

Once on his spaceship, Ceto "taught them how to talk with their eyes" like he does and let them play with the spaceship controls. Who lets their kids drive their car?

When Annie and Seth started to get tired, Ceto took them back to Earth and gave them "a purple rock."

The story ends with the Ceto flying away, but with the promise that it "will come back soon to visit his new friends on Earth."

Now, what's wrong with this children's story?

OK, maybe here Ceto is chalky.
It may be the scanner.
For now we can ignore issues related to the reality (or lack thereof) of alien abductions and/or government mind control experiments. Ceto's New Friends has a much greater problem than that.

That problem is it encourages children to go away with strangers. In an era where we are hyper-sensitive to children's encounters with strangers, Ceto's New Friends sends a significant counter-message. This was true in the 1990s and possibly even more true in the 21st century.  Rather than be wary of strangers, Ceto's... sends the message that strangers will teach children all sorts of neat things (in addition to talking with their eyes, Ceto teaches Annie and Seth how to float and fly on their own (ala Peter Pan) and will give them gifts. According to the story, these are good things.

Would you tell your children to go away with strangers, that strangers met on the street will teach them great secrets and give them cool gifts, that cooperating with strangers is a Good Thing?

I don't know any parent who would willingly do such a thing, yet Leah Haley's children's book sends exactly this message.

Regardless of the reality of alien abductions, this book is flawed and could actually put children at risk. Children reading this book could get the wrong message that strangers are OK to talk to and to accept gifts from. This is hardly the message we want to send our children.

[Marc Davenport, Leah Haley's significant other (now deceased), responded to my original review. He characterized it as an "attack" and accused me of apparently advocating censorship, "since your protest against Leah's children's book seems to indicate you would like to see it cencored [sic]!" I should note that nowhere in my criticism have I ever indicated I would like to see any book, including Ceto's New Friends, suppressed. Criticism and censorship are two entirely different things.]

[The following is Leah Haley's response to an earlier version of this review. I have made only minor cosmetic changes to her message (I deleted some extraneous white space and my original message, which was quoted in its entirety). The content of her response is unchanged.]

In response to the negative criticism of my book, *Ceto's New Friends*:

There are a lot of negative forces at work in the universe, trying to stir up trouble. (I am writing about this very issue in my next book.)

To set the record straight, *Ceto's New Friends* is about an alien, not about strangers.  It is about a chalky-colored alien (like the chalky-colored creatures described in *Lost Was the Key*), not about a Gray. I believe that to teach children that all aliens are horrible entities is to create unnecessary fear. It would be like teaching children to fear all men because a few are rapists, murderers, and kidnappers.

Alien abductions are going to happen whether we like it or not. If a child has been taught by his parents to be terrified of aliens and the child is abducted, he is going to enter the experience filled with fear, which will make his experience worse.  And not all contact experiences are negative ones, but if a child has been taught to fear aliens and enters a contact experience fearful, then his experience may be unnecessarily negative.

By the way, I have two children of my own, whom I have raised to adulthood.  They are basically physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually well.  I am certain that at least one of them is an abductee, too, as she has conscious recollections of abduction experiences.  

I have stated my position and have neither the time nor the inclination to respond further. I must attend to my mission, which is educating the public about the existence of these creatures.

I wish God's blessings upon all of you who are sincerely seeking the truth.

Leah A. Haley  
Leah Haley makes a distinction between "chalky-colored" and grey aliens. I don't really see the difference in the book. They look like classic Greys. I suspect the casual reader would think the same. It's a distinction without a difference. Particularly since nowhere in the book does she specifically state their color (I guess we are supposed to figure it out for ourselves). Given that the fleshtones of the children are pretty washed out in the book it's not unreasonable to think the same of Ceto.

But that is neither here nor there. My point stands. Ceto's New Friends sends the wrong message to children and parents who would share this book with their kids are doing them a disservice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lobster Sushi! Lobster sushi?

This is not the lobster you're looking for.
Photo credit kevinEats.com Used with permission.
So. Way back in the fast and loose '90s when I was living in Hotlanta I frequently ate at a Japanese restaurant called Sakana-Ya (RIP).  Sakana-Ya had great sushi but I never tried their lobster sushi, mainly because whenever I saw it prepared it looked like something best shared with friends. So that's what I did.

And I was right.

I gathered six or so friends together and we went to Sakana-Ya one Friday night for lobster sushi, Japanese beer, and good times. We had all three (and maybe some sake too).

After we ordered drinks, (Kirin Ichiban, anyone?) we gave the waitress our sushi order. We did include the typical items (ebi, toro, salmon, etc.) but the big one was the lobster sushi. And we were in a good location to watch it prepared.

The sushi chef plucked a plump lobster from the aquarium and rinsed it off in the sink at the sushi bar. A quick chop and he separated the tail from the body, which he put aside. He cleaned the tail some more and extracted and prepared the meat. The chef placed the tail shell upside down on a platter with the meat on top, an appealing display. Then he took the body and placed it in front of the tail, as if the lobster was intact. As if it had somehow twisted its tail 180 degrees and turned it inside out.

The waitress brought the platter and set it in the center of our table. That is when I realized there was one significant aspect of lobster sushi I had missed when watching from a distance.

The lobster wasn't dead yet.

While I didn't have a big problem eating the lobster while it watched me chew, some of the others at the table were a bit disconcerted when its antennae and legs kept moving. We did find out another reason they put those rubber bands on the lobster's claws. You don't want it reaching up to pluck tail meat out of a customer's chopsticks. "That's mine! Give it back!"

Only one other aspect of the outing stands out. The waitress noticed our discomfort and offered to take the lobster back and put it in soup. We all agreed and ate the other sushi while we waited. A few minutes later the waitress brought the soup out. They had chopped the lobster into chunks, shell and all, and cooked it in a very tasty soup.

My final verdict: The lobster sushi was a bit salty but it made a great soup. Would I do it again? Probably, if I could get another group together to share the experience. For some strange reason no one seems to want to try it after I tell them this story.

A note about the photo. As I said, this all happened back in the 1990s. We were not in the habit of taking pictures of our meals when we went out so we have no photos of the actual event. The picture of Badagaje Hoe I found on kevinEats.com is the closest I have found to what we are served. Thanks to Kevin for allowing me to use it in this story.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Deer in the headlights

This deer dared me to hit it on the way to work this morning. I declined.

 

I remember the Space Shuttle Challenger

Souce: http://www.defenseimagery.mil
I remember the Space Shuttle Challenger. I watched her first liftoff on television and watched her final flight in person.

On January 28, 1986, I was a young engineer at a defense contractor in Palm Bay, Florida, about 30 miles south of Cape Canaveral. We would either go to the roof of the building or into the parking lot to watch whenever a Space Shuttle launch was scheduled. Since this was just before lunch time, several of us planned to watch from the parking lot and then go to a nearby fast food joint to eat. It was bitter cold for Florida that morning (in the 20s, well below the temperature for any previous shuttle launch -- but we didn't know that). We had one "newbie" with us, a new grad who had just started work the day before.

Source: http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ABSTRACTS/GPN-2004-00012.html
We checked our watches and when 11:38 rolled around we began to tell the newbie where to look for the shuttle over the tree line. A few seconds after liftoff Challenger was high enough that we could see her. We were telling the newbie to watch for the solid rocket booster (SRB) separation when the ball of fire and smoke erupted around the shuttle and the plumes of the two SRBs continued on, forming some sort of perverted "Y" in the sky.

We immediately rushed to a car and turned on a radio. The station that normally carried launch coverage was silent and then we heard the announcer, "Obviously a major malfunction." Some two or three minutes later we felt a rumble in the car. We didn't realize at first that it was the sound of Challenger exploding.

We were stunned. We all had worked on contracts associated in one way or the other with the space program and we felt this loss personally. I can't say what we did for the rest of the day but I remember our group leader had a little black and white television in his office. We all clustered around it to watch news coverage.

This was the last manned space launch I watched in person. A couple of months later NASA launched a Delta rocket to deploy a weather satellite. I went up to the Cape to watch this one. Problems after liftoff forced the flight safety officer to destruct the launch vehicle a minute or so after liftoff. That was the last unmanned launch I watched in person.

Today marks 30 years since the loss of the Challenger. In that time we have lost another shuttle, Columbia broke up on reentry after an otherwise successful 16 day mission in 2003. I had moved on to another job and another state by then but it still hit hard.