“When we’re telling whoppers about Obama and government, please don’t pester us with the facts” Department

June 27, 2011

First:  American Elephant, a blog that insults pachyderms with its mendacious ways, stretches for ways to complain about President Obama.  In a recent post, the author tried to poke ill-humored fun at Obama and companies he’s visited over the past couple of years.  It’s the headline that caught my attention:

“President Obama has never held a private job, but picks the winners and losers for the economy”

The premise is false, of course — it’s based on that Republican smear meme that Obama and his cabinet lack experience in the private sector, a smear that breaks down quickly if anyone looks at the biographies of the cabinet.  Obama also comes from the private sector, though when confronted with the facts the meme spreaders tend to make rash and foolish claims like “the Catholic church is public sector” and “lawyers all work for the government.”

Conspiracy theory cartoon by Chris Madden

Cartoon by Chris Madden, via TV Tropes

I left a response there, but don’t expect the blog owner to show the decency of allowing it through moderation:

President Obama worked for a private group providing services to people below the poverty line, and then he worked for a very large private law firm, while teaching at the privately-run University of Chicago.  He had never worked for government until his election to the Illinois State Senate (is that salaried?).

You should probably correct the headline.

As if.  Not only is the headline wrong, but the evidence doesn’t support the second premise, and there are other serious problems with the claims and arguments advanced there.  True American elephants probably take to drink to try to forget what’s being done under their name.

Second, and probably third:  There is the minor kerfuffle of the hoax report out of Pakistan that nuclear power plants in Nebraska are either near meltdown, or already melted down, and you don’t know about it because President Obama ordered a news blackout to avoid panic but at the same time condemning hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners to radiation poisoning deaths.  It’s an absurd story on several fronts and several levels — news of the flood plight of the power plants has been reported around the world, for example — but those bent on being suckered by every conspiracy claim to come down the pike, or bent on criticizing President Obama no matter how much they must twist the fact to do it, cannot be dissuaded.

Take for example this odd blog:  A discussion of the imagined meltdown quickly disintegrates into defense of holding on to birther views despite Obama’s release of his “long form” birth certificate (no good information goes un-urinated upon).  Then discussion veers off into all sorts of paranoia — UN “control” of U.S. lands, occupation of several states by rogue Transportation Security Agents (you didn’t hear about it due to the news blackout, most likely), Obama’s being controlled by or controlling GE (‘didn’t GE have something to do with the design of those nuclear reactors?’), Army Corps of Engineers plots to flood the Midwest (????), Obama’s overturning the Constitution through the use of executive orders (which no one there can find at the moment, but they’re sure they exist, somewhere . . .  gee, did we misplace it?) including a wholly imaginary order to take over all rural lands in the U.S. (why?), and complaints that the U.S. is not deporting U.S. soldiers or their families quickly enough.

Such a ball of delusional paranoia and errors of history, law, and other facts!  One might imagine these people so involved in tracking down misinformation and distorting real information that they forget to kick their dogs.  (Seriously, I’d tend to think these people could be helped by having a dog or a cat, except for the very real fear I have they’d forget to feed the creatures; like a drowning person, fighting all efforts to save them.)

Our nation has a collective inability to deal with the facts of too many situations, because too many people simply deny the facts in front of our collective national faceJonathan Kay’s recent book, Among the Truthers, gets at the problem — you can imagine how strongly any of these bloggers and commenters would resist even reading Kay’s book.  It’s not that they seek information to make good decisions on policy, but that they seek the misinformation to justify their paranoid claims that “we are all really, really screwed!

As with the blogs noted above, we witness the birth of voodoo history, bogus history, and intentional ignorance.

There is a great danger from these cesspools of willful ignorance.  As more people refuse to grant credence to facts, to reality, it becomes more difficult to muster a consensus on what to do about any particular problem.  Wildfires and drought in Texas this year already wiped out more than three-fifths of the state’s wheat harvest; floods in the upper Midwest will surely do serious damage to wheat crops there.  We face a shortage of the surpluses of wheat the nation has used to bring peace and vanquish hunger around the world for the past 60 years — think of our “sale” of wheat to the old Soviet Union, stopping the starvation death toll under 10 million and indebting the USSR to the U.S. and the non-communist West — a debt the USSR never could pay off, and a debt which was the hammer to start the crumbling of the foundations of Soviet Communism.  In short, we have a wheat supply problem, caused in no small part by weather extremes that are, mostly likely, aggravated by global warming.

Can we agree to take action?  Probably not, not so long as so many people deny that warming is happening and throw every roadblock in the path of action, in the name of “preventing government takeover.”

As a nation, we have problems with flood control, and emergency preparedness, and the management of undeveloped lands and farm lands — not to mention the many urban problems we face.  What are the odds we can get a consensus on any of those problems, at least enough of a consensus to take constructive action?

For want of a nail, the horseshoe was lost, begins the old saw.  We can’t even get agreement that horseshoes should be nailed to a horse’s hoof — how can we get the consensus to make sure there are enough nails to do the job?


Laden’s late; but, is Yellowstone gonna blow AND TAKE US WITH IT?

February 26, 2011

The veteran reader of this blog — can there be more than one? — may recall the kerfuffle a couple of years ago when there was a “swarm” of earthquakes in the Yellowstone.  Alas for those prone to panic attacks, the swarm ran through the Hanukkah/Ramadan/Christmas/KWANZAA/New Year’s holidays, when other news is slack.

Yellowstone Caldera, Smith and Siegel 2000

What the Yellowstone Caldera might look like from space, by moonlight, on a clear night, if you can imagine the borders of Yellowstone National Park very vividly – Smith and Siegel, 2000

You might understand, then, why I say Greg Laden turns his considerable story-telling prowess to the issue late.  Still, his prowess towers over the rest of us, and he tells a great story.

Is the Yellowstone safe? he asks, rhetorically.

The answer is complex:

1) Wear a seat belt when driving around in the region;

2) Don’t feed the bears and make sure you understand bear safety; and

3) Somebody is going to get blasted by some kind of volcano in the area some day, but even if you live there the chances are it won’t be you.

The joy is in the journey — go read Laden’s explanation of the rising lava.  Heck, even those of us who think we know that stuff understand it better when he explains it.

Earlier in the Bathtub:

Also see:


No, WHO is not taking over the world with swine flu scares

August 9, 2009

Turn up the craziness that is opposition to health care reform, and you get genuine, full-blown “hot zone” conspiracy wholly ungrounded in reality.

Like coathangers, hoaxes multiply in the closet!  Put ’em in the dark, they’ll invent stuff beyond your wildest imagination.  It’s a perfect storm of voodoo science, voodoo history, paranoia and just plain hysteria.

TinFoilHatArea sign

But they’ll swear it’s true.

A new hoax claims the World Health Organization (WHO) got a secret law passed to allow them to take over the world just as soon as they can get a few more people to catch swine flu.  No, really.

Under special pandemic plans enacted around the world including the USA, in 2005, national governments are to be dissolved in the event of a pandemic emergency and replaced by special crisis committees, which take charge of the health and security infrastructure of a country, and which are answerable to the WHO and EU in Europe and to the WHO and UN in North America.

If the Model Emergency Health Powers Act is implemented on the instructions of WHI, it will be a criminal offence for Americans to refuse the vaccine. Police are allowed to use deadly force against “criminal” suspects.

Through their control of these special pandemic crisis committees with the power to enact legislation to be set up most countries, the WHO, UN and EU become the de facto government of a large part of the world.

Mass murder and death will also bring economic collapse and disruption, starvation and wars – and these events will lead to a further population reduction.

Absolutely false.  WHO has no such plans.  Check with your health professionals, they’ll tell you swine flu is a real concern (even though it looks like swift action has prevented a lot of trouble so far, and may prevent a lot of ill health later).

If you made up this sort of stuff for a movie, they’d tell you “Dr. Strangelove” pushed the envelope as far as parody would go, and you should give up writing comedy, even dark comedy.

Did you notice the typographical error there in the second paragraph, where “WHO” turns into “WHI?”

That’s a DNA-style marker for this hoax.  Watch for it as it shows up at other sites where tinfoil-hat bedorned people mindlessly copy this chunk of fiction and pass it along as if it were just news about the new shopping center going in around the corner.

Much of the nuttiness appears to originate at WakeNews, from someone named Jane Bürgermeister who has grabbed .pdfs of a couple of WHO memoranda on the dangers of swine flu, and claims that instead of warnings about swine flu based on research, they are textbooks for how to use swine flu as a weapon of war against civilians.  Or it may be originating at a website she may run, Case About Birdflu (this is the url, I kid you not:  http://birdflu666.wordpress.com/) (This post, about her being fired, and with lots of “attagirls” from too-willing nutters, should be a roadmap for Prozac salesmen.)

Do not any of these people ever stop to wonder, “Hmmmm.  Curious about how this doesn’t appear on the WHO website, and how there are no links to anything that sounds even tangentially rational — I wonder if it’s true?”

Wall of Shame: Here are sites that repeated the hoax blindly, without even bothering to correct the typo (notice how few of these sites will allow you to point out an error):

Reality:  No plans to take over the world; tough plans to fight swine flu

Swine flu, more specifically the H1N1 virus, poses severe threats to real people, including you.  WHO has plans to combat the disease and its spread — laid out publicly here, for example.  There is even a Center for Strategic Health Operations (SHOC in the odd acronymical lexicon of the UN).

Preparations to fight epidemics and pandemics are part and parcel of public health operations around the world.  Almost every county in the United States has a public health office that makes plans for how to protect the local community from such diseases, and how to treat people who get the disease to help them survive.  Those who spread these hoaxes rarely know that they have people in their towns to do this work — the United Nations and WHO have no authority to intervene in these cases.

What about the Model Emergency Health Act? Proposals under that name exist — none allow people to be executed for refusing vaccinations.  As a matter of U.S. policy, almost all health legislation includes an out for religious objectors — Christian Scientists, for example, generally refuse vaccinations and much other treatment.  Jehovah Witnessses refuse transfusions.  In almost every case, those religious beliefs can be accommodated so long as the rest of us bother to protect ourselves against disease.

All of the proposals are designed to help public health officials fight disease.  Public health officials might be described as the embodiment of the name Milquetoast.  They are rarely in the forefront of your run-of-the-mill power-mad megalomaniac.  Former public health officials who rose to power in any circumstance can be counted on one hand, if there are any.  Contrast that with former religious officials, or former business executives, or former college presidents, and you begin to see reality.  WHO is not populated with people who wish to take over the world á la Pinky and the Brain.  WHO does not answer to people who resemble Pinky or the Brain in any way, either.

You may review the first (and most worrisome) draft of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act in .pdf here.  Note carefully the strong defense of the rights of individuals recognized in the preamble to the draft bill.  The 2003 version of the Model Act can be reviewed at Alaska’s site; you can also find a section-by-section analysis and other explanatory material.

This document tracks state legislative actions so far — I dare anyone to find the trampling of civil rights and lunatic claims made at the websites listed above.  If you do find troubling actions, please note them in comments here. Note well that the documents in the previous three links are maintained by officials at the State of Alaska — Sarah Palin’s appointees and public health team.  It’s unlikely that Sarah Palin would be involved in a massive, international conspiracy to imprison millions of citizens just because they are not immune to influenza.  Of course, maybe you know Palin better than I do and you think she’s a megalomaniac just looking for her chance to play Mussolini in America — but I doubt it.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are deeply involved in preparations for influenza outbreaks, and swine flu is no exception.  CDC features a page showing international preparations for swine flu; note that plans to round up recalcitrant non-inoculants for execution are not in the program.  From that page you can get to the WHO page on international preparations, and there you can link to to international health regulations on the issueWHO’s “edict” so far:

Concerning public health measures, in line with the Regulations the Director-General is recommending, on the advice of the Committee, that all countries intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

That’s it.

There is an Emergency Committee set up to deal with H1N1 specifically. The group has met four times; here is the report from the fourth meeting, in June:

11 June 2009

DG Statement following the meeting of the Emergency Committee

The Emergency Committee held its fourth meeting on 11th June 2009.

The Committee considered available information on transmission of New influenza A (H1N1) in a number of locations in countries in different regions of the World Health Organization, and concluded that the criteria for a pandemic have been met.

Following the advice from the Committee the WHO Director-General decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from the current phase 5 to phase 6. At this early stage, the pandemic can be characterized globally as being moderate in severity.

As previously recommended by the Director-General, countries should not close borders or restrict international traffic and trade.

Countries should assess their specific situation and make a timely transition from focusing national efforts on containment to focusing on mitigation measures, including appropriate non-pharmaceutical interventions.

WHO remains in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers. It is understood that production of vaccines for seasonal influenza will be completed soon, and that full capacity will be available to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come.

You can see that the paranoia reflected in the sites on the Wall of Shame, is unwarranted.

Coda: You gotta love the guys who quickly see a way to make a buck on this fear.  Here’s a guy who will sell you a “smartroom” decontamination unit to retrofit any room in your home to make you safe from swine flu — just $1,899! Crazy with dollar signs in his dreams.

The SmartRoom is designed to protect you and your family from all viruses and bacteria. It can be quickly and easily installed. The SmartRoom is lightweight, compact and is totally collapsible for storage.

The SmartRoom features an Ultraviolet Biological Airlock that you attach to any room entry in your home or office. The Smartroom Tri Filter Biological Filtration Unit creates a Biological Saferoom under positive air pressure or a Quarantine Room under negative air pressure.

If it were only so easy to protect from swine flu.  If only it were so easy to protect ourselves from the conspiracy crazies.

Update, August 11, 2009:  More than 19,000 tinfoil hatters (TFH) have signed a petition against WHO’s imagined mandatory vaccine campaign.  Sign a petition against a problem that doesn’t exist!

Update, September 12, 2009: See this debunking of pseudoscience anti-vaccine claims at Respectful Insolence.


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