Olympics tribute to the British National Health Service

I didn’t watch the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics. For that matter, I still haven’t seen the lavishly-praised 2008 Beijing ceremonies either or any Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade or any of the Royal weddings or state funerals. The truth is I am just not a big fan of long, elaborate, staged, set-piece ceremonies. I find them incredibly boring. Give me a ten-minute clip of the highlights and I might watch. But I am glad when the events go off well, given all the hard work (not to mention money) that goes into them, and so was pleased to see that the London event had been well-received. [Read more...]

Parks? Who needs parks?

Herman Cain continues his “Look at me! I’m an idiot who is willing to be made a fool of by comedians just for the attention!” tour by talking with John Oliver of The Daily Show about how he would lower the price of gas by allowing drilling over most of the national parks, thus effectively destroying the jewels of the American landscape. Because that is part of god’s grand plan. Besides, how many picnic tables do people really need? And do you really need more than one giant redwood tree to appreciate their grandeur? [Read more...]

Pakistan’s slide into theocracy

Pakistan is a country that seems to be standing at the intersection of secular and religious currents. One leads to a modern state that could become a powerful force in science, technology, and commerce. The other leads to a backward looking theocracy. Although modernism will eventually win out, as it always does, the signs are not hopeful in the short run. There are many signs that the craven political leadership is giving in to the clerics and religious fanatics. [Read more...]

Voting for an increase in income tax rates

I live in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. It is a fairly small residential community of about 5 square miles and 30,000 people. It has long been proud of the quality of life and services offered to its residents, and of its public school system which both our daughters attended throughout the K-12 years. In order to maintain this without a significant commercial base means that we have one of the highest tax rates in the state. [Read more...]

Joseph Stiglitz on The Daily Show

The Nobel prize-winning economist talks about how the US economy, if not already broken, is on its way to becoming so because of the rapidly rising inequality that is becoming entrenched and hereditary as the rich put in place laws that preserve their privileges. He dates the beginning of decline to 1980 when the divergence between the very rich and the rest of us began. [Read more...]

Alexander Aan’s blasphemy

Reader Mark of the Cleveland Freethinkers has asked me to try and rally support for Atheist Alliance International’s new scholarship fund for imprisoned Indonesian Alexander Aan who was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and a fine equivalent to US $10,600 essentially for denying the existence of god on his Facebook page. The news report says that “Ana [sic] was accused of writing ‘God doesn’t exist,’ and posting links to explicit cartons showing the Prophet Mohammed having sex with a maid, and being sexually attracted to his daughter-in-law.” [Read more...]

Vampires and zombies

I have recently been on a Sherlock Holmes kick, watching episodes of the old British TV series starring Jeremy Brett and then reading the stories again since some years have passed since I last did so. The latest one was the 1994 episode The Last Vampyre based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire in which a case is brought to Baker Street about a possible vampire in the county of Sussex. Holmes, the epitome of rationality and scientific deduction, dismisses out of hand the idea of vampires and has no doubt that there is a perfectly ordinary explanation for the reports. [Read more...]

Lewis Black rants on The Daily Show

Luckily for me, I almost never watch TV otherwise the political commercials that Black castigates would drive me insane, especially since Ohio is a so-called ‘swing state’ and we get much more than our fair share of this nonsense. Yes, we are all swingers here. To think that TV viewers have to put up with this for another three months makes me worry whether come November, people will be wandering around with glazed eyes. [Read more...]

How fake news can get created

It should not be a surprise that I like blogs. But it is true that bloggers are sometimes responsible for the generation of fake news that makes its way into the mainstream media. This happens when a poorly-sourced item on a blog gets picked up by other blogs and spreads, creating the impression that it is based on fact. These items tend to be those that are either intriguing, surprising, or address widely held beliefs or hot trends.

Ryan Holliday in Forbes magazine provided two recent examples of how this happened. Edward Jay Epstein exposed one article that appeared in the New York Times that said “A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are ‘clinical psychopaths’ and that they exhibit an ‘unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.'” But while many people might suspect that to be true, no such study exists. Or rather there was a study that had some data on corporate professionals but whose authors did not make any claim along the lines reported in the news articles.

While bloggers are sometimes responsible for these false news items gaining wider currency, on the plus side, bloggers can also be a valuable source for corrections to false news.

One lesson from this is to pay close attention to the sourcing of the news. But not everyone has the time or the resources to track down and gain access to the original source. Another option is to treat such conclusions as tentative and wait a bit before passing judgment to allow for corrections and opposing views to surface.