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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bloomberg: Give Up Freedom To Protect Us From Those Who Would Take Our Freedom

Mayor Bloomberg says that the interpretation of the Constitution will ‘have to change’ after Boston bombing:
“But we live in a complex word where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”
“...Look, we live in a very dangerous world. We know there are people who want to take away our freedoms." 
He is right about one thing.  There are people who want to take away our freedoms.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Theory is Not Invalid Because It Is a Conspiracy Theory, Part 1

Say a government official, Mr. X, gets assassinated.  The official government investigation determines the murder was committed by crazed individual in a temporary moment of insanity.  However, eyewitnesses come forward and claim their testimony was ignored by the investigators and left out of the final report.  These witnesses tell other journalists they saw multiple people firing guns. A grainy video of the shooting emerges seeming to show gun shots fired from several locations.  Two of these five eyewitnesses suddenly die in separate car accidents within a week.  The government won't release an autopsy of Mr. X and it is learned that the body was cremated 24 hours after the murder.  Oddly enough, the person who took over for the murdered politician, Mr. Z, has a history of having his political rivals die under mysterious circumstances.  Furthermore, several aides to Mr. Z claim they witnessed him meeting with people in the days leading up to the event that are later identified as possible shooters in the video.  A theory emerges (theory #1) that Mr. Z conspired to murder his rival and cover up his guilt.    

At the same time, another "theory" of these events emerges on the internet (theory #2).  A website claims that pink lizard creatures from Jupiter have carried out the assassination as a prelude to an alien takeover of the earth.  No evidence is provided for this theory, but the author assures you that anyone who denies the story is part of the alien conspiracy.

Those concerned with these events push journalists to continue to investigate the story.  Others in the media dismiss these concerns as the ravings of "conspiracy theorists."  Press agents for the politician ridicule all of these conspiracy theories as the mad speculations of tinfoil hat wearing kooks on the internet.  After all, the government performed an investigation and determined the truth.

Note that both theory #1 and theory #2 are "conspiracy" theories in that they postulate that individuals (or aliens) secretly plotted and carried out a covert criminal act and then engaged in a cover up of the crime. But are theory #1 and theory #2 equally valid? Should we be equally suspicious of both theories because they are so-called conspiracy theories?  

Of course, theory #1 is a valid theory.  Although there is no "smoking gun" such as a confession from the perpetrator, actual evidence has been put forward that casts doubt on the official story that would lead any reasonable person to question the official narrative and at least be cause for further investigation.  Theory #2 is not a valid theory.  No evidence is put forward at all to substantiate the claims, the basic premise is at odds with known scientific facts, and the theory fails to account for the actual known facts of the case in any substantive way.  It should be dismissed.  

I have created this rather obvious example to demonstrate the point that conspiracy theories should not be disregarded merely because they are conspiracy theories.  They should be disregarded if they are bad theories or not a theory at all.  Of course, in reality, there is a spectrum of credibility as it relates to conspiracy theories ranging from very plausible to outright insane, but I believe there is a trend towards discrediting those who postulate alternative explanations of events merely because they postulate alternative explanations.  To many, the concept of a conspiracy theory has now become almost equivalent to "crazy idea" regardless of the merits of the proposed theory.

To maintain the integrity of government in a free society, serious violations of the law by government officials must be exposed and those involved brought to justice. If  legitimate theories about conspiracies are automatically dismissed because they are considered part of some class of automatically invalidated knowledge ("those crazy conspiracy theories") it creates a dangerous climate where anyone who questions the government is regarded as a nut or worse (as we shall see in Part 2). Conversely, if every theory, regardless of its merits, is considered something worth investigating, it not only results in a waste of time, but it tends to decrease the enthusiasm and support for legitimate investigations.

In Part 2, I will analyze a paper written by our old nemesis, Cass Sunstein, on the topic of conspiracy theories.  Sunstein as usual has some subtly scary ideas about what to do with all of these conspiracy theorists.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

American Education Is Broken, Here Is How to Start Fixing It

I recently was made aware of an effort to produce a crucial documentary film, The School That Never Was. Quoting the kickstarter campaign website:
"We've seen the statistics and read the stories. If you're a parent, you live with it every day. Public education is broken. And no one seems to know how to fix it. It wasn't supposed to be like this. The American education system was once the envy of the world. Once. No more. 
The School That Never Was documentary will show how education got this way and what we can do to fix it."
The film will be produced by Chris Mortensen, an award winning writer, producer, and director who has created more than 100 hours of documentary and reality programming in the last fifteen years. His programs have appeared on History Channel, A&E, Discovery, TLC, BET, VH-1, ESPN, Travel Channel, and other channels. Most recently he completed a feature length documentary on the resurgent interest in Ayn Rand’s controversial novel Atlas Shrugged and the validity of its dire prediction for America.

What impresses me about this project is that it will not try to convince people that the current education system is flawed - everyone knows that. Instead, it will examine the development of American education by looking at the ideas that brought us to where we are today. In other words, it will take an approach virtually unheard of today, because it will consider solutions by first examining and identifying the causes of the problem! Again quoting the site:
The School That Never Was will identify and examine the fateful decisions that brought us to the low point we're at today. Then we'll navigate the road not taken to discover the school system that might have been but never was. 
Along the way it is our hope to answer such fundamental questions as:
- What are schools for?
- Who should teach?
- Who should be taught?
- What should they learn?
- Who should administer the schools?
- Who should pay for it?
- What role—if any—should the government have in educating our children?
According to the producers, the film will examine many viewpoints for how to improve American education--including radical positions often ignored by other media, but it will not be a polemic for any one position. Their goal is to be the first step in an education revolution by questioning every fundamental premise and rethinking every assumption underlying American education.  In my view, nothing short will do.  

If you want to be a part of the effort or contribute to the film's production or just watch the trailer, here's the link.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hear me on the "You Know I'm Right" Podcast!

I recently was a guest on Sunny Lohmann's podcast "You Know I'm Right" to discuss NYC and the Nanny State.

Check it out!

And check out her great blog at House of Sunny.