Wednesday 27 October 2010

Lies, Deception and The (My) Truth

All of us are inundated, no bombarded with information from all sorts of sources: the newspaper, the TV, the radio, even friends and neighbours. What's true and what is not true? It is difficult, no sometimes impossible to sort out just what is actually true and what may be an exaggeration, a little bending of the truth or just an outright lie. Normally I would associate this sort of thing with the political arena but I am more and more seeing the concept of true / not true of the "political arena" extending beyond just the realm of our politicians.

In any of the Medias, I can hear from self-appointed pundits, supposed experts and of course, politicians telling me all sorts of things and I have no idea if they are true or false. Couple with that my precious time being used up with me just living my life day to day and I have little time left over to figure out if what I am being told may in fact represent somebody else's idea of the truth.

I have read that God's truth is immutable, that is, not susceptible to change or variation. However, in trying to decipher the avalanche of "truths" which come my way every day, I have come to realize that while I would have thought truth to be "something factual: the thing that corresponds to fact or reality"(MSN Encarta), I have painfully come to understand that other people have their own "interpretation" of the truth. Note that I preface the word truth with a definite article thinking that somehow, out there somewhere is the actual truth, not just some interpretation of it; the objective as opposed to the subjective.

Where does this leave me? I don't necessarily have the time or am even able to verify what I'm being told so that at some point, I either figure it out myself by guessing, by judging a priori or by just making a plain and simple leap of faith. However, am I doing the right thing; have I sided with the right camp or am I making a leap into the pit of fire?

Stockwell Day: Unreported Crime
“We’re very concerned … about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys clearly show are happening,” he said, calling the numbers “alarming.”
Globe and Mail, Aug 3/2010

Mr. Day stated that the Conservatives, following their tough-on-crime agenda, were supposedly slating $9 billion for new prisons. When Mr. Day was confronted by the overwhelming factual evidence from StatsCan that crime has been steadily going down in Canada since 1999, he easily explained away this discrepancy by saying that the plan was based on the "alarming" number of unreported crimes in Canada. Mr. Day then was laughed out of the headlines by everyone pointing out that the Conservative plan was to build prisons for crimes which are unreported, never investigated by police and lead to nobody being arrested. The media outlets made quite a joke of this story by saying that Canada should have unreported prisons for these unreported criminals.

see my blog Stockwell Day Dreaming the Numbers
This entry goes on to discuss a number of Conservative proposals where the outcome does not seem to match the proposal; pretty much like they're claiming that two plus two equals five.

Update #1: StatsCan: General Social Survey 2010

New numbers from StatsCan as part of its GSS supposedly support this "fact" that unreported crimes in Canada are going up. To those who think this somehow vindicates Mr. Day, I would respectfully point out that we return to the original premise presented by the journalists. How can you justify spending on new prisons for crimes which are unreported?

Update #2
Toronto Sun: Lorrie Goldstein - Oct 2, 2010-10-27

Toronto Sun: Lorrie Goldstein - Aug 24, 2010-10-27

I am afraid that Ms. Goldstein shows herself by criticizing the media's questioning of Stockwell Day by saying

But it’s par for the course in Canada, where we’re barraged by hug-a-thug propaganda from soft-on-crime media, politicians, academics, lawyers and prisoners’ rights groups.

I'm afraid I have a hard time accepting her analysis. If unreported crime is going up, we have a completely different issue to be dealing with. I still stick with saying you can't build a prison for a crime which is unreported. The Conservatives are to be hard on (unreported) crime.

Sarah Palin: Tax Increase
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said "Democrats are poised now to cause this largest tax increase in U.S. history." Similar claims have been spread by Republican TV ads, by widely forwarded chain e-mails, in interviews and even by "tweets" and other social media.
Newsweek: The Biggest Misstatements of the Midterms - Oct 26/2010

Ms. Palin has said that the Democrats led by Barack Obama are poised to enact the largest tax increase in American history. The independent fact checking web site PolitiFact.Com said that Sarah was wrong and furnished their sources upon which they based their opinion. I took the time to research this claim by downloading my own copy of the 2011 budget for the United States and discovered that PolitiFact.Com was right; Sarah Palin is wrong. Yes, I read it myself in black and white. I have to conclude that Sarah did not read the budget herself; she misinterpreted what she read or somebody else gave her this misinformation.

see my blog: 3.8 Trillion Reasons to Think of Sarah

Newt Gingrich and Dearborn, Michigan
Upon hearing of the arrest of 4 Christian missionaries outside an Arab festival, Gingrich said that it was "a clear case of freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom being sacrificed in deference to sharia's intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam."
The Washington Post: Why did Sharron Angle think Sharia had taken hold in Dearborn?
by Adam Serwer, Oct 14/2010

For crying out loud, will this nonsense ever stop about Sharia law? A Christian witness complains to the Christian police led by a Christian chief supported by a Christian mayor. Christian officers investigate and find an extremist group is not obeying the law and arrest them. The only thing remotely "Muslim" about this is the Arab festival outside of which all this happened. Okay, what if it was a Jewish festival? How about a Hindu festival? Gosh, what if it was a Christian festival? Stop with the Sharia law business. It's NOT true. Has the world gone completely mad?

Taken directly from Newt Gingrich's own web site, Human Events
Last month, police in Dearborn, Mich., which has a large Muslim population, arrested Christian missionaries for proselytizing at an Arab festival.  They were doing so in a legal, peaceful manner that is completely permissible by law, but, of course, forbidden by sharia's rules on proselytizing. Police may say they were trying to prevent an incident, but why should the 1st amendment right to freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom be sacrificed in deference to sharia's intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam?

After carefully examining the situation, all sources of information, my conclusion is that Mr. Gingrich's statement above is pure, unadulterated horse manure.
see my blog Dearborn, Michigan: Watch out for extremists!

In following this on the Internet I am absolutely shocked at how people have repeated ad infinitum, or should I say ad nauseum, this Sharia nonsense. It's just not true.

Rob Ford: Toronto's New Major (Oct 25/2010)
Ford's mantra through this campaign has been "Stop the gravy train". At face value, this seems like an idea anybody could get behind. In a YouTube video Ford rattles off a list of perks given to city council members he thinks are unjust to Toronto taxpayers. Seems pretty compelling.

In the Star's analysis (Ford's problem with free perks) of Ford's promise to remove these "free perks" and in so doing save Toronto $20 million a year, I see numbers which add up to a different picture. The total given by the Star is less than a half a million dollars, far short of this $20 million quoted by Ford. This is a perfect example of how Ford's statements sound good but do not hold up to mathematical scrutiny. Even if the Star is wrong on this one, I see nothing from Ford's camp which would substantiate his $20 million claim. This just doesn't add up.

I know that politicians make all sorts of promises during an election then once in office, they discover that realising those promises may not be so easy if at all possible.

see my blog Rob Ford: Let the show begin
This also contains a link to the Toronto Sun's list of Rob Ford promises

Fact Checking, Myth Busting
As somebody who works in the computer field, I have been many times called upon over the years by family, friends and colleagues to verify an email. Somehow my working in the field gives me some sort of "expert" status for verification work.

What do I do? Most of the time it is nothing more than calling up Google typing in "snopes" followed by a piece of text from the email enclosed in quotes. Google does its stuff and I end up with links which generally point me to a specific article on the Snopes site which explains the email in question. Certainly anybody can do this and I'm not really an expert.

However, in doing this for people over and over again, I began to realize that a vast number of us get stuff from other people whether in emails , correspondence or verbally without ever bothering to find out if it's true or not. If I go back a hundred years, 500 years or a thousand years, I can think of how we today generally think that these so called backward people were superstitious because they didn't have all the knowledge we now have. They just didn't know any better.

Yes, while today we do have more information and even more access to information thanks to the Internet and services like Google (no point having information if it isn't organized and searchable!), I do question just how much misinformation, lies and superstitions are floating around out there. The above examples from political leaders seem to point out that we are relying on other people, supposedly experts, to furnish us with "the" truth so we can make a good decision. Is that in fact the case?

True Story
Since 9/11, there have been scads of conspiracy theories about what happened and the biggest revolves around the Bush government somehow being complicit in the event. One of my favourites is how the World Trade Center buildings had been previously set with explosives and what we all witnessed when the towers collapsed was actually a controlled demolition. I've seen the videos; I've heard so called demolition experts interviewed and... well, there you have it, proof positive.

What's screwball is that flying a fuel laden airliner into a building had never occurred before. There is no other actual event with which to compare the WTC catastrophe. On top of it, when people point to the film of the popping and the supposed smoke coming out of every collapsing story as the buildings come down as somehow being indicative of a controlled charge going off, they have totally forgotten that the weight of the top part of the structure was so heavy that if the jet fuel as claimed weakened the supports on the one floor, that weight falling a mere 10 or 12 feet, the height of a story, would generate so much kinetic energy, that the remaining floors would in no way be able to withstand the force. The puffs were not demolition charges, they were the floors blowing out as this massive weight of the upper part of the building slammed downwards.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. I am at work getting a cup of coffee in the lunchroom with another colleague whom I'll call Carol. Somehow we got on the topic of 9/11 and the WTC buildings collapsing. Without a blink of an eye, Carol then tells me that the government has all important buildings wired with explosives so that in the event of a war or some sort of invasion, the government can order a building to be destroyed. I stare at her looking for some sign that she is joking: a smile, a wink, a glint in her eyes. Nothing. She is serious. I keep thinking to myself that she couldn't possibly be serious but as I question her I arrive at the unmistakable conclusion that she actually believes this to be true. "You mean that this building, our office tower, has been set with explosives?" Yep, that's what she believes. "So the government is able to give the command and this building will be demolished." Yep, that's it.

I was stunned. This was bizarre. Carol is not some stupid hick, not some Forrest Gump but how could she believe such a thing? Then it occurred to me. When I took into account the work I had done verifying emails; when I remembered what people had told me in thinking that what they were saying was true when they couldn't substantiate it; when I thought of Carol; I realized that the idea of myths, superstitions and rumours was as alive today as it was a thousand years ago. However now, it wasn't so much that we could or couldn't verify if something was true or not, we deliberately chose to believe. If our leader said it, it's true. If we read it in an email, it's true. If it's on the Internet, it's true.

Hmmm, curious. Then again, as I reflect while starring at the ceiling, do I myself have things that I believe to be true when in fact I may not have the facts to back up what I believe? Probably.

References, let's have some darn references
Since I started blogging, I decided to sometimes include a references section so as to hopefully provide some degree of authority about whatever I was saying. More and more as I examine the work of other bloggers, other so called pundits, experts, I realise that I am reading the opinion of the person in question. Nothing wrong with that but opinions can be based on fact. If, in your opinion, two plus two equals four, can you prove it? Okay, a mathematical problem may be the easiest to prove but when Newt Gingrich shamelessly and irresponsibly tells the public that Sharia law has come to Dearborn, Michigan when in fact a cursory analysis of the situation says anything but, I have to get just a tad miffed at a leadership which disseminates a message that is obviously self-serving and designed to forward a personal, slanted, biased view of the world.

Just now I was doing some research. I ran across an article which was well written but I find no footnotes, no bibliography. The statements made sound good but I read references to "a study" or "research findings" without any list of the actual references. I can't refer to an original work in order to verify what the author says or see the empirical data which would corroborate the opinion. How can I possibly cite such an article?

I go on Google and I end up finding all sorts of references to this article in other blogs and such, but I can make no link between the article and any authoritative studies conducted by a reputable organization like a university. I like the article; I guess I can build on the ideas but I am going to have to look elsewhere to find believable references to use to support anything I say. Yes I have an opinion but I would like to demonstrate that my opinion is defendable. This round robin or circular referencing is something I run into on the Net where the proof of anything being true is that A refers to B. However, in checking B, I find that B's proof is that B refers to A. What!?!

Just sound convincing, no references necessary
In my blog Extremism: I'm right and you're wrong I discuss various "experts" who are telling us "the truth". By sounding convincing, these people do not necessarily have to supply us with proof. By sounding convincing, they can actually say anything they want to and ofttimes, they will garner a following of like-thinking individuals or the undecided.

Remember Donald Rumsfeld? Now here was a man who spoke convincingly. The invasion of Iraq will cost no more than one billion dollars.

I love the word "avuncular" when I first heard it applied to Dick Cheney. The meaning of the word according to Wiktionary is "in the manner of an uncle, pertaining to an uncle; Hence, kind, genial, benevolent or tolerant". Whenever Cheney was interviewed, the smoothness of his voice, his kind manner, the seductiveness of his rapport was just that, avuncular. I wanted to believe him, Uncle Dick.

I have noticed this avuncular style, this seductive type of voice in a variety of settings which I am convinced allows the pundit or the politician to win over supporters without them having to supply one footnote, one documented reference or one shred of empirical evidence to back up anything they are saying. In the end, we are mesmerised; we want to believe.

This leads us to specious reasoning to support a claim. Take a syllogism, a method of argumentation. Here's an example

Major premise: All men are mortal.
Minor premise: Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

The structure, as you can see, is a major premise, a minor premise followed by a conclusion. So far, so good. Now look at this

Major premise: Osama is a terrorist.
Minor premise: Osama is a Muslim.
Conclusion: Muslims are terrorists.

I'm sure you're going to be jumping up and down shouting, "Not right! Not right!" Well, I hope you're jumping up and down. In any case, the point is that argumentation or should I say the "art of argumentation" can sometimes be a questionable talent. In the hands of a master, we could all end up believing that the world is flat. Ah, you do know that the world is spherical, right?

Now you may be thinking that this Muslims are terrorists is me trying to be funny but it is precisely this type of argumentation which has led the right wing conservative religious fundamentalists to tar and feather an entire religion over the actions of extremists. Newt Gingrich spins a good yarn in convincing us that Sharia as a political goal is hell bent on taking over the world and all of us should be voting to have Cordoba House moved to another planet.

Checking my beliefs
The Internet is great; Google is great; it's the world at my fingertips. Now I have no excuse; it's merely a question of me getting off my duff and doing some research, some fact checking. Okay, I'm going to shoot my mouth off but I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. Yes it's my opinion but it's a verifiable opinion.

“It's better to get something worthwhile done using deception than to fail to get something worthwhile done using truth.”
- Carlos Castaneda quotes (Peruvian born American best-selling Author and Writer, 1925-1998)

Hmmm, now that's disturbing. If I think I'm doing something worthwhile, using deception is justified? "Worthwhile" can be a subjective concept.

Then again, as the memorable character of George Costanza said on the TV show Seinfeld:

It's not a lie if you believe it.


MSN Encarta: truth

Wikipedia: Truth

Wikipedia: Lie

Wikipedia: Deception

This web site shows the "Truth-O-Meter", a trade marked


The mother of all fact checkers... if used correctly!

Snopes: Urban Legends
A terrific source of information; a great place to verify one of those email claims.


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