Archive for October, 2016

Rigged Election

October 19, 2016 1 comment

From time to time I stray away from thoughts on religion and indulge myself with a post on my skepticism. For new people to the blog (as I’m happily gaining followers) I teach a course on Skepticism with a focus on conspiracy theories. It’s an interesting topic because almost every conspiracy theory falls into the same traps, and to list a few (and this list is by no means comprehensive): they have no evidence, they rely on coincidence, and they would collapse under their own weight if they were true.

The last one is a subtle accusation and one that most people would deny. Sure it’s possible that all of these theories could be true, but that’s “possible” in the strictly logical sense of the word, as in there is inherent impossibility that these ideas possess. Whether or not they are plausible is a completely different story, and they are not. There are very few conspiracy theories that have even the remotest inkling of plausibility. Simply because of the numbers. Italian philosopher, politician, playwright, and guy who tries to steal a river (with Leonardo Da Vinci): Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that people cannot keep secrets. If a person needs to tell a person they need to tell no more than one person because the secrets get out otherwise. For almost every conspiracy theory to be true they require a vast amount of people acting in perfect concert and with a 100% success rate of secrecy.

Right now, GOP-ish candidate for US president is complaining that the election is rigged against him. This is an odd claim for someone to make before the election happens, and especially odd with three weeks to go, but nonetheless he’s attempting to delegitimize the election process so that he can go along in his happy little world never having to admit that it was him a majority of Americans are happily rejecting. Further he’s trying to claim that something called “the media” is against him as well. This claim is so pervasive that journalists who are assigned to cover his campaign are now assigned security to protect them against perceived threats from his supporters. Again, it’s the fault that he’s a simpleton whose appeal does not extend beyond a strain of nationalism that was, and I repeat was, lying underneath the mainstream American culture–no, it’s because the media is out to get him. Their methodology is apparently repeating the things that he’s said.

Let’s assume that he’s right and there is a conspiracy between the election process (in his own party as well) and the media. The simple question to ask is this: how many people would it take to conduct it? Machiavelli’s point about conspiracies is that they fail because too many people talk and eventually the authorities find out. The example I use in class is Gunpowder plot in England. It failed, not only because Guy Fawkes literally fell asleep at the match of gunpowder he was supposed to ignite, but also because someone who knew told Lord Monteagle to not show up to Parliament that day. Lord Monteagle expressed concern about the number of fellow Catholics that would have died in the explosion (although one analysis shows that there would have been no bang as the gunpowder had gotten wet due to the damp weather in London that year) and turned the letter in.

So back the question how many journalists? Given that most news media in the United States are at least sending a person to cover the election in person it’s a lot of people. That number increases when you consider in studio personnel that offer analysis from the field, moderators of the debates, newspaper editors, interns, owners of the newspapers, television editors, online media writers, editors, and support staff. Even at a conservative number we are talking thousands of individuals. I’ve tried to check on just one station but the numbers aren’t readily available.

You have to think about this because it doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. It’s simply way too many people for no one to have spilled the secret. What’s more important is that we realize that journalists are in the job of spilling secrets. They decided to get into a profession that literally is about telling people things and have decided to remain quiet about what would undoubtedly be the biggest story in American politics. Even if some of them said no, for this conspiracy to be true, it means they turned down whatever offer they were given because of integrity and then decided they wouldn’t talk about it anyway. Of course, the average conspiracist, is going to say that it’s because the editors are the ones in control. That type of argument may have worked in the past, but now with the internet it no longer holds any water. Sure, my editor can say no but then I can just go online and post the video/audio of being told not to talk about it, or I can just hop on any number of free hosting site (like and write about it.

Finally, there isn’t a “the media” to begin with. “The media” is a collective noun we use to refer to a large group made up of individual news agencies. Everything from CNN to the BBC is “the media” and these are, in the United States at least, in competition with each other. This conspiracy, if it were true, is assuming that there is this one huge story that any number of these individuals could report on but all are collectively agreeing to keep it shut. A news report with actual proof that there is this agreement would garner not only a huge number of viewers/listeners but also the kind of media trust of Walter Cronkite levels that would guarantee it a loyal viewership in the far future. CNN’s moment came during the 1991 Gulf War and they are still trading on that reputation.

Rigging the election would require even more secrecy by a greater number of people. This in light of the fact that rigging any election is a federal crime. A whistle blower would be a hero if any of these accusations were true. Perhaps this type of crime would finally excise –gate from everything and we could call crimes and scandals something else for once. Too many people are required to pull this thing off.

All of that said, there is one part of the election that is rigged: the population of America are ill disposed to elect someone like Trump and that is what the system should do.



October 12, 2016 Leave a comment

So this will be a bit political but let’s talk about the latest Trump scandal. As someone who has been called a womanizer in the past I feel like it’s not only my place to comment but that it is also a responsibility.

What I find confusing the most is how the religious right in this country can continue to endorse him. I get why they endorsed the second Bush, he was one of them. That made sense to me, I don’t like it that pastors are somehow able to endorse political candidates and still maintain their tax free status (it’s illegal) but that’s the system we live in. I guess they endorsed McCain, which, sure why not? I would have endorsed McCain back in 2000 but 2008 McCain wasn’t the same candidate. Then they endorsed Mitt Romney, a Mormon. This was a tricky move because a lot of the evangelical Protestants do not consider Mormonism to be Christian, and many of them said so in 2008’s primaries. In fact, it forced Romney to make a speech wherein he echoed the words of Kennedy who had to remind the country that he would be president first, Catholic second. I guess they got over their trepidation. In that, I can at least see some consistency, both religions believe in Jesus and ultimately that’s about what it takes to be a Christian.

This time around though, I simply don’t get it. I don’t get how they can endorse Trump other than they are merely using religion as a shield to cloak their true existence as a political party. Trump has been divorced three times, and the bible is explicit about not condoning divorce. He cannot quote the bible correctly, not even close. He looks uncomfortable around religious ceremonies and his appellations to the religious are pandering to the most obvious degree. I could get up in front of the religious right and not only give a better sermon than he, but also pander to a degree that it wouldn’t be so obvious. It would certainly help that if I was doing so I could throw in a story about how I used to be atheist. This clown has zero record of charitable giving, he reflects none of the virtues that Christians are supposed to respect, and socially he doesn’t care about the homosexual issue (which is a plus in his column) nor does his actual stance on abortion seem clear at all. One might claim that ostensibly, he’s a pro-life, but given that he’s the GOP candidate for president that is a necessary position.

Then come the comments from last week. Whether or not it’s sexual assault (and what he’s describing is) is irrelevant. If the Christian religion holds that sex must be between a married man and married woman, this is surely in violation of that precept. The counter from his side has been the same for many months now: well Bill Clinton, blah blah blah. Obviously this is a stupid argument because Bill Clinton isn’t running for president, so we can immediately dispense with that. Secondly, she didn’t cheat on her husband. The sanctity of marriage, the drum head the religious right has been beating for almost a year now, was violated by their candidate but they still stand by this person saying that he’s going to be the biggest defender of religious rights. You know, the religious rights that aren’t under assault in any way.  I drive past nearly twenty churches on my way to work but I have yet to see a single one of them closed down for reasons of, whatever they pretend is happening. Simply put, I don’t get this. I don’t get how the evangelicals can stand by a guy that is basically an affront to nearly every principle that they stand for.

They are the worst sort of hypocrites, because they claim to have the moral high ground. To be fair, there are some that have never endorsed him for the reasons that I have elucidated above. There are also some that have withdrawn support, although I don’t understand what took them so long. I suppose that they could no longer deny what he is since there was him on video saying the things that most of us could already tell. Perhaps as some have pointed out that this time it was about a married woman but that’s too much conjecture.

I opened this post with a confession and am going to elaborate on my personal thoughts about what he said. No, that’s not normal talk. That’s not the type of things men usually say to each other. Yes, guys do brag about women they’ve had sex with or talk about wanting to have sex with a woman. However it’s not even close to that. This is, of course, anecdotal and I didn’t spend too much time in locker rooms because I wasn’t a sports guy. I have spent a lot of time in the company of men and have never heard anyone describe what amounts to a sexual assault in favorable terms. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton or even if you think that Trumpy will make a good president, what he said was beyond the pale. It is treating women like a series of parts that exist only for one purpose and any attempt to defend those comments is nothing less than complicity in allowing that kind of behavior. I say this not as a husband, or a father of two daughters, but as a person.