Author Archive | Haystack

An Anatomy of Paranoia

"Sister Anna," by Carl Fredrik Hill (1887)

“Sister Anna,” by Carl Fredrik Hill (1887)

We all agree that it’s important to question conventional wisdom, and that ideas which are too bizarre for most people to accept may, nonetheless, turn out to be true. Some people, however, seem to reach a tipping point where scores of obsessive strange beliefs feed upon one another to such a degree that they impair the individual’s ability to maintain relationships or function in society. By searching mental health forums, one can find countless posts by concerned individuals who worry that they are losing a loved one to the world of conspiracy. Here is a typical example:

My husband and I have been married for over 3 years (been together 5 years).  For the last two years of our marriage, my husband has become obsessed with conspiracy theories.  Initially, I chalked it up as a new hobby/interest.  But lately (over the past year) his obsession has progressed and has me alarmed.  He spends countless hours on the internet researching conspiracy theories, mostly political (i.e.Read the rest

Continue Reading

Use Humor To Educate Your Less Tech-Savvy Friends On The Importance Of Net Neutrality

John Oliver’s hilarious segment on net neutrality is a great way to introduce the issue to your less tech-savvy friends, and it finishes with a worthwhile call to action. The FCC is currently soliciting comments on proceeding 14-28, “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,” and it looks like the public is beginning to rally. Where most proceedings have gathered less than one hundred comments, 14-28 currently numbers over 40,000 filings, and the FCC site itself is barely staying afloat. You can comment by visiting fcc.gov/comments. While you’re there, you might also add your two cents about the proposed TimeWarner-Comcast merger.

Read the rest

Continue Reading

ASMR: When Sounds Tickle Your Brain


Do you have a little brain quirk that puts you in happy trance whenever you hear certain, soft sounds? Well, you’re in for a treat, because it’s a “thing,” and there are YouTube channels just for you. “For some percentage of readers,” writes Loz Blain of Gizmag, “this article could make a major positive impact on your life…”

Despite the very official-sounding name ascribed to it, there is no science to prove the existence of the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. We have no idea what percentage of people have the ability to experience it, where it comes from, what it’s for or what brain mechanics are involved.

But if you’re lucky enough to be able to feel it, there’s a growing and thriving community out there producing thousands of free samples of canned pleasure and relaxation.

Let me start from my personal experience. As a schoolboy, I had a particular French teacher whose voice would put me into a trance.… Read the rest

Continue Reading

Soaring Profits Do Not Equal Investment

It is taken for granted in conservative circles at that lower taxes on the rich will lead to greater investment in the economy, and therefore jobs—but the data tell a very different story. This analysis comes from Gerald Friedman of Dollars & Sense:

Net Investments and Profits

“The share of national income going to investment (net of depreciation of existing plant and machinery) has been declining since the beginning of the “neoliberal” era, around 1980. Since the start of the Great Recession, net investment as a share of GDP has plummeted to its lowest level since the 1930s. This sharp drop in investment comes despite sharply rising profits.”

Monetary Policy Isn’t Working: The Federal Reserve has helped to shorten past recessions by driving down interest rates to lower the cost of borrowing and so spur investment. During the current crisis, the Fed has conducted an aggressive monetary policy, raising the money supply to lower interest rates.… Read the rest

Continue Reading

“Unschooling:” Less Factory, More Garden

schoolsucksUnschooling takes to heart the old maxim that one should never let one’s schooling interfere with one’s education. This article from CNN describes unschooling in a formal setting, but it is more commonly practiced as a form of home-school:

Six-year-old Karina Ricci doesn’t ever have a typical day. She has no schedule to follow, no lessons to complete.

She spends her time watching TV, doing arts and crafts or practicing the piano. She learned to spell by e-mailing with friends; she uses math concepts while cooking dinner.

Everything she knows has been absorbed “organically,” according to her dad, Dr. Carlo Ricci. She’s not just on summer break — this is her life year round as an at-home unschooler.

“It’s incredible how capable she is,” Ricci said in a phone interview from his home in Toronto, Ontario. “And I think that all young people are that capable … if you don’t tell them they can’t or they’re not allowed, they surprise us in a lot of ways.”

Ricci is professor of alternative learning at Nipissing University and an advocate of unschooling, a concept that’s gaining popularity in both Canada and the United States thanks to frustration with the current public education system.… Read the rest

Continue Reading

The Baby and the Baath Water

syria-attack475-2_2In a piece for the BBC, Adam Curtis gives short history of American intervention in Syria, consisting largely of misguided attempts to foster democracy via military coup. In my opinion, this is essential context as we debate further involvement in that country:

What is happening in Syria feels like one of the last gasps of the age of the military dictators. An old way of running the world is still desperately trying to cling to power, but the underlying feeling in the west is that somehow Assad’s archaic and cruel military rule will inevitably collapse and Syrians will move forward into a democratic age.

That may, or may not, happen, but what is extraordinary is that we have been here before. Between 1947 and 1949 an odd group of idealists and hard realists in the American government set out to intervene in Syria. Their aim was to liberate the Syrian people from a corrupt autocratic elite – and allow true democracy to flourish.… Read the rest

Continue Reading

Edward Snowden’s E-mail Provider Forced to Shut Down

BigBrotherObamThe secure E-mail provider Lavabit, whose users are said to include Edward Snowden, shut down on Wednesday for reasons that are verboten. An ominous message on the company’s homepage vows to fight for the Constitution:

My Fellow Users,

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.… Read the rest

Continue Reading

Second Century Science Fiction Describes Trip to the Moon

science fiction

Also, it was illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley!

Continuing Disinfo’s love affair with The Public Domain Review, this piece by Aaron Parrett on a 2nd century work of science fiction describing a surreal voyage to the moon:

With his Vera Historia, the 2nd century satirist Lucian of Samosata wrote the first detailed account of a trip to the moon in the Western tradition and, some argue, also one of the earliest science fiction narratives. Aaron Parrett explores how Lucian used this lunar vantage point to take a satirical look back at the philosophers of Earth and their ideas of “truth”.

The Greek-speaking rhetorician and writer Lucian of Samosata, born around 125 CE in what is now known as Syria, has had a somewhat mixed reception through the ages. Scholars agree that his contemporaries and successors viewed him with a great deal of respect. Early Christians were less admiring of Lucian and his pagan and vitriolic pen, though by the time of the renaissance, he had regained favor among learned people.… Read the rest

Continue Reading

Playing for Keeps: AI Enters the World of Online Poker

poker-botsA poker bot able surpass human competitors still has other bots to contend with. Is online gambling poised to become cyperpunk? From Gabriel Dance at The New York Times:

Bryan Taylor, 36, could not shake the feeling that something funny was going on. Three of his most frequent opponents on an online poker site were acting oddly, playing in ways that were so similar it was suspicious.

Mr. Taylor, who started playing poker professionally in 2008, suspected that he was competing against computers — specifically bots, short for robots — that had been programmed to play poker and beat the odds.

And he was right. After an investigation, the site Mr. Taylor frequented, PokerStars, determined that his opponents had been computers masquerading as people and shut them down.

Poker bots are not new, but until recently they were not very good. Humans were better at the nuances of the game — at bluffing, for instance — and could routinely beat the machines.… Read the rest

Continue Reading

The Natural History of the Incorporeal Garage Dragon

dragonSkeptics, believers. Lay down your shotguns and knives. Take a moment to bandage and reload, and I will explain to you why an incorporeal garage dragon means that you should not be fighting. As much.

This strange beast, and its fantastical properties, are described in The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan.

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage,” he begins, “…Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.”

You do, but you can’t. The dragon is invisible. You could spread flour on the floor to capture its footprints, but, alas, it also floats. You offer to fetch your infrared camera, but, sadly, its fire is heatless. Perhaps a can of spray paint, then, to make the dragon visible? Oh, right. Incorporeal.

You see where he’s going: “Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless,” he writes, “the only sensible approach is to tentatively reject the dragon hypothesis, [but] to be open to future data…”

The garage dragon is a straightforward parable about the scientific value of a non-falsifiable hypothesis, but it contains an important nuance.… Read the rest

Continue Reading