Author Archive | majestic

The Intellectual Character Of Conspiracy Theorists

9-11 Truth 3

Photo: Damon D’Amato (CC)

Are dogmatic conspiracy theorists simply “bad thinkers”? Quassim Cassam questions their intellectual character at Aeon:

Meet Oliver. Like many of his friends, Oliver thinks he is an expert on 9/11. He spends much of his spare time looking at conspiracist websites and his research has convinced him that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn’t have caused the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to collapse. The only viable explanation, he maintains, is that government agents planted explosives in advance. He realises, of course, that the government blames Al-Qaeda for 9/11 but his predictable response is pure Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Polling evidence suggests that Oliver’s views about 9/11 are by no means unusual. Indeed, peculiar theories about all manner of things are now widespread.

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Obama’s 9/11 Conspiracy Theory

N G Chernyshevsky.jpg

N G Chernyshevsky

So this is a weird twist on 9/11: Jeff Lipkes claims that for President Obama “it’s the Russians who are to blame — specifically, Nicolai Chernyshevsky,” who he (not entirely accurately) credits as the founder of nihilism. From American Thinker:

Conspiracy theories about 9/11 still flit across the blogosphere like fruit bats after dusk.  For the truthers, it was an inside job.  The CIA detonated explosives planted in the buildings earlier in the year, with a little help from Dick Cheney and Louis Freeh.  Many in the Arab world, along with American neo-Nazis, are convinced the Israelis were responsible.  Several hundred Jews didn’t show up for work that morning, doncha know, because they’d been warned by Mossad.

For Barack Obama, it’s the Russians who are to blame — specifically, Nicolai Chernyshevsky.  He was the founder of Nihilism, and the nineteen terrorists were all nihilists, according to the President in his 2004 introduction to Dreams From My Father, written years before he was considered a presidential contender.

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The Electric Mood-Control Acid Test

We recently ran a post about brain-altering devices like Zen Vibez and Thync. MIT Technology Review dives deep on the latter:

I’m working on a story that’s almost due. It’s going well. I’m almost finished. But then everything falls apart. I get an angry e-mail from a researcher who’s upset about another article. My stomach knots up. My heart pounds. I reply with a defensive e-mail and afterward can’t stop mentally rehashing my response. Taking deep breaths and a short walk don’t help. I can’t focus on finishing my story, and as the deadline approaches, that makes me more uptight and it gets even harder to write.

brain power

But then I apply electrodes to my head and neck, power up a small electronic device, and shock myself. Within a few minutes I calm down. I can focus on my story. I meet the deadline.

The device, which you’ll be able to buy later this year for a price that has yet to be disclosed, was developed by a team of neuroscientists and engineers at the startup Thync.

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The People Who Make Brutal Video Game Porn

I must be living a sheltered life as I didn’t know that there was a market for brutal video game porn. Now I do, thanks to Kotaku (Note, it’s probably NSFW):

In 2013’s Tomb Raider, Lara Croft sets out on an archeological adventure to find a lost civilization. Thanks to a storm, Lara ends up shipwrecked on a mysterious island full of hostile cultists. These cultists capture Lara and her crew.

lara in trouble

In an infamous scene, one of the cultists grabs Lara by the shoulders, pulls her in close, and runs his hands down her body suggestively. He then pushes her against a wall, and brings his face right up to Lara’s neck. Lara, thankfully, barely manages to escape.

[Trigger warning: rape, sexual imagesAlso, several images in this post are NSFW.]12

The scene caused much controversy in 2012: Lara is an iconic character, and for some people the idea of subjecting Lara to sexual threats felt uncomfortable, especially when considering the gender roles at play.

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Prisons Are Making America’s Drug Problem Worse

“Even federal prisons know that their inmates need medication-assisted therapy. So why aren’t they changing?” asks Megan McLemore at Politico Magazine:

Today, Gordon Goodwin is in federal prison in Atlanta.  Not too many years ago, he was a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on track for law school. He enjoyed tennis and mountain biking. Today, his future looks bleak—failed by prison drug treatment policies that even the Bureau of Prisons admits don’t work, policies opposed by science and medical professionals, including groups like the World Health Organization.

The Prison Hospital corridor

As criminal justice reform becomes a major topic of conversation in Washington, Goodwin’s journey from would-be law student to prison addict is a cautionary tale of how inmates in the bureaucratic federal system are set up to fail—and how those failures ripple through the prison system and waste taxpayers’ dollars at a time when both states and the federal government are looking to rein in spending.

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Predictive Policing and the Felony Lane Gang

Predictive policing is on the rise in the US, UK and Europe. The technique now faces one of its toughest challenges: the Felony Lane Gang, writes Chris Baraniuk at New Scientist:

They always choose the line at the bank farthest from CCTV – that’s how the Felony Lane Gang got its name. With crimes committed in 34 states, they’ve withdrawn millions of dollars from banks using cheques and credit cards stolen from cars. A handful of individuals connected to the group have been arrested, but the ringleaders have remained at large for years. Can crime-predicting software finally stop them in their tracks?

Caméras de surveillance sur la voie publique.jpg

Photo: Pierre-alain dorange (CC)

 

That’s the hope of police in the US, who have begun using advanced software to analyse crime data in conjunction with emails, text messages, chat files and CCTV recordings acquired by law enforcement. The system, developed by Wynyard, a firm based in Auckland, New Zealand, could even look at social media in real time in an attempt to predict where the gang might strike next.

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Wikimedia Sues NSA Over Mass Surveillance

Frankfurt Am Main-Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen-Detail-Justitia von Nordwesten-20110411

Justice presides with her scale and sword at Frankfurt am Main. Photo by Roland Meinecke, licensed under a Free Art license.

One of our favorite Internet resources, Wikimedia, is suing the NSA. Here’s their statement:

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation is filing suit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) of the United States [1]. The lawsuit challenges the NSA’s mass surveillance program, and specifically its large-scale search and seizure of internet communications — frequently referred to as “upstream” surveillance. Our aim in filing this suit is to end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world. We are joined by eight other organizations [2] and represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The full complaint can be found here.

“We’re filing suit today on behalf of our readers and editors everywhere,” said Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.… Read the rest

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Google Ventures and the Search for Immortality

This story appears in the April 2015 issue of Bloomberg Markets.

This story appears in the April 2015 issue of Bloomberg Markets.

How would you like to live to 500? No problem, just make friends with the guys at Google. Katrina Brooker reports at Bloomberg Business:

“If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500? The answer is yes,” Bill Maris says one January afternoon in Mountain View, California. The president and managing partner of Google Ventures just turned 40, but he looks more like a 19-year-old college kid at midterm. He’s wearing sneakers and a gray denim shirt over a T-shirt; it looks like he hasn’t shaved in a few days.

Behind him, sun is streaming through a large wall of windows. Beyond is the leafy expanse of the main Google campus. Inside his office, there’s not much that gives any indication of the work Maris does here, Bloomberg Markets will report in its April 2015 issue.

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Who Spewed That Abuse? Anonymous Yik Yak App Isn’t Telling

Hey disinfonauts, are any of you Yik Yakkers? Did the New York Times do a good job of describing the service’s abuse problem:

During a brief recess in an honors course at Eastern Michigan University last fall, a teaching assistant approached the class’s three female professors. “I think you need to see this,” she said, tapping the icon of a furry yak on her iPhone.

Yik_Yak_green_logo

The app opened, and the assistant began scrolling through the feed. While the professors had been lecturing about post-apocalyptic culture, some of the 230 or so freshmen in the auditorium had been having a separate conversation about them on a social media site called Yik Yak. There were dozens of posts, most demeaning, many using crude, sexually explicit language and imagery.

After class, one of the professors, Margaret Crouch, sent off a flurry of emails — with screenshots of some of the worst messages attached — to various university officials, urging them to take some sort of action.

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