Sunday, May 22, 2011

Apocalypse No

May 21 has come and gone, and we're still here. Apparently Harold Camping misinterpreted something in the Bible. Imagine that -- somebody misinterpreted the Bible.

Anyway, since the dis-confirmation of his doomsday prediction, Camping has gone missing, deserting his followers. This very predictable situation leaves reporters asking, "What will Camping's faithful believers do now?" But we can make some pretty good guesses based on history and social psychology.

A few days ago I started reading When Prophecy Fails by psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. The book serves as a sort of field test of Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance. In 1954, when the book was first published, cognitive dissonance was a brilliant new theory of human behavior. Now, it has pretty much propagated its way into our pop culture. However, even after 57 years, the book remains a relevant and entertaining study.

From the start, Festinger explains that two beliefs are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together or are inconsistent. Dissonance produces discomfort, and a person experiencing such discomfort may do a few things to alleviate it: change one or more beliefs, acquire new knowledge or beliefs that will increase consonance, or reduce the importance of the information that produces the dissonance.

The failure of Camping's prediction likely creates such dissonance in his followers. If the prophecy wasn't true, how can they believe the rest of the ideology? And what about all the preparations like spending life savings, quitting jobs or abandoning all possessions? If the prophecy was a big part of their lives, then the dissonance will be strong.

A non-believer assumes the followers will discard the belief, but this is not always true. Instead what we'll likely see is a common pattern where the believers recover their convictions and resume proselyting with new enthusiasm. USA Today reports that "
Many followers said the delay was a further test from God to persevere in their faith." It doesn't sound like they're giving up on anything.

I have yet to finish reading When Prophecy Fails, but their study involves a slightly different breed of doomsday zealots: a small group with a sci-fi belief system centered around a woman who channels messages from aliens. It's entertaining so far, but -- spoiler alert -- I heard that the world doesn't come to an end.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Curious Goods

U.S. Marshals will sell the personal effects of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, via online auction beginning May 18, 2011.

How fitting that the guy who hated the "industrial-technological system" has his stuff auctioned off using that system.

Although the proceeds will go to the Unabomber's victims, I have no idea who would really want to buy this stuff or how much they'd be willing to spend. However, some of you guys might want to save your money in case one day they decide to auction off Osama's porn collection.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Real Story

"The idea that the birth certificate is the real story and Osama bin Laden is the distraction from it tells you everything you need to know about the people who are really invested in the birth certificate story." — Rachel Maddow, on The Daily Show.
"But it is also a deservedly bad moment for some of the destructive forces in American public life, for those who have substituted for ordinary politics a sustained campaign to brand Obama as an outsider, as un-American, as non-American." — David Frum, CNN.

U.S. officials are saying that documents seized from Osama bin Laden's compound indicate that al-Qaeda wanted to carry out a 9-11 anniversary attack.

I couldn't bring myself to participate in any of the boisterous celebrations over bin Laden's death. It all seemed kind of crass. But I do know the world is way better off without this guy.

You'd think this news about an anniversary attack would convince Republican's to give Obama some credit -- or at least admit he's not some kind of socialist alien. But oh I forget, catching one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists is just a distraction.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Chop-chop Video

You may remember a previous blog post a few years back where I interviewed my friend Trung who was, at the time, enrolled in the master's program at University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). Trung is also a blogger who shares my contempt for the tea party. Well, apparently the ignorant teabaggers have contempt -- actually, violent hatred -- towards Trung's alma mater.

Trung explains the ongoing situation in his blog. It involves Andrew Breitbart (need I say more?) and secretly (actually, not so secretly) video taped lectures of UMKC econ professors. Of course, Breitbart and his minions are up to old tricks. They gave the splice job to these videos in the same way they distorted and minced Shirley Sherrod's words last July.

Breitbart and his BigGovernment web site are using the obviously edited videos to accuse two labor-studies professors of indoctrinating innocent, malleable minds to the violent ways of union thugs. The complete unadulterated videos, however, reveal the exact opposite. One professor tells students to resist violence because it "gives credence" to the argument that "these people need to be controlled."

But facts be damned. In a twist that's not really a twist because it's totally predictable, the teabaggers are actually the violent thugs. Incited by the erroneous videos, they started with phoning in threats to the university but quickly escalated the situation by trespassing on the UMSL (University of Missouri-St. Louis) campus and threatening students with violence:
In order to distract people from the fact that they were busted lying, St. Louis tea party provocateur Adam Sharp, who's blogged on Breitbart's sites before, apparently trespassed on the UMSL campus on Saturday to harass students and instructor Don Giljum. Sharp attempted to film students in their classroom, pestered them as they walked out of class with questions like "do you condone violence," and was arrested and charged with trespassing. Don Giljum was also taken to the police station because there was an altercation, and as students waited outside of the police station, another tea partier approached them and began taunting them and daring them to "take a swing" at him. This is after a week where the tea party violated students' privacy by putting videos on YouTube showing comments made for the purpose of classroom discussion.
Breitbart, in an April 18 interview with Sean Hannity, said he planned to "go after" educators. And there you have it. We've seen ethnic intolerance, religious intolerance, and every other shade of bigotry from these nuts, but now... academic intolerance.

Freedom of inquiry by students and faculty is the foundation of education and our university system. It's all too fitting that the teabaggers go after this.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Dead Not Alive

"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him... to be honest with you." — George W. Bush, March 13, 2002.
"Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that has killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children." — Barack Obama, May 1, 2011.
So it's been nearly a decade. When the news started rolling in tonight that Osama bin Laden was dead, I half expected that he died of old age. But no, the CIA got him. It's a victory for certain, but not the kind that will put to end any of our wars.

Fireworks are going off in my neighborhood.

How long until Trump demands to see a death certificate?

Friday, April 29, 2011


(Photo from Time.)

Not everybody cares about the royal spectacle. I certainly don't. Didn't we declare our independence from the monarchy in 1776? And yet there are still Americans who feel they need to pay some sort of respect...

NBC's Brian Williams earns my respect this week. After arriving in London to cover the royal wedding, he was updated on the rising death toll due to the storms, tornadoes and flooding across six states, and turned right around and came back home.