Thursday, August 31, 2006


Conspiracy Theory Appeal

What is the appeal of conspiracy theories?

The terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy have several things in common. They were terrible events that remain seared in the memories of all Americans who are old enough to remember them. And they’ve both given rise to numerous conspiracy theories. Because there is no evidence for these conspiracies, mutually contradictory conspiracy theories are advocated, based on the prejudices of the believer. For JFK’s killing, stories about Cubans, the Mafia, and the CIA circulated. Regarding 9/11, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists blame Israel, anti-Americans blame Bush, and pro-lifers blame abortion. Peter Bagge’s cartoon at: makes this point much more eloquently than I can. (A picture is indeed worth 1000 words.) It is interesting that there seems to be a positive correlation in believing in conspiracy theories for both these events.

Appeals to ignorance (we don’t know what caused X, so you should accept my far-fetched hypothesis) are a common part of conspiratorial arguments, but I think there is a more fundamental fallacy. It is the expectation that causes should be proportional to effects. (Does anyone know if this fallacy has a proper name?) That is, it should not be so that a loser like Lee Harvey Oswald should be able to bring down the President, so he must not have. The naturalistic fallacy, confusing what is so with what ought to be, is clearly at work here. But I think there is a bit more.

These two events had a big emotional impact on Americans. And the explanations, a lone gunman and a group of foreign terrorists, were emotionally unsatisfying to many, even if they were correct. So the conspiracy theories are believed not based on any evidence for them, but because they are more emotionally satisfying to the believer. Thus, they are a lot like religious beliefs, and seem to be held with the same fervency.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Classic Rock and African-American Artists

I got a lot of feedback on this article. Some readers wrote to complain that I had called the lack of African-American artists on Classic Rock radio "racist" when in fact I had argued the opposite. It seems that the real culprit is a too-narrow idea of what classic rock is (or "format", my third proposed explanation). Two other great artists who get short-shrift from classic rock stations are Elton John and Billy Joel. So it seems that "Classic Rock" is also limited to guitar-based, as opposed to piano-based, rock. But I'm happy to report that locally, Arrow 93.1, which was just another classic rock station, has changed formats to Jack-FM which does not seem to be limited by these old format restrictions.

Updated Presidential Rankings

The Wall Street Journal and the Federalist Society have updated their presidental rankings to include George W. Bush, who is ranked 19 out of 40. The accompanying article explains that Bush is unsurprisingly controversial, so that his "Average" score is the result of both very high and very low rankings among their board of scholars. Unfortunately, the article does not go into the kind of detailed explanation of their earlier book (which I reviewed for the KUCI website) or show how he ranks as a controversial president. (The higher the standard deviation of the ratings, the more controversial the president.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Leave Foreign policy to the Feds

The Irvine City Council is being forced to waste a lot of time dealing with a letter a city official signed with the Xuhui District of Shanghai, which was our new sister city in China. Apparently, the first letter affirmed America's "One-China" policy and promised to break our sister city realationship with a city in Taiwan. Now they are having to spend a lot of time rescinding the new relationship and dealing with angry constituents.

America's relationship with China, and in particular, our "One-China policy", is complicated, as it involves strategic ambiguity. But our city officials should not be dealing with that; they should leave that to the Federal Government. But why are they dealing with it at all? What is the value in these sister-city relationships? I guess they are fun and interesting for schoolchildren. But, did Irvine taxpayers foot the bill for their trip to China? If so, then I doubt this is worth it. Sister city relationships could be set up via mail (or today, via email) by non-governmental organizations (e.g. Chambers of Commerce) so that taxpayer money is not spent, and the time of government officials is not wasted.

Monday, August 07, 2006


The Root Cause

Tikkun published a very reasonable and well-intentioned ad in the L.A. Times on Sunday. It called for "an International Peace Conference to impose a fair and lasting solution to all aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the conflict between Israel and other states in the region." I wish them all the best with this. If only it were possible.

Shortly after 9/11, I interviewed the Muslim Student Union at U.C. Irvine on KUCI. (You can stream the interview here or download it here.) Toward the end of the interview (at about 33 minutes) they were very clear that Israel had no right to exist. They longed for the day, "before 1948, when the Jews, Christians, and Muslims were in harmony" (a day that never was). But they were clear that their gripe was with the creation of Israel in 1948, not the additional territory or people it acquired in 1967. (This would be like wishing the U.S. was as it was before 1776, i.e., not at all. At least they were consistent. They also seemed to say that it was unfortunate that the U.S. exists.)

So as Charles Krauthammer notes "the fighting is about 'the ... 1948 issues, rather than the 1967 [issues]' " Sadly, this is the issue for some American Muslims as well, but I thank the MSU at UCI for making this clear to me.

So may Tikkun's dream of a real peaceful future (rather than a fictional past) soon come to pass. But I do not see how this is possible when one side nurses a grudge about the very existence of the other side.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Tblong: Albright's Blunder

What has happened to the claim about a half-million dead children due to U.N. sanctions on Iraq, discussed below and at: Tblong: Albright's Blunder ? I suspect that it is now rarely heard because the casualties from the Iraq war, as high as they have been, have been so much lower than this number. If "half million children ha[d] died" as a result of sanctions, then putting a stop to that would STILL justify the war on humanitarian grounds alone. So I suspect that no one beleives that number now. Since it no longer serves an anti-American agenda, those who made the argument before can probably now see the problem of appealing to Albright's authority.

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