“Fueling a rumor” (Rising gas prices)

Last post, we took the far left to task, so in the interest of being nonpartisan, we will today call out the right wing. Specifically, we will look at the insinuation that Joe Biden is responsible for rising gasoline prices. This is not a true partisan issue, as some left-wingers have blamed Republican presidents for pump pain, and there are plenty of conservatives who understand that the White House doesn’t set gas prices.

But those that do think that are the focus of today’s post. Expect for some negligible indirect influence, the commander in chief has nothing to do with whether one shells out two dollars or five for their gallon of mid-octane.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the key factors in the price gasoline consumers pay are: Taxes; crude oil cost; refining costs and profits; and distribution and marketing costs. The executive branch positions on infrastructure, civil liberties, national defense, Brussels sprouts appreciation proclamations, and anything else are nonfactors.

Writing for the New York Times, Richard Thaler explained that the U.S. consumes 20 percent of the world’s oil while owning just two percent of the reserves. That means the Middle East has us by the collective balls in perpetuity.

Thaler wrote that while this leaves the U.S. little say in the price of oil, the country could help itself by reducing consumption, using oil more efficiently, and prioritizing alternative fuel sources. But this would be tedious even if everyone was on board with the ideas. And that is not the case, as evidenced by the ostentatious souped-up trucks which double as moving platforms for oversized U.S. and Confederate flags (pick a side, dude).

And even those Americans not in the redneck subset love their automobiles. Further, alternative energy has seen only lukewarm results. Therefore, Thaler opines a better approach would be to gradually raise gasoline taxes to what they are in Western Europe. Because those taxes are high, fuel-efficient automobiles are far more common in Germany than in Georgia. The high taxes could be more than offset by the drop in demand.

So the one indirect impact a president could have would be to suggest charting this corrective course. But that would be political suicide in the United States. So they do nothing and we are left with the bizarre, indefensible spectacle of praising or condemning the executive branch for something beyond its control. We might as well blame it for my leaky faucet.

Thaler wrote his piece in 2012 but nothing has changed since then. For a specific look at today’s Biden Blame, we consider the writings of Jonathan Oher on thejostle.com. He highlights some social medial posts which insist the president is responsible for the rising prices and others which portend an even more frightening fuel future.

On Biden’s inauguration day, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $2.37. The posts that Oher cited had prices being 30 percent lower than that, but beyond the factual error is the mistaken insinuation as to who is to blame if the price becomes 4, 5, or even 6 dollars per gallon. Tellingly, none of the posters seem ready to heap praise on the president if the prices plummet to $1.50 a year from now.

The posts also play loose with the facts, showing prices a few days before and after inauguration day, but posting them from different parts of the country. Different locales will always pay different prices because of state taxes and distribution costs. Using this disparity to make the point would be like comparing the January temperatures in Minneapolis to those in Miami and blaming the president for global warming.

But, again, the key point here is not the actual price or the fluctuation but the party responsible.

The rise seen over the past two months is primarily due to a correction of gas prices that dipped during the pandemic, which created an artificial drop in demand. With the country somewhat opening up, full tanks are needed for these trips to the now-open malls, sports arenas, and restaurants.

Beyond fuel usage, crude oil cost plays a role, as the slick substance is likewise recovering from the pandemic. The cost went down more than 10 percent from January 2020 to January 2021. As that price corrects, gasoline prices will rise, as will the number of misinformed memes about who is responsible.

“Doesn’t add up” (Math racism)

While the loony far left dominates colleges, the rigid, absolute mathematics field would seem like an area that would provide a, how shall we say, safe space, from all this.

Alas, that is no longer the case, with the advent of, “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics.”

This pompous pamphlet thunderously asserts that the following are racist acts: Expecting students to meet benchmarks; Teaching math in a linear fashion; Focusing on how to get the right answer; Showing one’s work; And raising your hand to be recognized.

While ostensibly meant to somehow bolster Black children, the tract instead belittles them by assuming they should never be expected to gain mathematics proficiency. As Columbia University Linguistics and Music History Professor John McWhorter wrote, “It claims to be about teaching math while founded on shielding students from the requirement to actually do it. This is not pedagogy; it is preaching.”

Mathematics rests on explicitly-formulated definitions and facts. Were this not the case, bridges would collapse, planes would never go airborne, and monetary transactions would be a gibberish nightmares. It would be literally fatal if engineers and mechanics were to adopt such notions as new geometry, woke algebra, or calculus of color.

Math is the same everywhere. There is no German Geometry, Algerian Algebra, or French Fractions. There is no “White Way” of getting the answer and, in fact, the field serves as one of the world’s great equalizers. In math class, there are no essays where one can con their way to an answer without ever saying anything constructive. The answers, and how they are arrived at, are uniform worldwide. But this supposed math handbook, McWhorter notes, “says very little about how to actually teach kids of any ethnicity math. In fact it is detrimental to teaching math by urging the elimination of practices, like having students show their work.”

For while showing work is painted as an instance of White supremacy, the process is essential to correcting errors, it shows students understand the process, and it ensures the answer was not purloined from the kid one desk over.

As to arriving at the correct answer, this entirely reasonable and logical goal is considered a weapon in the White supremacist toolkit. This offensive, paternalistic absurdity assumes that most Black children are incapable of conquering the discipline.

Like McWhorter, Princeton mathematics professor Sergiu Klainerman is pained by this development: “I have witnessed the decline of universities and cultural institutions as they have embraced political ideology at the expense of rigorous scholarship. I had naively thought that the STEM disciplines would be spared from this ideological takeover.”

This now-seemingly complete takeover represents a soft totalitarianism where dissenters are not extra-judicially executed or exiled to Siberia, but are fired, doxed, picketed at home, and have a pound of their flesh extracted by the virtual mob.

Nothing in historical or contemporary mathematics suggests that it should be done in a different way based on geography or that it is race-dependent. To the contrary, math enjoys a long and rich history across the cultures, with major developments and contributions from Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, and Arabs. Schools throughout the world teach the same principles and math serves as a universal language.

During international sports competitions, players on both sides may speak nary a word of their opponent’s language, but they are bonded by common rules they all follow. Similarly, race is no barrier to mathematics and this equality makes it the antithesis of supremacism.

“The White Stuff” (Engineered snow)

No event is too routine to be exempt from conspiracy theorist thought. A minor Internet splash this winter has centered on the insinuation that snow, at least in some places, is actually something else.

Precisely what it is, who is responsible, and how malevolent it is, varies by claimant, but the key point is that “they” are up to something again. The excited proponents most frequently cite Bill Gates as the responsible villain. The software pioneer has achieved Rothschild/Bohemian Grove/Bilderberger status when it comes to being tabbed for every evil ever foisted upon Mankind.

In these videos, which are remarkably similar in terms of content and low production value, speakers ask three primary questions about this supposed snow. Asking questions is fine, if based on genuine curiosity. It’s another matter when questions are thinly-veiled accusations which serve as a precursor to considering those answering them to be in on the plot.

These plotters include the eminently delightful Emily Calandrelli, who explained what’s going on in these videos. In the one Calandrelli responded to, the narrator wields a butane lighter and wonders why this makes the snow char, why the snow smells like plastic, and why it melts so slowly.

It chars because of incomplete combustion from the butane lighter. Butane comprises carbon and hydrogen and the resultant black smudge represents leftover carbon from incomplete combustion.

Calandrelli used a glass to demonstrate that the same soot results when butane lighters are applied to other objects. So unless the video producer is prepared to launch a tirade against phony drinking receptacles, this answer suffices.

With regard to the plascity aroma, Calandrelli explains the funny smell is the consequence of the chemicals concentrating during the burning.

Finally, the white precipitation melts slower than expected for two reasons. First, most of the water is being absorbed into the snowball. Second, it sublimates, meaning it goes directly from solid to gas. Besides, it takes more heat than most people might think. You’d get the same surprisingly slow result from using fire to try and melt an ice cube.

These succinct, scientific explanations contract mightily to the open-ended nightmarish scenarios suggested by the other side.

Writing for Yahoo!, Caroline Delbert reminded readers that weather control has a long history in paranoid circles. Manifestations of this have included HAARP, chemtrails, and seeded rain clouds.

In this case, conspiracy theorists might believe increased snowfall indicates something about climate change, which they say is part of a global agenda to push government restrictions onto residents,” Delbert wrote.

Theorists paint Gates and the Chinese government beneficiaries of a world blanketed by pretend snow. What the white stuff actually is or how it benefits two already immensely powerful entities is unexplained. Sounds like a snow job to me.

“A lot of bull” (Pit bull hysteria)

Pete the Pup of Our Gang fame and Spuds MacKenzie were both pit bulls, a designation which refers not to specific breed but a collection of related ones. These include the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American bully.

A Little Rascals sidekick and a party-loving beer pitchdog contrasts mightily with the bloodthirsty, intimidating image of pit bulls held by many and promoted by some media

But while pit bulls have been implicated in fatal attacks, the notion that they by and large are dangerous is a misnomer. Some pit bulls were bred by unscrupulous sadists for bull-baiting and dogfighting, while others were bred to hone their friendliness, loyalty, and attentiveness.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that from 1979 to 1998, 238 Americans were killed by 403 dogs, with pits bulls and Rottweilers accounting for more than half of the tragedies.

However, the authors noted that the study failed to account for the antics and personalities of the owners. Some societal outcasts prefer the image and street cred that comes with owning an animal with a dangerous reputation and they are only too happy to promote this. So while there may be a correlation between dog bites and some breeds, there may not be causation.

The study also fails to adjust for the percentage of American dogs that each breed represents. Further, reliable numbers are unavailable because the American Kennel Club registry includes only canines whose masters have registered them, and that is primarily done by serious owners who prefer purebred, pedigreed show dogs.

Additionally, fatalities are not the only factor when assessing dog dangers. Dunning wrote that a study in Pediatrics found there were 30,000 dog bites for every fatal dog mauling. German shepherds were the most bitey breed and there are no statistics to support how likely pit bulls are to bite relative to other breeds. In fairness, however, pit bull attacks may inflict more damage or be more likely to be fatal than most breeds.

The Pediatrics study also showed that dogs are more likely to chomp away if they are male, unneutered, less than five years old, weigh more than 45 pounds, live with elementary school age children, and kept chained outdoors. All those are more likely factors to dog danger than whether the animal is a pit bull.

“Holy Flail” (Holy Grail)

The SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, coined the phrase Tooth Fairy Science to refer to trying to find the cause or solution to a mystery without first ascertaining that the entity exists.

One could look at the demographics for how much money is given for lost choppers and whether race, religion, or riches play a role. You could look at trends of whether molars are deemed more valuable than incisors. And we could see if the pandemic impacted any of this. But all of this would be to assume the existence of a stealthy spirit who undertakes nocturnal sojourns to children who have one less tooth than they did the day before.

While no one seriously insists on the existence of a Tooth Fairy, they do so with Bigfoot, meridians, and extraterrestrial visitors. They ponder who may be Sasquatch’s closest biological relatives, wonder which internal bodily pathway should be punctured to cure eczema, and postulate as the purpose of alien anal probes. The do so without having first shown the relevant phenomena are real.

While Hall had medicine in mind, the concept of Tooth Fairy Science can also apply to history.

Consider the Holy Grail, which is purported to be the receptacle Jesus drank from during the Last Supper. It has been sought and written about for centuries.

However, there are no references to the Holy Grail in the Biblical accounts of Jesus, nor does the religious receptacle make so much as a cameo in any other first millennium text.

Writing for Skeptoid, Brian Dunning noted that 12th Century cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth published “History of the Kings of Britain,” which described Arthur as an unbeatable warrior and which included one of the first known references to the cup.

Then in 1190, Dunning continued, the poet Chrétien de Troyes created a heroic knight named Perceval, who proposes Arthur and his knights search for the Holy Grail in order to restore the assembly’s honor and prestige. Dunning noted that in this and future fictional works, the object was not near as important as the quest for it.

So it took nearly 1200 years for the notion of a Holy Grail to emerge. Since then, it has assumed iconic status and made countless appearances in print and film. According to Dunning, John Calvin identified nearly two dozen cups that had been identified by the bearer as the true Grail. Many other assertions have been made since, some of which ascribe supernatural powers to the cup, and none of which have cleared the first hurdle of proving that there had ever been a Grail held by a dining Jewish messiah.

“Mud dud” (Tartaria)

One attempt to drastically alter history purports that a 19th Century disaster obliterated much of the world, and in this misfortune’s wake sprung up most of today’s nations and societies.

A mud flood sludge, in all its rhyming glory, is said to have been the cause. Homes, businesses, farms, railroads, streams, and much more were said to have been swept under by the deluge. In this tale, villages that were partially buried were part of an advanced civilization called Tartaria. Residents of this futuristic landscape are described as giants who were already enjoying free wireless energy. In the same way that the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake forever bumped Portugal from its status as the world’s most powerful nation, the mud flood relegated Tartaria to the historical dustbin and allowed Western Civilization to flourish.

In what passes for their evidence, adherents point to any early photograph showing sundry town or country folks digging through high mud. Or they will refer to a modern picture of well-worn buildings featuring floors below grade, especially if there basement windows or if excavators are busy next door, having basement walls or foundations. They claim this as proof those lower layers had been topped by mud. This is no more convincing that using early photos of sailors to claim the entire world was once covered with water, or point to same era photos of planes as evidence were once an entirely airborne species.

Now let’s transition to a linguistic note. Writing for Skeptoid, Brian Dunning noted that until the mid-1800s, Europeans used the term Tartars to describe residents of largely unexplored Asian regions, such as Manchuria, Siberia, and Mongolia. Less than 200 years ago, world maps displayed an area dubbed “Tartary” in what we today call Asia. This cartographic tidbit is presented by proponents that not that long ago there existed a great civilization that succumbed to wet dirt.

This is a reverse the Great Mounds theory or of Mormon theology, both of which hold that Native American tribes were predated by White settlers. These palefaces made the greatest contributions to North America, and between those accomplishments and having been here first, are therefore entitled to the land. In the Tartaria belief system, it is those who constituted the minority in North American who are fetishized and made into inhabitants of an exotic, exalted kingdom. But the common ground between the two ideas is that they are bereft of any historical or anthropological evidence. Another charge bandied without proof is that governments are dedicated to suppressing this evidence. If so, the authorities are failing miserably, as the mud flood hypothesis can be found with a Google or YouTube search.

Dunning wrote that city officials sometimes raise their street levels, which necessitates burying the first few floors, in order reduce the steepness of some hills. “Similar earthmoving projects have been undertaken in cities all around the world, particularly in the decades around the turn of the 20th century, when streetcars and automobiles quite suddenly came into wide use and required regrading in areas that were already developed,” he explained.

This brief lesson on city planning and engineering is a tidy answer that obliterates any need for a mud flood explication.

The gentle giant Robert Wadlow is sometimes insinuated by believers to be of many such behemoths to have roamed Earth at this time. Wadlow is the only one of unusual size in those photos, but that is glossed over by believers. His era was no more populated with giants than our time is chockfull of potential trillionaires because Jeff Bezos walks amongst us.

“Jumping to conclusions” (Learning preferences)

In first grade I would entertain my classmates by jumping off my desk when the teacher left the room. By my senior year in high school, I had attained a similar level of popularity by being easily the most garrulous participant in the civic teacher’s preferred Socratic Method. Some days consisted entirely of a dialogue between the two of us, and as long as conversation kept going, the teacher would refrain from giving his boring lectures.

My two learning styles in these environments could be described respectively as nonexistent and highly participatory. But according to one hypothesis, learning can be described in one of four ways: Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinesthetic. Students answer 16 questions about their learning preferences and a computer program spits out which learning style would work best for them.

The follow-on step is to give hands-on lessons to those who those who learn best that way, lecture to those who prefer presentations by subject matter experts, and show videos with pleasing graphics to the more visually-oriented. The idea seems sound and the intent is admirable.

But Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning has highlighted some studies that show the idea is not near as effective as advertised. He cited a study published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, which concluded, “There is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.

Dunning added, “Any reasonable review of just a small percentage of the academic work on learning styles gives you the same answer: there’s no evidence that they work.”

Here’s why. First, respondents end up divided into disparate, absolute categories. They are introverted or extroverted, absorb visuals or deflect them, prefer one speaker to several. In reality, few people fit snugly into a particular group. Given an either-or option of listening to lecture or reading a graphic-heavy textbook, the person will answer. But perhaps the preference is a very slight one – yet it will end up being favored 100 percent in the calculation. It also leaves no wiggle room for evolving preferences or working best with a mix of the styles.

Another issue, Dunning noted, is that preference won’t necessarily equate to aptitude. You can like something without being very good at it, as a number or weekend golfers can attest.

“Terrible lizards” (Reptilians and Nashville bombing)

Among the multitudinous conspiracy theories, a candidate for most bizarre is that the government is run by monovalent, shape-shifting reptilian space creatures. While the idea is comical, someone so unhinged as to believe it may be capable of supporting such beliefs with deadly action.

In Skeptic Magazine, Tim Callahan posited that may have been the case on Christmas when Anthony Warner detonated explosives in Nashville. Warner died in the explosion, which may have taken innocent lives had police not evacuated the area. The officers did so after a strange foreboding emanated from Warner’s RV. His previous social media posts had suggested a sympathy for the reptilian conspiracy theory.

Callahan has researched and written about similar beings and has identified three primary types of alias-using aliens: Kind Nordic creatures usually hailing from the Pleiades star cluster; Gray-skinned interlopers of uncertain intent; and the Sleestak types, that is to say evil and reptilian, although with concealment abilities and intelligence as well unknown to their Land of the Lost brethren. As you can see from these three types, the darker the skin, the more deadly the threat, a notion which mirrors everyday bigotry.

The first type are the least frequent, and this is consistent with conspiratorial or secret thinking. There is some belief, for example, in benevolent inner Earth creatures who toil willingly in a paradise for our benefit. This enables the believers to idealize or romanticize the world. But far more common among those who think they have secret knowledge is that otherworldly or interdimensional beings are out to get us. This enables blame to be placed on a fixed point and, while the subconscious intent is that the person will feel better for exposing it, the reality is far different. Hardened conspiracy theorists lead miserable, fear-filled lives. Each “exposure” is touted as a victory, but in truth is only seen as the next link in a never-ending chain.

Callahan writes that the reptilian overlord idea stems from the mini-series V, in which evil reptiles hid their true nature under a synthetic human skin. Believers extrapolated this notion to the real world and think world leaders are actually lizard people who operate from dimensions inaccessible by the rest of us. They attribute alien abductions to the reptilians, rather than the usual Grays, but think it is only happening in the mind and that the lizard folks are using their shape-shifting abilities to look like the stereotypical gray alien with huge heads and tiny eyes. Rather than food and water, the reptilians are nourished and sustained by human fear, trauma, and acquiescence. If believer are correct about this, they are giving the Reptilians just what they need.

“Popular misconception” (Cube-shaped UFO)

A headline more suited to the 1970s National Inquirer, rather than the 2020s Popular Mechanics in which it appeared, strongly suggests that a cube-shaped UFO unknown to the military has been photographed.

Kenny Biddle specializes in ghost claims, but the skeptic leader is also well-versed in the UFO field and he writes that he quickly recognized the object as a party balloon, which is something that is regularly mistaken for alien transport vehicles by those who are hoping to spot just such a device. In this case, Biddle thinks the airborne inflatable was a Batman balloon sold at Party City.

UFO enthusiasts dismiss this explanation, citing unnamed pilots who described the object as motionless and not impacted by air currents. Since all such claims are attributed to anonymous sources, it is impossible to verify if they said this or even if they exist.

Biddle’s fellow CSI fellow, Mick West, agrees that the likely explanation is Biddle’s Batman Balloon. West has previously shown how  photographed objects can seem motionless when they are whizzing by and, upon examination of this picture, he has concluded this is another case of that.

Many amateur organizations and science classes often use party balloons in experiments since the inflatables are cheap, effective, and plentiful. Teachers and students fill the balloons with helium, though not all the way since, as they rise, the light gas inside them expands due to the decrease in atmospheric pressure. Biddle writes this is the likely explanation for why the item in the supposed leaked photo appears fully inflated: The helium inside has expanded.

The unnamed sources claim the balloon hovered at more than 30,000 feet, which would be about double the altitude that party balloons can reach. However, unnamed also means unverifiable, so there is no way to corroborate or test this assertion.

Biddle points out that, just from the headline, there are clues about the story being sensationalist instead of scientific. It reads, “Leaked Government Photo Shows ‘Motionless, Cube-Shaped’ UFO.”

He writes, “The term leaked has become an overused buzzword…to grab the attention of those with an interest in conspiracy theories that focus on the government keeping some secret from the people.”

Further, the article describes the image as unclassified, which Biddle notes means the image would have gone through government review and release rather than being leaked or discovered.

Another red flag from the headline is “motionless.” The photo was allegedly snapped by someone in a passing fighter jet, which is far from motionless. This means the photographer would have had less than a second to spot, frame, bring into focus, and snap the image. Even if the flying fast-fingered photographer had managed that, West shows here how moving objects can seem motionless when they are actually speeding by.

The final issue from the headline is the description “cube-shaped,” used even though the object in question is roughly triangular. Playing this loose with the truth suggests that author was skimming over facts, doing no real research, and regurgitating what believers in UFOs and conspiracy theories had fed him.

Biddle’s hypothesis is that a family hosted a Batman-themed birthday party and a few days later, the balloons slowly leaked helium, were set free, and went skyward. With this idea in mind, Biddle got hold of two similar Batman balloons and went to a park to attempt a recreation of how this might have happened.

He describes the results thusly: “My wife secured one of the balloons by a length of ribbon measuring about 100 feet, which placed the balloon well above the trees surrounding the park. I walked approximately 500 feet from her and took some photos. I am satisfied this flying object has been identified.”

His simple experiment suggests this is the cause. Conspiracy theorists condemn the rest of us for blindly swallowing government and media products. Yet they fail to apply the same standard to the claims of their fellow conspiracy theorists. Here, this meant believing that a floating UFO is amongst us and being covered up by military brass. This is a more attractive conclusion for them than conducting a simple experiment that produced an answer that was much more mundane but much more accurate.

“What a crop out” (Mowing Devil)

In Skeptical Inquirer, ­­­cryptozoology expert Benjamin Radford addressed the claim popular among crop circle UFO enthusiasts that a 17th Century woodcut contains just such an image.

These round riddles began appearing in the English countryside circa 1970, mostly consisting of smashed-down wheat or barley, which are the food crops that are most-easily flattened. But proponents feel that the image featured above in a 1687 woodcut suggests that the circles predate modern times.

This attempt to marry the past to newer claims is a common technique of paranormal proponents, according to Radford. He writes, “Indigenous myths and legends of spirits and figures are retroactively claimed to represent early sightings of particular mysterious creatures…including the lake monster in British Columbia and the Puerto Rican vampire el Chupacabra.” Further, Michael Goss noted in the journal Folklore that, “The contents of ‘The Mowing Devil’ seem to prove the rule that…­­given time, some industrious researcher is bound to turn up a historical precedent” for a contemporary mystery.

Artwork served as an early medium for stories, truthful or otherwise. These works included morality tales that instructed on the consequences of one’s conduct. Therefore, The Mowing Devil should be viewed through this folkloric lens. While the piece is usually presented out of context, the original tale can be found in a pamphlet dated from 1678. There, we learn that the woodcut illustrates the legend of an English farmer who, during a dispute with a contractor, tells him that he would rather pay the devil to cut his oat field than have the worker do it.

The storyteller makes clear that Satan’s Sickle cut the crop rather than laying it down. And the perpetrator is of known diabolical origin rather being unspecified interplanetary visitors creating a parking spot.  

Crop circles only came about in the 1970s when simple renditions began appearing in the English countryside. They were made by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who attempted to fool people into thinking UFOs had landed and they succeeded wildly in this goal. The pranking pair inspired several imitators who engaged in an indirect competition for who could create the most complex designs. People sometime blame the devil for their doings, but Bower and Chorley have made so such assertion, citing an Australian entertainment program episode as their inspiration. And as Radford demonstrated, the 17th Century woodcut IS of the devil and there is no tie-in the modern phenomenon, much as crop circle jerks wish that there was.