Posts Tagged ‘aviation’


Technobiophilia

We surf the net, stream our films and save stuff in the cloud. Can we get all the nature we need from the digital world?

by  Sue Thomas
Getting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by ReutersGetting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by Reuters

Sue Thomas is a writer and digital pioneer. Her latest book is Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace (2013).

There are fish in my phone. Some are pure orange with white fins; others have black mottled markings along their orange backs. They glide, twist and turn above a bed of flat pale sand fringed by rocks and the bright green leaves of something that looks like watercress. Sometimes they swim out of view, leaving me to gaze at the empty scene in the knowledge that they will soon reappear. When I gently press my finger against the screen, the water ripples and the fish swim away. Eventually, they cruise out from behind the Google widget, appear from underneath the Facebook icon, or sneak around the corner of Contacts. This is Koi Live Wallpaper, an app designed for smartphones. The idea of an aquarium inside my phone appeals to my sense of humour and makes me smile. But I suspect its true appeal is more complicated than that.

In 1984, the psychiatrist Aaron Katcher and his team at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment in the busy waiting room of a dentist’s office. On some days, before the surgery opened, the researchers installed an aquarium with tropical fish. On other days, they took it away. They measured the patients’ levels of anxiety in both environments, and the results were clear. On ‘aquarium days’, patients were less anxious and more compliant during the surgery. Katcher concluded that the presence of these colourful living creatures had a calming influence on people about to receive dental treatment. Then in 1990, Judith Heerwagen and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle found the same calming effect using a large nature mural instead of an aquarium in the waiting room of a specialist ‘dental fears’ clinic. A third experiment by the environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich and colleagues at Texas A&M University in 2003 found that stressed blood donors experienced lowered blood pressure and pulse rates while sitting in a room where a videotape of a nature scene was playing. The general conclusion was that visual exposure to nature not only diminished patient stress but also reduced physical pain. I’m not in pain when I look at my mobile, though I might well be stressed. Is that why I take time to gaze at my virtual aquarium?

A simple answer to this question is no. Katcher’s fish were real. Mine are animations. But there is increasing evidence that we respond very similarly to a ‘natural’ environment, whether it’s real or virtual, and research confirms that even simulated nature experiences can be remarkably powerful. In a 2008 study of Spanish energy consumers, the researchers Patrick Hartmann and Vanessa Apaolaza-Ibáñez at the University of the Basque Country examined responses to a new TV marketing campaign by one of the country’s leading energy brands, Iberdrola Energía Verde. The company was attempting to ‘green’ its image by evoking a virtual experience of nature through the use of pleasant imagery such as flying eagles, mountain scenery, and waterfalls. The intention was to evoke feelings of altruism and self-expression (‘Now, every time you switch on your light, you can feel good because you are helping nature’). The researchers found that consumers responded positively to the new branding, no matter whether they were already environmentally conscious or among the ‘non-concerned’. The ads brought the benefits of a ‘warm glow’ and a positive feeling of participating in the common good of the environment. The visual simulations were meeting a human desire to experience nature and reap its psychological benefits (pleasure, stress reduction, and so on). The research concluded that in societies where the experience of actual nature is becoming scarce, and life is increasingly virtual, the consumption of ‘green products’, especially those that evoke virtual contact with nature, can provide surrogate experiences.

The psychologist Deltcho Valtchanov at the University of Waterloo in Canada reached a similar conclusion in 2010 when he found that immersion in a computer-generated virtual reality nature space prompted an increase in positive feelings such as happiness, friendliness, affection and playfulness, and a decrease in negative feelings such as fear, anger and sadness. There were also significant decreases in levels of both perceived and physiological stress. Again, he and his colleagues concluded that encounters with nature in virtual reality have beneficial effects similar to encounters with real natural spaces. In other words, it seems that you can gain equal benefit from walking in a forest as from viewing an image of a forest or, as in my case, from watching virtual goldfish as opposed to real ones.

But what do we mean when we refer to ‘nature’? It’s a common term that seems to have an assumed collective meaning, often romanticised and sentimental. We speak of ‘getting back to nature’ as if there was once a prelapsarian baseline before we humans interfered and spoiled it. Gary Snyder, the American poet and environmentalist, offers alternative definitions from which we can choose. In The Practice of the Wild (1990), he distils down to two ways in which the term ‘nature’ is usually interpreted. One, he argues, is the outdoors: ‘the physical world, including all living things. Nature by this definition is a norm of the world that is apart from the features or products of civilisation and human will. The machine, the artefact, the devised, or the extraordinary (like a two-headed calf) is spoken of as “unnatural”.’

The other meaning is much broader, taking the first and adding to it all the products of human action and intention. Snyder calls it the material world and all its collective objects and phenomena. ‘Science and some sorts of mysticism rightly propose that everything is natural,’ he writes. In this sense, ‘there is nothing unnatural about New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy, and nothing — by definition — that we do or experience in life is “unnatural”.’ That, of course, includes the products of technology. This is Snyder’s preferred definition — and mine too. However, though it’s not always made clear, I’d venture a guess that environmental psychologists might have a preference for the former, human-free definition of nature.

Either way, it’s been claimed that the love of nature derives from ‘biophilia’, or the biophilic tendency. The term, coined in the 1960s by the German social psychologist Erich Fromm, was intended to denote a psychological orientation towards nature, but it became better known when popularised by the American biologist E O Wilson in Biophilia (1984) as an ‘innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’. Note that Wilson avoids the ‘n’ word, referring to ‘life’ instead. Of course, today the digerati are deeply engaged in conversations about what ‘life’ will mean in technologies of the future, a debate that will continue for a long time to come. More recently, the concept of biophilia has been celebrated by the Icelandic musician Björk in her 2011 album and musical project of the same name.

Perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being

The notion of biophilia draws upon a genetic attraction to an ancient natural world that evolved long before we did. It appears that our urge for contact with nature can, as shown in the experiments described, restore energy, alleviate mental fatigue, and enhance attention. It also appears to be surprisingly transferable to digital environments.

In 2004 I began collecting examples of metaphors and images of the natural world commonly found in computer culture — terms such as stream, cloud, virus, worm, surfing, field, and so on. I intended to find out what can be learnt from them about the intersections between human beings, cyberspace, and nature. I quickly amassed a long list of examples but found myself unable to suggest a reason for this phenomenon, until I came across Wilson’s theory. I realised that the story had been right in front of me all the time. It can be found in the images on our machines, in the spaces we cultivate in our online communities, and in the language we use every day of our digital lives. It began the moment we moved into the alien, shape-shifting territory of the internet and prompted a resurgence of that ancient call to life, biophilia.

Our attempts to place ourselves in this new world nourished the growth of a new spur, a hybrid through which nature and technology become symbionts, rather than opponents. I have coined the term ‘technobiophilia’ for this. It’s a clumsy word — probably not quite the right one — but for now it helps to spell out what is happening so that we can understand it better. Is there the possibility that perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being? How can we harness and develop our technobiophilic instincts in order to live well in the digital world?

One option would be that rather than keeping the virtual and the natural worlds separate — turning off our machines, taking e-sabbaticals, or undergoing digital detoxes, in order to connect with nature — we think about them all as integrated elements of a single life in a single world. There is already a growing sense in the wired community that connections with the natural world are vital to digital well-being, both now and in the future. This same community needs to pay attention to biophilia and to its implementation in biophilic design. With the help of biophilic insights, we can connect the planet beneath our feet with the planet inside our machines.

 


Jury finds ‘psychic’ Rose Marks guilty on all 14 fraud charges, faces possible 20 years in prison

Average storefront palm-reader or psychic ringleader who bilked clients for millions? Fort Lauderdale psychic on trial photo
Rose Marks, a Fort Lauderdale woman who claims to be a psychic, waves to the media as she leaves the federal courthouse Tuesday Aug. 27, 2013 after the first day of her trial. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

marks photo
Family members hustle Rosie Marks, who was distraught after the conviction of her mother Rose Marks, into a car after the verdict Thursday afternoon, September 26, 2013.

Jury finds ‘psychic’ Rose Marks guilty on all 14 fraud charges, faces possible 20 years in prison photo
Family members hustle Rosie Marks, who was distraught after the fraud conviction of her mother Rose Marks, into a car after the verdict Thursday afternoon. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

By Jane Musgrave

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WEST PALM BEACH —

Even before the jury’s first guilty verdict was read, stifled sobs filled the courtroom. As the clerk repeated “guilty” 14 times, the quiet sobbing crescendoed.

“Psychic” Rose Marks turned to members of her family and put a finger to her lips, telling them to hush.

But it didn’t help.

Seeing the 62-year-old matriarch convicted of 14 fraud-related charges and immediately slapped in handcuffs on Thursday was too much for family members who were part of and benefited from the multi-million-dollar fortune-telling business that collapsed under the weight of a federal investigation.

Some reached out, trying to touch her. One threw a Bible. One called out to the lead investigator, mocking him. When they realized their beloved mother, grandmother and sister was about to walk through an open door and be taken to jail, shouts rang out.

“Mom, I love you!” one called. “Don’t be afraid!” yelled another.

“I’m not afraid,” Marks responded, as U.S. Marshals surrounded her. “I love you, too.”

The emotional end to the monthlong trial was not as unexpected as the verdict. When the trial began, cynics scoffed at the notion that a psychic could be charged with separating a fool and his money.

But, prosecutors methodically built a case, showing how Marks, her daughters-in-law and even her granddaughter preyed on broken people who came to their storefronts in midtown Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale to deal with tragedies life had handed them. Instead of solace or guidance, they told clients the only way out was to give them money — lots of it — with the promise it would one day be returned.

Instead, the psychics amassed a roughly $25 million fortune.

“I’ll be the voice of the victims. Justice has been served,” said Charles Stack, who began what appeared to be a quixotic investigation in 2008 before he retired from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

People understood the agony of those who trusted epic Ponzi schemers Scott Rothstein and Bernie Madoff, Stack said.

In many ways, Marks’ victims were more sympathetic. Unlike those who fell prey to Rothstein or Madoff, the psychic’s clients weren’t looking for money. “In this case, the victims were praying for hope, and hope is the unwavering belief in the unseen,” Stack said.

Stack, who said he understood why Marks’ family lashed out at him, is a hero to the victims, including best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux. He befriended the writer, helping her get over the shock of learning that her nearly 20-year relationship with Marks was a sham and she was unlikely to ever recover the $20 million she had given the psychic “to cleanse.”

“I’m glad she’s going to be taken off the streets and out of the business and she won’t hurt anyone else,” said Deveraux, 66, who splits her time between New York City and Southwest Ranches near Fort Lauderdale.

Deanna Wolfe, who lost nearly $1 million during her three-decade relationship with Marks, expressed mixed feelings about the verdict. “I don’t know if she started out meaning to do this or if the greed and the money just took over,” said Wolfe, 72, who lives in Virginia. “It’s a sad thing for everyone involved, including her family.”

Deveraux, who sought Marks’ help to deal with an abusive husband and the death of an 8-year-old son in a 2005 ATV accident, expressed no such ambivalence. “It was never a friendship,” she said. “There’s no sadness. None.”

Unlike other victims, she said she doesn’t care if she gets back any of the money she lost. Wolfe, who ran up huge credit card debts and borrowed money from a wealthy friend, said she is hopeful some of the money will be returned.

Attorney Fred Schwartz, who defended Marks, said the government seized all of Marks’ assets — including cars, a boat, motorcycles, jewelry, gold coins and a home near the Intracoastal Waterway. During the trial, he portrayed the victims as satisfied customers who were improperly convinced they were victims by Stack. He said he plans to appeal based on improper investigative procedures by government agents who he said kept key evidence from him.

He tried to prepare Marks for the possibility that, if convicted, she would be taken immediately to jail. He said she expects to die behind bars. While the punishment for the convictions on 14 charges carry a maximum punishment of roughly 250 years, realistically she faces of 10 to 15 years, he said.

“Rose believes that even with a 4- or 5-year sentence, given the wear and tear on her body from working since she was 8 or 9 years old, she would die in jail,” Schwartz said. During the trial she used a cane to deal with knee problems and experienced chest pains when the verdict was announced.

Her daughter and son-in-law, her two sons and their wives, her sister and granddaughter also each pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud. They will be sentenced before Marks learns her fate on Dec. 9.


THE CHARGES

The 14 federal charges Rose Marks was convicted of on Thursday:

  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit mail/wire fraud
  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit money-laundering
  • 2 counts of mail fraud
  • 2 counts of money laundering
  • 6 counts of wire fraud
  • 2 counts of filing false income tax returns

 

Source: U.S. court documents.


Over 360,000 Gun Deaths Since 9/11 — From the Outside It Looks Like America Is a Country Gripped by Civil War

Should the outside world intervene?

Last week, Starbucks asked its American customers to please not bring their guns into the coffee shop. This is part of the company’s concern about customer safety and follows a ban in the summer on smoking within 25 feet of a coffee shop entrance and an earlier ruling about scalding hot coffee. After the celebrated Liebeck v McDonald’s case in 1994, involving a woman who suffered third-degree burns to her thighs, Starbucks complies with the Specialty Coffee Association of America‘s recommendation that drinks should be served at a maximum temperature of 82C.Although it was brave of Howard Schultz, the company’s chief executive, to go even this far in a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.

That’s America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks – last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC’s navy yard – and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families – the maiming and killing of children – just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.

The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.

To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it’s worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the US since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 Iver-Johnson handgun, wielded by Sirhan Sirhan. The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics fromicasualties.org, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.

That 212,994 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the last 45 years than in all wars involving the US is a staggering fact, particularly when you place it in the context of the safety-conscious, “secondary smoke” obsessions that characterise so much of American life.

Everywhere you look in America, people are trying to make life safer. On roads, for example, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years to enforce speed limits, crack down on drink/drug driving and build safety features into highways, as well as vehicles. The result is a steadily improving record; by 2015, forecasters predict that for first time road deaths will be fewer than those caused by firearms (32,036 to 32,929).

Plainly, there’s no equivalent effort in the area of privately owned firearms. Indeed, most politicians do everything they can to make the country less safe. Recently, a Democrat senator from Arkansas namedMark Pryor ran a TV ad against the gun-control campaign funded by NY mayor Michael Bloomberg – one of the few politicians to stand up to the NRA lobby – explaining why he was against enhanced background checks on gun owners yet was committed to “finding real solutions to violence”.

About their own safety, Americans often have an unusual ability to hold two utterly opposed ideas in their heads simultaneously. That can only explain the past decade in which the fear of terror has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in wars, surveillance and intelligence programmes and homeland security. Ten years after 9/11, homeland security spending doubled to $69bn . The total bill since the attacks is more than $649bn.

One more figure. There have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11 and about 364,000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms. If any European nation had such a record and persisted in addressing only the first figure, while ignoring the second, you can bet your last pound that the State Department would be warning against travel to that country and no American would set foot in it without body armour.

But no nation sees itself as outsiders do. Half the country is sane and rational while the other half simply doesn’t grasp the inconsistencies and historic lunacy of its position, which springs from the second amendment right to keep and bear arms, and is derived from English common law and our 1689 Bill of Rights. We dispensed with these rights long ago, but American gun owners cleave to them with the tenacity that previous generations fought to continue slavery. Astonishingly, when owning a gun is not about ludicrous macho fantasy, it is mostly seen as a matter of personal safety, like the airbag in the new Ford pick-up or avoiding secondary smoke, despite conclusive evidence that people become less safe as gun ownership rises.

Last week, I happened to be in New York for the 9/11 anniversary: it occurs to me now that the city that suffered most dreadfully in the attacks and has the greatest reason for jumpiness is also among the places where you find most sense on the gun issue in America. New Yorkers understand that fear breeds peril and, regardless of tragedies such as Sandy Hook and the DC naval yard, the NRA, the gun manufacturers, conservative-inclined politicians and parts of the media will continue to advocate a right, which, at base, is as archaic as a witch trial.

Talking to American friends, I always sense a kind of despair that the gun lobby is too powerful to challenge and that nothing will ever change. The same resignation was evident in President Obama’s rather lifeless reaction to the Washington shooting last week. There is absolutely nothing he can do, which underscores the fact that America is in a jam and that international pressure may be one way of reducing the slaughter over the next generation. This has reached the point where it has ceased to be a domestic issue. The world cannot stand idly by.


Charlie Veitch, the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

Charlie Veitch the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

Former “truther”, Charlie Veitch

Once one of Britain’s principal conspiracy theorists as well as friend to David Icke and Alex Jones, Charlie Veitch, was known as a 9/11 “truther.”  As soon as he realized that he had been duped, he stopped.  But that was when his problems really began.

According to an interview Veitch gave to the Telegraph, Veitch, who had been Right-wing, joined the Territorial Army (TA).  After a drunken night out with his best friend, his friend had turned to Veitch and told him that they had been lying to him.  He told Veitch that 9/11 was not what he thought it was and that he was being given “special knowledge.”  Veitch’s friend went on to show him a video entitled Terrorism: A History of Government Sponsored Terror, a video that was produced by US radio talk presenter, Alex Jones.

Veitch was shortly after made redundant, so with some of his payout, he purchased a camcorder and megaphone, in the style of Alex Jones. He used eccentric methods to publicly express his beliefs, such as swooping on public spaces and embarking public transport to make announcements to whoever was available to listen.  In one piece of footage, Veitch was heard to say to a group of passengers: “I am a proponent of the idea that the Twin Towers were brought down in a controlled demolition manner.  Those buildings would not have collapsed in the slightest from a Boeing 767 hit.”

Charlie Veitch the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

But one June afternoon, in New York City’s Times Square, Veitch began to film himself on his cell phone, as he made statements to camera about the devastation of the World Trade Center.  Only this time, his message was different from all the others he had posted on Youtube.  In the video, he said that he no longer believed that 9/11 was an inside job.

Because of his conspiracy theory films and the fact that he was at the forefront of what is known as “The Truth Movement” arm in the UK, Veitch had been approached by the BBC to go on an all-expenses paid 9-day trip to the United States, to examine these “conspiracies” from a scientific standpoint, with a view to furnish him with real information.

In the BBC program, entitled 9/11: Conspiracy Road Trip, 4 additional individuals, with divergent opinions from the official account of events of 9/11, had been selected to go on the road trip with Veitch.

The conspiracy theorists were given the opportunity to talk to building engineers, scientists, FBI and CIA agents, demolition experts and designers of the World Trade Center.  They were also allowed to talk to relatives of those who had tragically lost their lives, as well as pay a visit to the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pennsylvania United Flight 93 site.

After all of the scientific evidence was put to Veitch, he did something completely out of the ordinary for a hardcore “truther.”  He did a U-turn and changed his mind.  Standing in front of the White House, on that sunny day in June, Veitch spoke to the BBC presenter and road trip leader, Andrew Maxwell. In front of the BBC camera, Veitch told him:

“I found my personal truth and you don’t have to agree with me, but I can’t push propaganda for ideas that I no longer believe in and that’s what I do, so I just need to basically… take it on the chin, admit I was wrong, be humble about it and just carry on.”

Before the end of his road trip, Charlie Veitch held up his cell phone in the middle of Times Square, pointed the phone’s camera on himself and told the world that he had changed his mind, that he had been wrong.  He said:

“This universe is truly one of smoke screens, illusions and wrong paths, but also the right path, which is [to] always be committed to the truth.  Do not hold on to religious dogma.  If you are presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group might be believing or wanting to believe… you have to give the truth the greatest respect… and I do.”

Charlie Veitch the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped

Veitch’s turning point piece-to-camera at Times Square

After Veitch posted his video, the 9/11 Truth Movement’s reaction to one of its most prominent “truthers” changing his mind was one to be expected.  Veitch was labeled a flip-flop, a shill sellout who was taking cash for working for the BBC.  The Truth Movement did what any organization of its kind would do to someone who, for want of a better term, came to their senses.  They tried to discredit him.

Veitch told Myles Power in his BBC-funded interview, how he once had too much time on his hands, “Idle hands are the conspiracy theory world’s ideal way to get into your head,” he said, as he described how he started to watch Alex Jones and David Icke documentaries, as well as other scientific theory videos which he said spun a pretty convincing yarn on its conspiracies.  He became convinced that the Illuminati were behind it all, with its so-called New World Order.  After becoming absorbed by his interest in conspiracy theories, he took up his megaphone and camera and began to make films about them, which he said, elevated him to a “high priest” status of the Truth Movement.

But so with age, comes wisdom and reason.  Veitch began to look critically at the proponents of the conspiracy theories, beginning to not only question what could have been in it for the establishment to have blown up the World Trade Center, but in a sudden turnaround, he questioned the agenda of those who now came across to him as crazier and angrier than the actual perpetrators of terror; the Truth Movement.  He also said that the risk factor would be far too great for such so-called powers of the establishment, who had too much to lose, to instigate such an atrocity and then attempt to shroud it in secrecy.

He went on that the paper trail would be too vast and that there would be more likelihood of other world powers, with advanced technological methods of getting a hold of such information, should it even exist, than an organization like the Truth Movement.  He concluded by saying that if things were truly as the Truth Movement had claimed, then there would be a civil collapse, should the evidence be presented, but that there is no evidence, because it was not an inside job.

Veitch said that before he accepted the BBC’s offer of the road trip, that the activist, conspiracy, new age and spiritual worlds seemed to love him, but he now admits how he became arrogant and fell for the hype.  He had believed that the Truth Movement was about being purveyors of truth in the world, but realized that it was closer to a religious cult, with its indoctrination methods.

Charlie Veitch’s Times Square video provoked such aggressively negative responses from Truth Movement followers, who sent him messages telling him to rot in hell, that he was simply a pawn and that he was paid to do it.  Within days, he was renounced by his friends and sent death threats.  An email had been sent to his followers, claiming to be from Veitch and falsely admitting that he was a pedophile: a message that ultimately reached his mother, causing her utter distress.

Another follower had created a channel on Youtube, entitled Kill Charlie Veitch.  On the channel, he had said that he was coming to kill Veitch and that he should enjoy his last few days.  His face had also been superimposed on to a pig as it was being slaughtered.  Even David Icke had posted a message to say that Veitch would deeply regret his actions, while Alex Jones told him not to even bother communicating with him, as he no longer knew him.

In an interview on AdamVsTheMan on RT, Veitch opened up about how he had spent 4-5 years looking at the conspiratorial view on 9/11 until the BBC helped present him with hard facts.  He talked about how he already began to have his doubts before the US road trip, but really felt his change of heart when he was standing on top of Building 7 at the World Trade Center site, having just grilled building experts on the nature of the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Veitch has concluded that conspiracy theorists are professional victims who have a hatred of high achievers and who were likely to have been bullied at school.  He put his misdirection down to his vulnerable ego and has, unsurprisingly, become very cynical and misanthropic.  He may have come to his senses now, but he will always be remembered as The 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped.

Veitch currently lives with his young child and fiancée in Manchester, England and is planning to become a documentary maker.

Written by: Brucella Newman

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Six really stupid 9/11 conspiracies debunked in about six  seconds

by: ANTHONY SHARWOOD

Nah, that's just a missile. And Santa Claus is the pilot. (AP Photo/Carmen Taylor, File)

Nah, that’s just a missile. And  Santa Claus is the pilot. (AP Photo/Carmen Taylor, File)   Source: AP

PSYCHOLOGISTS will tell you that even perfectly sane people have the ability  to accept wild conspiracy theories. The more powerless or alone we feel, the  more likely we are to develop such theories.  

It’s all linked to self-esteem. If you’re the sort of person who feels  isolated or disenfranchised, you’re much more likely to develop wild theories as  a way of making you seem more knowledgeable, more powerful, more special.

That might help explain why many Americans are into conspiracies. The irony  of our technologically over-connected age is that there are scores of socially  disconnected people sitting in dark rooms extrapolating all sorts of crap from  factoids they find online. Here are six of the worst:

STUPID THEORY 1: The US government did it

SIMPLE REBUTTAL: People who say it was an inside job are split into  two camps. There are those who say the US government cooked up and enacted the  whole crazy plot, and those who say they let it happen without intervention. In  both cases, conspiracists generally claim that the aim was to give the Bush  government an excuse to wage war on the Islamic world.

So here’s your simple rebuttal. US governments have shown for decades that  they will intervene when and where it suits them. The last thing they need to do  to justify any foreign policy is kill 3000 of their own citizens.

STUPID THEORY 2: The twin towers did not collapse. They were  demolished.

SIMPLE REBUTTAL: 9/11 “truthers”, who would perhaps be more accurately  described as 9/11 “liars”, like to rope in an expert to tell you that no office  fire ever made a building topple. Well, that’d be because no office fire was  ever as big as these two, with as much jet fuel to help it along.

But the real reason the twin towers collapsed was structural. Most buildings  have their core structural supports at the centre. The towers had some major  central steel columns, but that elegant exterior steel shell was also crucial in  providing perimeter support. Also, the perimeter columns supported massive steel  trusses which supported each floor.

So basically, when the exterior of the building was penetrated so  devastatingly by the planes, the structure’s ability to hold itself up was  threatened. So when one floor went, the combined weight meant they all went.

highjacked airliners

Pretend the towers were a  conspiracy theory. Then pretend they were subjected to the force of logic.  Here’s your result. 11/09/2001. Source: AFP

STUPID THEORY 3: World Trade Center 7 did not collapse. It was  demolished.

SIMPLE REBUTTAL: Riiiight, so the world’s tallest tower collapses on  its neighbour less than 200m across the road. You’ve got 110 storeys of rubble  pummelling a 47-storey building, setting it on fire, covering it in untold extra  weight and inflicted untold stresses. And later that day, when the smaller  building collapses, it’s obvious the CIA did it with explosives. And Elvis left  the building right before it happened.

Oh, and if you want a secondary explanation of why the building really wasn’t  toppled by mysterious people with explosives, try googling any of the so-called  architects or engineers in the wacky YouTube vids. Almost none of them appear to  be either a) currently employed or b) affiliated with any group other than 9/11  conspiracy groups.

STUPID THEORY 4: FLIGHT 93 was shot down in Pennsylvania and the  people who were supposedly on it were murdered or relocated.

SIMPLE REBUTTAL: The small jet flying low in the area, which some  believe shot down Flight 93, was in fact a business jet which had been  instructed to fly low to inspect the wreckage. Also, the log of calls made from  Flight 93 is pretty compelling evidence that those were real people aboard a  hijacked jet. If these people are actors who are actually still alive somewhere,  the real mystery is why they haven’t made squillions in Hollywood. Because they  were seriously convincing.

Shanksville

And they’re fake trees and that’s  a fake wall and Gilligan is still stuck on Gilligan’s Island. Picture: Jeff  Swensen/Getty Images/AFP Source: AFP

STUPID THEORY 5: There was no “stand down” order, which proves the US  government dunnit.

SIMPLE REBUTTAL: A stand down order is an order from the North  American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) to scramble fighter jets. This didn’t  happen until too late on September 11, prompting conspiracists to say the  government deliberately held off to let the carnage unfold.

But NORAD didn’t actually track flights within America prior to 9/11. Also,  the hijackers turned off the transponders on their planes, which meant Air  Traffic Control couldn’t track them. And NORAD needed an alert from Air Traffic  Control to act. So basically, you had a system which ensured bureaucratic  bungles, but that’s a far cry from complicit officials.

STUPID THEORY 6: They weren’t planes, they were missiles.

SIMPLE REBUTTAL: Some of the worst nutters claim that the original  planes which struck the twin towers weren’t planes but missiles. This was  fuelled by an early eyewitness account broadcast on live TV from a journalist  who said he thought the first plane had no windows. But the journalist saw the  plane in a blink of his eye – a fact ignored by conspiracists who have seized on  this statement.

The obvious plane-sized holes in the buildings are a bit of a giveaway too.  But you know, maybe they were just caused by Batman or something.


Tiny North Dakota town braces against neo-Nazi plans for all-white community

Town of Leith, population 24, has sought outside help amid news that a white supremacist group plans to call it home

nazi flag new crop

Allies with the National Socialist Movement are also involved in the proposed neo-Nazi community. Photograph: Sandy Huffaker/AP

The tiny town of Leith in North Dakota is bracing itself for a potentially turbulent weekend. Its 24-strong population is set to be overrun by opposing busloads of neo-Nazis attempting to create a white supremacist community there and their anti-racist detractors.

Jeff Schoep, commander of the American National Socialist Movement (NSM), is preparing to travel from Detroit to Leith to hold a town-hall meeting and press conference on Sunday afternoon. On the NSM website, he describes the trip as a “gesture of goodwill”, but goes on to say ominously that the aim is to “plant the seeds of National Socialism in North Dakota”.

Anti-racist activists are also expected to descend on Leith from other parts of North Dakota and neighbouring Minnesota. “We cannot accept this racist hatred they are bringing here – Leith is in crisis and is crying out for help,” one of the organisers, Jeremy Kelly, told the Bismarck Tribune.

For the residents of Leith, the prospect of a weekend filled with white supremacist grandstanding is highly unwelcome. The town mayor, Ryan Schock, told the Guardian “people are very concerned. They do not want people to come to this town who have hate in them.”

Leith’s conundrum began when a newcomer called Paul Craig Cobb began buying up deserted plots of land two years ago, accumulating 12 plots in total. Last month it was revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors right-wing extremism, that Cobb, 61, is in fact a white supremacist wanted in Canada for promoting hatred in a blog.

It was also disclosed that he had moved to Leith in the hope of quietly constructing a neo-Nazi community along with allies in the National Socialist Movement and White Aryan Resistance (WAR). He is in the process of transferring some of the properties to Schoep, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard called Tom Metzger, and to April Gaede, founder of the neo-Nazi group National Vanguard.

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center said Cobb’s attempt to form an extremist community was in line with previous efforts to set up such collectives in Idaho and Montana. “Cobb has probably gone further than anyone before him in pursuing this white supremacist dream,” she said.

The publicity surrounding Cobb’s plans in Leith is likely to put a stop to his acquisition of any further land in the area, as local property owners are now wary of dealing with him. But there is little that can be done, Beirich said, to force him to give up the plots he already owns.

Leith residents are trying a variety of different moves to encourage him to leave town and have created a defence fund to pay for legal fees. One potential tactic is to have his house condemned under local amenity laws – Cobb’s property is not linked up to water or sewer services.

A more extreme move that is being discussed would be to abandon Leith’s status as a town before neo-Nazi supporters get close to outnumbering the other residents and thus controlling the town hall.

In a statement, Schoep accused “far left extremists” of trying to drive Cobb from his home. “Craig Cobb is not alone,” he said, “and will not be driven out, or forced to leave. Legal paperwork is being drafted to insure the civil rights of Mr Cobb, and other new residents of Leith will not be violated.”


How I, an Australian Jewish-atheist, became a German citizen

My identity is a conflicted mix that incorporates Judaism, atheism, anti-Zionism, Germanic traditions and Anglo-Saxon-Australian beliefs. I both routinely reject and embrace them all.

 

Dresden after bombing during the second world war
Dresden in 1945, after the Allies’ bombing. Photograph: Corbis

It was hard to forgive the Nazis. The “1,000 year Reich” lasted a mere 12 years, and the German state was crushed under the weight of bloody streets, genocidal concentration camps and despotism. For this to happen in the heart of apparently civilised Europe was unimaginable – especially for Jews who had often been fully included, and very often assimilated, members of society.

One of my relations fought on Germany’s side in the first world war. I’ve seen his grave in a Dresden cemetery, a city fire-bombed with spite by the allies in 1945. I was the first Loewenstein family member to visit the place after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember finding the street where my family had lived, unrecognisable in a sea of Soviet-inspired concrete. I used a pay phone and called my parents in Melbourne. We all cried, a silent recognition that our tragic Jewish story, sadly too common for words, began in a quiet and plain street in a deceptively normal German setting.

American writer Erik Larson’s stunning book In the Garden of Beasts, which profiles William E Dodd, the first US ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, gives a chilling taste of the seductive nature of German fascism. One of Dodd’s daughters, Martha, had her hand kissed by Hitler in 1933, and her father acknowledged “that Hitler was not an unattractive man personally.” This was the illusionary calm before the onslaught.

As a Jew born in Australia in 1974, I never imagined that Germany’s long shadow would envelop my adult life. In 2011, I became a German citizen while maintaining my Australian passport, due to a 1954 German law that allowed Jews to re-instate citizenship removed by the Nazis during their reign. I wanted citizenship for a few reasons, not least to honour my family that Germany once rejected, and to have the option of working freely across the European Union. 

Article 116 par 2 of Germany’s Basic Law reads:

Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored. They shall be deemed never to have been deprived of their citizenship if they have established their domicile in Germany after May 8, 1945 and have not expressed a contrary intention.

The vast bulk of my European family were murdered during the war, and those who escaped were made stateless before they fled. The vibrant global Jewish diaspora that exists today is largely due to the rupture of Jewish life in the 1930s across a world that was far from keen to accept them. My grandparents left Europe in 1939 and arrived in an Australia that viewed Jews with suspicion. They said that Perth, where the ship first docked, was “primitive and without rye bread”.

The process of acquiring German citizenship has been a long journey that reveals the often tortuous relationships that continue to define Jewish identity in the 21st century. My father’s father, Fred, died before I recall having any serious conversations with him about becoming a German citizen. His attitude towards his birth country evolved to a point where I sensed he didn’t hate Germany, loved his adopted nation, Australia, but would not have even remotely considered re-acquiring his German citizenship.

My uncle, Herbert, also born in Dresden, is 93 and still alive in Toronto. For him too, re-acquiring his German citizenship was out of the question. He wasn’t even prepared to visit Germany until a few years ago – and then, it was because he was invited by the city of Dresden. After all, Germany had rejected our family, killed the youngest and oldest and changed the fate of our lives irrevocably.

My father, Jeffrey, was different. When I first mentioned the idea of obtaining a German passport many years ago, he dismissed the whole idea out of hand. It was not an unusual Jewish response, a visceral rejection of ever seeing Germany as a nation worth respecting and viewing us as Jews and equals. I protested his intransigence but it was futile (he had to obtain citizenship first before I was able to do so).

Over the years I would occasionally ask if his position had changed, and it took a long time for his opposition to relent. I continued reminding him that Germany had shifted, and was no longer a haven for Jew-hatred (though Neo-Nazis and the far-right remains a growing problem).

Finally, my father gave in and realised that becoming a German citizen was in no way endorsing the policies of former German governments, but a way to rightfully re-claim our birthright. My father had meticulously kept all the documents that the German consulate required. A process that officials said would take a few months took two years.

On 14 January 2011, I arrived at the German consulate in Sydney and waited until a senior official appeared. He congratulated me on becoming a German citizen and asked how I felt. I had tears in my eyes, unsure what to say, but I mumbled something about never imagining that Germany was again so keen to welcome me, as a Jew and atheist, into its heart. I also felt, but didn’t verbalise, that it was a personal victory against Nazism.

Today I feel neither German nor Australian. I hope my murdered ancestors would understand why I wanted to once again assume a German identity, or at least attachment to my pedigree as a fully-fledged member of German’s Jewish community. And yet I’m a non-practicing Jewish atheist currently based in Sydney.

Uncritical nationalism towards my birth country is impossible. I share human rights lawyer Julian Burnside’s despair at the Australian elite’s ability to unleash cruelty against asylum seekers and the dispossessed, and I question whether our settler-colonial state has ever really felt comfortable fully accepting the strange, the new, the remote, the other. Multiculturalism exists but its implementation can never be complete while politicians and media commentators divide a population by warning Australians that [insert minority group here] are a threat to our harmony.

My ostracism from mainstream Judaism is directly linked to Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians. For too many Jews, Zionism has become their main religion, and a God of intolerance is praised on a regular basis. When then Israeli finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a conference in 2003 that Israeli Arabs were a threat to the Jewish nature of his country (he said “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens”) it should have been condemned as outright racism.

Instead, such comments are routinely expressed by senior Israeli officials and the world shrugs though. As leading American human rights professor and United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories professor Richard Falk said last week in Sydney, the Jewish state will increasingly face boycotts, sanctions and divestment so long as it oppresses the Palestinians.

A former head of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, says in the Israeli film The Gatekeepers that “[We’ve become] a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II”.

This is what my people are known for around the globe. 

According to new Israeli government released figures, Jews are now outnumbered by Arabs under Israeli sovereignty by over 50,000 people. That’s segregation by definition. Israel learns nothing from history except how to brutalise the marginalised. Germany struggles to understand how it allowed itself to be overcome by 12 years of madness. Australia is a free nation that locks up refugees in remote and privatised detention camps, making a mockery of our “fair go” claim.

My identity is a conflicted and messy mix that incorporates Judaism, atheism, anti-Zionism, Germanic traditions and Anglo-Saxon-Australian beliefs. And yet I both routinely reject and embrace them all. It sounds exhausting but it’s actually invigorating. I never feel I belong anywhere. I can’t be a Jew, atheist, German or Australian without a bundle of caveats.

Perhaps that just makes me human.