Pursuit of Truthiness

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Archive for the ‘conspiracy theories’ Category

Operation Paperclip

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I just finished the great book of the same name by Annie Jacobson. I had heard of the program that brought Nazi scientists to America, but didn’t realize how big it was- several hundred scientists- or just how complicit in the holocaust many of the scientists were- from the slave labor that built Werner von Braun’s rockets, to medical experiments on unconsenting prisoners, to high positions in the SS, to straight up murder.

Nazi science shows the amazing things that can be accomplished with tons of money, no bureaucracy, no morals, and an endless supply of slave labor. Rockets, chemical and biological weapons all went from ideas to mass production in a few years. Most of the medical “experiments”, though, seem more like simple torture than attempts to learn anything.

The Paperclip program is classic example of Crisis and Leviathan- war (WWII) and the threat of war (Cold War) lead to bigger government and more relaxed moral standards. If we don’t do it, the Russians will.

I definitely didn’t realize the interaction between a lot of the craziest shit our military / intelligence / industrial complex was doing at this time. Paperclip scientists were involved in MK-ULTRA, Bluebird and Artichoke, dramatically accelerating the US chemical and biological weapons programs, and in dispersing pathogens in the US.

It was Richard Nixon that unilaterally shut down the US chemical weapons program in 1969- well done. Nerve gas is scarier shit than I realized. Even Hitler never used it, though they had thousands of tons of tabun. This makes Saddam Hussein, and our support of him during the Iran-Iraq war, look even worse.

One big lesson that I take from the book, though the author never mentions it- the importance of institutions. Almost all of the scientists who did the worst things in Nazi Germany ended up being successful, ethical scientists in the US, once they were placed in a system with very different incentives. In fact, the Paperclip scientist who did some of the worst things for the US, Fritz Hoffmann, was one of the only anti-Nazis in the program; but he was working in weapons areas where the US military had the fewest moral qualms at the time.

Annie Jacobson does a great job turning history and original historical research into an informative page-turner. My one disappointment with the book is in its moral dimension. Jacobson claims to dodge the question, saying that the morality of the paperclip program is up for each individual to decide. But she is always implying that it was a bad idea, while avoiding a real discussion. In particular, she never brings up the obvious analogy to the everyday criminal justice system. In one sense, Paperclip was an amazing rehabilitation program; there was almost no ‘recidivism’ among the scientists. But it certainly failed to exact retribution on bad actors, and may have created a deterrence-reducing moral hazard effect (perhaps knowing of such a program will lead others to commit crimes they would otherwise be afraid to). How valid was the argument that ‘if we don’t take them, the Soviets will’? Would the US and the world really be a better place if we had hung Werner von Braun and co as war criminals instead of letting them join NASA and help get humanity to the moon?
Science is power- both for what it allows humanity as a whole to do, and for scientists themselves. When governments realize the power of your ideas and abilities, you can get away with a lot. Nazis, Soviets, Americans, British, French all realized this- more than they do today. You’d think we would at least have standing visa offers to all scientists who aren’t war criminals, after expending so much money and effort to get those who are.

Written by James Bailey

August 5, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Paging All Vegetarian Supervillians

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It’s hard to convince people to stop eating meat by making them guilty for doing so (sure hasn’t worked on me yet). It would be a lot easier if instead they felt horrific physical illness after eating meat. It turns out this is a real possibility: tick-induced meat allergy is totally a thing. Just breed the little buggers and release them en masse in major cities. Its about the only way I can imagine, short of the invention of delicious super-cheap vat-grown “meat”, that most people will stop eating animals.

Written by James Bailey

September 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Has the Fed bought the Economics profession?

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There’s an intriguing and well written, though overly long, article over at HuffPo called “How the Federal Reserve Bought the Economics Profession“.

The basic idea is that so many economists work for the Fed, have worked for the Fed, or want to work for the Fed that their desire to please their employer has stifled debate over the Fed’s role throughout the profession.

Certainly such a thing is possible; Hayek, in his 1944 Road to Serfdom, noted that he was advocating for small government against his own self-interest since more active governments engaging in central planning hire lots of economists.

But is the problem that the Fed serves no purpose except to employ economists?  Far from it.  The importance of monetary policy has been noted by most economists for a very long time; as far as I know only the Austrians say it is necessarily a bad thing.  Rational expectations folks say it does neither harm nor good (it really does just provide jobs to economists), but this almost undermines the monetary-economic complex conspiracy theory, since Ratex emerged in the 70’s just as this article said the Fed was becoming more powerful, and rational expectations continued to grow in popularity and power at the same time the Fed did.  Interestingly, this crisis has not been good to the credibility of either the Fed or the Ratex people despite their opposition to each other.

So monetary policy is necessary, but the Fed still stifles criticism of its own current brand of monetary policy?  This seems unlikely to me, because it would mean the Fed is working against its own long-term interest.  The Fed gains power and credibility as its monetary policy gets better, and policy will get better only through criticism and refinement.  Fed employees should be pretty forward-looking since their appointments last several years.

I wonder if advocates of unconventional monetary policy like Scott Sumner feel “stifled”.  I suspect it is only people like Galbraith who question the Fed’s motives who run in to trouble, rather than people who simply think they could run things better.

As far as Galbraith’s accusation about the Fed’s political bias: his numbers actually did seem to bear this out when I looked at this last.  However, of all major Presidential candidates it was George H.W. Bush who felt most strongly that the Fed cost him the election; and this in 1992 when the Fed was run by longtime Republican and former Objectivist Alan Greenspan.

The most convincing criticism in the article is the quote from the Father of Monetarism himself, Milton Friedman, criticizing the Fed’s large influence on the profession.  I guess we could say that the Fed has some “market power” in the intellectual marketplace, making the market for ideas less than perfectly competitive.

On the whole though, I don’t worry that the Fed has bought the profession.  But then, that’s probably just because I’m holding out for a job there.  Or because of the check Bernanke is sending me to write this post.

Written by James Bailey

September 10, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Crazy Things

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1. Counterproductive craziness- I always suspected that tinfoil hats actually help the government/aliens to infiltrate your brain.  Now a study by electrical engineers at MIT confirms my suspicions.

2. So crazy it must be satire, and actually is- Obama is Literally Hitler.

3. Bridges made entirely from the roots of living trees.  Elves must have been involved.

4. Socratic dialogues as sitcoms– so crazy I would watch it.

5. The story of Genesis is officially true: I saw it on Facebook.

6.  The American Stonehenge.  Very bizarre for what it is, for the mystery of who built it, and because I had somehow never heard of it before.

7. For-credit classes in Underwater Basketweaving actually exist.  Have not confirmed if any of them qualify as full-contact.  Also, UC Berkeley is offering a class in Starcraft.

Written by James Bailey

August 13, 2009 at 12:54 am

Nuclear Nazi Assassin: Making Maine look good

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My native Maine seems to produce about a story a year featuring backwoods types who do really messed up things, but this story blows away all the others.

Apparently a wannabe-Nazi living in Belfast was building a dirty bomb to set off at the Presidential Inauguration, but was murdered by a vigilante (his wife?).

The only thing more bizarre than the story is that almost no media outlets have picked it up, despite the fact that the story broke in early February.

But read up at Wikileaks and the Bangor Daily News for a glimpse into a dangerous bizarro world.

Wikileaks speculates that the story hasn’t spread because it doesn’t fit with anyone’s political agenda, but that doesn’t seem like enough.  Any thoughts?  Are reporters outside of Maine and the blogosphere just that bad at their jobs?

Written by James Bailey

March 12, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Conspiracy Theory In the Making

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Dec 8: Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has all state agencies suspend business with Bank of America, in retaliation for their decision to withdraw financing from a distressed local manufacturer.

Dec 9: Blagojevich is arrested on federal corruption charges, for “attempting to sell appointment to a U.S. Senate seat”.

Need more proof than this that the banks secretly rule the country?  Just look at the bailout.  Need more evidence still?  Well, you’ve got enough, forget about evidence and look into your gut.

What are others saying?  Dilbert creator Scott Adams says that the corruption charges are not fabricated, and the fact that a Senate seat can (almost) be bought is itself evidence that conspiracy theories are not so far-fetched.  Career conspiracy theorists at Infowars echo my idea, throwing in links to other conspiracies as well.

I guess the Feds will be coming after us next.

Written by James Bailey

December 11, 2008 at 4:57 pm

France Releases UFO Records

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Not only are they declassified, they are available on an easy to use website!

Lifting the veil of secrecy is the easiest way to convince people that all the sightings have been hoaxes, hallucinations or comets (unless, of course, we really are covering up some crash-landed spacecraft).

The French site classifies the sightings into four groups; group “D” consists of the reports that remain unexplained. For those who don’t speak the language, Google translator should be enough to get the basic ideas.

Written by James Bailey

June 2, 2008 at 2:45 am