Thursday, March 29, 2012

Twitter Danger

Like the Casey Anthony case, it happened virtually in my backyard, and I've been paying attention to the Trayvon Martin situation as closely as I did to the Anthony case, which is to say, not at all. But while having the Prius serviced I was watching the TV news in the lobby, and they reported a story that hits home for stuff I've been saying for years.

You can read a link to what's now the latest below, but here's the sum of it.

Some person had identified a certain address as that of Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman. It turned out it was the wrong George Zimmerman. But Lee took hold of that message and "re-tweeted" it to all his followers (about 250K of them). As a result, the occupants of that home, an elderly couple (one of them with a heart condition) received various threats and unwanted attention, and were compelled to spend time in a hotel.

Now for all practical purposes, we don't need to have Lee's name involved in what I want to say, and that he has 250K followers made the effects more serious than if he had had only 250. Either way the lesson is the same. Also, whoever Lee got that information from is just as culpable, so let's start with them. We'll also refrain from commenting on the obvious point that such tactics are not particularly savory in the first place, even if the address had been correct.

As an information tech person, I would first recognize that the name "George Zimmerman" is just common enough that it's possible a mistake might be made. It isn't as common as "John Smith," to be sure, but it's far more common than "Zaphod Beeblebrox". (Sorry about that, but I'm re-reading The Hitchhiker's trilogy for fun lately.) So IF...IF....I were inclined to do such a thing as the first person (pre-Lee) did, I'd make darn sure -- DARN sure -- it was the right George Zimmerman. And if I could NOT be sure, I'd keep my mouth shut.

(As it is, the news reports also say this first party is denying the error, claiming that it IS a correct address, and that others just want us to think it is wrong. Rather reminiscent of the way Acharya S and Earl Doherty do business, isn't it?)

If I were the second party in question (here, Lee, but as I said, it makes no difference who it is) I'd also recognize the same thing and check my source for accuracy.

If I were the third party -- one of those 250K, but again, it matters not if it is only 250, or if it is 250 million -- same thing. Before I was gallumphing over to that address, or before I mailed some nasty lit, I'd check my source.

Now of course, if I were that careful, I likely wouldn't be the type to be sending these people threats and such anyway. But that's not exactly the point. The point is that people up and down this chain didn't care enough to check. It does make it worse in qualitative terms to the extent that Lee has so many followers, and as a celebrity, is the type of person many people trust automatically. But even if his name were Phineas Gump and he had only 25 followers, it takes only 1 of those followers to do something harmful.

Which does need to be pointed out as well: Lee has 250K followers, and clearly, at least 249.8K didn't act on this information. Still, it doesn't take 200 or even 2000 people to do irreversible damage because of such carelessness. It takes, again, only 1.

The story below reports that Lee has apologized, as it right and proper, and that there may be a lawsuit in the air. If that does happen, it could be quite interesting from an information tech perspective. Obviously, we can't stop this sort of thing from happening with tighter controls; freedom of speech prevents that. Thus the only real avenue the average citizen has is to litigate for civil damages. If the elderly couple wins, maybe it will cause more people to be more careful about passing on information before they check it out. On the other hand, maybe some will object that a victory will have a chilling effect on free speech.

That's the fine line to be walked: Free speech versus responsible speech. It applies just as well to the problem of how to counter numbskulls who promote crap like the Christ-myth (though no one's going to move into a hotel because they think Annals 15.44 was not an interpolation, of course; it's a matter of scale there too).

As far as I'm concerned, the situation is best handled such that all are free to say what they will provided what is said and transmitted does not in some way incite and directly instruct the commission of a criminal act by its very words. There's some gray there, yes, but it's as close to black or white as we're likely to get. And then, the current option to pursue civil damages should be open as well.

The example of Lee's thoughtless re-tweet is a lesson in information science that needs to be spread abroad widely. So be sure and re-tweet this blog entry to everyone, eh?

Link

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tekton Tenure: First Half of 2005

Yes, this time I'm covering 6 whole months. Part of that is that there's not a lot of new people I dealt with (but a lot of long dead ones, like Alvin Boyd Kuhn, who I assume is ever nuttier now that he was in life). It's also partly because -- ah, memories! -- February 2005 was when I had my first kidney stone. That put me out of action and dampened my enthusiasm considerably.

It's also the time when I took on James White and Steve Hays on Calvinism, and Richard Carrier on TIF, and obviously all of them are still active and there's nothing extra to add on them today. I also debated a fellow I called "Calvino" but I haven't heard from him in a long time and don't recall his real name any more.

What's that leave us? We have an alleged professor named "Mordochai ben-Tziyyon" who still has the same Tripod page and whom I still doubt actually exists as who he is described as. He has a Facebook page, but his Tripod page was last updated in 2008.

I also took on a journalist named "James Dee" but I have no further information on him; I didn't keep the article and it is now gone from Tekton.

Then we had the Skeptic Delos McKown, a rather incompetent scholastic when it came to Bible interpretation. I moved my reply to him to my toon site because he was such an absurd person. However, he's not written for infidels.org for ages; instead he's writing obscure books that you can buy for a penny used on Amazon.com. He's also apparently retired from his professorship at Auburn.

Then there was a wacky Christian named Stuart Dinenno. It looks like his website is long gone. Another wacko Christian who calls himself "Pastor G. Reckart," whom I blasted on Matthew 28:19, still has a site up -- actually several sites, most of them just one page each -- as well as a blog. But he's still nuts.

Gary Amiarult of tentmaker.org -- still around.

And that's it. The only other thing to note is kind of sad: I plugged several startup apologetics websites in those months, and a lot of them have disappeared.


Friday, March 16, 2012

idon'tPhone

This year on the major agricultural survey I'm doing, there's a unique question asking farmers if they have a smartphone or a Blackberry. It's interesting to find out who answers yes or no, and so far, about 16 out of 20 I have asked have said yes.

I'll never have one. I won't buy one. If you buy me one for Christmas I'll say thank you and see if I can turn it in at Best Buy and instead get Mrs H the next season of I Dream of Jeannie as an exchange.

This could easily turn into one of my standard rants about how such technology affects the brain, so let me turn it right away to something of related nature. It's not just the brain effects that are the problem. Nor is it just that people end up driving and texting and end up in accidents. There's also a certain degree of social rudeness that comes of such devices. We all know some examples of this: The jerk who doesn't turn off his phone in the movie theater, or who keeps talking loudly on it in public.

But there's also the sort of thing that happened today as I was leaving a certain business. In the parking lot, I was parked next to a fellow who had just come out before me, busily texting away on his iPhone. As he plugged away at whatever earth-shaking message he was working on, he was (with a certain limited awareness) opening his own vehicle door. In the process, he blocked my access to my own drivers-side door.

I could have said "excuse me" or some such, but I was curious, so I just waited at the back end of my car, waiting to see how long it would take for this doofus to look up from his texting and notice he was keeping someone waiting. It was an interesting test of the degree of obliviousness these things can cause.

As it happened, it took about 15 seconds before he looked up, saw me standing there, and quickly apologized. Then he got into his vehicle and continued texting as he started his vehicle. Finally, he (thankfully) put the device aside and drove away.

I don't want to become like that. Not that I'm saying the purchase of an iPhone makes you more apt to become rude and devoid of concentration, of course. And I'm such an introvert that I'd never be so enamored of texting that I'd be having long conversations with people on it.

Furthermore, there's no one for me to text TO anyway. Mrs H still works in the prison system here, and they're not permitted to have personal electronic devices inside. Just as well, I'd rather just call her there for a chat anyway. But regardless of whether I would have a use for such a device -- I still wouldn't want one. (Full disclosure: We did purchase a cell phone for our New England trip a couple of years back -- one you could just buy 30 minutes for and dispose of in a drawer until you needed it again. It had but two purposes: 1) Use in case of an emergency. 2) Contacting the gentleman who was watching Cocoa for us. We used it again for another trip some months ago. Since then it has resided in a drawer. The end.)

Though it's obviously not as serious as killing someone with your car because you were too busy with WILL U BE MY BFF, the doofus who kept me waiting today is just another example of how we're serving technology rather than the other way around. And I won't be a servant to my technology.

Maybe for Christmas you can get me season one of Daniel Boone instead.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Legends of the Fundy Atheists

Over on Amazon, I've been having a rhubarb with one of those wacko sorts, and he's inspired me to start a new series on TektonTV I'll be calling "Legends of the Fundy Atheists." This particular wacko claims to have a 150 IQ, and be head of research and engineering at some Fortune 500 company, which if true proves that you can be that smart and still have a head made of cement.

His claim -- posted in a thread about my book Shattering the Christ Myth -- is that Pilate's records were checked, and Jesus wasn't mentioned in them.

O RLY!

We've seen this one a few times, yes -- the reality: Pilate's records have not survived to this day; those in Jerusalem likely perished in 70 AD with everything else. But we just don't have the records of ANY provincial Roman governor like Pilate left to us today. Period.

As it stands, I challenged this wacko at least a dozen times to produce the records, or tell me where they were, but each time he evaded the question, even as he was absolutely awesome at calling Christians backwards, childish, stuck in primitive spirituality, etc. (His own view is apparently that of a Hindu or some such -- though he claims he used to be a Christian. He rants elsewhere about stuff like kundalini energy, and about being visited by the "Numinous Source". I suggested to him that the next time he sees that Source, he ought to ask it where Pilate's records are.)

In any event, such will the the first subject in the series I'll call Legends of the Fundy Atheists. You can expect the famous Pope Leo X quote to come in second, and after that -- well, let's face it, I'll likely be doing episode 100 of that series in 2035.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tekton Tenure: 2nd Half of 2004

Yep, good time to get back to this....this was the time of 2004 when we got hit by 3 hurricanes in a row, by the way...

Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth -- once described by James Hannam as one of the most dishonest websites around, it has improved its graphics but not its scholarly competence. Particularly amusing is the page on Mithra, where the webmaster was compelled to admit his gross errors in saying such things as that Mithra was crucified and rose from the dead. The mea culpa is hilariously ironic:

I first wrote this page back the late 1990s. New to the subject, I was naive about Christian origins scholarship. I figured anybody who took the time to fill a book with hundreds of pages about Jesus would take the time to check the facts. My bad. Turns out Christian origins scholarship, amateur or academic, isn't given much to rigor.

When I tried to do what I though everyone did—check the facts—I discovered the "facts" here are not actually facts. They are earnest amateur legend, some of it repeated generation to generation back into the 1800s.

Too bad he hasn't figured out that that's true for everything else he's posted, too.

Nadir Ahmed -- one of the few Muslim apologists I've ever bothered with, he's since started his own website. Right now though most of it is "under construction". So is his scholarship.

John Clark -- this guy, the leader of a cult called Pastor John's House, got in some hot Kool-Aid in 2007 when he was hauled into court by someone who claimed Clark broke up his marriage. Sadly, he's still active, though he speaks for himself in terms of his intellect; when you click the page about his credentials, it says:

Listen to the various messages Jesus has given to Pastor John.

Oh wow. Creds straight from Jesus. I'm impressed!

Tom Harpur -- the author of The Pagan Christ has kept writing books, and even has some YouTube videos, but for his supposed level, it seems no one is paying attention any more.

Gary Sloan -- a retired English prof, he wrote for infidels.org from 2003-2006 and other atheist publications, despite being a Biblical ignoramus. As far as I can tell, he's still around; he was writing reviews on Amazon in 2010, but a quick search doesn't reveal any major/recent activity.