Conspiracy Theories and the Forklift Six

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In Fredericksburg, Virginia on May 6th of this year, Keith’s forklift overturned, killing him. Five days later on May 11th, in Powell, Ohio a man named Marcellus was crushed by a sand hopper that fell from a forklift. Three days laster in Lexington, Kentucky on May 14th of this year a man named Chiu was killed by a large slab of granite falling on him. The granite had fallen from a forklift.

Less than a month later, in Buffalo, New York, a guy called Charlie was electrocuted when a forklift boom contacted with an energized power line. A few weeks later, a 25-year-old man named Allen was securing a load on a forklift June 29th, in Granite Falls, North Carolina, 55-year-old Steven was crushed by forklift that he was operating.

Six men all killed by forklifts. One killed by falling granite. Another killed in Granite Falls. The last man killed was 55 years old. He was killed on the 55th day since the first Forklift killing.

Everything I’ve said is entirely true. I got the information from a website called The Weekly Toll which looks at workplace killings. If I were to tell you that I believe that Forklifts have become sentient and are trying to systematically kill us, you’d rightly say I must be joking or I’ve lost my mind. Or if I were to tell you that there’s a lever factory in Kansas City, Missouri that is hell-bent on destroying the forklift industry by making them look bad just at the start of the season of industrial equipment conventions, you’d see it for the silliness that it is.

And yet, if the forklift operators are alternative medicine doctors or vaccinated children or any number of other things that have nothing to do with each other, we see conspiracy. We see a secret pattern. We’re humans. We’re pattern seeking creatures which often means we see patterns that simply aren’t there.

There are two fallacies at work. One is Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc  (After, Therefore Because Of). This refers to the assumption that simply because one event happened after another event, the first event is the cause of the second. It’s often untrue. One hour before Donald Trump announced he was running for President, I made a sandwich. My sandwich had nothing to do with Trump’s latest stunt.

The other is the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy where we’re looking for a specific pattern and we find it by ignoring anything that doesn’t fit with our narrative. With the Forklift Conspiracy I’m ignoring all the other workplace deaths and all the millions of times in those 55 days that forklifts were used without incident.

Recently I saw a meme that listed half a dozen alternative medicine doctors throughout the country that had mysteriously died. Unlike most memes, this one listed names. So I did some digging and soon found that one had been murdered by their spouse, another had committed suicide, three had disappeared in literally the most dangerous part of Mexico, one had wandered into the wilderness never to be seen again. The Forklift Six have more in common than these doctors did.

It’s easy to get caught up in patterns that aren’t there. The only way to avoid it is to continually ask yourself questions and do some research before believing there’s some sort of X-Files level conspiracy going on.

– Jack Cameron

Going Viral

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Exactly one week ago I read an article on the News Tribune website. The article said the following:

A possible suicide attempt at the South 48th bridge over Interstate 5 snarled traffic in both directions Friday afternoon.

The individual jumped or fell from the overpass, and was taken to a local hospital, Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.

The individual’s condition was unknown.

Police were investigating the incident, Cool said.

After some digging I found the identity of the person who jumped and a link to a public shaming video. You can read all about this over at my other site TacomaStories.com. Or you can read about it at Daily Kos or the New York Daily News. In the seven days since I posted the article, my post has been viewed over 250,000 times. (To put that in perspective a busy day on TacomaStories.com previously was 500 people in a day.) Dozens of other news sites have quoted from it. There are over 300 comments before I chose to shut the comments section down. For a while it was trending on Facebook. In short, my post about a young girl killing herself has gone viral.

This has been a fairly educational experience for me. After the first day, I was contacted by three television reporters and one newspaper reporter. They all asked me for information I’d dug up on my own that they just as easily could have dug up. One of them asked me for the victim’s family’s home address, a piece of information I don’t have and wouldn’t share with anyone if I did. All of them asked for a copy of the public shaming video I’d mentioned, but by that time the link I had to it had been taken down. I asked around and eventually found someone who posted it on youtube.

The thing that immediately happens when your post goes viral is that you lose all control of anything except the post itself. I chose not to share the public shaming video on my page. I chose not to include the name of the victim or the names of her family members. I didn’t mention the school she attended. I didn’t mention who originally posted the video online (because I didn’t and still don’t know that). Other websites had no such decorum or respect. In some cases the articles mentioned rumors as facts. In the Jezebel article they incorrectly mention my name as ‘John Cameron’ and say I said things in my original article that I never said.

The Daily Kos article unfortunately cites the Jezebel article. (To its credit, the Jezebel article does link back to my TacomaStories.com article.)  The New York Daily News doesn’t cite any other online source at all.

All this attention has resulted in more than a few emails. Some of them are angry and/or threatening. Most of them are thanking me for talking about the issue. I’ve received some emails from the family of the victim. They asked me to shut down the comments section and I agreed. There were also emails from counselors and people who’ve lost someone to suicide and started or joined anti-suicide foundations. I’ve talked to dozens of people I wouldn’t have even known about otherwise.

I’ve also done quite a bit of research on the topics of suicide and public shaming since I posted the article. I’ve learned a lot. And while there’s a part of me that is impressed with all the attention and the conversations about how public shaming is abuse, I would rather it not all have to center around the death of a 13-year-old-girl and the unimaginable pain and hardship her death has caused her friends and family.

I run a website that talks about crime and death among other things so I suppose it’s inevitable that if something went viral, it would involve someone’s death. I have very mixed feelings about that.

Some people have asked me if I’ve received any job offers after all of this attention. I haven’t. And while I wouldn’t mind a new writing gig, I think my feelings on such a thing would be more mixed than ever.

– Jack Cameron

How The X-Men And Matthew McConaughey Helped Me Accept My Mortality

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I’ve been an atheist for about five years. It didn’t happen all at once. I spent years being unsure. I spent many years searching, reading, researching, and thinking before I came to the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence of an omnipotent God and plenty to contradict the existence or divinity of Jesus Christ. I won’t get into what all went into that because that’s not what this post is about. What I want to do with this post is give an answer to a question that has bugged me for most of my life:

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years of life (give or take a decode or three) no matter what?

I tried thinking that the best we can do is do good and be good to ourselves and others and enjoy what we have. That’s a nice thought, but it’s really not all that comforting. It’s like decorating tips for a house that’s on fire. I’m all for being good and doing good and being an all-around nice person to other people, but that’s not helping me get over this thing where one day I die and cease to exist. I like existing.

I tried thinking of technological answers to our mortality problem. Cryonics offers hope that they might be able to freeze you and bring you back in a cloned body. The problem with this is that it requires that your current body (or at least head) are in good enough shape when you die that cryonics is even an option and even assuming everything works right, you’re still trapped in a human body which can be destroyed any number of ways, many of which are simply unavoidable. One day you might be able to upload your consciousness into a computer, but is that really you or just an artificial intelligence that thinks it’s you? I’m thinking it’s the latter. If you uploaded your consciousness into a computer, but you were still walking around after that, you wouldn’t say that computer was you would you?

I was stuck. Without God, no theological answer was likely to help. Philosophy on being a good person wasn’t helping. Technology isn’t there yet for serious life extension and even when it is, it’s only life extension, not something more. For a while, I stopped searching and did my best to accept the words of Jackie Greene, “We walk through life and we live and die/We do our best to not ask why.” I listened to music. I read books and comic books. I watched television and movies. And recently, the confluence of my media consumption resulted in a slight epiphany.

Sam Harris is a noted atheist and one of the faces of the so-called ‘New Atheist Movement’, a term that even Harris dislikes. I’ve read most of his books and attended one of his lectures. I’ve written about his books on this site before. While The End of Faith helped inform my already atheist views, his books Free Will and Waking Up have had significant impact on my life and the way I think about some things.

In Free Will Harris argues that free will is an illusion. He argues that our every decision is a result of our genetics, our past experiences, and luck. I approached the book disagreeing with the premise, but the more I read, the more it made sense. And then there was the following passage from the book:

“Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime – by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?”

As a writer of fiction, this passage entirely freaked me out. When I’m creating a character for a screenplay or a novel, I figure out who she is by making up her family, her upbringing, and her past experiences. Each of these informs me as to what sort of character I’m working with and results in my often knowing what a given character is going to do simply because of who they are. The way he’s talking about how we humans operate is the same way three-dimensional characters operate. This was one piece of the puzzle.

I also recently watched the first season of the HBO crime drama, True Detective. One of the main characters played by Matthew McConaughey is a burned out detective with a penchant for nihilistic atheist monologues. Among many of the great scenes in the show is this:

In the above clip he talks about M-Theory, which I knew (and still know) almost nothing about. The important part for the purposes of this article is that while you and I experience reality as linear time, that’s not all there is to reality. What we experience as time is just one big thing if viewed from beyond our third dimension. This is a difficult thing to fully grasp, but it’s nearly impossible to comprehend if free will exists. How can it all be seen from another dimension if we all can choose to do anything we want? Without free will, this makes a bit more sense.

This was the second piece of the puzzle.

The latest piece was the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar (also starring Matthew McConaughey). There is a lot that happens in Interstellar, but the relevant part for my purposes is that they attempt to show the universe outside the third dimension in one particular bedroom. It looked like this.

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The room had many books in it. So it’s not an accident that it looks like a bunch of books. I don’t know the reasoning behind this particular plot device, but it helped me visualize the concept of being outside of time and brought me back again to fictional storytelling.

With these pieces I added one final piece. I’ve been collecting Marvel Comics since I was twelve. I have thousands of comics starring the X-Men. I often reread them. From the perspective of the X-Men if they were real, they’d be experiencing time linearly. The X-Men of 1963 would have no knowledge that Magneto would one day be an ally. Of course, I can read their entire history at any point that I like. In this way I stand outside of time when it comes to the Marvel Universe. The X-Men are not dead or alive. They are both and neither because it depends on what point in time I choose to focus.

All of this led to a dream I had recently. In the dream, the technology to upload your consciousness into a computer had been achieved. Not only that, but when you upload your consciousness into the computer, the memories that are in your mind are hazy are crystal clear in the computer. In fact, they are so full of sensory input that accessing a memory would feel exactly like you were experiencing it. I awoke briefly wondering if that were exactly what was happening.

If there is God and no afterlife, what comfort can be found in knowing that you and I only get 80 years give or take a decade or three of life no matter what?

The comfort I’ve found is in knowing that everything I’ve done, everything I’m doing, and everything I will do is all happening at once and will always happen. Every loved one exists forever living, loving, and feeling every bit of life. The comfort is in knowing that we’re an eternal part of a picture that is reality.

– Jack Cameron

An Open Letter From Sekovia to Joss Whedon

Much has been made of Joss Whedon’s portrayal of Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but little has been said about the country where most of the film takes place. It’s almost as if people are pretending it doesn’t really exist.

– Jack Cameron

Here is an open letter from the Office of Public Affairs in Sekovia:
Sekovia

TRANSCRIPT:

From: Office of Public Affairs
Republic of Sekovia

To: Joss Whedon
Marvel
Disney

Dear Mr. Whedon,

The following is an open letter protesting the portrayal of our country and our countrymen in your American movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron. As you know, when we agreed to allow you to film in our beautiful country, we asked that you accurately show our culture, our heritage, and our people. Now that we’ve seen your film, we feel that we were duped.

Despite the long and hard fought history of Sekovia, you treat our nation as if it were some amalgamation of any given Eastern European country. Borat gave more character to Kazakhstan. The only time someone actually talks about our country in your film, she says, “It’s nowhere special but on the way to everywhere special.” Nowhere special? How can you say that about a country that boasts the eight tallest arch in Eastern Europe? Did we not repel invasions from nearby Latveria, not once, not twice, but three times? Does Sekovia not rival Madripoor in underground fighting syndicates? Nowhere special? Sekovia is very special indeed, Mr. Whedon.

It is clear that you made this film specifically to shame the Sekovian people. People will walk away from your film not knowing one true thing about Sekovia but thinking we harbor terrorists and possibly have a gigantic crater where one of our largest towns used to be.

We do not know why you have chosen to attack us in such a fashion, but rest assured that your slights against our country and our people will not be ignored.

I have spoken with our esteemed leader and he has instructed that no movie house in all of Sekovia will screen your movie. Furthermore any future film permits will not be granted.

Sincerely,

Ex Machina Movie Review

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Artificial intelligence is a genuinely fascinating topic. If we were able to create a true AI, would this make us less special? Would they, and more importantly should they be considered every bit as human as you and me? Being self-aware and knowing how we tend to treat machines, would they kill us all? If we create true AI, what responsibilities do we have towards those creations? These are questions that are asked and answered to some degree in every AI movie, where it’s Blade Runner, Terminator, Short Circuit, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Chappie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina or any dozen other movies. How these movies go about tackling these questions is what determines the quality of the movie.

In Ex Machina, we have a deranged billionaire genius named Nathan played with clear delight by Oscar Isaac who has invited a hapless employee named Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) to see his newest creation, an artificial intelligence that has the basic appearance of a human (Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s job is to determine if the AI called Ava is truly self-aware or simply pantomiming awareness.

What follows is a series of conversations and scenarios in which we learn significantly more about each of the characters. If you’re looking for a big blockbuster action movie, Ex Machina isn’t it. This movie is more philosophical than anything else.

Initially I thought it was a very well put together movie with some good acting that essentially said nothing about artificial intelligence that I didn’t already get from Blade Runner. As my girlfriend and I talked about the movie she pointed out that there was an entirely different aspect of the movie that I was missing.

As a movie about artificial intelligence very little original or new happens in Ex Machina. But by making the robot female and her inquisitors/captors male, Ex Machina becomes an interesting study on the objectification of women. In Ex Machina the female lead is literally an object. Her value as an individual is being judged by two men. If she fails, she’s likely to be destroyed and recycled like a broken computer. What must Ava say or do to continue to survive? What is she willing to do?

The fourth character in Ex Machina is Kyoko played by Sonoya Mizuno. She plays Nathan’s silent servant, again reinforcing a subservient female role. The two females in Ex Machina are introduced to us as servant and object. Nathan effectively owns them both. If Caleb or anyone else were to run away with Ava, would that be kidnapping or stealing? The best sci-fi makes us ask profound and uncomfortable questions. From that perspective, Ex Machina is an incredible success.

Ava is a machine that behaves like a female human. The disturbing thing is how difficult it is to figure out if Caleb and Nathan are treating her like a machine or like a woman because what the movie makes clear is that regardless of the answer, she is treated as less than a man.

This isn’t the first time that writer Alex Garland got me thinking about things. His screenplay for Never Let Me Go was phenomenal. Ex Machina marks the first time Garland has directed. Given the performances, the script, and the flawless special effects, I’m definitely interested in what he does next.

Ex Machina is a quiet masterpiece. It’s simultaneously seductive and challenging. It’s a movie that stays with you long after you’re done watching it.

Jack Cameron

Movie Review: Furious 7

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After my little experiment in February where I watched all six Fast & Furious movies back to back, I decided I had to see Furious 7 in the theaters. Before seeing these movies, I thought they were big dumb action movies. Now that I’ve seen all seven, I have to say that Furious 7 is the biggest and dumbest of them all.

It’s taken seven movies but I’ve finally realized what’s really going on in the Fast & Furious franchise. I’ve been in twenty-six car accidents. (I was the passenger in twenty-one of them.)  Some of the accidents I went to the hospital. Some I didn’t have a scratch. When it comes to the Fast & Furious franchise, the car wrecks are spectacular and undoubtedly fatal…for normal humans. But the stars of the Furious 7 are not normal humans. They are functionally immortal. Even those who appear to die seem to reappear. In Furious 7 an entire parking garage falls on a character who later seems completely uninjured. And then I thought about it. In all of these movies, not once has someone lopped off the head of a main character. I believe this is because many of the characters in Fast & Furious are in fact Highlanders.

Most of them are completely unaware of what they truly are. There have been hints, but Furious 7 is where it becomes clear. Furious 7’s plot is basically that Jason Statham is hunting down the crew because a bad guy from a previous movie was his little brother. Kurt Russell shows up doing his best Nick Fury impression and offers to help them find Statham using a device that is basically the machine from the TV show Person of Interest. Of course there’s a catch. They must rescue a beautiful hacker first before they can use the machine. Not that they really need the device to find Statham since he’s relentlessly chasing them across the globe.

It’s okay though. One shouldn’t think too much about the silliness involved in a Fast & Furious movie. Anyone who saw the trailer for this and thought they’d be getting a thinking man’s car chase movie hasn’t been paying attention. There isn’t a twelve year old alive that will be confused by anything that happens in Furious 7. But they might not catch the Highlander references (which I admit may be only in my head, but are entirely possible).

Thinking of them as Highlanders who simply don’t know that they should be lopping off each other’s heads, the entire series suddenly seems more realistic. In Furious 7 they drive cars out of planes, off cliffs, and through 100 story skyscrapers. No mortal would do all of these things without at minimum serious medical assistance, but a Highlander can do it with ease and no worries. I know what you’re thinking, “But some of them have died.”  Sure. But that just means those people weren’t Highlanders. Then again, they’ve had people fake their deaths in this series before. So maybe they’re not dead at all.

Speaking of dead, the real life death of Paul Walker is addressed in the film with an almost surprising amount of emotion though it relies on your knowledge of his death for that emotional impact. If they spent half as much time with character work as they did filling random scenes with women in bikinis, this moment would have been devastating.

Furious 7 has already broken box office records. So expect Furious 8 within the next year or two. It’s too bad though, because this is a perfect note to end the big silly series. I mean unless they want to officially reveal the whole Highlander thing.
– Jack Cameron

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Gays

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I remember the first time I saw two men kiss. I was about 14-years-old. It was on a cable access channel. I was completely repulsed. Watching these two men on the television screen I felt physically ill. It went contrary to just about everything I had encountered in my life at that time. There were no gay people in my life that I was aware of. The gay characters on television shows always talked funny and would make insinuations, but they’d never kiss. In the late 1980s, you could call someone a ‘fag’ and no one cared or called you a bigot. Being gay or ‘queer’ as the adults around me would say was abnormal.

As a teenager I went to church. It was a Quaker church and I have to say I never once remember even a mention of gay people while I was there. Still, I was aware that most Christians felt that gay acts were a sin. This did not make them bad people. They were simply sinners who were not following the ways of Christ. Eventually, they’d find the Truth, the Light, and the Way and they’d stop being gay.

It wasn’t until I was seventeen that my thoughts on being gay changed. I got a phone call from an acquaintance. I didn’t really know him very well, but he had my number and knew I had a car. He needed a ride. I’m ashamed to say I honestly do not remember his name. He asked me to pick him up a few blocks from his house.

Fifteen minutes later I found him walking down the street. Stumbling. His shirt and face were bloody. I asked if he wanted me to take him to the hospital but he refused. I asked him what happened. He told me that he had chosen tonight to tell his father that he was gay. His father’s response was to beat the shit out of his own son and kick him out of the house.

I took him back to my parents’ place and let them know my friend was spending the night. He and I talked most of the night. I kept thinking that there was no possible excuse for what his father had done. No act, set of words, or confession could possibly make it okay for a father to beat his son bloody. And the idea that such an event could happen simply because his son was physically attracted to other boys was absurd.

That night before we went to sleep, he kissed me. I didn’t want him to and it solidified my feelings that I was most definitely a heterosexual, but I after what his father had done to him, the last thing I was going to do was add another rejection.

The next morning he called his parents’ house. His mother pleaded with him to come home. He asked me to take him. I asked if he was sure. He said that he was. Over the next year or so, I’d see him every now and then and we’d talk, but he never came over again and we did not become good friends.

The truth was I had many gay and bisexual friends as a teen. I just didn’t know it. I was completely oblivious for much of my high school existence. When I learned they were, it wasn’t a big deal to me because of my experience with that acquaintance.

When I was 19, my parents split up. My mom moved in with a female coworker. When her mother, my grandmother was in the hospital, her entire side of the family was there, but only one person could go in to visit at a time. When my mom went in, relatives asked me if my mom was a lesbian. I said, “Y’know, my whole life I’ve not known much about my mother’s sex life and I intend to keep it that way. If you want to know about it, ask her.”

These days some of my favorite people are same sex couples. I’ve lost count how many I know because it simply doesn’t matter. When I saw those two men kissing on that cable access show, I thought my repulsion was due to some fundamental wrongness with gay culture. I know now that it was simply my reacting to something that was entirely foreign to me.

I used to think that the term ‘homophobe’ wasn’t correct. Anti-gay people weren’t afraid of gay people. They just thought their lifestyle was wrong and shouldn’t be condoned. I was incorrect. Homophobe is exactly the right term. It’s the same as any bigoted response. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand and so they condemn it or try to shut it out. It’s homophobia.

Homophobia isn’t religious, though many nest their homophobia in religion. Jesus never mentions homosexuality. And sure, you can find passages in various holy books that condemn homosexuality, but in those very same books you’ll find that they condone slavery. Our moral compass has evolved since pre-industrial times. One cannot condemn an entire culture using ancient books as their sole justification.

If you find yourself unable to let go of your homophobia, I’m going to suggest you do something very difficult and very rewarding: Get to know gay people. You’ll find that they’re just people who talk and laugh and smile and love the same as the rest of us. They’re just people. Like you and me.

I know for some that request is an impossibility. There are people out there like that father who beat his son for saying he was gay. On a deep core level these people know that being gay is wrong. Our holy books say so. For those people, I want to say that the best way exemplify religion is not to condemn others, but to live your own life in accordance with your beliefs. The most powerful weapon in a Christian’s arsenal is forgiveness.

– Jack Cameron