A Curious Source For Inspiration Until You Read the Book

Next Monday, I sign off of my social media accounts and most public forms of communication. As I said in my post, it’s not really about the social media, and it’s not about any drama. I think the best way to explain it would be to point you to the book “It’s So Easy And Other Lies” by Duff McKagan. If your last memory of Duff McKagan was his bloated drunk years during the Use Your Illusion era, well lots of things have changed.

About twenty years ago, Duff’s pancreas exploded and he nearly died. The brush with death and seeing his sick mother in better health than him put him on the path to sobriety and a new outlook on life. A key part of this was isolation as he worked through his demons. How he changed from Duff the drunk to Duff the businessman should resonate with everyone. You don’t have to be a Guns fan to appreciate the story.

Now, I have no demons or habits as serious as anything Duff had. I do have things I want to change, to fix, and to improve upon. I have new writing projects to tackle. I have an idea for a game I want to program. I have product ideas to prototype. As I said in a recent post, I also want to be in the best shape of my life when I turn forty. The last time I did anything like this, when I had this same feeling was in the spring of 1992, when I turned an innocent english class assignment into a cathartic writing experience. I spent three months hunched over a Tandy 1000 HX writing my story, editing and editing, until I had to turn it in. Three of the most useful months of life.

So we’ll see how it goes. I said January 1st, but I could see it going a lot longer. It definitely won’t be shorter. You will still see some blog posts on here, though, as I write more and more, but they could be reviews, articles, or short stories. Might even be a song or two.

And Now For Some Changes

Last year for the month of August I was off social media. I learned a lot about the pitfalls of how I was using social media, and I think I’ve been better off for taking that break. Well, now I’m taking it to a new level.

Starting September 1st, I will be drastically reducing my internet participation in general. I will not be on any form of social media. You will not see me commenting on anything on the internet. I will be available only through gmail/hangouts or text. Details can be found here: http://shanebrady.com/contact/. I won’t be receiving Facebook Messages or Twitter Direct messages.

When I was off social media before, I still posted links and stories that interested me. That will not happen this time. My blog, http://www.shanebrady.com, will be mostly dark except for the cases when I have something substantial to share. Examples are, a new story I wrote, a new song I composed, a long form writing piece, or my wife’s upcoming Vegan Bob’s Burger Project. The idea is to share only when I have created something. Because of the modern structure of the internet, these posts will be propagated to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn, but I won’t be responding on those platforms.

Are you sick of people and me specifically complaining about social media? Well, this time it really has nothing to do with social media. The full reasons I’m doing this will be revealed when I come back. It’s not because I hate Facebook (though I do) or think Twitter is ruining itself (again, though I do), but but because I want to create a specific environment for me to accomplish specific goals, and this is one of a few things I need to do to create that environment. Maybe only one person will understand why I am doing this.

The hardest thing about doing this is the fear of missing out. Recent events and recent examples have shown me though, that the world will still be there when I step back into it. Yes, I will miss out on some good things while I’m gone, but I will also miss out on some bad things. Hopefully, I won’t be so out of the loop that I can’t rejoin things, but I doubt that will happen.

And so, again, starting September 1st I will be mostly silent. The day I plan to come back? January 1st 2015.

pzpaul

PZ Myers is Ron Paul

If you were a libertarian around 2008, it seemed you either accepted Ron Paul as the best chance of something libertarianish becoming president, or you thought he was a terrible example of a libertarian. I was in the latter camp. Somehow he managed to convince people he was all for liberty and freedom. However, it only took a little bit of research to learn about the Ron Paul newsletters, vile hateful things published in his name that he was in fact completely aware of. Looking at his voting history, you could see that he was against women’s right to choose and he cared little to nothing for gay rights. He was outraged at the result of Lawrence v Texas, a Supreme Court case that struck down an anti-sodomy law that regulated what people do in their private lives. He was admittedly anti-science, saying he didn’t accept evolution, didn’t accept climate change, and in a scary statement for a doctor, claimed he’d never seen a pregnancy that needed to be ended with an abortion, somehow never running across an ectopic pregnancy.

With a lazy media and a naive internet, he built a fanatical following around the idea that he was a “libertarian”. Ron Paul is a lot of things, but was not a libertarian in 2008. Every time I heard his named linked with libertarians I cringed. Few people have done more damaged to the image of a libertarian than any single person I can think of. The media will always be forever lazy about non-mainstream ideas, and you can still see that today with media personalities wondering why libertarians aren’t outraged about Ferguson, MO (I read about that while reading about twenty articles about Ferguson on Reason.com). If the first and only time people are exposed to libertarian ideas is through Ron Paul, I wouldn’t blame them for not being interested. He does nothing but perpetuate the worst stereotypes about libertarians.

So how is PZ Myers Ron Paul?

I was in a mostly social media blackout this week because I was busy at work, and just wanted to take some time away. It wasn’t until today that I read about some particular callous statements made by 2009 Humanist of the Year PZ Myers concerning the death of Robin Williams and the subsequent media coverage. Apparently, PZ Myers was dismayed that the media covered it all, and seemed to imply the media was happy to move on from Ferguson, MO to talk about Rob Williams because he was a wealthy white man. Well, it’s Thursday August 14th, and I’ve heard very little about Robin Williams today and pretty much all about Ferguson MO. I imagine it’s been the same for most people. A shocking suicide by a beloved comic/actor did dominate the news cycle for a time, but then it went right back to a real crisis in Missouri (I live in the KC area of Missouri).

This is just one of countless diskish statements PZ Myers has made for years and years. Somehow he has become a popular, well known atheist and …. humanist. The last part there is hard to type because it seems hard to believe such a misanthrope could be considered a humanist. Humanists care about other people, not themselves. Myers’ ridiculous, mean, spiteful comments about the death of Robin Williams have no place in humanism. You can have empathy for the people of Ferguson, Michael Brown’s family, and the family of Robin Williams all at the same time. You don’t have to pick and choose. What Myers decided to do, though, was play to his crowd for the lulz. He may have tried to make it seemed like he cared so much about the Michael Brown situation that he was willing to go against the grain, but no, it was really about stroking his ego. That’s not humanism. It’s even way meaner that most libertarians, frankly.

If you’re not an atheist, or a humanist, but you’re interested, you may run across PZ Myers, his blog, and the horde of sycophantic commenters. With his nasty demeanor, lack of empathy for anyone not his kind of atheist, questional accuracy, he’s a terrible ambassador for atheism or humanism. He ensures that opponents of atheism always have some great quotes to make atheists look like dicks. Pissing on Robin Williams, the Koran, etc, that’s the kind of atheism we want? I don’t think so. It’s certainly not what I want.

As someone who runs in atheist and libertarian circles, PZ Myers is indeed, Ron Paul.

Quick Follow Up to “Skeptoid Is No More”

Update:

Brian has posted a message on his website: http://www.briandunning.com/message.html. It explains a great deal, it’s the kind of honesty from Brian I was hoping for, and it tells me that eBay and the US government have treated him shabbily. With this new information and perspective, I think we can disregard what I said yesterday about it being “over”.


Yesterday’s post, Skeptoid Is No More, has gotten some decent traffic, and I’ve received some good feedback. In fact, people have told me I’m wrong about Skeptoid being effectively over, and they did it without raging against me or calling me a douchebag. Civil disagreement can happen.

So, I would like to follow up on that part of the post. I didn’t spend as much time on it, as I wanted to write mostly about the suspicious case against Brian. I do not want Skeptoid to end, nor do I think it should end. I would like, as a person and a skeptic, for Brian to be able to continue the work he does, precisely because I do not believe eBay. Brian deserves a second chance. So when I guessed that Skeptoid was over, I was not speaking out of desire. On top of that, the JREF forum thing blew up, and I was more pessimistic than I usually am.

Still, it’s not going to be easy for Skeptoid over the next fifteen months. You have the clowns at Skepchick and FTB who will do their usual poor level of analysis, but even today, I saw an article by the Friendly Atheist that also showed a poor level of understanding of the issues involved. I expect to see a lot of these kind of drive by articles for a while, and I think it will eat into the audience and donations. While I had hoped that Brian would be able to tell you his side of the story, it looks like that won’t happen due to a civil settlement Brian did with eBay. That is a shame, because I think that would have been the best way for him to move forward.

So on top of a case brought by a billion dollar corporation, by a government who is criticized for not coming down hard enough on white collar crime, you have a civil settlement that now limits Brian’s ability to publicly defend himself. How anyone can be dancing with schadenfreude over that is beyond me.

If come next Christmas Skeptoid is still getting lots of downloads and getting donations, I won’t be disappointed and write tripe about how terrible some skeptics are for continuing to listen. I’ll probably wish him well on Facebook and keep an eye on his next project.

Skeptoid Is No More

Update:

Brian has posted a message on his website: http://www.briandunning.com/message.html. It explains a great deal, it’s the kind of honesty from Brian I was hoping for, and it tells me that eBay and the US government have treated him shabbily. With this new information and perspective, I think we can disregard what I said yesterday about it being “over”.


At least that’s my guess. Brian Dunning was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for defrauding eBay on August 4th, 2014. With Shawn Hogan getting seven months for defrauding ebay four times as much, I’m guessing the length of sentence is a bit of a surprise for Brian, but I say that without any inside knowledge. I’m sure the auto-posters will run for a while, and a bunch of Skeptoid episodes are probably in the can, but fifteen months is a pretty long time for a podcast to take a break. I think for all intents and purposes, Skeptoid is defunct.

Unlike some “skeptics” I did not read the news of Brian’s sentencing with glee. I did not read it with a lot of sadness either. I am not a friend of Brian’s, I rarely put people on pedestals, and truth be told, I’ve barely listened to Skeptoid for a year. Yesterday I noticed that I had canceled my automatic donation to Skeptoid sometime last year, though I don’t remember when. So I can safely say there is some natural distance these days between myself and Skeptoid/Brian Dunning.

In reviewing the gleeful reactions lately over Brian’s legal troubles, it’s not hard to see how clueless PZ Myers is to think Brian’s widget could have been running on PZ’s site, how asinine The Lousy Canuck’s leap to believe that Brian created a non-profit to hide his eBay earnings, and how little research Rebecca Watson does. Then you have the strange reactions of people dismayed that Brian asks for money to do Skeptoid, as if his personal wealth is some how connected to whether or not people should donate to him for work he does that they enjoy. If people had done the research, though, they would know that most of the money Brian earned is long gone, and has been for years. The whole eBay thing ended around the same time he started the Skeptoid podcast, and for most of Skeptoid’s existence, he’s been involved in some legal actions.

Another thing that has struck me is how so many progressives, who are normally skeptical of corporations, and who complain about the unfairness of the justice system, suddenly believe the words of a billion dollar corporation to the letter and praise the prosecutor as a beacon of skepticism. There is, in fact, much to be skeptical about and a lot that doesn’t make sense. I am not here to argue for Brian Dunning’s innocence, because I do not know that to be the case. I’m not here to judge his involvement or knowledge. I’m here to put critical thinking front and center and to illustrate why the case against Brian Dunning hasn’t made much sense to me from the beginning.

The state seems to want to make Brian Dunning out to be some uber clever hacker who defrauded eBay. This has made some of Brian’s critics assume more was involved than really was. Brian did not create some complicated, obfuscated bit of code to trick eBay. Brian’s code still lives in various archives online and if you check it out, it’s pretty clear that what Brian was doing was simple and obvious. There was no obfuscation whatsoever involved. It just wasn’t that sophisticated.

The case also includes very little background of the industry and how it worked. There were two companies involved, eBay and Commission Junction. CJ’s job is to handle affiliate programs and, this is key, fraud prevention. You don’t become a top affiliate with the numbers Brian was pulling and not get noticed. Someone would be looking at you within the first week. And if CJ didn’t catch on quick, you would think eBay would notice as well. In all the years I worked in the internet advertising industry, I’ve never heard of such activity going on for so long without it being detected somehow. It strains credulity to think that neither eBay or CJ knew what was going on.

By far, though, the biggest red flag for me is the way eBay describes the investigation. Somehow an eBay employee was working with the FBI for a year to catch Brian. They even set up a “sting” to catch him in the act. What makes this all so perplexing to me, is that this should have taken all of an afternoon to figure out. I’m serious. To figure out, as the state claims, that users were getting cookie-ed without visiting eBay takes only a little bit of code, and a few hours of waiting. I would hardly call that a sting. We had a name for it in the business: doing our job. It doesn’t take a year of investigation and a scary sounding sting to figure out a fraud method so simple we already solved it in the late 90’s. So, the state’s case, in addition to wanting to make Brian sound like a real hacker, plays up how they claim they caught him.

Really, none of this makes all that much sense. Does this exonerate Brian? Nope. I will not say he is innocent. I can only say that what eBay alleges almost certainly didn’t happen, and I say that based on fifteen years working in the advertising industry. My personal opinion is that people in eBay and CJ knew what was happening, were being compensated well because of the program, and then let Brian take the fall later. In that case, I don’t know who committed the fraud against who. I don’t know how much Brian might have known. My guess is that eBay itself would be on the hook for defrauding other affiliate marketers if people within eBay conspired to jack one affiliate’s numbers up. This is complete conjecture on my part, but even so, it is more believable than eBay’s current claims.

With all that, though, it’s time for Brian to come completely clean if he expects to ever have a future in skepticism. No talk about what his lawyers won’t let him say. No more vague statements. He will have to be more brutally honest with his audience and perhaps himself than he has ever been. Even with that, I think his chances of regaining a leadership role in skepticism to be pretty much nil. If I were him, I would completely open up to my audience, finish my sentence, and then slowly rejoin skepticism making amends where they might be needed. I do wish Brian and his family well. As an optimist and a human being, I believe people can learn from mistakes, be rehabilitated, and have a productive life.

I don’t know if this post comes off too forgiving, too hard, or naive. I hope at a minimum I’ve presented a different side to the story you’re not hearing almost anywhere in the skeptic movement.