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People who shrug and share lies on Facebook are the problem

A friend on Facebook uncritically shared a piece of crazy the other day.

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But here’s the thing: This friend is a normal. He’s not one of those once-rational legacy friends from high school who litter your feed with nonsense. He’s a photojournalist and a fine one, a fine citizen, and a fine man.

And on Facebook he shared a mind-alteringly unmoored conspiracy video about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, adding: “Not saying yes or no . . . but this is interesting!”

It was not interesting. What he shared was a video, from a conservative, crazy website called TellMeNow南宁桑拿网,, titled, “VIDEO PROOF Showing No Planes Hit The WTC On 9/11.”

I thought, what on earth can this video show that gets over the bar with sufficient clearance that my normal friend would share it?

I watched the video. It’s 2:18 long, and it makes basically one claim: that a video of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center’s south tower shows the plane passing a building that, says the narrator, is “clearly behind the south tower.” Yet the plane’s wing disappears behind the building. According to the person who made the video, this is indisputable evidence of a “layering CGI glitch” (note the technical language), and thus the whole thing is obviously a hoax, something, something government control, media conspiracy, blah blah blah.

The video was originally posted May 27. When last I checked, it had more than 2.5 million hits.

When something is stupid beyond imagination, I know what to do: Walk away. Yet I couldn’t let it go. For one thing, my friend’s Facebook post was filling up with annoyed responses from his many other normal friends, and I kept thinking: How many hours have been wasted today by usually productive people who could have otherwise been . . . watching cat videos or something? I get that freedom of speech means you can publish and share any addled, paranoid rant, but 2.5 million hits is 2.5 million wastes of 2:18. That’s 5 million minutes. That’s closing in on 100,000 hours that people spent watching this hooey.

This is the front line against viciousness and madness and anti-science and anti-reason.

I finally figured out why the pure wrongness of this particular waste of time wouldn’t let me go: Not that it was crazy, but that it was so easily proved wrong. Global warming? That involves big data, statistics and debates about weather versus climate, and there’s plenty of room for genuinely well-meaning people to fall into error. Evolution? Even most people who claim to understand it can’t clearly explain it, and you can forgive a certain amount of confusion.

But this? This was making a very specific claim: The airplane magically disappeared behind a building that was behind the tower when we know the airplane was in front of the tower. This was a disprovable claim.

It took me about 10 minutes. The most obvious way for a plane’s wing to “disappear” behind a building would be for the building to be not behind the plane, as the narrator claims, but in front of it. A glance at Google Maps showed blocks’ worth of buildings south of where the tower stood. The video shows a distinctive archway atop a foreground building, with the building in question sporting three easily identifiable vertical elements at its apex. I opened Google Earth and, in the time it took me to zoom down to lower Manhattan and look at the first block north of Battery Park, there it was: that distinctive arch atop the building and, behind it in the same block, the unmistakable vertical elements of the building behind which the wing “disappeared.”

That is, it disappeared exactly the way you disappear when you step behind a tree: The building came between the camera and the airplane. The building is a good six blocks south of the tower-in front of it, not behind it. The single supposed fact on which the video based its 2 million-hit paranoid parade was provably wrong, in minutes. A dope was wrong on the Internet, and I proved it. Whoopee, big deal.

Except it kind of is a big deal. For one thing, it demonstrates that all this quackery we waste so much time on is not stupid — it’s wicked.

The person who made this video is either incredibly ignorant about basic, school-kid geography and geometry or he didn’t care that his claim was false. He was just stirring up trouble by telling lies. I later found the original video from which the snippet was sliced. Most of the video makes it impossible to believe the buildings in question are behind the south tower as he claims. He was wicked — pure and simple.

This isn’t free speech — this is slander, making vicious claims about media and government that are demonstrably false. It’s a form of sabotage — a piece like this injures community, productivity and trust. It’s unpatriotic, even seditious. But even that isn’t the main problem. We all know there are people out there, simultaneously stupid and wicked, who tell lies to further vicious agendas.

The main problem is that people like my friend give a genial shrug and forward things like this. If that one sensible person had not shared the video, I’d probably be blissfully unaware of it. There’d be a hundred or so fewer hits on its page, and I and a few others would have gotten a little more work done.

My point is straightforward but urgent: This is the front line against viciousness and madness and anti-science and anti-reason. When people post slanderous, malevolent lies, if you forward them without censure, then you are abetting slanderous, malevolent lies. Forget that line on so many people’s Twitter page about retweets not constituting endorsement. Sorry, wrong. If you share something on any social medium, you’re saying, overtly, that you approve of it being shared. That you think it’s worth people’s time. That its point is either valid or worthy of consideration.

We need to adopt a new ethic. The entire point of the Internet is that anything can be put out there, without research or editing or fact-checking. That means every one of us is responsible for fact-checking our feeds, and crying foul when we see a foul. You share it, you stand behind it. Seeing something vaguely worth wondering about (if you don’t think about it too hard), then pressing share, is a losing strategy. You’re not allowed to turn off your judgment, even for a second. You’re not allowed to shrug and say, “Who knows?” and let someone else worry about it. That’s how we got into this mess.

So think — and above all check — before you share. If it’s a lie, by perpetuating it you claim at least a portion of the responsibility. Think about it. We don’t have 2 million hits a week to spare.

Huler has written six books of nonfiction; his most recent is “On the Grid.” He contributes to Plugged In at Scientific American.

(c) 2014, Slate.


23/01/2019 0

Madeleine hunt finds no new clues

British police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have found no evidence relating to her during searches of three areas of land close to where she went missing in Portugal, but “more activity has been agreed”.

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Officers have spent eight days investigating areas of interest in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz, with Scotland Yard confirming on Wednesday night that more will be carried out “shortly”.

Further requests are also being compiled and will be submitted to the Portuguese authorities.

It follows unconfirmed reports last week that Scotland Yard has been granted permission to question three suspects about the case.

After police declined to comment about the recent activity in the resort, the statement from Scotland Yard said there was “still a substantial amount of work yet to be completed in the coming weeks and months.

“This recent work is part of ensuring that all lines of inquiry are progressed in a systematic manner and covers just the one hypothesis that she was killed and buried locally,” the statement said.

“This is the same as would be done in the UK for a murder or high-risk missing person inquiry.”

It described the deployment to Portugal over the past couple of weeks as the “largest ever undertaken by UK police overseas in a case of this type”, with a total of 59,922 square metres of land searched, including all utilities, drainage channels and derelict buildings.

Police said the decision to search the horseshoe-shaped piece of scrubland close to the Ocean Club resort where Madeleine went missing aged three in May 2007, along with the two other sites investigated on Wednesday, was a specific result of their investigation work to date.

The three areas were identified as places to be surveyed after 41 ground anomalies were identified by both aerial survey and ground analysis.

British officers, accompanied by their Portuguese counterparts, spent seven days carrying out a methodical search of the first site last week.

Specialist teams including forensics officers, sniffer dogs and officers using ground-penetrating radar equipment were used on the large site, with the two areas searched on Wednesday being smaller and on the outskirts of the town.

As police prepared to search the two areas on Wednesday, graffiti slurring the McCann family and describing British police as “stupid” was scrawled on a nearby wall overnight.

A spokesman for the McCanns said they declined to comment on the graffiti, which was written in large red letters in Portuguese.

Madeleine went missing from her holiday apartment on May 3, 2007 as her parents Kate and Gerry dined at a nearby tapas restaurant with friends.


23/01/2019 0

Black Caps wrap up Windies win

Offspinner Mark Craig’s dream debut continued as New Zealand wrapped up a 186-run win in the first Test against the West Indies at Sabina Park in Kingston.

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Set 403 for the victory, the West Indies crumbled to 216 all out late on the fourth day, tailender Shane Shillingford restoring some respectability with an unbeaten 53 as he put on 82 for the last wicket with Sulieman Benn.

Craig picked up 4-91 in the first innings as the West Indies were bowled out for 262 chasing New Zealand’s 7-508 declared, then backed up with 4-97 in a sterling second innings effort.

It was the best performance on debut by a New Zealand bowler, bettering Paul Wiseman’s 7-143 in 1998 against Sri Lanka in Colombo.

It was also just the second Test win for New Zealand in the West Indies, the first coming in 2002 with a 204-run win in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The Black Caps had earlier struggled in their second innings, resuming day four at 2-14 and losing early wickets as nightwatchman Ish Sodhi and Ross Taylor fell in successive balls without adding to the overnight total.

Opener Tom Latham, playing in his second Test, top-scored with 73 as New Zealand limped to 8-156 before captain Brendon McCullum declared.

Seamer Tim Southee, who was devastating with 4-19 in the first innings, set the Black Caps up when he removed key openers Kieran Powell and Chris Gayle just before tea.

Craig claimed the next three wickets after play resumed, beginning with Kirk Edwards who looped a bat-pad catch to Jimmy Neesham at leg gully for 14.

Dwayne Bravo departed for 12 when he clipped a thick outside edge to keeper BJ Watling early in the 18th over, then Marlon Samuels went for his second duck to a spectacular diving catch from Latham at short leg.

The West Indies continued to lose wickets regularly, Craig picking up his fourth when he dismissed Kemar Roach late in the 36th over to leave the home team 7-115.

Legspinner Sodhi, who collected the key wicket of Shivnarine Chanderpaul for 24, finished with figures of 3-42 and New Zealand all but wrapped up the match when he removed Jerome Taylor for 18 to leave the West Indies 9-134.

Shillingford produced a spectacular late flurry, belting five sixes and three fours in his 29-ball innings before he slashed at a wide delivery from Kane Williamson with three balls remaining and Watling held a smart catch.


23/01/2019 0

SA lawyer jailed over client theft

A lawyer who stole more than a quarter of a million dollars from a 100-year-old client has been jailed and ordered to pay compensation to a Catholic organisation.

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Peter David Kerin, 52, was found guilty in the South Australian Supreme Court of two counts of theft.

In jailing him for at least one year and nine months, Justice Malcolm Blue said one count related to $200,000 belonging to Mary Eileen Fahey.

“Miss Fahey was 100 years old at the time you committed the offence and you acted under an enduring power of attorney which Miss Fahey had granted to you and your father in 1985,” the judge said.

In October 2007, Kerin transferred the funds to a company account of which he was the chief operating officer, but they were lost over a month’s trading in derivatives.

The second count related to $85,000 belonging to Ms Fahey’s estate, following her death in November 2007.

“Ellen Cahill was one of the co-executors of Miss Fahey’s will and was Miss Fahey’s friend for over 60 years,” the judge said.

“In her victim impact statements she referred to the fact that Miss Fahey left the bulk of her estate to the Legion of Mary to acquire headquarters for its operations in South Australia, and that this will not now be possible.

“She referred to the devastation that Miss Fahey would have felt if she had been aware of what has happened.”

Following his conviction in April, Kerin paid $31,460 to the Legion of Mary.

The judge ordered him to pay the organisation the rest of the $285,000.

Kerin’s name was struck off the roll of practitioners in late 2006, after admitting matters including acting without the instructions of a client and against her interest.

The judge set a maximum term of three years and six months, and refused to suspend the sentence.

“… the offences were serious, involving a loss to the Legion of Mary of a very substantial amount of money and a fundamental abuse of trust,” he said.


23/01/2019 0

European taxis cause chaos in app protest

Taxi drivers have brought parts of London, Paris and other European cities to a standstill as they protested against new private cab apps such as Uber which have shaken up the industry.

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Thousands of London’s iconic black cabs, many of them beeping their horns, filled the roads around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament to the exclusion of any other vehicles.

In Paris, hundreds of drivers blocked the French capital’s airports and staged a “go-slow” during the morning rush hour, while protests were also staged in Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Rome and Milan.

Long-running complaints about competition from private hire and unlicensed taxis have been crystallised by the new challenge posed by smartphone-dependent car services.

California-based company Uber is the main target of the drivers’ ire, thanks to an increasingly popular app that is now used in 128 cities in 37 different countries.

Uber allows customers to order and pay for a car using their phone, with geo-locating technology connecting them to the nearest taxi driver.

Unlike other private hire cabs – those that must be pre-booked – Uber drivers use the app to fix the fare, rather than it being calculated by a central operator.

Critics say this amounts to a meter, such as those used by traditional London taxis, and say that Uber cars should therefore be subject to the same tough regulation.

“We’re governed by a set of rules and they don’t seem to apply to Uber,” said Glenn Chapman, a 46-year-old driver parked in a long line of cabs outside Downing Street.

But the irony of the protest is that it has provided widespread publicity for the app, and Uber has taken advantage by offering discounts during the strike.

Among those joining the protest were would-be drivers on mopeds who are learning The Knowledge, a detailed study of London street routes that every cabbie must complete.

“The Knowledge took me two and a half years. But then all of a sudden anyone can jump in a cab and do our job,” Chapman told AFP.

The Licensed Taxi Driver Association (LTDA), which predicted 10,000 cabs would join the protest, has lodged a legal challenge against the capital’s Transport for London (TfL) authority to protest against Uber.

TfL Chief Operating Office Garrett Emmerson urged the cabs to wait for the outcome of the High Court case, saying the demonstration was a “pointless disruption”.

The London protest was joined by drivers across Europe, where the focus on Uber has reignited long-running disputes about the introduction of private hire cab services.

Critics say they are not subject to the same requirements about training, insurance and criminal checks as the taxis that are licensed to pick up customers in the street.

As such, they are able to undercut official taxis – a policy that has seen Uber fall foul of fares set by New York City’s taxi commission.


23/01/2019 0

Scientists unravel Eucalyptus DNA

Scientists have unravelled the genome of a eucalyptus tree, gaining insights into its fast growth and adaptability that could one day enhance forests grown for biomass and timber.

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Eucalyptus is native to Australia, but has become the most widely-cultivated hardwood tree; an important source of paper, wood and essential oils grown in more than 100 countries on six continents.

It is also considered a potentially major source of biofuels.

An international team of scientists have now sequenced the genetic code of one of the most widely-bred species: Eucalyptus grandis.

“We were interested especially in understanding its ability to produce very high cellulose-content wood, which is what makes it desirable for pulp and paper production,” explained study co-author Alexander Myburg of the genetics department of the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

“We were able to identify almost all of the genes involved in converting sugars into cellulose … in the tree and also the other main component of wood which is lignin,” he said in a podcast carried by the journal Nature, which published the study.

“These are important pathways to understand because they are the main components that will be used in terms of biofuels and other biomaterials that are harvested from woody biomass… trees.”

The team found the Eucalyptus grandis genome contained just over 36,000 genes, “an average, medium-sized plant genome”.

It also contained the largest number of tandem duplications – two identical sequences, one following the other, in a chromosome segment – than any other plant genome sequenced so far.

Myburg said the findings may prove valuable in understanding how to boost the cellulose content of trees, but also how to extract it more easily.


23/01/2019 0

Abbott resists winds of climate change

Is Tony Abbott on the right side of politics for our times?

As he makes his way across Canada and the US, it’s hard to avoid comparing the prime minister with other world leaders and consider the shifts in global politics.

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There is a growing “club” of conservative leaders: Abbott, New Zealand’s John Key, Canada’s Stephen Harper and India’s Narendra Modi.

Harper came in for high, bordering on gushing, praise from Abbott when he visited Ottawa.

The Canadian prime minister was something of a beacon to centre-right parties around the world, he said.

Personally, Abbott regards Harper as an “exemplar” of a contemporary, centre-right prime minister.

The Conservative Party of Canada liked the description so much it grabbed it for a political fundraising campaign.

In Harper, Abbott has found a political soul mate. They share a belief in getting public spending under control and ensuring nothing stands in the way of the resources sector and cheap coal-fired power, so crucial to both nations.

Signs of the pair’s closeness included an elaborate welcoming ceremony in Ottawa and a joint press conference in which the Canadian leader declared strong support for the repeal of Australia’s “job-killing carbon tax”.

But as he made the rounds of the United Nations and the White House, there are signs Abbott’s views may put him on the wrong side of history.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants to reinvigorate the climate change debate, scheduling a summit while leaders are in New York for the General Assembly in September.

US President Barack Obama has announced he wants the states to put forward programs to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 by whatever means, including emissions trading schemes.

It’s easy to write off both Ban and Obama as being in “legacy” mode as they complete their terms.

But they represent a growing concern that the wheels are falling off the climate action bandwagon, as countries such as Australia put a focus on economic growth well ahead of the environment.

While he has been in Canada and the US, Abbott has talked down the prospects of any greater ambition in cutting emissions as the UN seeks a new global agreement on climate change next year.

He insists that Australia is pulling its weight in terms of tackling carbon emissions, even though the $2.5 billion being spent on direct action pales when compared with the revenue and renewable energy incentive created by carbon pricing.

There is evidence carbon pricing – which will be scrapped by the new Senate within weeks – is a global trend that is only going to increase.

China is rolling out pilot emissions trading schemes in seven provinces covering almost twice the emissions of Australia’s scheme, with a view to setting up a national scheme in 2016.

Other Asian countries are watching China closely.

The European carbon market is well entrenched.

Public support for greater steps to address climate change appears to be solidifying, having waned in recent years.

A recent Lowy Institute poll showed 45 per cent of Australians believed climate action should be taken, even if it involved significant cost – up 12 points on the low set in 2012 – while 63 per cent said Australia should take a leadership role on the issue.

However, having put so much political capital into axing the carbon tax – which he says is “clobbering the economy” – there is no chance Abbott will pull back from his direct action stance.

Any chance of carbon pricing staying in place will depend on the attitude of the new Senate crossbenchers who take their seats from July 1.

Senators from the Palmer United Party, the Liberal Democrats and Family First favour Abbott’s position.

The risk for Abbott, though, as Obama has said, is the “public may get out ahead of some of their politicians”.

Abbott might then face the choice of electoral retribution or reworking his direct action plan to a form of carbon market involving the trading of permits and incentives to adopt cleaner and greener technology.

Both John Howard and Bob Hawke “discovered” the environment as an issue during their time in government, which delivered political as well as green benefits.

It remains to be seen whether Malcolm Turnbull’s comment about Abbott being a “weathervane” on the issue forces the prime minister to switch tack.


23/01/2019 0

French lament their scrum dramas

The rugby world has turned upside down.

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Australia, with its infamous history of scrum woes, has forced France – who fete their props like heroes – into drastic front-row changes for Saturday night’s second Test at Etihad Stadium.

Powerful and crafty scrummaging props are as French as croissants – it’s their bread and butter.

But Les Bleus coach Philippe Saint-Andre has lamented the dearth of quality front-rowers in his country following their 50-23 opening Test pounding by the Wallabies.

Saint-Andre has dumped both of his starting props, veteran tighthead Nicholas Mas and grizzled loosehead Thomas Domingo, to expose the uncapped Alexandre Menini and seven-Test Rabah Slimani in Melbourne.

The coach admitted the changes were a result of a poor scrum in Brisbane, continuing their dramas with referees during this year’s Six Nations, as well as a need to build depth.

France’s cashed-up Top 14 league is growing bigger each year but it’s costing Les Bleus in several positions, particularly in the front-row.

“We don’t have too many props in France because they’re all foreigners so we need to (expose them),” Saint-Andre told AAP.

“If we don’t try out some props in a tour 15 months from the World Cup, we’ll never try them.

“This is an opportunity to see them in a fantastic contest.”

Normally the tourists enter Test matches against Australia targeting the scrum, but not at the moment.

As well as English, New Zealand, Argentinian and Georgian props filling about half the prop positions in the France’s Top 14 league, the Wallabies are patching up their long-time Achilles heel.

Rising loosehead James Slipper underlined his talent at Suncorp Stadium by outpointing 72-cap Mas, 34, in his 50th Test – just a day after turning 25.

Two days later Slipper was elevated to the vice-captaincy.

The Australian scrum’s stocks have gradually started to rise since last year’s Rugby Championship after coming to terms with the new soft engagement laws.

“If you have a good scrum the morale of the team picks up and everyone gets excited and looking for a result at the scrum,” Slipper said.

But chinks still remain in the Aussie armour.

The French, with their front-row reserves opposing the Wallabies replacements, scored a pushover penalty try on fulltime, which led to back-up tighthead Paddy Ryan’s axing.


23/01/2019 0

Mozzie squad buzzing for Lions

Greater Western Sydney might want to bring the bug zapper north with them as Brisbane’s “Mosquito Fleet” gets ready for another AFL sortie.

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The Lions welcome the Giants following back-to-back wins over Carlton and the Western Bulldogs which have hauled them off the bottom of the competition ladder.

Small forwards Dayne Zorko, Josh Green and Lewis Taylor have all played a key role in those victories, using their speed to move the ball quicker and open up spaces for scoring opportunities.

Lions skipper Jed Adcock is in no doubt how vital the trio, who measure in at 176cm or shorter, are to the Lions’ recent form turnaround.

“Leppa’s (coach Justin Leppitsch) called them the Three Amigos, but they like to be known as the Mosquito Fleet,” Adcock said.

“They’ve been real important for us. They’re a hard match-up for any defence, to have three defenders to match our small forwards.

“That’s definitely a strength of ours now. We’ve probably gone from being a slow outfit to now quite a quick outfit with those three in the side, playing well.”

Adcock says it’s frustrating the Lions haven’t received the credit they’ve deserved following their past two wins, after many had sunk the boot in when the club slumped to the bottom of the ladder.

But despite the recent successes, he says there’s no room for complacency against a Giants’ team which have lost their past eight matches and have replaced the Lions as the competition’s basement team.

“Essendon and Hawthorn, they challenged both all the way through,” Adcock said of the Giants.

“It’s important for us to start well. Against any young team, if you give them a chance early they can get up and about and use their young legs to get on top of the older guys early, so it’s important for us to get a good start and shut them down.”


23/01/2019 0

Australia considers New Zealand model for welfare reform

He said the New Zealand model – based on the country’s accident compensation scheme – would enable the government to provide more targeted assistance for those who need it most.

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“I think it would give us better information and enable us to do a better job in terms of helping people, particularly young people. In terms of the welfare system in Australia,” he said in his address at the ACOSS national conference in Brisbane.

He said such measures would redress the current situation where 1 in 2 people who receive Newstart payments stay on it beyond six months.  

The model is explored in detail in the government’s review of the welfare system, which Minister Andrews said will be handed down soon after Prime Minister Abbott returns from overseas.

He said new measures proposed for welfare reform will focus on early intervention. 

“The reality is that most programs in amelioration come too late,” he said. 

He said a new expert panel to be established in the next month would advise the government on how to implement early intervention measures. 

Minister Andrews said without reform the age pension is set to cost $68 billion in a decade’s time.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten told the ACOSS conference that Australia risks not meeting its obligation to the vulnerable.

He condemned budget measures to introduce a GP fee, increase the pension age and tighten Newstart eligibility; saying the plans “distorts the domestic destiny of hundreds of thousands of Australian families”.

“We believe in a strong and generous safety net not because it catches of all those who fall but because it also supports Australian to climb. We understand that the best investment that a nation can make is in its citizens.”


23/01/2019 0