Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chemtrail Craziness

[Johnathan Clayborn]
No doubt I will be stirring the pot with this one, and more than certainly drawing the ire of some, but I feel compelled to continue forth anyway.

A few weeks ago one of my friends on Facebook posted a photo and asked what types of clouds these were.  For reference, I’ve included a different photo showing the same types of clouds here.

I naturally informed her that these were not clouds, per se, but were actually contrails; residue and water vapor left over from aircraft flying overhead. Within minutes another person responded and informed me that I was wrong and these were actually chemtrails. Not having heard of “chemtrails” before, I asked him to explain what he meant. What followed was the one of the most entertaining stories that I have heard in a long time. He regaled me with a story where the government is purposely and secretly spraying chemicals all over the unsuspecting citizens as part of a grand experiment. I asked him for some kind of proof of this and he directed me to a link for a “News” video on the topic (a video that I’ll destroy later). After he called me “silly” because I didn’t believe in his chemtrails theory I politely told him that we should just agree to disagree and ended the conversation. But, this has plagued my thoughts for some days. How can people really believe this is happening?

Being the overly analytical, thorough person that I am I decided to dig a little deeper into this. The one thing that struck me as immediately odd is that the chemtrail believers don’t even all believe the same thing; one group says that the “chemicals” are designed to allow the government to control our minds, another group says that they’re testing biochemical weapons, and the third and largest group believes that the government is doing secret tests to try to control the weather, primarily to reverse or slow global warming. 

For starters I want to analyze the “news video” (in the links below if you care to watch it). The first part of this story that strikes me as strange is that their “chemtrail expert” is just some random guy from Arkansas who collected a “sample” by putting a jar of water in his back yard. Right off the bat, this seems like shoddy investigative work. No records were kept about anything else that was going on when the sample was taken. Not to mention the guy who took the sample isn’t exactly a scientist, just a regular Joe that shows up with some stuff in a jar. But, be that as it may the news agency went ahead and had it tested anyway.

The test results themselves are rather hilarious. The reporter says clearly that the barium levels in the water are “5.8 parts per million, more than three times the toxic levels set by the EPA.” But, let’s examine that claim. At 1:03 in the video he shows the lab results to the camera. It clearly reads 58.8 ug/L.   According to the EPA, the maximum level of Barium is 2 mg/l. (Here’s the EPA Fact Sheet: Canadians are somewhat more stringent with their pollutants. They only allow a maximum level of 1 mg/L.  ( Why is that important? Well, for one thing, 1 mg/L translates into 1000 ug/L.  The reporter’s lab results show 58.8 ug/L. Basic math tells us that the results are not “more than three time the toxic levels set by the EPA as the reporter claims. In fact this level is perfectly normal; only 5.88% of the Canadian safe limits, and 2.94% of the US allowances. The rest of this video goes on to explain the multitude of chemtrail theories that abound and how barium is bad for you, etc.

Let’s assume for a minute that this reporter’s results were accurate and that the numbers really were 5880 ug/L. That still doesn’t prove chemical testing. As anyone who has taken statistics knows; the lower the sample size, the higher the rate of margin of error. So, the news would have us believe that one single sample from a large metropolitan city means chemical testing is going on? Interesting conclusion, but that doesn’t produce statistically significant results. Not to mention they don’t even consider any other possibilities for how that sample could have become contaminated in the first place. It was just collected in Average Joe’s backyard. Maybe he lives near a manufacturing plant that emits barium in the air as a waste product. Maybe his groundsoil or tapwater is already contaminated due to other, unknown reasons. This is why you need samples from multiple random sources. 

Let’s move on. At 2:25 in the video he says “they even mention Chemtrails by name in the initial draft of Senate Bill 2977”. Okay. What’s the point? Senate Bill 2977 ( does mention Chemtrails, yes. However, the context of the bill in this particular case is a motion to have Chemtrails banned entirely. In this case it’s mentioned in Section 7B of the bill under the “definitions” section where they are defining what they mean in earlier portion of the bill. The bill itself is called the “Space Preservation Act of 2001”. Section 3 states that the President shall permanently ban all weapons in space and shall enter into a worldwide agreement abiding by the ban. Then, Section 7 enumerates what “weapons” are, and section 7B says that “this includes exotic weapons such as chemtrails”.  So, the reporter, in essence, says “they even mention chemtrails by name in a house bill where they’re planning to ban them permanently, so that must be proof that they’re using them”.  The rest of their “evidence” is over 50 years old. It doesn’t make for a very convincing case no matter how you slice it. The rest of the video is so ridiculous that it’s not even worth mentioning.

Since I’ve utterly rebuked that news video, let’s examine some of the other claims made by the conspiracy theorists who believe that these are really chemtrails. One of the more amusing claims is that these chemicals are part of a “grand experiment” to allow the government to control people’s minds. There’s so many things wrong with this one. First, as anyone who conducts research knows; you have to have a control group or a baseline measurement to compare your results against. It has been well-established, even by the conspiracy theorists that these trails appear over every major city in the world. So, if it is an experiment and they’re gassing every major city in the world as part of this presumably cost-prohibitive experiment, then where’s the control data? What city are they gathering the data from to compare the results against? Surely they must have one or their results would be invalid. Not to mention, if they were successful, then wouldn’t they be able to control your thoughts? And if they could control your thoughts, then surely they would stop you from thinking that they’re gassing you in the first place? I know that’s what I would do if I were them. So, it seems rather logical that the fact that this belief even exists is proof enough that they aren’t controlling people’s minds. For some reason the conspiracy believers seem to think 2002 was the start of the “experiment”, but even our government would shut down a 10 year old project that produced no statistically significant results.

The next one is that these trails are the secret tests by the government of biological chemical weapons on the unsuspecting populace. But, as before, this theory is riddled with problems. First, it has the same problems as the previous theory; these trails appear over every major city which means that there’s no control data, which makes any experiment invalid. Secondly, if these “subjects” are being treated at local hospitals then how would the government monitor the results? They’d have to be secretly in charge or have access to every hospital in the world and that just seems slightly more than a little implausible. Not to mention, they’ve been doing this testing for at least 10 years. Surely we’d all have to be hospitalized or treated in some way if that were true. But, I rarely get sick and the few times I’ve needed medical attention it was due to a physical accident, not an unexplained illness. In fact, no one I know has come down with any strange illnesses despite “a decade of secret government testing”, so clearly if this was a test, it’s an utter failure as it failed to produce any statistically significant results.

The last theory seems the most realistic of the three, but that’s not saying much. Essentially it’s based on the theory that aluminum oxide can be injected into the atmosphere and that the resulting metal particulates in the air will essentially act as a global sunscreen and reflect enough of the sun’s rays to cool the Earth. That was an actual theory proposed by scientists, but it was never acted upon for many reasons. First, it’s very cost prohibitive. Last time I checked metal was heavier than air. Any metal particulates that could be introduced into the atmosphere would immediately begin to fall due to the effects of gravity. So, how would you keep them up there long enough to even test it? And, of course, there’s that pesky problem of lack of a control. You could argue that they could use historical data as a baseline, but scientists are divided about what’s causing the Earth’s temperature shift in the first place, so how can you be certain that the temperature changes are the result of your actions and not some other unaccounted for factor? There’s also another problem with this theory; it’s not working. The theory states that they are trying to cool the Earth and slow or prevent global warming. However, all of the current data from NASA, NOAA, and everyone else who’s tracking this data shows that the Earth has been continuing to get warmer. If that’s true, then their experiment has failed to produce statistically significant results and after 10 years of wasted funds it would surely have been cancelled by now.  Not to mention there are a number of scientists and critical thinkers, myself included, who aren’t entirely convinced about global warming. There is evidence in the geological record that shows that the Earth cools a great deal every few thousand years. We know them commonly as “ice ages”. There’s also an old expression; every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Is it that hard to theorize that if the Earth cools a great deal every few thousand years that it also heats up every few thousand years as well? It seems pretty plausible to me, and it’s supported by the geological record, but I digress.

What is it that these conspiracy theorists are so afraid of? Here are some photos:

As you can clearly see, these clouds emanate from the plane’s engines, not from some super-secret gas tank. These “clouds” are formed because the plane’s exhaust fumes, which include some water vapor, exits the engine superheated. This superheated gas comes into contact with the colder air at the higher elevation where planes fly and immediately condenses into clouds.  

Some of the conspiracy theorists will say that these plumes first starting showing up around 2002. However, there is an abundant amount of photographic evidence that shows that these contrails were common prior to that, including during WWII and as early as 1918, just after WWI. Many of these photos are linked to from the Contrail Science page in the links below.

It also seems pretty plausible to me that changes in technology in either aviation fuel or jet engines themselves could be responsible for the gasses lingering around longer, as people claim. Or, it could be attributed to a warmer environmental climate. There are several possible explanations that make sense, but secret government testing isn’t one of them.

Before I go, I did also include the links to the Discovery Channel show, Best Evidence, where they discuss Chemtrails as fact. I used to buy into the Discovery Channel and give them a lot of credit, however, they have lost a lot of stock as being a reputable scientific source of information. Shows that they have aired previously such as Mermaids: The Body Found do quite a bit of damage to their credibility.

References:  Wikipedia Page  A page debunking Chemtrails   A site promoting the chemtrail conspiracy Another site promoting the chemtrail conspiracy  This page has a TON of information from both sides of the debate (but obviously debunks the chemtrails).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Dangers of Tradition

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Sorry about the delay in new posts, things have been very busy for me over the last few weeks.

I would wager that probably everyone on the planet clings to some type of tradition or another. In many cases our traditions are comforting. They are old friends that we anticipate getting re-acquainted with. Most of us don’t bother to stop and question our traditions, and why should we? After all, our traditions are awesome, aren’t they?
Most of us have some staple family traditions of some form or another. It could be a specific type of food that you eat on a holiday, like Turkey on Thanksgiving or Ham at Easter or Christmas. It could also be an activity that you do; like giving someone a cake on their birthday, or singing Christmas carols to your neighbors.

The question that I’ve been asking myself over the last few weeks is whether or not these traditions are a good thing or a bad thing in terms of our cultural and individual psychological development. Sure, I can argue the point that traditions play a very important role in our societal development. I could argue that without tradition we have no way to cling on to our past; no collective “living memories” of things that once were, no ever-present reminders, and no exotic fanfare with which to pepper our culture.  It can certainly be argued that many of the more colorful aspects of our culture come from traditions and that without traditions our culture might feel empty and hallow.
However, there are two sides to every story. I can also argue that tradition holds us back; it inhibits our growth, it stagnates our social and psychological development and only serves to placate us. What a horrible thing to say, I know, but I feel compelled to say it.

What started me thinking about this a lot was an incident that happened a few weeks ago. I teach martial arts classes every Thursday night with my friend, Matt. We had a student arrive to class who had studied martial arts before. We had several lengthy discussions and comparisons of styles and techniques. This discussion flooded my memory with numerous similar discussions where people told me about this “ancient technique” or that one, and they almost always were followed by some demonstration of something that was rather complex.  I thought about most of the other major martial arts in the world and how they fragmented and split over disagreements about the curriculum.
One thing that I am very grateful for is the fact that Matt is also analytical. Between the two of us we scrutinize everything and evaluate everything and reject what doesn’t work or what isn’t good and replace it with what does.  But, neither of us views our art as being very traditional. I also help teach Karate on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings and the mentality there is very different. They don’t do anything that wasn’t passed down for generations upon generations.

But, this type of mentality extends far beyond the realm of Martial Arts. One prime example that comes to light is the US Presidential Elections. Of course, you may have surmised that I mean the Electoral College specifically. Historically this institution made sense. Hundreds of years ago it was not possible to tally every single vote from every single person in a realistic time-frame. This system was devised as an alternate to the popular vote based on the ideology that they Electoral College members would vote the same way as their states and that they would vote altogether for one president. Since its inception The members of the Electoral College have split their votes for both candidates and they have voted opposite the popular vote of their states. If you examine the National totals you’ll see several instances where the popular votes would have garnered us a different president than the Electoral College system. Take, for example, the 2000 election; Al Gore won the popular vote while George Bush carried the college. Another example is the 1888 election; Grover Cleveland had the popular vote, but Benjamin Harrison carried the college. Or the 1876 election; Samuel Tilden had the popular vote while Rutherford B. Hayes had the college. The point is, with modern technology it is now possible to count and tally the votes of every voter in real time. When the Electoral College was created this was impossible. So, why are we clinging to the use of the college at all if we can now perform the very task that it was intended to circumvent? Tradition.
Historically, this problem plagues our police departments as well. They typically develop policies and procedures that develop into tradition. When presented with new ideas about how to do things most departments resolutely cling to their traditional views saying things like “this is how it’s always been done”.  In the case of police procedures, they only change when a new disaster has occurred and the department is forced to change their policies as a result.

All in all I think that we should all be encouraged to know what we’re getting from our traditions. Do they have meaning and value in a cultural sense? Do they perform necessary functions? Or, do they simply shackle us to a pillar of stagnation?

References & Notes:

To read up about the voting history of the country’s presidential elections, including the number of electoral and popular votes each candidate received check out: