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Archive for November, 2016

So, before we begin here is a hopelessly low quality copy of the episode. As it is copyrighted, I will have to remove it if asked (and I will probably remove it anyway quite soon), however I am aware that this show is no longer being promoted or marketed, and there is no way to obtain a “legitimate viewing” at this time, and that is my fair-use rational for supplying it:

Video © Peteski Productions, 2016. Original US air-date: 18 Nov 2016.

What’s the problem?

Well, without reading other people’s comments on this, I see a number of huge ethical problems with this episode. Firstly – and this is not the only time this has happened on the Dr. Phil show – it seems very obvious that Ms Duvall has not given informed consent to be filmed, broadcast, and ogled at. Secondly, Phillip C. McGraw introduced her in a completely offensive and sexist way. His introduction was this:

“The former starlet famous for her quirky and waif-like appearance is unrecognizable.” -Phillip C McGraw, 2016.

That sounds an awful lot like body-shaming someone for their aging process to me. Yet later on in the episode he tells her she’s still beautiful. Make your goddamned mind up!

Thirdly, Phillip C McGraw is not a psychologist, and his show is the worst level of trash on TV that there is. Now you might say “well everyone knows he isn’t a psychologist” – um, no they don’t. I have to tell fans this, and half the time they don’t believe me. It was only about a year ago that I told this to someone who simply didn’t believe me. She would have done better to go on the Jerry Springer Show than to appear on this one, at least Springer doesn’t bullshit his guests.

Fourthly, Phillip C McGraw offers her “professional assistance as a gift”. Hmm, really? What he doesn’t tell you is that he has specifically decided what professional assistance she’s going to need – despite the fact that he is unqualified to do so. For people who have mental or behavioural disorders there are a number of different ways to approach treatment. McGraw’s preferred method is to send her off to some unfamiliar place for treatment. Whereas she could have received treatment in her home, or even by telephone. There was no evidence that anyone professional evaluated how best to approach treatment from the best interests of Ms Duvall.

But McGraw does treat Ms Duvall with respect, right?

I feel genuinely annoyed at the fact that McGraw is so good at pulling the wool over his viewer’s eyes. Let’s be honest here, the kind of people that are interested in this show are generally pretty naive about current psychological thought. That’s not to be disparaging, it’s just that the show would lose its interest if a person has a strong knowledge of current psychological theories. The show is after all based on the audience being shocked by the guests.

Right, so I actually haven’t finished listing the problems with just this one episode yet, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to pause for a moment and think about whether you think McGraw is genuinely respectful to his guests? Well I think he’s not an the reason is…

Fifthly, McGraw’s show thrives on provoking and perpetuating the social stigmas attached to mental and behavioural disorders.

“The single most important barrier to overcome in the community is the stigma and associated discrimination towards persons suffering from mental and behavioural disorders.” –World Health Organization, 2001.

Now I can’t possibly go over social stigma in just this one post – if you want to know more you’re going to have to do some reading, or watch some videos, starting with my own here:

Baxter, D. 2016. Video released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Licence (Aus). Originally published at:

For many people stigma is worse than the disease itself. To hear people say that for yourself see this video featuring HIV+ people.

Generally speaking, from what I’ve seen of the show in the past, McGraw is very often interested in blaming people who likely have mental or behavioural disorders for their anti-social behaviours. This of course is called victim-blaming. Now he does sprinkle in a bit of “it’s not your fault” here and there, but I think one of the things that made this episode in particular so heinous is the fact that Ms Duvall clearly does not understand what’s going on around her, and McGraw & producers still think it’s appropriate to publish and profit from her “interview” anyway.

And by the way he does use victim-blaming language, even in this episode. For example, towards the end of the episode you hear him say that Ms Duvall “refused medication”. The way that he phrased it implied that she should have accepted medication it’s for her own good; however the episode itself made it clear Ms Duvall is fearful of doctors. So really this response is exactly what you would have expected from someone in her circumstance. We don’t even know what her diagnosis is and whether it can be managed with medication or not, so that statement was quite inappropriate and disrespectful to say the least.

Sixthly, I would have to assume that Ms Duvall was lured onto the show under false pretences. She doesn’t appear to understand that she’s being filmed, as previously mentioned.

Do these opinions matter?

Well it’s not just that there are ethical problems with the show, but the fact that it also a clear breach of professional standards by anyone’s measure. For reasons I’ve already listed. Now what’s interesting is that even the producers of the show have realised they fucked up big time by producing and then publishing this episode – and if you want proof of that go here. You will find that all the pages on the DrPhil website with mention of the episode have been removed. As of writing this though you can see what was there by viewing the Google-cached versions. Note that despite the fact that this action proves they’ve acknowledged their fuck-up that there’s no official explanation given.

Ms Duvall deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I fear that what McGraw has done can only cause her undue damage and harm. Ms Duvall doesn’t deserve to be stigmatised in this way, and the greatest tragedy of all is that the show didn’t even try to balance the negativity by showing her at her best. She might have plenty of other great hobbies and interests that fill her time in a valuable and fulfilling way, but the show paid no attention to that area of her life at all.

Before we begin, please view this short 18 second clip:

Bart Ehrman. Video © Mythicist Milwaukee, 2016.

As Bart says above and will wholeheartedly agree, I don’t think Christians are foolish. There are many types of atheists, and again as Bart puts it, some are atheist fundamentalist, every bit as bad as a fundamental Christian. This is kind of where the mythicist belief has crept in, and I will agree with Bart on that as well. Where we are different is that I am not agnostic on Yahweh – I am convinced that he does not exist as a real physical entity, and exists only in mythology.

The tendency to gravitate towards beliefs on the extremes like mythicism is typical of inter-group bias. It’s no different to what happens within religions. People think that it sound like an intelligent argument – but that’s largely because they’re not historians and don’t know how to evaluate ancient literary evidence. It’s also because they don’t understand the answer to the question “why was Jesus special if he was an ordinary man?” I think Jesus of Nazareth was a special person, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

Mythicism is not taken seriously in scholarly circles. As an atheist, attaching yourselves to these outlandish claims makes all of us atheists look like closed-minded tinfoil-hat wearing nut cases. Despite this Bart recently agreed to debate one of the two prominent mythicist scholars – Robert Price. Bob did not appear up to the task frankly, he did not so much engage in a debate, rather he gave an overview of why he doubted the historicity of Jesus and then concluded by saying it was on a knife’s edge and could be disproved any time with a “new discovery”. Bob appears to have his beliefs and to be set in them – as is the case in fact with all mythicist scholars. You’d have to be joking to say that Richard Carrier doesn’t have a vested interest, and Thomas Brodie has held the same mythicist belief from before he even studied to become a scholar and a priest. Brodie is unique in being a devout Catholic Priest convinced that Jesus didn’t exist – which I hope shows that this belief is not unique to atheists.

So what then is the evidence?

The primary evidence for the historicity of Jesus are the four Christian gospels. Secondary to that are the genuine epistles of Paul. And thirdly there is the Epistle of James. That’s it in a nutshell.

The Epistle of James is often overlooked, it wasn’t even mentioned by Bart in his recent debate (even though he mentions the SotM). Yet the Epistle of James is unique in that the author knows of the Sermon on the Mount, and uses its teachings prior to the SotM being published in Matthew, but knows about almost nothing else found in the synoptic gospels.

So what makes Jesus special?

Contrary to what Christians think, Jesus was not a perfect man. However he appears to emphasise with marginalised, stigmatised, and low-status people so much so that scholars are convinced that Jesus came from a poor family! The interesting thing though is that the gospels do not ever say that Mary and Joseph were poor, and the nativities that paint them as being so are not considered historical events. For evidence though that perhaps they were in fact well off let’s compare Joseph to Paul of Tarsus. Joseph was said to be a builder, in Nazareth, where there would have been plenty of work for him. Paul is said to be a tentmaker, and the book of Acts makes it pretty clear he is well off as he can afford to rent a house out of his own pocket while under house arrest, as well as employ a full time secretary, for two whole years leading up to his presumed execution. Now I’m no expert in classics, but it appears to me that Paul was under house arrest because he could afford to rent his house – if he couldn’t he would have been placed in a Roman prison of some kind. It also appears to me that if tentmakers were wealthy people, then likely the same would be true for carpenters.

This at least gives us some insight into Jesus’s background. He wasn’t from a dirt-poor family – even if carpenters in Nazareth were not wealthy people, they still would have been well off as their service was in demand at that time in history. They weren’t lowly fishermen after all. The other thing that suggests to us that Jesus wasn’t poor as scholars assume, is the fact that he clearly could read the Hebrew scriptures for himself. This is demonstrated clearly when Jesus goes to the synagogue in Nazareth, reads from Isaiah, and is rejected and chased out of town. This event is considered historical by scholars. And it is generally assumed that the poor in ancient world were illiterate.

So Jesus’s empathy with people of low social status is remarkable – as is some of his teachings. And in particular you will not find a better example of this than the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In modern day terms it would be like giving a parable of the “Good Jihadist”. The other thing Jesus did not like was the religious leaders exploiting the laity. This is possibly what motivated him to perform his own healing ceremonies – which the gospels paint as being very popular. Although you may scoff at the idea of faith healings, the fact is that Jesus offered these healings to people like lepers who no one else would. And even today just offering people prayer can be very powerful for believers.

So I think it’s a shame there are people that doubt the existence of demonstrably good people like Jesus of Nazareth, simply because they want to be right. Jesus did exactly the same thing in his day that atheists like us do today – he challenged the religious authorities of his day. He disputed their beliefs, and boldly held his own – even in the face of oppression. If Jesus were alive today he would have made a terrific atheist!

Continuing on from my security-based theme, let’s examine the claims made by a Fairfax investigation that a bunch of Indians are selling Telstra, Optus, and Vodafine customer details. According to the report, they (a company called AI Solutions as well as others) will sell anyone willing to pay: your name, your address, your date of birth, all your phone numbers, and your call history as well.

How did they get this sensitive data? Well according to the story, they have bought it directly from the Indian call centres that are contracted by the Telco’s to handle their customers. This just goes to prove that you cannot trust a non-Australian company to protect sensitive user data. But it’s much worse than that too.

Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone are crying foul – but they are the goddamned assholes responsible for this mess. This I think goes to show why it is unethical for companies to ask you for information which they do not need to know – like your date of birth, or your home address if you have a mobile with them. It also highlights why the metadata laws are huge potential beach of your human rights, and your privacy. For example, it means that a violent ex-partner can gain access to your information, and get the phone numbers of all your best friends all in one hit – just from purchasing your data from these pricks.

Indian people have a completely different culture to us, and generally speaking the kind of people who work in these call centres feel no obligation to treat their customer information as confidential. In fact, they often feel apprehensive towards wealthy cashed-up westerners that they have to talk to for their jobs, and god-only-knows what hours through the night. This is not an attack on Indian people, it’s just a reality – and even if people like this make up a minority in call centres it’s still a reality. Now if you don’t believe me, and you think I’m being too harsh – look up Indian scammers on Youtube, where you will find a multitude of videos containing Indians that work in call centres for the Microsoft Security Scam and often voice their opinions about the people they scam/rip-off; and they routinely deny that they are doing anything “wrong”. That last point is really important, because from listening to those calls I can tell you that many of them genuinely feel that they are entitled to scam the wealthy westerners and it does not bother their conscious – and they only difference between those Indian Scammers, and the Indians selling your data illegally is the call centre company they work for. And remember, this is India – even for people who do have respect for privacy, they are in a country that does not have the privacy laws that Australia has, and that alone creates a weakness where vulnerable Indians can be exploited to reveal confidential customer information.

I should point out that I love Indian people, I know quite a few in Canberra and they’re all great people. I just would never trust someone working in a foreign country with my personal information, and neither should you.

How should you respond? If you have a mobile phone with one of the companies listed above, I would highly suggest changing to another company and writing a letter of complaint explaining why. They are required to port your mobile number when requested, and if you are under contract I would suggest calling and asking to be released from it because they have broken their obligation to ensure that your sensitive information is stored safely and kept confidential. If they do not agree, I would refer the matter to the TIO. The only appropriate response in my opinion is a strong one to show these pricks that they should put their customers first, and not their profits by jeopardising your data. And the only response from these Muppets should be to move call centres back to Australia – at least for everything where customer information is required.

Is this website safe?

I want my visitors and readers to know that I take your experience seriously. I don’t want to waste your time with a trashy blog, and I don’t want you to feel you were click-baited or otherwise mislead either. One of the things that keeps my website objective is that it is not a commercial website, and I have no conflicts of interests to declare. Recently I received, let’s call it criticism, for posting a graphic depiction of Androgen-insensitivity syndrome (i.e. nudity). I took this criticism on board and I put it behind a warning, not really because I want to or because the content warrants it, but because I recognise that some visitors from certain cultures seem to expect that.

But now let’s talk about web safety in the broader sense. Can you even tell that a website is safe any more? Does the green padlock even mean anything now that Cloudflare uses a MITM approach?

You might be thinking you can look websites up on WOT (Web of Trust). WOT has recently been exposed for selling user-data that was inadequately anonymised (link is in German). German data scientist Andreas Dewes showed that the supposedly anonymous data sold by WOT could be easily de-anonymised, saying “für mich war sehr überraschend, wie einfach man einen Großteil der Daten deanonymisieren konnte. Die Privatsphäre des Nutzers wird in keinster Weise respektiert”. Or in English “I found it very surprising how easily one could de-anonymise much of the data, privacy of the users was not respected in any way”.

You guys know that I think privacy is a basic human right, and it’s one of the key reasons I advocate the use of extensions such as uBlock Origin. In light of the information above, WOT has subsequently been removed from DuckDuckGo as well as other search engines that supported it, and its Chrome and Firefox extensions have also been removed from the official respective extension repositories. WOT’s response has been inadequate, to say the least.

Privacy issues aside, WOT was never a great service anyway. It’s just an opinion-based thing, which is terrible because as I noted right at the start – some people have expectations of what they consider to be “safe” that are different to others. And that has the potential to affect smaller websites like mine that contains content that is no more or less safe or acceptable than content you might find on Wikipedia.

The discussion on SSL and Cloudflare will have to wait for another day. For now, I encourage you to read this article which pretty much sums up the problem with Cloudflare’s SSL, and this one that explains how an intercept proxy works. There are several problems with Cloudflare SSL, but as mentioned this blog entry got quite long so I’ll have to go over it separately.

Hillary you lost: accept it

Following the US Presidential election something very interesting has happened. It’s also quite serious and I’m not writing to make light of it. Now I know some of you might think “that doesn’t sound like Aractus, he hates the US”, but there are two reasons why I need to be serious about this. Firstly, because the blame lies with certain people but not with others. And secondly, because as much as I’m loathed to admit this – the yanks, not Aussies make up the largest visitor group to this blog.

Many yanks have felt completely dismayed, blind-sighted, betrayed, and angry about the Presidential election result. As a result there have been non-stop protesting for six straight days now in the US. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this has happened. Obama and Clinton fostered the environment for this to happen by repeatedly warning people that Trump was the complete antithesis of what a President should be, and that everyone was in real danger if he were to win the election. Not only did they say these statements, but then they doubled-down on them in the final days leading to the election as well.

The media questioned whether the Donald would accept the election result, noting they didn’t want “another 2000” (referring to Al Gore’s attempt to have the Florida vote recounted). Look this whole thing highlights some of the institutional problems with the US voting system, most notably its lack of integrity. But with that said, Hillary refused to deliver a concession speech on election night – something which she was expected to do, instead sending out John Podesta to tell their supports that they might still win and go to bed.

Now she’s blaming the FBI for “interfering” with the election, and claiming they cost her the Presidency. This does not help the situation in the US, where some people are feeling great anxiety, stress, depression, and a range of other strong emotions following what they perceive as a shocking outcome of the election. It is Hillary denying her responsibility, and her role in the election. Is she really claiming that she was just a pawn in all of this? Hillary lost because she’s a corrupt politician, because she’s a criminal, because her real policies were unpopular, and because she had to be “coached” into articulating “Bernie policies” which she never intended to keep. Only a conspiracy theorist nut would believe that the election was controlled by a combination of Wikileaks, Russia, and the FBI!

The only person she has to blame in this is herself. Stand up and take some god-damned responsibility for your own campaign, your own actions, your own policies, and your own failings to create any real enthusiasm in the base.

How I predicted a Trump win

Well firstly, I didn’t. I’ve been saying for a number of months now that I viewed the most likely outcome as a Trump victory, I never said I knew he would win mind you. I can’t see the future – I gave my assessment, not a “prediction” per se. In this post I’ll explain how I came to my conclusion independently, despite being on the opposite side of the world. My assessment was always based on the Obama-Clinton candidacy, not on Trump’s. And in fact I learned after this that there’s an election forecaster in the US who views that as the most appropriate way to forecast the election outcome, his name is Allan Lichtman, and here is his forecast given about 8 weeks in advance:

Video: Peter Stevenson/Washington Post

So the question is not “how did I know”; the question is why didn’t everyone else know that Trump was likely to win the US Presidency?

Firstly, the US media was horrendously biased and skewed. The thing that us non-yanks know is that Fox News is extremely partisan to the Republican party. But I never knew that all the news networks in the US were so biased one way or the other, and that’s something I learned from this. In Australia we would never have serious newspapers coming out and supporting Labor or the Coalition.

Secondly, the Trump scepticism was not contained to mainstream media. I mean Julian Assange kept repeating over and over that Trump had no chance of winning for example, and there are plenty of other examples of less mainstream media putting out that message as well.

Thirdly, what I never saw was a frank and open discussion examining Hillary’s suitability for the role. The media talked at length about what made Trump unsuitable, but not Hillary. And it all comes down to the fact that she’s pushing exactly the same George W/Obama policies…

Clinton’s whole plan for winning was based on her credentials trumping Trump’s, and by appealing to all the groups that Trump has in some way denigrated in his speeches. Particularly women. She didn’t offer people anything new or fresh. What she offered was a return of George W Bush era policies which were not that different to Obama’s – realistically that is.

Here is the final FiveThirtyEight prediction, before the election:

FiveThirtyEight prediction for 2016 election

And here is the current Washington Post map of the results:

US 2016 Election Map

As you can see there is a big difference. Interestingly, as of writing this Clinton leads the popular vote. I had no idea that would happen.

So finally, the way that I reasoned was based on the fact that Hillary was offering George W/Obama policies, coupled with the fact that people are not going to want more of the same. What’s funny is that I said this many months ago, and people agreed with me at the time (that is other Aussies face-to-face), but they became more sceptical of that assessment in the past couple of months. I should state categorically now that I don’t think Trump has anything to offer the American people – I tend to think Trump will be better for international policy than Clinton – but there is no doubt at all that he is going to be worse for ordinary American people. But that said, perhaps he’s the president your country needs right now – someone who isn’t going to be a photocopy of the last one. And at least you guys didn’t get Ted Cruz who would have been woefully bad, Trump is likely comparatively good compared to some of the other Republican nominees, and less likely to implement their extremist world-view. Trump might also be able to actually achieve some good initiatives in his term, and then when he’s voted out someone else can come in and build on that.

As an afterthought, I do think Bernie Sanders would probably have beaten Trump. It’s really had to say because there might have been voter backlash against the socialist, however that would have brought more of the Republican base to the polling booths, and Bernie would have brought more of the Democrat base to the booths. The puppet democracy in the US is so bad anyway, and their electoral system is woefully poor. I will leave you with this:

“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
-Gilens & Page. (2014). Testing theories of American politics: Elites, interest groups, and average citizens. Perspectives on politics, 12(03), 564-581. doi:10.1017/S1537592714001595

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