Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

How the Mormons Abandoned Me

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on September 29, 2015

For the past few years, every summer I have picked a topic and read as much about it as I could. One summer it was contemporary US presidents. The next year, it was the conflict in Afghanistan and the Middle East. This summer, I decided that I wanted to learn about the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That’s the church that most people call the Mormons.

This is surprisingly difficult as a white man in Taiwan. I actually live in a building where the church owns a unit and rents it out to serving missionaries. There also other missionaries living in my ‘hood. This is really Mormon Central here. But as it turns out, they want to talk to the Taiwanese and not stray whities that wander into their path. I can understand. The missionaries here are young, have only partially started their university schooling and generally have been specially trained to deliver their mission in Chinese. They don’t want to be talking to older, perhaps better educated people. And as it turns out, they were all trained in Chinese, so a lot of them have trouble talking about their faith in English.

I’ve actually talked to many of the young missionaries, My former wife would pawn them off on me when they approached her. Some of them even showed interest in talking to me. But it wasn’t until I met a couple of young guys on the train over this last summers that anyone really showed real interest in teaching me about what their church means. And thus I began my study of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I am not a Christian in the real sense of the word. I attend church sometimes, mostly as a social thing with friends. Once in Japan, I went to church on Christmas Day just to do something familiar. I was not raised in a church and have never been baptized, but when I was young, my father sang in the choir of a United Church of Canada, which was founded primarily by Presbyterians. Because of their place in Taiwan history, although I have not been baptized, I identify with the Presbyterians, but do not call myself one.

Since I have moved to Taiwan, I’ve done research on the history of the Christian churches here. I wrote a book chapter about missionaries and opium during the colonial period and a lot of blog stuff that touched on this period. I never had much interest in the Mormons, although their presence here is ubiquitous. Apparently their missions have not been particularly successful. There are more Muslims in Taiwan than there are Mormons, but that’s a misleading fact. Almost all these Muslims would be immigrants or descendants of Uyghur soldiers in the army of Chiang Kai Shek that retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Almost all the Mormons, until very recently, would have been converts. The Temple here claims slightly more than 57,000 members, which is an impressive number compared with other Christian denominations that were established after World War II, such as the Lutherans,

Perhaps it is my affiliation with these mainstream Christian churches that has influenced my thinking about Mormons, but they always seemed sort of comical to me in their white shirts riding bicycles and the women dressed like 19th century farm wives. What I knew about the church also seemed – and I know this sounds rude – silly. I no longer feel this way. After talking with my missionary friends, I think of the LDS as a legitimate Christian church that is no more or less strange than other mainstream denominations and certainly much less dangerous to society than denominations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Science.

But that’s not what this is all about. What I really want to talk about is how the Mormons, once they had me interested in their church, abandoned me for reasons related to their business practices.

Unknown to the rest of the world, Mormon missionaries move around a lot. Kids get sick or hurt or just homesick and need to be replaced. The secrets of their management are not known to me, but it is common for missionaries to have to change location. Over a period of a couple of months, the two fellows that were talking to me disappeared to further locations. One of them was able to say good-bye to me in person. The other, vanished after a phone call. They’re gone. They’re out of the scene now and it’s possible I will never see them again. You’d think they’d find someone to replace their work with me but not only did they not seem to have time, I doubt there was interest. So I was just abandoned by them.

In a sense, I was a lost cause from the beginning. There was no chance at all that I would end up baptized from the short spiel these guys had for me, and I told them that. But I can say that what they gave me was an entirely different picture of their church. I no longer think of them them as any stranger than the transubstantiation I’m told goes on every Sunday around the Roman Catholic world. And the idea that Joseph Smith translated ancient Egyptian scrolls wearing special glasses is no more strange than the other stories that make up Christianity or the bizarre practices of Christian cult like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Criticisms of the church that are now common on the World Wide Web are sometimes so bizarre you wonder if the person who produced them knows anything about Christianity. And just because you and I don’t know what kind of achievements have been performed by Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and considered a prophet by the church, doesn’t mean that he does not regularly perform miracles. This is no stranger a claim than anything the Roman Catholic church regularly produces about their popes, saints and other spiritual leadership.

The teaching materials of the LDS are far superior to anything I have seen in other churches. I’ve had my head filed with stories of how church saved junkies and drug dealers and prostitutes, but that doesn’t mean much to me. I don’t have any of those kinds of problems, so what’re these churches going to do for me? The materials produced by the LDS aren’t aimed at junkies, their goals seem to involve talking to people who may even already lead exemplary lives, but want more. They’re aimed at people you could know or you could be instead of those like in the story I was really told from a high school friend who was baptized into a United Pentecostal Church and suddenly began speaking in tongues. In a world of muscular Christianity, what does Jesus mean for most people who live content and reasonable lives? As President Monson relates in one of the videos they showed me, faith is more like turning on the lights in a building a few at a time until you can finally see what’s really going on around you.

I found all this very meaningful and important. So when my Mormon friends asked me to cooperate with their teaching by praying and reading the Book of Mormon, I had no trouble. I even stopped drinking for weeks because they asked me to. My friends and colleagues all thought I was crazy, but for me, it was a learning experience. We spent a long time talking about these things, about how to pray without sounding like you asking God for magical answers to your problems, about why a God could change his mind, about the nature of Temple life in the church. I have since completely changed my feeling about who and what it means to be a Latter-Day Saint. I see them now as just as credible as any mainstream Christian church and I see their members as committed and devout Christians, and not like members of some of the cult-like Christian denominations that clutter the legitimate spiritual world.

And then they dumped me, like some used up customer at a bar that changed ownership. Without hardly even a good-bye, they were gone. In a sense, what do ya’ expect. They’re a business machine whose success is measured in souls converted. I’m not going be one of them according to their business plan. But it left me feeling sad. I would have liked to believe that their friendship was real.

What I Think about the Dunning & Kruger Effect

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on September 7, 2015

The Dunning & Kruger Effect (DKE) asks participants to assign numbers to their abilities or estimate a score they are likely to get, and then compares their estimate with the actual score. The effect is that the difference between the estimated and the actual score is larger for students who score poorly and very well than it is for mid-range scoring students. In the popular version of the effect, it is only mentioned that poorly scoring students have bad estimates of their actual scores. This is supposed to demonstrate that the worse you are, the less likely you are to realize how bad you really are.

There is no such thing as the Dunning & Kruger Effect. It is a statistical effect widely understood among researchers who use rating scales. It is simply not possible to make estimates with the accuracy demanded by the research. As a result, participants at extreme ends of the scale are less likely to be accurate. This is well-known among scientists who work with rating scales – that estimates at the extreme ends of the scale are less accurate. It’s called centrality and is considered a rater bias that occurs naturally. The verbal description of the DKE makes sense. I’d say it’s almost folklore among the educated. But the experimental demonstrations of it developed by K&D have little to do with this verbal description.

Let’s put it this way. We got 100 students and we give them a test. Their scores are distributed normally. Before the test, we ask them

1. What will your score be?

2. Will your score be in the bottom quarter, second quarter, third quarter or top quarter of the class?

3. Will your score be in the bottom third, second third, or the top third of the class?

4. Will your score be in the top half or the bottom half of the class?

5. Will you pass or fail?

In fact, students have no idea what their scores will be. It is rare that anyone can guess their actual score before they take the test, especially the very low scoring ones. Students who score say 20 or 30 on the test will give you an estimate for their score of 40 or 50. There seems to be a low estimate below which students do not estimate their scores as likely to be, no matter how badly they know they will do. But the thing is, they know they’re going to fail. They know they’re in the bottom of the class. The more accurately you ask them to estimate their score, the less correct they are. In my sample, students were 100% correct about whether they would pass or fail. Bad students know who they are. They just have trouble assigning numbers to their predictions. And a greater demand for accuracy makes this even more difficult.

There are many examples of social cognition that are widely cited outside of psychology, by economists and policy scientists and such, that are rarely or never mentioned in social psychology. KDE is one of them. Outside of Kruger, Dunning and their students no one in psychology does work on this. It is widely cited particularly by economists and business theorists.

For a more detailed description of the effect, have a look at this blog post

Also, this link will take you to a Google Scholar search for the DKE,5&q=dunning+kruger+effect

Many of these papers are free.

For more research on centrality, see the links listed here,

A lot of these papers are quite technical. An accessible paper to introduce the idea of centrality, why it is a natural problem in rating and what it means to measure it is,

Saal, F. E., Downey, R. G., & Lahey, M. A. (1980). Rating the ratings: Assessing the psychometric quality of rating data. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 413-428.

You should be able to download this for free from the Internet.

The Real Conspiracy in Ferguson, Missouri

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on November 26, 2014

I’m posting this up here so I can say, I told you so.

I have no reason to believe the demonstrations are violent. Some disturbed people are setting buildings on fire and shooting guns, but even they appear to be avoiding hurting other people. The only violence appears to be aimed at demonstrators. I bet, when this is all over, all the dead people will be black, and almost everyone who was injured will also be black.

Scott Talks to Anarchist Keith Preseton

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on November 25, 2014

This note refers to a comment left on a post by Keith Preston. His Facebook states he teaches sociology at John Tyler Community College – Midlothian Campus. His account on FB features pro-gun ownership symbols and other things usually associated with the extreme right-wing of American politics. His Facebook ‘friends’ include conspiracy theorist, Holocaust deniers, activists for the Ron Paul Revolution, and someone who identifies himself as a member of the “Confederate States Army”. Of the 4500 Facebook friends held by the dummy account I use to spy on conspiracy theorists, 510 of them are mutual friends with Keith.

Keith describes himself as an anarchist. He runs the blog, Attack the System. If I understand him correctly, Keith is seeking an anarchist synthesis of left and right wing. The reason for this is contained in his comment below.

I once accused Keith of harboring “a group of provincial homophobic White men” among his editors. He replied,

Well, our assortment of “provincial homophobic white men” includes among its leadership and contributors an African-American anarchist, an Arab-American, a native American, a gay gentleman who edits our queer affiliate site, a left-libertarian, a Hindu convert, a black Englishman, a Bangladeshi immigrant and others who don’t really fit the model you’re describing.

And while Keith would be technically correct, the “gay gentleman”, for example, identifies himself as a National Anarchist, which I will portray below as a largely anti-gay idea. So either this shows the great diversity being attracted to these ideas or that Keith has been able to surround himself with some very confused people. If you look at the crew he lists on this page
one of the immediately obvious points is the heavy representation of National Anarchy. If it wasn’t for people from National Anarchy, he’d have almost no one. In fact, many of the people not listing an affiliation are also involved in National Anarchy. In a very real way, the success of Attack the System is predicated on its ability to attract people associated with National Anarchy.

National anarchy? Now that’s a mouthful. What is NA? There’s a lot written about NA, including the Great Wiki
but basically, NA foresees a collapse of the current economic system and the emergence of autonomous village communities. It’s not necessarily right-wing, except its current adherents propose this could include communities that exclude different racial and ethnic groups. I haven’t read a lot about it but it seems to be tied to biological theories of human nature and a bunch of other quasi-scientific gobbly-gook about how current governments are evil because they make us do things we aren’t supposed to be doing. In a move that makes it look like NA is trying to be hip and trendy, some of their folk also support a free Tibet.

Prominent National Anarchist Troy Southgate, who appears on Keith’s website, believes that homosexuality is “unnatural” and hence will be excluded from this future of humanity.

Questionable aspects of Keith’s crew abound.
Michael Strasser is a Holocaust denier
Craig Fitzgerald is a member of the John Birch Society and a prominent name in the 9/11 conspiracy group We Are Change.
His wife is Jamie O’Hara.
Troy Southgate is a former member of the British National Front.
Michael C. is affiliated with the Confederacy apologist group the Southern Nationalist Network, although I have to admit, reading the group’s website made me aware of the idea that the South of the USA could be labeled a post-colonial society.

Anyway, here’s Keith’s comment,

I think our core documents, the statement of purpose, the 25 point program, and the podcasts have outlined the philosophy, analysis, strategy, and objectives of ARV-ATS as thoroughly and clearly as anyone could reasonably expect. The core idea we promote is attacking the state and state-allied institutions by decentralizing political and economic power down to the regional, municipal, village, neighborhood, and individual level to the greatest degree possible. Most of the rest of what we do is about strategy and tactics towards that objective.

And, yes, we try to promote this idea to as many different kinds of population or political groups as possible including the entire spectrum of opinion on other issues. That includes Randian businessmen and anarcho-syndicalists, middle America types and outlandish counterculturalists, far right racialists and inner city black street gangs, native American tribes and evangelical Christians, eco-terrorists and gun nuts, vegans and survivalists, et. al. ad nauseum. The majority of our senior editors and contributors including myself, Jeremy, RJ, Vince, and Miles are or have their roots on the Left.

This is a movement for anyone who advocates the radical decentralization of power, for whatever reason and regardless of what their views on other issues are. This is part of the necessary process of anti-state coalition building. I don’t know anything about your personal views, Scott, but our critics from the Left almost 100% percent of the time regurgitate the same basic point: They don’t want anything to do with us because we recognize that an effective anti-state movement must include everyone with grievances against the state and who regards themselves as having something to gain from the decentralization of power. Instead, leftists want to add on all sorts of litmus tests regarding other issues, particularly social and cultural issues like those involving the usual laundry list of Isms, Archies, and Phobias that leftists criticize. To that I say, no, that has the effect of weakening and dividing the broader anti-state movement. Plus, it allows for easier co-optation by the system. And it’s not necessary. There can be secondary organizations that address other issues outside the core struggle for decentralization.

I agree that there are certainly leftists who are exceptions, but as a general rule the contemporary left is more of a cultural movement than a political one. Almost to a person, what I have found is that leftists could not care less about overthrowing the system. Instead, what they’re concerned about is making sure no one ever expresses bigotry along taboo lines, promoting same-sex marriage and advancing the sexual revolution generally, therapeutic values (“my parents didn’t love me enough”) and essentially using politics as a form of group therapy, falling over themselves to the point of self-parody to show how inclusive or non-racist they are, lifestyle issues like vegetarianism, narrow self-interest issues like crying about student loan debts, etc. All of that is fine if that’s what they’re into but it’s hardly going to bring down the state. If anything, I’ve noticed these people often have a strong fear of political upheaval (“destabilization will bring fascism!!!”) and have in many ways become cautious conservatives. They regard the real enemy not as the state or even the corporate class but church-going Middle Americans or poor uneducated, rural white southerners. They don’t seem particularly concerned about even the police state so long as it stays out of their sex lives and lets them have all the abortions they want.

The general attitude I’ve gotten from leftists is “I don’t want anything to do with fighting the state if it means ever having to sit next to those icky un-PC folks!” which basically means anyone outside their own narrow subculture. What exactly are we supposed to do to appeal to people like that? And why should we even bother?

The Assassination of Sean Lien

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on October 7, 2014

The other day, a Taiwanese friend asked me what I thought about the 2010 shooting that almost took the life of Sean Lien (連勝文). At the time, it was suggested the event was staged to promote the KMT in a major election that was taking place the next day. My friend asked me about my opinion after learning about my interest in conspiracy theory and research involvement with critical groups of investigators that are often labeled ‘skeptics’. Anyone interested in reading my previous research on conspiracy theory, who can not find it on the Net, is invited to write me and I’ll send you a .pdf copy. Anyway, when he asked  me this, I was not really aware of the details or that Lien was back in the news, but I told him I’d do some work on this and form an opinion. This is my opinion.

Keep in mind that I am not a doctor or medical expert of any kind. I have no special knowledge of guns or gunshot wounds. These are just my thoughts after reading through a lot of the material I felt was related to the assassination attempt.

My feeling is that Sean Lien was really shot and really suffered a gunshot wound. From what I have seen, nothing appears unusual or questionable. As you will see, I am completely unimpressed with him as a person. But I see no reason to believe anything about the shooting was staged.

Who is Sean Lien?

Sean Lien is a well-known name in Taiwan. He is the son of former Taiwan vice-president and chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party of China (KMT) Lien Chan. Lien is currently the KMT’s nomination for next month’s elections for Mayor of Taipei City. Locally, this is seen as significant because every democratically elected president of Taiwan has also been an elected Mayor of Taipei City.

Lien is a controversial figure. Other Mayors of Taipei City have been enormously accomplished men. All of them had huge reputations long before they became mayor. Lien, on the other hand, has hardly been noticeable. Reading his Wiki makes it clear that his accomplishments are largely linked to the enormous amounts of money his family is rumored to have acquired. And even though he has served as Chairman of the KMT, his position in the party is likewise linked to his father’s importance. Lien is frequently criticized for his expensive lifestyle and lack of understanding of the struggles of more ordinary people. The talk about him and his lack of real achievement makes his recent bid for Mayor seem more like the grasp for attention of a rich boy who’s not getting what he thinks he deserves. I’ve never seen him in real life, so I can only refer to his published photographs. But even these make him seem more like the stereotypical chubby, spoiled Chinese boy than a possible leader for a troubled nation.

While Lien has served as chairman of the KMT, he has no real demonstration of a commitment to public service. He has briefly held several public service positions, but almost all of his experience and education appears aimed at the business world. Why the sudden interest in politics and public service? It has been suggested by some observers that his brush with death during the assassination attempt gave him a new sense of mission. He doesn’t speak openly about this, but for a wealthy 44-year-old businessman to suddenly develop an interest in being Mayor of Taipei City, and perhaps even the ROC President, some understanding is needed that has not been forthcoming.

While these are only my impressions of Lien, they are important in interpreting the events of the shooting. Some attempts to color the shooting as a staged promotion for the KMT rely on comments given by Lien. Not surprisingly, his own comments put him at the center of things. What a surprise that is! But my guess is that he has trouble imaging a world in which he is not at the center of everything, and his reflections and testimony about what happened are, for the most part, irrelevant.

What Happened?

On November 26, 2010, Sean Lien was shot in the face while he was campaigning for a KMT candidate, Chen Hung-yuan (陳鴻源). Chen was running for city council in Yung Ho (永和). Apparently, the bullet entered Lien”s cheek and exited through his temple striking and killing another man. Initial English-language accounts of the shooting can be found here and here  and here. The gunman  Lin Cheng-wei (林正偉) nicknamed “Ma Mien (馬面),” or “Horse Face”, was apprehended without incident. Lin claimed that Chen Hung-yuan (not Lien) was the real target but that he had mistaken Lien for Chen because they are physically quite similar. Apparently, this is true. But Sean Lien claims that while he was being attacked, the gunman Lin called out his name before he shot him. Lin claimed he had intended to kill Chen because of personal issues he had with his work as a politician, or something like that. It’s not entirely clear in the English-language reports what Lin really said his reason was. The gunman, for his part, has apologized to Lien and the bystander who was killed.  Lien’s family of famous Taiwanese politicians and well-known rich people have not surprisingly never accepted the official explanation in which they are mere spectators of a crime that really had nothing to do with them.

Lin was sentenced to life in prison.

What’s the Conspiracy Theory?

It’s not entirely clear to me what the conspiracy theory is supposed to be about Sean Lien’s shooting. A typical conspiracy theory these days involves the claim that nothing really happened and the media is being used to invent the story. Such claims have been made about 9/11, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, and the Apollo Moon missions. This is usually followed by a lot of questions about what happened. No comprehensive alternative is offered or statements from people who were involved in the cover up. The idea appears to be that if there are a lot of questions that can still be raised about the media explanation, it must be a cover up of some sort.

In fact, the friend who prompted my investigation did express a similar opinion. Apparently, when Lien emerged from the hospital, he appeared relatively unmarked. My friend described him as having, “only a small band-aid on his cheek.” I believe this is the picture he was referring to. The shooting took place in front of thousands of people with journalists and cameras all over the place. This is a video of the actual shooting. I’ve been able to find some other pictures related to the shooting here and here. This set of photos is quite gruesome and readers are warned there’s a lot of blood. If you can read Chinese, the blog post is discussing some of the problems with the media and police explanation of the shooting. An interesting point from the video is that the man in the black jacket who subdued the shooter was identified as Liu Chen-nan (劉振南), who is allegedly a former boss of the Bamboo Union crime gang (竹聯幫). See this article where Lien thanks him for saving his life.

The major factual issues seem to be with unanswered questions surrounding the police and prosecutor investigations, and the continued number of questions that follow the case. Taiwan Society Secretary General Luo Chih-cheng (羅致政) criticized the poor investigation, while Eastern Taiwan Society President Hsu Wen-yi, said that the gun used in the shooting could not have been the gun identified by the police because such a gun would have been far more lethal. In an otherwise reasonable article, foreign journalist Jens Kastzner quotes a foreign dental surgeon, Dr. Carolin Wattenberg, that the public reports are completely consistent with her understanding of a gunshot wound to the cheek, but then finishes his article with a fear-mongering comment from Dr. Wattenburg implying something mysterious about Lien’s tongue and what happened to it during the shooting. Foreign blogger Michael Turton cites well-know foreign Internet personality Feiren about the suspicious role that crime gang leader Liu Chen-nan played in saving Lien. As Michael reasonably points out, if you’re going to stage a phoney shooting of a famous person, this isn’t what you would do. 

What I think about all this

As I’ve said above, I don’t see anything suspicious about the event. There were thousands of witnesses. Many of them were very close. There is TV footage of the incident, and apparently, many of the questionable people involved in the local politics of supporting Liu Chen-nan recognized Mr. Horse Face immediately. Sean Lien really looks like the man Horse Face said he was gunning for. It’s not like he shot Barrack Obama while claiming he was really gunning for Danny Divito.  But in addition to this, I have found that this kind of wound is surprisingly common and much less lethal than you’d except from sound of it.

I started working on this back on September 30. That day, I did a search on “shot in the cheek”, in quotation marks. I was surprised to find this got me more than 25 million hits. That’s right – twenty-five million. Being shot in the cheek is a surprisingly common kind of gunshot wound. Many of these hits were reporting on the same incident, but it was very easy to find accounts of people being shot in the cheek. One of the other amazing things about this is that it seems being shot in the cheek is just not as deadly as you’d imagine. My first impressions when thinking about this is that being shot in the cheek would tear your head off. Apparently, some people are really messed up, but a surprising number of victims shot in the cheek are not mortally injured and recover very quickly. Once again, I want to warn you, there are some pretty gruesome looking pictures here. If you look at all the links, you’re going to photos of small children who have been shot in the face. It’s horrible. But the point is that it’s not nearly as bad as you imagine.

This photo shows a 12-year-old girl who was shot in the cheek. The wound is 10 days old in this picture. The article states she was only hit by a bullet fragment, which might explain why the wound looks like it does.

In 2007, a 7-year-old girl was accidentally shot in the cheek during a New York gang shoot out. She was hit at close range by a bullet fired from a .45 caliber pistol. Despite that, this is a picture of her “a short time” later.

Last year, in New Jersey, an 8-year-old boy was shot in the cheek. I have no photos of him, but the article describes his injuries as “non-life threatening.”

In an accidental shooting, a 7-year-old shot an 8-year-old in the cheek. I presume this was at close range with a high quality weapon. The boy survived, once again with doctors describing the situation as “not in a life-threatening situation.”

Here’s another picture of a young child who got shot in the cheek.

I read many stories about people getting shot in the face. Some of them didn’t end as well as these ones did. But some of them were absolutely astounding in terms of what happened.

Back in 2012, a Florida woman was hit in the face by a stray bullet while she was driving home. She not only finished driving home, but only found out she had been shot the next day after she developed a severe pain in her jaw. Doctors removed a bullet that was still lodged in her jaw.

Perhaps the most telling, though, is the 3-year-old boy who was hit by a stray bullet from an assault rifle used in a nearby gang fight. The Chicago police described the weapon as a combat style assault rifle. I presume this means it’s something like an AK-47 or an AR-15. A 3-year-old getting hit in the head, even the cheek, with such a weapon? Why the force of the impact didn’t tear his head off, I can’t imagine. Initial pictures of him are pretty terrible. But within two weeks, he still looks bashed up, but he was talking, singing and eating. Take a look at this picture. The bandage only looks so big because his face and head are so little. If you watch the video at the bottom of the page, you’ll hear him speak. He sounds fine.

Was Sean Lien shot in the face? Really, I don’t know. But just because his head wasn’t torn off doesn’t mean he wasn’t really shot. As you can see, this appears to have happened almost a dozen times that I could find in a short net search. My conclusion from this is that being shot in the cheek is not necessarily lethal or even terrible. It can leave superficial wounds that heal quickly. The fear expressed above by Dr. Wattenburg of having your tongue shot does not seem to be a major problem. I’m not a doctor, but it does seem that a grown man shot in the cheek could be back in action very quickly.

So What about Sean Lien?

Sean Lien is still trying to become the Mayor of Taipei City. Personally, I can’t understand why anyone would vote for him. He has no record of achievement that anyone would care about. And that’s the least bad thing I can say about him. He is the lowest common denominator of the KMT. No one will vote for him because they see in him the leadership that Taipei and Taiwan needs, but only because they support the KMT and he is their candidate. But was he shot in the face? Sure. I see no reason at all to doubt that this happened. And while I am sure he was really shot, I’m not at all sure this is a better story for him than a conspiracy theory with the media and police to manufacture a shooting and create sympathy for the Party. After all, the story where he really was shot reads that while he was standing on a stage with major crime leaders who are known to the police, another well-known crime figure almost killed him by accident. And that’s the best that can be said about him.

Steve Phillion Speaks at Jerome Keating’s Breakfast Club

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on July 7, 2013

Next meeting of Jerome Keating’s Breakfast Club is this coming Saturday, July 13, at 10 am.

Speaker, Stephen Pilion Ph.D. of St Cloud State Univ.

Topic: “Have you wondered what is going on with Labor Activism on either side of the Taiwan Strait?”

Are things happening and if so what?

Stephen Philion
Professor of Sociology
Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology
St. Cloud State University

Director, SCSU Research Group on Immigrant Workers in Minnesota

Venue: is the same as it has traditionally been. Time is 10 am.
The meeting location is the restaurant 婷婷翠玉 at 174 AnHe Road, Section Two. (rough translation of name is Tender, Pretty Green Jade.) You will be able to tell the restaurant by the lace curtains on the window–it was used in a TV commercial a while back. (We will have the downstairs room–breakfast cost will range between NT$100 and NT$150. Everyone buys their own)

Restaurant is between Far Eastern Plaza Mall/Hotel and HePing East Road–about a half a block north of the corner of HePing East Road Sec. 3 and AnHe Road. or a half a block south of Far Eastern Plaza on the AnHe Road side.

Take the MRT Mucha (Brown) Line to the Liuchangli Station exit there, and walk west on HePing East Road 3/4 of a block till you reach where AnHe Road dead-ends into it.Then go north on AnHe Road; it is a half a block up on the west side of that street.

Or take any bus down HePing East Road and get off at the first stop that is east of Tun Hua South Road. That will put you at the corner of HePing and AnHe.
You can also take a bus down Tun Hua South Road to the stop right across from Far Eastern Plaza and walk over to AnHe Road.

Or if you take the 235 bus east, it turns off of HePing onto AnHe Road and the first stop is right across from the restaurant.

Natural News on Angelina Jolie

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on May 16, 2013

A link to Natural News about Angelina Jolie’s surgery is making the rounds. The claim is that Ms. Jolie is the victim of a cancer industry that promotes mutilation. This is utter garbage.

Natural News is a conspiracy theory venue. Even a brief look at their website shows what it’s really about. It features articles explaining the evils of vaccination and how it kills your children
It features videos about Bill Gates and his plan to exterminate humanity
It promotes 9/11 conspiracy theory
and conspiracy theories about chemtrails

Natural News is one of the Bibles for hard-core conspiracy theorist.

The writer of this article is Mike Adams. Mr. Adams goes by the industry name of the Health Ranger. He is a hard-core conspiracy theorist. Take a look at his website for some of the facts on what Mike believes. The Natural News features many of his articles; you can start there. But let me list just a few of his ideas about how the world really works.

Vaccines cause autism
America has devolved into a nation of welfare zombies
The Boston Marathon Bombers were working for the FBI
More guns are good

I think you get the message by now. Don’t read anything that appears in Natural News. If you somehow get exposed to this nonsense, wash your hands as quickly as possible. Maybe take a shower. It’s like immersing yourself in a pile of garbage. Get out of there as quickly as you can or the stench will overpower you.

Republicans Who Are Birthers

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on December 30, 2012

I have been repeatedly asked to explain why I say the Republicans are political allies of conspiracy theory. My point is not that electoral voters for the Democrats do not endorse conspiracy theories. Rather, my point is that the Republicans have an institutional bond with conspiracy theory. It is so deeply ingrained in the party that publicly supporting a conspiracy theory is not only not stigmatizing for a candidate, it may even, in some cases, be necessary to get as many Republican votes as possible.

Below is a partial list of Republican candidates and representatives who at some point referred to so-called Obama Birther conspiracy theories as part of their political life. It is not complete and anyone able to supply me with more names and references is invited to contact me. I have no doubt that some of those named, like my Facebook friend Mike Huckabee, are not real Birthers. But that’s my point. In some cases, even candidates or major figures who are not real Birthers need to at least pay lip service to the idea.

In contrast, the only significant Democrats I am aware of who have publicly endorsed a 9/11 conspiracy theory are Cynthia McKinney, who served six terms in the United States House of Representatives for the Democrats, and Van Jones, who was Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. McKinney is now completely ostracized from the Democrats and has recently appeared on stage endorsing an American patriot group that promotes chemtrails and global weather engineering. Jones was fired from his position after it was disclosed that in 2004, he had signed a petition calling for a new 9/11 investigation.

In fact, the most prominent politician that I know who has recently publicly endorsed a 9/11 conspiracy is Debra Medina, who was candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2010 Texas gubernatorial election
In the Republican primary on March 2, 2010, Medina finished with 18.6% of the vote, behind Perry (51.1%) and Hutchison (30.3%). Rick Perry is also on my list of Obama Birthers – so that’s 2 out of 3 for Texas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Scott Keadle, who is running for the Republican nomination for the state’s 8th Congressional District
GOP congressional candidate Jim Pendergraph
NC-8 candidate Richard Hudson
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), who is running for Senate
Republican candidate for senate Tommy Thompson
Iowa’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives
GOP nomination in North Carolina’s 8th congressional district, Richard Hudson
Former Michigan congressional representative and current Republican candidate for Senate, Pete Hoekstra
James Grinols, one of 10 presidential electors chosen by the Republican Party of Minnesota
Leo Berman, Texas State Legislator
Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Missouri and Republican candidate for President
Republican congressional candidate William Hudak
John Sampson, Republican candidate for Colorado State Senate – District 25
U.S. Representative for Florida’s 15th congressional district
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey,
Wil Cardon, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona
Larry Klayman, former Sen. candidate & Judicial Watch founder
Nathan Deal, Republican governor of Georgia
Even Romney had to pay lip service to the idea.

And of course there is Donald Trump

You may not be aware of this, but all over the USA, Republican legislatures have been introducing bills inspired by the challenges of the Obama Birther conspiracy. You can read about these on the Fogbow ‘Birther Legislation’ forum
However, the lay news is full of information about this,
Missouri Birther Bill Gets Preliminary Approval From Lawmakers”Birther” bill passes in Arizona legislature
Kansas committee approves Birther Bill

The Biggest Spider I’ve Ever Seen

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on December 26, 2012

I originally posted this in 2006, but have resurrected it for Dale.

When I was young, I really liked spiders. I used to let them walk all over me; up and down my arms and hands…all kinds of spiders. I lived in a place with a lot of spiders; big ones, small ones, ugly ones, and beautiful ones. And none of them ever bothered me.

But then something happened. It was a switch in my mind. Suddenly, they scared the Bejesus out of me. I couldn’t go anywhere near them. And then I was in Taiwan, in a room with the biggest spider I had ever seen.

I was upstairs and heard a noise in the back room on the first floor. I couldn’t have really heard anything, because when I went down there, all that was down there was a huge spider. That room has a back door that leads outside, so I had thought maybe some kids had got in. I put on my hiking books and went downstairs to see. I opened the door and there it was, as big as a grown man’s hand, right in the middle of the room.

I have lived among the Buddhists for a long time, and their ethos does brush off on you. Besides, I’ve never much liked killing things. I went and got a broom, opened the back door, and sweep it outside.

Then I got an idea; we had a cockroach problem in the house. If I killed some of the roaches and left their carcasses in the room, the spiders would come back and wipe out all the roaches in the house. So I did it. And one day, I looked in the room and the roach bodies were all gone.

Bad move. At least it was only roaches. Now there were man-sized spiders in the house. I had to tell my roommates, but first I had to go to work. I came home and found Ann to warn her about the spiders.

“It’s too late,” she said. “We already found them.” And this is the story she told me.

She had come home, and there it was, the biggest spider she had ever seen on the living room wall. She called Ray, our gigantic Mexican-American roommate, to kill it. I guess they don’t have spiders like that in LA because Ray tried to kill it with a broom. He whacked the thing. But instead of dying, when it hit the floor out popped a small ball made of something that looked like tape. Thousands of baby spiders poured out of the thing, all over the floor.

They were everywhere. And the mama spider was still alive. On she crawled. On toward Ray. He turned and tried to climb the stairs. That’s when the web wrapped around him like something from a horror movie. And on the mama spider crawled.

Really, his life was never in the danger that he feared, but he sure was scared. He ran to the kitchen, grabbed the Raid, and started spraying for all he was worth.

But the mama spider crawled on, refusing to die. On she crawled. Pulling herself through the lake of poison. Fighting for the lives of her babies; for the future of her species. But finally, this was too much even for the biggest spider in the world, and she died.

There are no movie spiders as big as a house, with the power to destroy a truck. The biggest spiders in the world aren’t much bigger than your hand. For all I know, that was the biggest spider in the world, or the biggest spider of its kind. And so, Ray may have slain the biggest spider in the world on that day. No one will ever know the truth of that gargantuan battle fought in the heart of Yung-ho. It wasn’t recorded by a movie or by a book. There was just death and then it was forgotten.

And while movies end neatly with a conclusion that finishes the danger or sets the story up for a squeal, reality is never so neatly organized. Mama spider, baby spiders, what’s missing? We searched the house for days looking for the daddy spider. Finally we found him, and we found him much as you’d expect, dead for ages, sucked dry like an old sponge. A sorry end to this story of mythical battle for survival.

How the 9/11 Truth Found Me

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on October 30, 2012

The honest truth is that I still have no interest in conspiracy theory generally and in this 9/11 Truth stuff specifically. I have been dragged kicking and screaming in to this messed up place. I wish I had never heard of the crap and continued to live my world in naive ignorance. But fate has had different plans for me.

There really was a time when, believe it or not, I had never heard of a 9/11 conspiracy. Like many, I remember exactly where I was when Islamic jihadists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center towers and other targets on the morning of 11 September in 2001. I was at the home of my private student in Taipei City. He was a high school student at the Taipei American School, and his family had a very large-screened TV. His mother interrupted us trying to explain something about how a plane had crashed into the WTC. I remember not fully understanding what she had said until I walked out into their living room, and there, on a wall-sized TV screen, was the WTC 1 with smoke pouring out of it. I stood there transfixed for I don’t know how long.

Then, some time later, I spoke with one of Taiwan’s leading designers of steel structure buildings about the attacks. I had taught English at his company for many years and through this, I had come to know some of the leading project managers and professors of design at national universities. I know personally C.S. Lee, who was the chief designer on the Taipower Building which was, at the time, the tallest steel-structure building in Taiwan. My friend told me that he was not at all surprised by the collapse of the WTC towers and then explained to me in great detail about the chemistry of steel under extreme heat. He told me that if I ever see a large steel structure fire like that in person, run the other way as fast as I can.

That was that. There was no mystery about the 9/11 attacks that needed to be solved. There was no professional doubt. There was no rumour of something that even the experts thought was strange. Here I was in personal contact with leading experts who told me directly that they had no problem with what they say about the 11th of September in 2001.

And on my life went. I do not recall ever hearing another thing about a 9/11 conspiracy until something happened in 2009 that shocked me from my naive slumber and catapulted me into my present world of conspiracy theory. But in fact, this is not at all true. In reflection, I had heard about the 9/11 conspiracy many times before. I once overheard a former colleague who has a drinking problem saying something to the effect that there was a “scientist” in the USA who said the WTC towers were brought down in a demolition. Another time, one of my training partners started going on about faked cell phone calls from United 93. He was doubtful about this, but went on to talk about aliens who occupied the space underneath the Denver International Airport. The point about aliens in Denver stuck in my mind much more effectively and I eventually wrote a piece about this for one of my blogs.

What’s a Conspiracy Theory?

And apparently, a good friend of mine once sent me a link to Penn & Teller’s ranting about 9/11
conspiracy theories, but I had completely forgotten about this until he reminded me many years later after I had begun writing about 9/11 conspiracies.

So it was with an almost virgin mind that one day in the spring of 2009, I ended up trapped in one of the faculty preparation rooms of my school with – and yes, this is his real name – Paul Hyder. Paul was a faculty member at my school. He has since ‘quit’ for reasons which are not altogether clear to me but are widely believed to be more properly labeled as a firing. I don’t know the details of why Paul left our school, but I can say there are a lot of very strange things being said about him since then. Anyway, Paul holds a DELTA, which is an English teaching qualification, and an MA in political science from a nondescript American university. He had taught in Saudi Arabia and openly despises the place. He once told me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea if it was turned into a parking lot. And one day, Paul started ranting on and on to me about how the US government had been involved in the attacks and how the facts of Building 7 made this obvious. When I told him that I didn’t really care, he started yelling at me.

For psychological reasons which I can not explain, I was moved by this experience. So rather than forgetting about it completely, I went home and l looked on the Net for information on this 9/11 conspiracy stuff. Suddenly the world changed before my eyes. After almost 8 years of bliss, I realized that this indescribable level of stupidity was widespread. There really were people who could believe this stuff. It was as if I had been hit in the face with cold water or even reborn. I now saw that I lived in far stupider world than I had ever imagined.

The whole idea just seemed so dumb to me that I couldn’t understand how anyone could believe this. My initial reasoning for this had to do with videos I saw where some youngsters from a group I later came to know as We Are Change were discussing how New York City emergency response personnel must have had knowledge about a government plot to destroy the WTC. The idea behind this is that EMT and 1st responders to the 9/11 attacks have been cowered into silence by threats of some sort, perhaps concerning their pensions. But just the idea of this seemed so dumb that I couldn’t understand how anyone could believe it. I have known many EMTs – mostly police – but some firefighters and paramedics. If you have ever met police or firefighters for any period of time you would know that the idea of threatening these guys into silence is mind-numbingly stupid. And hence my first intellectual question about the 9/11 conspiracy…how could there be people so isolated from social reality this could make sense to them? To put it another way, who believes in a 9/11 conspiracy?

That summer, I sat down at my dad’s house in Canada and decided to answer this question. By the end of the summer, I had enough information to answer at least part of it. Much of the results of this appear in an article I wrote for Michael Shermer’s Skeptic Magazine called Who Still Believes in 9/11 Conspiracies? published in 2011. Here are the contents from that issue.

You can find a copy of this paper here

This is the official version of the scan from The Skeptic Magazine. Anyway, I am quite pleased with the results, however, there is one factual error contained in it. If anyone can find the error and tell me what it is, I owe them a beer.


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