We have to talk about conspiracy theories

Earth is a 4.5 billion-year-old terrestrial planet that revolves around the Sun, which is at the center of the Solar System. In an ideal world, we would stop explaining right there, because the facts are that obvious. No surprise, this is not the case; we are living in strange times, when the numbers of self-nominated scientists are rising. These guys, deliberately or not, with all their absurd, unproven claims, are doing nothing but creating chaos.

It starts with a thought. At first glance, it seems like an innocent idea just pops up out of nowhere. Sooner or later, it turns out to be a sly one which sticks in the brain and slowly but surely grows. These beliefs could stick so deep that people just stop doubting them. On the contrary, they start to look for evidence which proves their points – this is the so-called Confirmation Bias.

The ultimate problem is that people collect and remember information selectively, but they still draw conclusions. It does not matter if these claims, statements, or allegations are true or not; people only need to confirm their preexisting beliefs and hypotheses for their own comfort. Here is where the famous Dunning-Kruger effect comes in: people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.

In this modern age, where a single Tweet could start and stop a war, billions and billions of people are able to make contact with each other and spread the most ridiculous views in Facebook groups or on YouTube.

YouTube has enough space so anyone can make revealing videos about a secret group who rules the world, or about a soon-to-be 89-year-old man who wants to fill Europe and the United States with illegal immigrants, or about NASA, the CIA, the FBI — you name it — who are all lying to the people about the moon landing, aliens and 9/11, just to mention the popular ones.

The easiest targets who tend to buy into conspiracy theories are those who no longer believe in state or government-run authorities. A lot of people claim that they have “woken up” while the majority of the population is being brainwashed by the establishment-ruled media.

It is rather hard to imagine, but in all other ways these people are just like anyone else. Netflix’s new documentary, Behind the Curve, gives an exclusive insight into their unique world.

In their own micro-society, everyone knows the names of Mark K. Sargent, Patricia Steere, or the best of the best, Darryl Marble. (Darryl claims that Sargent and Steere are CIA agents, though.) The business is booming, millions of people around the world are following them – I kid you not, in addition to videos and merchandise, there is also even a dating app for believers.

Behind the Curve follows Sargent, a 40-something guy from Washington State who is still living with his mother. Sargent is a celebrity among the Flat Earthers and his YouTube channel has more than 76,000 subscribers. He is an old-fashioned, talkative guy who truly believes in the cause; that’s why it is hard to choose between simply laughing at him and feeling sorry for him.

Sargent clearly does not know what he is doing. He makes some ludicrous claims in the documentary which a couple of real scientists refute in seconds.

My personal favorite is the one when Sargent said he had checked before but no airplanes were flying above the Indian Ocean because, you know, the earth is flat. In the very next scene, a scientist finds at least ten of them on the flight radar.

The documentary does a great job balancing between humorous and serious issues, stories and messages. Behind the Curve does not judge anybody on their views, but by the end of the film, it is crystal clear which side holds the truth.

A couple of tests are conducted in the film to prove the Earth is not even revolving, but they all fail spectacularly. None of the Flat Earthers quit; on the contrary, they offer some pathetic excuses.

“Interesting. Interesting there. That’s interesting,” says one of them in shock, who accidentally sums up the movie’s main message while failing to deliver two tests in front of the cameras.

The thing is, because being a Flat Earther is not a crime and not a disease, most people will continuously turn their heads away. Ask yourself: could you rely on somebody who thinks the Earth is flat? Would you let that individual teach your children? Although belief in such a thing does not cause any trouble, trying to convert people, especially the young ones, might.

Behind the Curve shows how much the majority of Flat Earthers sacrifice – including friends and family — for something they have never had and probably will never have in their lives: acknowledgement.

Cover photo by Netflix

You can’t stop the players take over the NBA

Before the recent NBA trade deadline passed relatively quietly, the New Orleans Pelicans’ superstar Anthony Davis had kept the whole league buzzing. Boy, it was chaotic; the only thing we were sure about was the fact that the power forward wanted to be out of New Orleans as soon as possible and his dream scenario would have been to join LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Other than that, there were weeks when maybe no one, including the protagonists, knew what the heck was going to happen next. Almost all teams were eager to make a deal, and the word on the street was that they didn’t care about the consequences; they put everything on the Red 7 on one roulette spin and shut their eyes. During the process, some dumb and unreliable trade demands and offers were leaked to the public, keeping fans in doubt. Eventually, the trade never happened, and some might say all remained the same. Well, that could not be further from the truth.

Anthony Davis is the latest player who showed us how powerful he is and how weak the league is under pressure. They say the true artist from the backstage is – who else? – LeBron James, who, according to some unconfirmed speculations, almost had Magic Johnson trade the whole team to get what he wanted. Again, whether it is true or not, this is just the next step for the players to take over the NBA once and for all.

The game top of game has been changed; the employees are more valuable than ever. The young, unstoppable basketball players are rising, and their ruthless agents are up to bat for the best deal possible for their clients and themselves. In the end, no matter what, someone will have to pay.

The funny thing is, while Anthony Davis was keeping the fans all around the world engaged, Netflix added Steven Soderbergh’s low-budget ‘High Flying Bird’ movie which focused on how smart, talented, and valuable players can dictate their fate.

HFB is predicting the future wherein players, the goods, become too important for the market, so the owners and the league must let them eat at the table. The recent NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which grants 49-50% of the revenues for the players, run through 2023–24 with a mutual opt-out after 2022–23. As the league is headed the same direction, becoming more popular than ever, money is pouring in like never before. In three years, the players might seek to get a larger slice of the pie. Business is business.

We are living in an era where at least two types of athletes exist: some people are chasing money, some are building a legacy. Yes, you can do both at the same time, but at some point you ought to choose a path. Kevin Durant made his decision back in 2016 when he let Oklahoma City and Russel Westbrook down, and now he is a two-time champion. The most iconic move, of course, was when LeBron James took his talent to the South Beach and joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010. LeBron won two of his three rings in Miami, so ultimately, he chose wisely. On the other hand, after five championships and a couple of injuries, Kobe Bryant signed a two-year contract extension with the Lakers at an estimated value of $48.5 million and let his beloved team collapse under its own weight. Clearly, Kobe’s case was a bit different, but he chose money and rode into the sunset with pockets full of cash while the Lakers have since had one of the worst decades in their history.

We, mere mortals, cannot imagine what earning tens and hundreds of millions of dollars feels like. These guys had already been rich as heck when they were signed for less, so they still had plenty to feed their family. The real power is not to give up on money but to have the guts to make decisions like Durant and James did back then.

Now it is Anthony Davis’ turn. After hearing what he had to say a couple of months ago, we can be pretty convinced that he is up for making history.

“I would take legacy over money. I want to have a legacy. All my people that look up to me, the younger kids, I want them to know about AD’s legacy. Don’t get me wrong, money is amazing. But I think in that sense, money or legacy, I think my legacy will win that battle every time,” Davis told Yahoo Sports.

Although the league would never say it out loud, they do love Big Threes – when two or three superstars align to win championships – because super teams bring more money, more supporters, and better ratings. Fining teams for tampering is a joke; with this move, the league wants to prove that they have the control.

The thing is, you cannot do anything to avoid players building super teams on whichever terms they want. At the end of the day, guess what, the players dictate the rhythm. If Anthony Davis is keen on joining LeBron James, trust me, he will find a way to do so.

Cover photo by Netflix Media

The New England Patriots fooled us – again

Let’s start with the facts here: the New England Patriots are the best NFL team ever, Bill Belichick is the best head coach, and Tom Brady is the greatest player of all Time. With this win over the then-mighty Los Angeles Rams at Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, the open questions were finally answered. You can be a fresh, electrified, innovative mind, but to beat Bill Belichick you have to be prepared; and as Sean McVay admitted after the game, he was not.

It is not a big deal, McVay was simply outcoached by Belichick in each and every aspect of the game. McVay is not the first, and definitely will not be the last, person to falter against Belichick’s genius.

“You know, coach Belichick did an outstanding job. There really is no other way to put it – I’m pretty numb right now. But definitely, I got outreached. I didn’t do enough for our football team,” said the 33-year-old head coach.

In order to overcome the Rams and the mastermind behind them, the key was Bill Belichick’s ability to renew his game. I haven’t watched the majority of Belichick’s 425 games as the head coach of the New England Patriots, but this grumpy old man proved himself on the biggest stage possible once again. He focused on defense – not that you can do anything against the Rams, or so we thought – and held the so-called ‘Future’s Team’ at three points.

The other thing is, as long as even an average Tom Brady is standing at the other side – and in Atlanta that was the case, as Brady moved like any other 41-year-old mortal would have – and you only have a shaking, first-time Super Bowl quarterback in place, the odds are against you.

It’s okay to have superstar wideouts and running backs, but at the end of the day, the better system and scheme win championships. The reality is, the New England Patriots still have it all.

Ok, but what happened then?

There is nothing secret about it: Bill Belichick, the defensive coordinator, and a team of assistants sat down and watched tapes. I mean, they watched a lot of tapes. I had this feeling during the game that the Patriots were always one step ahead of the Rams, like they knew or anticipated the next play before the Rams players decided on it. Sure, it’s not possible, but still, the Patriots were all over it.

We don’t know anything for sure, but Belichick’s plan might have been to let Jared Goff, the aforementioned shaky QB, shoot himself in the foot. The Patriots’ defense closed the routes, covering anything and anybody who moved. The onus to progress was all on Goff and, as Belichick suspected, the quarterback wasn’t able to handle the pressure.

The tricky thing the Patriots’ defensive staff invented was this double-call prior to the snaps. The first one was a pre-snap call, the call they had shown before Goff got the ball; the second one was a post-snap call when Goff dropped back and had only a couple of second to make a decision. In the latter case, the defensive players shifted positions and made Goff think about the play again – remember, a quarterback only has hundredths of seconds. The Patriots’ defense was unstoppable. They put pressure on Goff continuously and gave one hundred percent or more.

The plan worked and it had a huge effect on Goff’s horrendous night: he only had 19 completions out of 38 attempts, for a devastating 229 passing yards, while his running backs  struggled too at only 62 yards.

All in all, nothing special happened, though we all have been fooled by the Pats once again. They looked a bit rusty throughout the season, as though they were showing the first sign of aging. We now know it was a trap, and we should have known better. Sure, the Rams may have been considered the most complete team of the modern NFL, but they failed spectacularly at the most important moment.

Until the 2018 season, experts said the defense wins championships; this past year, they said it’s up to the offense, and only the offense. Now, they have nothing to tell. These experts underestimate Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, regularly. This historic duo had them eating their words.

Cover photo by WEBN-TV on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

A Brexit story: and this is how the chaos was brought upon us

We are approaching the March 29 deadline when the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union for good, yet with British politicians’ inability to compromise, it is still a mystery what the heck is waiting for us in the post-Brexit era; essentially, people are only guessing and no one knows anything.

It is fair to say that even those who had participated in the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign have been scratching their heads for the past two and a half years now. The Prime Minister, who voted to remain, found herself in a tricky situation after her predecessor left the sinking ship; she is the one who has to deliver the people’s will, and even though she made an agreement with Brussels and tried to push through the deal to save that far-gone legacy of hers, she failed, big time.

These people, the so-called Right Honorable Ladies, and Gentlemen must have found out a long time back, that to support an idea, a vision, a cause is quite difficult when you do not care about anything but power; and you only want a good slogan that pictures you as a hero who wants the people ‘Take Back Control’.

The new HBO film, ‘Brexit: An Uncivil War,’ tries to explain how easy it is to mislead a whole country. You wouldn’t believe it, but the winning formula has always been the same: get a ram, a speaking-head who can lead the way in public, but in the meantime find a mastermind who can orchestrate everything from backstage.

Everyone recognizes Boris Johnson, but I bet the majority of people have not heard of Dominic Cummings before. In a historical way, the latter is way more significant, even though he has not studied at Eton or garnered a bold reputation. This guy, Cummings, had a concept. He engineered the whole ‘Vote Leave’ campaign as a pioneer of its kind in the 21st century. Gone were the failing politicians, lobbyists and traditional campaigning approaches such as canvassing or working with focus-groups; these wars cannot be won by the regular method anymore.

To deliver Brexit, and even to elect Donald Trump as the President of the United States, the campaign needed to conquer a new battlefield: social media.

This type of war is complicated and risky at the same time. With all the use of algorithms and micro-targeting, you can find yourself in dangerous waters. In the new age of campaigns, private data is more valuable than ever – to misuse it, or in fact to use it without permission for any reason, is illegal. However, targeting based on personal info such as income or social patterns such as cultural fears and preferences can be rewarding, and during the Brexit campaign, Cummings recognized this historic opportunity.

The problem is, he may have broken some rules to be successful. The campaign is still under investigation, but it proved to be a litmus test for an even bigger stage: the 2016 US General Election. (There is evidence to support the involvement of Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in the referendum.)

“I’m sick of feeling like nothing like I have nothing! Like I know nothing. Like I am nothing. I’m sick of it!”, said this frustrated woman in the movie.

Speaking of fear, this quote tells a lot about the general mood among those who are feeling abandoned in their own country. Politicians and campaign gurus understand that even though the principal task is to find these people, the job is not to help them; it’s to plainly promise them something they have been seeking for a long time and assure them that they would be somebody again, or the first time ever. The gurus are selling them a fantasy, where they are the ones who matter. These voters, the hidden ones, win the biggest and most important battles – you want them on your side, for sure.

Basically, there was nothing special about the Brexit phenomenon; Vote Leave found a lot of people whom the Remain did not care about. And this is how the chaos was brought upon us.

“The train coming down the tracks isn’t the one that you expected. It’s not the one that’s advertised on the board. Well, tough. It isn’t even the one that I imagined. But I accept it. And you can’t stop it”, said Dominic Cummings (Benedict Cumberbatch) at the end of the movie to Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear), the main political strategist for Britain Stronger in Europe.

Who is to blame for it? We are all guilty, one way or another. It’s not just the British government’s fault. I am speaking as an EU citizen right now: without our cynicism and negligence, this non-establishment movement could not have reached millions all over the world. Meanwhile, Brexit is about to happen anyhow, Donald Trump seems like will not be impeached anytime soon, and Europe is turning its head away from the illiberal regimes on its soil.

This, indeed, is depressing. Maybe we just lost a battle that we had not realized is real.

Cover photo by philippedechet on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Is Derrick Rose Hall of Fame worthy?

If you had asked me on October 30, I’d have said that Derrick Rose is the first ever MVP who would not get into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Then, on October 31, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 30-year-old point guard dropped 50 points on the Utah Jazz.

He had played some good basketball at the beginning of the season, and he had been silencing his haters day in and day out, but the so-called Redemption Tour kicked off that night at the Target Center.

If he stays healthy, he can rewrite his story and maybe get a call from the HoF committee after his retirement. Luckily for us, Rose is playing at a high level and it appears he isn’t planning to call it quits anytime in the foreseeable future.

Anyone who remembers the 2011 Derrick Rose knows what he is capable of with a basketball in his hands. That athleticism, that speed, that sense of urgency was something else; when he played his best, maybe only LeBrun James was at his level.

Rose’s story, his nosedive – one which those back-to-back season-ending injuries played a huge part of – moved in some way or another each and every fan, player, and executive. It didn’t matter if you were a hater. This guy, who was then thought to be the prototype of the ultimate 21st-century point guard, a living highlight-reel, could not blossom into the player he was predicted to become.

Does it mean that he is not Hall of Fame worthy? You only have to watch his videos from the past, then some recaps during his comeback attempts, and some highlights from this NBA season, and you can judge for yourself.

What do you see on those tapes? Let me help you out: first, here is a guy – trademarked by Cris Collinsworth – who was meant to be an all-time great. Next, you can see a shattered man, who worked his ass off and desperately wanted to come back, but whose body was failing him over and over again. On the last video, you recognize a tired, wrinkled athlete who is playing calmly and freely again, enjoying every minute, every second, on the floor.

He does what he is known for: he attacks the rim with no hesitations, no regrets, no fear.

He hasn’t changed a bit. You still cannot read his face during a game. Rose doesn’t show any sign of happiness or anger. Not that he needs to, but in an environment where you usually have to be as much  a great showman as a great athlete, it’s not easy.

Still, the fans are fond of him, and the Redemption Tour has been a success.

“I don’t sell myself to people. It’s not me. That’s not my character. I don’t have an Instagram. I don’t have any of that. It comes from me being in people’s minds for some reason and people really caring,” said Rose back in January about his possible selection.

He is real, no matter what. The hype, of course, is getting bigger and bigger as we are closing on in April and on the end of the regular season. But hey, it’s fine that everyone’s excited.

Rose has made quite a journey from fighting for a roster spot in New York and Cleveland to becoming one of the most intriguing characters of the universal sports world.

Cover photo by USA Today

There is no such thing as a change of guard

Before the 2019 Australian Open, the seven-time Grand Slam-winning John McEnroe said he believed there would be a changing of the guard this year. Following the victory of 20-year-old Björn Borg-esque Stefanos Tsitsipas over Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, McEnroe was pumped up and said it again. On paper, these statements look exciting; we have been waiting for some competitive newcomers for a long time. Looking back to the first major of the year, the reality is that the juggernauts are still way ahead of the others.

In the semis, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal showed what I’m talking about: Nadal lost only six games to Tsisipas, and then the next day Lucas Pouille got demolished by Djokovic – he only won four games. Djokovic and Nadal proved once again that to claim that next generation is here and ready to command would surely be a bridge too far.

Furthermore, in the final, just to deepen this crisis, Djokovic gave a taste of what the next couple of years may look like under his reign. That 17-time Grand Slam winning guy on the other side of the net didn’t have a clue where on earth he was. He seemed lost and devastated from the first rally, while Djokovic was living his best life; he was in his zone, as The Ringer’s journalist wrote in this magnificent article. Djokovic was simply faultless. This kind of tennis is something we may have never seen before.

The thing is when Novak Djokovic is playing his best, perhaps only one human being could beat him, and that is Stan Wawrinka – but the problem is, Wawrinka reached his peak quite late, and now after recovering from various injuries he is trying to find his rhythm (a couple of weeks prior to his 34th birthday). It’s safe to say that we will never have the chance to have another legendary Wawrinka-Djokovic thriller in a Grand Slam final.

While Djokovic had been closing on his 15th Grand Slam trophy, the Eurosport commentators were making enthusiastic conversation on the differences of the winners hit by both players. The main point was when Nadal hit a winner, it was the result of effort, but when Djokovic did the same, it looked more like routine.

It seems that winning three consecutive Grand Slams is now a routine for Djokovic, too. This was his third triple; the last time he went to Paris and won the fourth, so keep that in your mind until May. Everybody knows that Nadal is nearly untouchable at the Chatrier, but maybe it would be a bold move to underestimate the desire of the number one player in the world.

Djokovic wants to be the best who has ever played this game, and he is definitely getting there. A win over Nadal in the Roland Garros would answer some open question for good. In the meantime, these NextGen stars have to wait a little bit longer; the room is still full of some old sports who don’t intend to go anywhere until the other two are standing straight.

Cover photo by REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Star Trek Season 2 Episode 1, in review

Back to its roots

*This article contains spoilers. Continue at your own peril.*

It’s been a long road, getting from there to here, but it was definitely worth it. Star Trek: Discovery is back, and there have been a few changes between the seasons. The first season was plagued with drama during production, which left its mark on the show, but now it’s all over. With Alex Kurtzman in the showrunner’s chair the Discovery is back to being an exploratory vessel on the outskirts of the known galaxy.

There is a new possible threat looming over the war-weary Federation: mysterious red… lights, I want to say? There are a bunch of them all over the galaxy, and the crew of Discovery needs to find out what they are. Are they a form of greeting? Are they a message of aggression?

Well, whatever they are, the crew is ready to find out. As you may remember, the first season ended with the appearance of the iconic USS Enterprise, which turned out to be kind of a let-down, since its only job was to bring Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) to the Discovery so he can take charge. Meanwhile, most of our original protagonists are still on board. Michael seems to have found her place in Starfleet again, Saru is acting-captain, Stamets wants to leave because the ship reminds him of his dear doctor and Tilly is still bubbly, and still there to lighten the mood. They are all a bit wary about Pike at first, but after him and Burnham have a speech-off they realise he’s cool. He is nice to the crew, asks Saru and Burnham for opinions and doesn’t mind having fun.

He brings a redshirt and a science officer with him on board, and, after introductions, the Discovery warps to a red thing. The signal led them to an asteroid field. One of the big ones has a gravitational field (which it shouldn’t have, it’s too small), and they find a medical vessel, the USS Hiawatha crashed on its surface. Burnham, Pike, redshirt and blueshirt try to fly to the surface, but kid-of-unlikable science guy hits an asteroid and blows up. In the wreck of the Hiawatha they find Jett Reno, an engineer with dry humour who kept some of the crew alive. It’s Star Trek, medicine and mechanics are interchangeable. They beam everyone up, except for Burnham, who heroically stays behind, and, after a spectacular escape, gets knocked out by debris. CoolCaptain Pike rescues her, and during transport they find out the rocks contain non-baryonic matter. After all this, Tilly catches a big rock and almost everybody’s safe.

But just as the Enterprise was a bit lacklustre, so was the hype around Spock. Burnham expected him to come with Pike and has a couple of flashbacks about him. We find out he had visions of these red things and left to solve the problem alone.

‘Brother’ reminded me a lot of the newer Star Trek movies. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, since Kurtzman was a writer and producer on those as well. It’s fast-paced, action-packed, full of quotable lines and funny one-liners.

Which happens a lot more in this first episode. I smiled, chuckled or laughed more times during these 40 minutes, than I did during the whole of the first season. This is what I mean when I say Discovery is back where it belongs: Star Trek for me isn’t a dark Sci-fi about the follies of man; it is a show about mankind’s best and brightest trying to make a good impression on every other species. I liked the first season very much, but I believe we all need Star Trek’s optimistic curiosity in our lives right now. We have a loveable captain, a crew that’s full of individuals, with actual names and a mystery to solve. What could go wrong?

*Star Trek: Discovery is back on Netflix with new episodes every Friday*

Cover photo by Jan Thijs/CBS