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

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

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