Friday, May 20, 2016

(OFF TOPIC) Not So Spooky

I think I have heard just about the most idiotic "spooky coincidence" theory ever. Even more stupid than those "Lincoln and Kennedy" ones. The one thing that makes it even worth mentioning is that, unlike many such "coincidences" it does not make up facts -- so many do -- the information on which it is based is correct, it just doesn't seem all that coincidental.

According to this "spooky" coincidence, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, when assassinated, was riding in a car with a license plate reading "A III 118". And, checking pictures, this does appear to be true. Granted, the pictures all seem to come from web pages repeating this coincidence, but I will accept, for the moment, that the car is that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and is not touched up.

So, why is this "spooky"?

Well, according to those who promote this supposed coincidence, it is interesting because World War I, sparked by this assassination -- well, really by his cousin's reaction to this assassination, and the subsequent Russian response, but close enough -- ended in an armistice on November 11, 1918. And the tag has "A" for armistice, then III118, which one can read as 11/11/18, the date of the armistice.

I have a few problems with this.

First, III is not 111. If I were reading this, it would seem more natural to read the III as Roman numerals for 3. But then the date becomes 3/1/18, which is either January 3, European style, or March 1, 1918, US Style. Neither of them particularly significant dates in the history of World War I.

Then again, I am also a bit puzzled by the "A". After all, the Archduke was from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and routinely spoke German. To him, "A" would have nothing to do with an armistice, which he would call a Waffenstillstand. So, this really only works for English speakers. Or, rather, English speakers ignorant of Roman numerals who can easily confuse an I for a one.

As I said, not exactly impressive.

Then again, in the annals of paraeidolia -- seeing things where there is nothing -- this is hardly even the worst offence, at least there is something there, even if the natural, logical reading is completely unlike the one given.

Which brings me to the reason I bothered to write on this. Though I labeled this "OFF TOPIC", it really isn't, as this example shows how easy it is to twist simple facts to support any argument, provided you have a willing audience. And that is one of the reasons we have so many conspiracy theories. It is absurd, for example, to believe oil companies are all colluding to raise prices, it is obvious nonsense. Consider how much they compete in normal circumstances, how many come from different countries, have differing agendas, and so on. Yet, whenever there is a shortage and prices rise, some economically illiterate reporter will show full oil tanks and scoff at the idea of a shortage, and lemming-like viewers will accept it and begin calling for government action, all because they are willing to accept a seemingly plausible explanation.

And thus, I guess the Archduke's death car is on-topic after all.


For this who buy into such stories, allow me to explain the problem: Oil companies need to keep tanks full, to be able to ship at a moment's notice to sellers. However, a shortage can make it more costly to keep those tanks full. A shortage is not an absence, it just means buying the same amount is more costly. Then again, even if all oil ran out tomorrow, those tanks would remain full for a while, as the companies do not instantly ship out every gallon the instant it hits the shores, or comes back from refineries. They need to have some on hand to fill orders until the next shipment arrives, and a little more to have some "wiggle room" if shipments are delayed. Thus, even if there were no more oil, some tanks would doubtless remain full for a time. So showing them means nothing, and tells us only that the reporter displaying them knows nothing of the oil business or economics.

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