Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The enemy of my enemy is... wait.

I'm sure that most of you have heard of Boko Haram, the group of Nigerian extremist Muslim nutjobs who hate the secular west's culture so much that they have started preying on their own people.  These are the loons who have, according to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, killed over 12,000 people, and who were responsible for the kidnapping earlier this year of 234 girls who were students at a government-run girls' school.  As of the writing of this post, the girls have not been returned to their families; Boko Haram leaders promised that they would be married off to devout Muslims.  The "Save Our Girls" campaign, which attracted international attention, accomplished (unfortunately) nothing but allowing Boko Haram to gain a spot on the world stage.

Even the name "Boko Haram" means "Western education is a sin."

So these people are, by any conventional definition of the word, evil.  And anyone who opposes them, by whatever means, is to be lauded.

Even if it's...

The Association of Nigerian Witches and Wizards.

According to an article on the site Bella Naija, the Association (called, from its name in Yoruba, "WITZAN") has issued an ultimatum to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau; knock it off or face the magical consequences.

"Witches and wizards in Nigeria are deeply worried by what is going on in the country, especially Boko Haram insurgency," said WITZAN spokesperson Dr. Okhue Iboi.  "As stakeholders in the Nigerian project, we can no longer afford to fold our hands while the nation burns.  Enough is enough."  He added that "our fellow brothers and sisters from the three northeastern states pleaded for the emergency meeting, to help cage Shekau and his blood-thirsty lieutenants."

And now that the magicians have gotten involved, Shekau's days are numbered.  He will be captured before December, Iboi said, and will be "paraded on the streets of Abuja and Maiduguri for the world to see."  As for the missing girls, their parents should smile, because "those girls are coming back home.  They will be rescued."

So... yeah.  This puts me in the odd position of being in support of a wizard and his woo-woo pals.  I mean, the WITZAN folks clearly aren't in very solid touch with reality themselves, but for pete's sake, they're preferable to Boko Haram.

On the other hand, maybe this is the right way to go about it.  The Boko Haram folks are themselves deeply superstitious.  The Nigerian government has been fighting these lunatics since at least 2002, using conventional tactics, without much success.  If anything, the radicals have gained strength and confidence; there have been 43 deadly attacks in 2014 alone, and over 2,000 dead.  Maybe if WITZAN can convince the members of Boko Haram that they're being ritually cursed, enough of them will get spooked that they'll desert.

Fight fire with fire, you know?  Maybe they should give it a try.  Nothing else has seemed to work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Arguing by agreement

My job would be easier, as a skeptic, if humans were basically rational beings.

The fact is, though, we're not controlled solely by the higher-cognitive parts of our brains.  We are also at the mercy of our emotions and biases, not to mention a set of perceptual apparati that work well enough most of the time, but are hardly without their own faults and (sometimes literal) blind spots.

This is why the backfire effect occurs.  A pair of psychologists, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, found that most people, after being confronted with evidence against their prior beliefs, will espouse those beliefs more strongly:
Nyhan and Reifler found a backfire effect in a study of conservatives. The Bush administration claimed that tax cuts would increase federal revenue (the cuts didn't have the promised effect). One group was offered a refutation of this claim by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it. The percentage of believers jumped to 67 when the conservatives were provided with the refutation of the idea that tax cuts increase revenue.  (from The Skeptic's Dictionary)
As a blogger, this makes it hard to know how to approach controversial topics.  By calmly and dispassionately citing evidence against silly claims, am I having the effect of making the True Believers double down on their position?  If so, how could I approach things differently?

A study published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides the answer.  To convince people of the error of their ways, agree with them, strenuously, following their beliefs to whatever absurd end they drive you, and without once uttering a contrary word.

Psychologists Eran Halperin, Boaz Hameiri, and Roni Porat of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel were looking at a way to alter attitudes between Israelis and Palestinians -- a goal as monumental as it is laudable.  Given the decades that have been spent in futile negotiations between these two groups, always approached from a standpoint of logic, rationality, and compromise, Halperin, Hameiri, and Porat decided to try a different tack.

150 Israeli volunteers were split into two groups -- one was shown video clips of neutral commercials, the other video clips that related the Israeli/Palestinian conflict back to the values that form the foundation of the Israeli self-identity.  In particular, the clips were based on the idea that Israel has a god-given right to exist, and is the most deeply moral society in the world.  But instead of taking the obvious approach that attacks against Palestinians (including innocent civilians) called into question the morality of the Israeli stance, the videos followed these concepts to their logical conclusion -- that the conflict should continue, even if innocent Palestinians died, because of Israel's inherent moral rectitude.

And attitudes changed.  The authors of the study report that members of the experimental group showed a 30% higher willingness to reevaluate their positions on the issue, as compared to the control group.  They showed a greater openness to discussion of the opposing side's narrative, and a greater likelihood of voting for moderate political candidates.  And the attitude change didn't wear off -- the subjects still showed the same alteration in their beliefs a year later.  Hameiri writes:
The premise of most interventions that aim to promote peacemaking is that information that is inconsistent with held beliefs causes tension, which may motivate alternative information seeking.  However, individuals—especially during conflict—use different defenses to preserve their societal beliefs.  Therefore, we developed a new paradoxical thinking intervention that provides consistent—though extreme—information, with the intention of raising a sense of absurdity but not defenses.
So apparently, Stephen Colbert is on the right track.

I find the whole thing fascinating, if a little frustrating.   Being a science-geek-type, I have always lived in hope that rational argument and hard data would eventually win.

It appears, however, that it doesn't, always.  It may be that for the deepest, most lasting changes in attitude, we have to take those beliefs we are trying to change, and force them to their logical ends, and hope that after that, the absurdity will speak for itself.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The firestarter

It is the nature of the world that sometimes we have to look at all of the available evidence, and not come to a conclusion.

It's tempting to think that science, and the skeptical approach, will always result in answers, but the sad fact is that sometimes we have to admit that (barring the uncovering of further data) we will never have an explanation.  This is something that often doesn't sit well with people, however.  We like understanding, we like everything to be tidy and clear, without loose ends, and the result is that we will sometimes settle for a bogus explanation simply because it feels better than saying, "We don't know."

Such, I believe, is the strange case of Carole Compton, the Scottish nanny who almost ended up spending decades in jail because of an accusation of attempted murder by pyrokinesis (starting fires with your mind) and witchcraft -- but only forty years ago.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Compton is from Ayr, Scotland, but had fallen in love with an Italian man she'd met there and followed him back home.  While waiting for him to complete his military service, she took on a job as a nanny for a wealthy family near Rome.  The Riccis welcomed Carole into their home to look after their children, and all went well until a small religious picture fell off the wall as Carole walked by, prompting a maid to make the sign of the cross and raise her eyebrows about what it could mean.

That event was recalled several weeks later when Carole accompanied the Riccis on their annual vacation in the Alps, and a fire broke out in their vacation home, destroying the second floor completely.  Firemen said that the house had a history of electrical problems, and that was undoubtedly the cause.  But the Riccis began to question that explanation when two subsequent fires began in Carole's presence -- one in a trash can and the other in the bedroom of the Ricci's two-year-old son.

Shortly afterwards, the Riccis fired Carole.

Carole was rehired by another family, the Tontis, once again as a nanny.  The grandmother of the family, however, took an instant dislike to Carole, which was intensified to hatred and fear when once again Carole seemed to be the epicenter of bizarre occurrences -- a fire in a mattress, a vase falling from a table and breaking while no one was near it, and objects (including a religious figurine) flying off shelves and walls.  At this point, the word strega (witch) was used, and the talk started in earnest.

But it was all talk until a fire started in another mattress, this time in the room of three-year-old Agnese, the child Carole had been hired to care for.  The grandmother demanded that it be stopped, and the authorities intervened, and arrested Carole for attempted murder.

The media went wild about "the nanny they call a witch."  Some people claimed she was psychotic, and had engineered the incidents; others that there was a poltergeist following her around.  The consensus, though, was that she was possessed, and the demon was visiting its evil on the people she lived with.  It took over a year for her to come to trial (in December 1983), and she was found innocent of the attempted murder charge, but guilty on two counts of arson.  She was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but was released on time served and immediately left Italy to return to her native Scotland.

What really happened in the Compton case?  It hardly bears mention that I'm doubtful about the "poltergeist" and "demonic possession" explanations, not to mention the phenomena of telekinesis and pyrokinesis in general.  According to an article about Compton and other similar cases in The Scotsman, Compton now is living quietly with her husband, Zaroof Fazal, in a town in Yorkshire, and they have three school-age children.  Nothing further in the way of quasi-supernatural events have happened to her.  "What happened to me is something that never goes away," she told reporters.  "It was a dreadful ordeal...  I have a happy life now.  I try not to think about the past."

Not the sort of thing you'd expect if she suffered from Münchausen's-by-proxy, which is another explanation that has been put forward -- that she deliberately attempted to injure her young charges in order to garner attention and/or care.  Compton seemed horrified at the attention she was getting right from the beginning, and even she denied that anything supernatural was going on, although she didn't have an alternate explanation.  During her trial, noted supernatural investigator Guy Lyon Playfair (the man who did the study of the Enfield poltergeist) offered to look into the case, but Compton didn't want him to get involved, claiming that there must be a rational explanation and surely the Italian legal system would realize that.

No such rational explanation has ever been found.

Of the non-paranormal solutions to the case that have been proposed -- Compton being psychotic or suffering from Münchausen-by-proxy, the fires having a natural cause (nearby electrical shorts, for example), and the falling objects being due to the fact that objects fall down sometimes -- none of them explain the entire story, nor why those events seemed to follow Compton around.  Even the people who accused Compton -- the Tonti grandmother, for example -- steadfastly claimed that the fires erupted and objects fell and broke without Compton touching them.  No one in the Tonti household said that Compton had gone around breaking things and setting fires deliberately; it was only after it got into the courts that this explanation was settled on, because no 20th century European judge would be willing to risk his or her reputation by seriously considering a charge of witchcraft.

So we're left where we started; some weird things happened in Carole Compton's presence in Italy in the 1980s, and no one knows why.

Not a satisfying explanation, by a longshot.  But as skeptics, we have to go as far as the evidence pushes us, and no further.

And in the Compton case, as far as we can get is "we don't know."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Irrationality, insanity, and the teachings of J. Z. Knight

One of the problems I face in selecting stories to highlight in Skeptophilia is that it is often difficult to tell the difference between a crazy idea that merits ridicule, and claims coming from a person who is mentally ill, and therefore deserves sympathy (and help).

Put another way, when does espousing an essentially irrational worldview cross the line into an actual psychosis?  There are millions of people who subscribe to belief systems that are profoundly irrational, and yet the people themselves are otherwise sane (although how a sane person could adopt an insane model for how the universe works is itself a question worth asking).  But there are clearly times where you've gone beyond that, and crossed into more pathetic territory.

As an example of the latter, consider the ravings of YouTuber Dave Johnson, who contends that the Civil War, World War II, the War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq never happened.  All of them were "media events" with manufactured battles and casualties, designed by political leaders to achieve various goals.  I'm not sure I can really describe the content of the videos -- and I'm also not sure I can, in good conscience, recommend that you watch them -- but he seems to be enamored of symbolism and numerology (he calls the attack on Fort Sumter "a 9/11-style attack on a pentagon") and then just denies everything else without stating any evidence.  "They went on to tell you that over 600,000 people died in (the Civil) War," he says.  "Untrue.  There's zero evidence of any battlefield footage of any death that I can find."

Well, the absence of "footage" may be because the Civil War happened before the invention of motion pictures.  But even forgiving that as a slip of the tongue, is he really discounting all of the photography by Mathew Brady?

Aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, by Mathew Brady

I'm sure he'd call them all modern fakes.  He seems to have a profoundly paranoid worldview, which (by the way) includes believing that the Moon is a hologram.

The whole question comes up because of a much more public figure than Dave Johnson -- J. Z. Knight, better known as "Ramtha."  Knight has run her "Ramtha School of Enlightenment" since 1988, wherein she and her followers share the teachings of "Ramtha," a 35,000-year-old being from "Lemuria" who claims to be the "enlightened one."  Knight "channels" Ramtha, and then offers his pronouncements to the masses.

Up until recently, the whole thing has seemed to me to be an enormous scam -- a way to bilk the gullible out of their hard-earned money.  But just in the last couple of years, Knight/Ramtha has left behind her bland, "find-the-god-within" message, and has apparently gone off the deep end.

According to a story this week at AlterNet, Knight is no longer promoting "enlightenment" in Ramtha's voice; she is going off on drunken homophobic and racist rants.  Video and audio recordings of Knight that have been made covertly and then smuggled out of her compound in Yelm, Washington have revealed that the cult has moved into decidedly scarier territory of late.  The article states:
During the 16 or so hours... Knight will disparage Catholics, gay people, Mexicans, organic farmers, and Jews. 
“Fuck God’s chosen people! I think they have earned enough cash to have paid their way out of the goddamned gas chambers by now,” she says as members of the audience snicker. There are also titters when she declares Mexicans “breed like rabbits” and are “poison,” that all gay men were once Catholic priests, and that organic farmers have questionable hygiene.
Add to this the fact that this ritual involves the drinking of huge amounts of alcohol -- they're called "wine ceremonies," and audience members are supposed to take a drink of wine every time Knight does -- and this begins to take on some of the characteristics of a meeting of the Aryan Nations instead of some quasi-religious ceremony.

And, of course, this is fuel to the fire to the neo-Nazis.  Knight/Ramtha is quoted at length on the race hate forum Stormfront, for example.  The two cults, different as they appear at first, both espouse a lot of the same ideology -- survivalism, an "elect" who will be protected when civilization falls, and a sacred message that needs to get out to the people -- at least the right people.

But she also likes to take pot shots at the Christians, and one of the recordings that has come to light begins with, "Fuck Jehovah!" and goes on to state that Jesus is "just another alien" who is on equal footing with Ramtha, and who came to the Earth to teach the same things that Ramtha did, but failed when power went to his head.

Knight, for her part, refuses to issue a retraction for any of her drunken screeds, claiming that all of the ugliness on the recordings is just a matter of Ramtha's words "being taken out of context."  She also accuses two ex-followers, Virginia Coverdale and David McCarthy, of spearheading a smear campaign started because of a love triangle involving Coverdale, Knight, and Knight's significant other.

But back to our original question; is Knight still, on some level, rational, or has she simply become psychotic?  Certainly her message now clearly qualifies the Ramtha School of Enlightenment as a hate group; but I'm more curious about Knight herself.  Before, she has just been classified as a religious version of P. T. Barnum, a huckster, suckering in the gullible and relieving them of their cash in exchange for a more-or-less harmless message.  Now?  She shows every evidence of insane paranoia.  So personally, she's more to be pitied than censured.

The difference, though, between a J. Z. Knight and a Dave Johnson -- the war-denier we started this post with -- is their relative reach and influence.  Johnson's YouTube videos, when I watched them, had on the order of a thousand views each.  Knight's message has reached millions -- her followers include some famous names like Salma Hayek, Linda Evans, and Mike Farrell.  Her New Age nonsense wrapped up as an educational video on quantum physics, What the Bleep Do We Know?, grossed ten million dollars and was in movie theaters for a year.  Knight herself lives in a 12,800 square foot French-style-chateau next to her school, can earn up to $200,000 for every speaking engagement, and has a net worth estimated in the tens of millions.

Which means that regardless of the cause of her crazy rantings, the damage she can do is very real.  Her home town of Yelm is full of her followers -- non-Ramtha-ites call them "Ramsters" -- and the Ramtha symbol appears on many businesses in town, telling RSE members that it's okay to do business there.  Local churches have started anti-RSE campaigns.  Ordinary citizens, caught in the middle, are scared.

For good reason.  Whatever Knight is now, her teachings are now no longer merely New Age pablum, but ugly, racist, homophobic invective.  And you have to wonder when she'll cross another line -- into saying something that induces the authorities to intervene.

Considering her followers, we could have another Waco on our hands.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Damned aliens!

I wonder sometimes how outrageous public figures have to become before people will stop following them.

Just last week, we had Rush Limbaugh claiming that the media coverage of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was a deliberate attempt to distract us from the problem of how President Obama is handling illegal immigrants.  "I don't want appear to be callous here, folks, but you talk about an opportunity to abandon the Obama news at the border?" Limbaugh said, in his radio show last Thursday. "And, no, I'm not suggesting anything other than how the media operates."

To which I have two responses:  (1) Trying to do anything at this point about your "appearing callous" is a bit of a lost cause.  (2)  Why haven't you lost your entire audience yet, you bloviating blob of blubber?

I had a similar reaction when I read yesterday about the latest pronouncement from Ken Ham.  Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, is best known for having his ass handed to him in a debate with Bill Nye last year.  But that didn't stop him from moving forward with his project called "Ark Encounter" wherein he intends to build a life-sized model of Noah's Ark and demonstrate once and for all that there's no way it could have held pairs of every species on Earth.

Just a couple of days ago, however, Ham showed that he had not yet reached the nadir of his credibility, by offering up the opinion that we should give up the search for extraterrestrial life because any alien life out there is going to hell regardless.

Here's the direct quote, from an article he wrote over at AiG's website on Sunday:
I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.  Life did not evolve but was specially created by God, as Genesis clearly teaches...   
Christians certainly shouldn’t expect alien life to be cropping up across the universe.  Now the Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space. I certainly suspect not.  You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe.  This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.  Jesus did not become the ‘GodKlingon’ or the ‘GodMartian’!  Only descendants of Adam can be saved.  God’s Son remains the ‘Godman’ as our Savior.
Once again, I have two responses:

(1)  You're spending millions of dollars to build a replica of Noah's Ark, and you have the balls to criticize NASA for wasting money?

(2)  So in your view, a loving and all-powerful god might have created intelligent extraterrestrial life, but in his infinite mercy, he's making certain that they are all tortured forever in the Lake of Fire for something some dude and his wife did here on Earth?

I don't know about you, but this makes his pronouncements on why we should all abandon science and become young-earth creationists seem lucid and rational.

So, my advice: shut up, Ken.  If your ignominious thrashing at the hands of Bill Nye wasn't humiliating enough, you're now becoming a laughingstock.  I'll end with a quote that has been variously attributed to Will Rogers and British politician Dennis Healey:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God in the driver's seat

I'm firmly of the opinion that you are free to believe anything you want, religious or otherwise.  People come to their understanding of how the universe works in their own fashion, and I really don't object if someone has come to a different understanding than I have, unless (s)he tries to force that understanding on everyone else.

That said, I am also of the opinion that religion makes people do some really bizarre things, sometimes.  Take Prionda Hill, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who just last week ran into a motorcyclist with her car because she had decided that it was time for Jesus to take a turn driving.

Hill was driving down the road, and all of a sudden her car swerved, and ran straight into motorcyclist Anthony Oliveri.  Hill kept on driving, despite the fact that she had damn near killed Oliveri.  According to the police report, Hill said that "she was driving and out of nowhere God told her that he would take it from here, and she let go of the wheel and let him take it."

Well, that didn't turn out to work so well.  God, who (at least in Hill's worldview) created the laws of physics, has also seen to it that they're strictly enforced, and her car went where not where god took it but where momentum took it, which was right into Oliveri's motorcycle.

But what makes this even crazier is that Oliveri, whose injuries include breaks in all of the ribs on his left side, a damaged spleen, and a bruised kidney, is attributing his survival to divine intervention.

"I remember it happened and I didn’t quite know what was going on for a split second," Oliveri later told reporters.  "As I grabbed the handle bars as the bike was losing control and I looked back around my left shoulder, all I see is her tire and the left bumper getting ready to run my face over.  Literally I was inches from that bumper and I just said to myself today is the day I die.  I just shut my eyes and said if this is the way that God wants to do it then I guess that this is the way we’re going to do it.  But I guess God has other plans for me, and I survived."

I... what?

A woman hands the steering wheel over to god because she trusts that god will take charge of things, and runs over a motorcyclist, who thinks he survived because god takes charge of things?

I don't know about you, but I feel like I just got an irony overdose.

Of course, this sort of thing is what devout Christians really profess to believe, isn't it?  I mean, few of them take it to these sorts of extremes, but still.  When something good happens, it's because god has showered them with his blessings.  When something bad happens, "it's all in god's plan."  I don't know about you, but I think a lot of stuff just kind of happens because it happens, and the laws of physics really don't give a damn what your religious beliefs are.  If you let go of your steering wheel, your divine buddy is not going to take a turn driving.

So anyway, another hat tip to loyal reader Tyler Tork for this story.  His comment, which seems a fitting way to close:  "I expect that SCOTUS would rule that she was within her rights."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Flight of the dead

If there's a group of people that I enjoy arguing with even less than I enjoy arguing with young-earth creationists, it's conspiracy theorists.

At least the young-earth creationists admit that there's evidence out there that needs an explanation.  Fossils?  Left behind by the Great Flood.  Genetic and morphological homology between related species?  Coincidence.  Light from stars further away than 6,000 light years?  The speed of light changes as it goes.  Or light stretches.  Or weakens.  Or something.

So, okay, they're wrong, about nearly everything scientific that you could be wrong about.  But at least they don't come up with batshit crazy nonsense for which there is no evidence, and then argue that your evidence doesn't exist.

Which is, by and large, the conspiracy theorist's favorite modus operandi.  Take, for example, the latest wacko explanation (if I can dignify it by that name) of the recent tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 by Ukrainian separatists: the whole thing was staged in order to force a confrontation between the United States and Russia, and the plane itself was being flown remotely and was peopled entirely by corpses.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

My first thought upon reading this was that the originator of this "theory" must have believed that the Sherlock Holmes episode "A Scandal in Belgravia" was a historical documentary.  What evidence, you might rightly ask, does anyone have that this conjecture is true, other than that provided by Mr. Freeman and Mr. Cumberbatch?

A statement that rebel leader Igor Girkin made that a number of the bodies at the crash site did not appear to be "fresh."

Well, if the plane I'm on gets blown out of the sky, and I fall 30,000 feet, I'm guessing I won't be looking my "freshest" at that point, either.  And afterwards, Girkin reportedly said that he could "neither confirm or deny" the claim.

But that was all it took.  The plane was full of corpses.  The whole thing was a setup.  This, despite the fact that one of the passengers on the doomed plane, Mohammed Ali Mohammed Salim of Kuala Lumpur, took a video of himself and other passengers getting settled right before the plane was preparing to take off, and uploaded it to Instagram along with the message that he was "a little nervous."

For good reason, as it turned out.

But no, say the conspiracy theorists, Salim's video itself is a fake, made hurriedly by the Evil Conspirators once Pillars of Sanity and Rationalism like Alex Jones and Jeff Rense began to figure the whole thing out.

Then, of course, we had the people who said that it couldn't be a coincidence that disaster has struck Malaysia Airlines twice within just a few months.  Maybe... maybe it wasn't a coincidence.  In fact, maybe MH 17 and MH 370, the flight that disappeared over the Indian Ocean this past March were...

... the same plane.

At least, I think that's what is being claimed on this site, wherein we are treated to the following brain-boggling chain of thought:
How brain dead do they think we are??? 
Our previous articles have covered the MH370 who, when, where and why but not the WHAT. What happened to MH370 after they whisked it into the airport hangar at Diego Garcia? 
The WHAT question has now been answered. MH370 was remarked and became Malaysian flight MH17. It was flown to Amsterdam where it picked up passengers and flew over the western allied Ukraine where it "disappeared from radar" and was shot down and destroyed. The Russian government was blamed in order to alienate and inflame existing Ukraine tensions with Russia. Now who would want to do that exactly???? Duh... 
In view of the unlikely coincidence of two Malaysian Boing 777's being downed within 3 months of each other, there's undoubtedly a connection
Over 500 passengers have been murdered on board two "downed" Malaysian Boeing 777's within 3 months of each other. This is NOT a coincidence. 
Well, yes, actually it is.  That's what you call it when two events coincide.

Oh, and from March to July isn't three months.  But maybe I'm splitting hairs, here.

What gets me about this, and (in fact) what gets me about all conspiracy theories, is how the proponents of these nutty ideas think that an absence of evidence is actually a point in their favor.  No conclusive proof that the dead bodies at the MH 17 crash site were already badly decomposed?  Well, it must be true, then.  No trace whatsoever of missing flight MH 370?  It must have landed on Diego Garcia.

Which, of course, makes them impossible to counter.  Any evidence you can produce against their argument has been manufactured; any lack of evidence on their part is just proof of how sneaky these false-flag-loving illuminati are.

All of which kind of makes me pine for a nice rip-roaring argument with a young-earth creationist.  Ken Ham?  Kent Hovind?  Andrew Snelling?  Anyone?