A couple of my friends posted links to this rather useful flowchart to help you find the conspiracy theory that’s right for you:
H/T to Jessica Brisbane and John McCluskey for the link.
A couple of my friends posted links to this rather useful flowchart to help you find the conspiracy theory that’s right for you:
H/T to Jessica Brisbane and John McCluskey for the link.
Colby Cosh makes no friends among the over-60 Kennedy worshipping community:
The myth of Kennedy as a uniquely admirable knight-errant has finally, I think, been wiped out by the accumulation of ugly details about his sexual conduct and family life. For a while it was still possible to regard JFK’s tomcatting as the inevitable concomitant of super-masculine greatness. By now it is pretty clear that he was just an abusive, spoiled creep. There are scenes in White House intern Mimi Alford’s 2012 memoir that make you wonder why it took so long for somebody to shoot the swinish bastard.
As for the assassination itself, the experience of seeing conspiracy theories bloom like a toxic meadow after 9/11 has hardened us all against the nonsense that was still popular in the 1990s. Most adults, I think, now understand that Oliver Stone’s JFK was a buffet of tripe. It is no coincidence that Stephen King’s 2011 time-travel book about JFK’s slaying, written after decades of fairly deep research, stuck close to the orthodox Warren commission narrative.
The new favourite themes in the 50th anniversary coverage dispense with grassy-knoll phantoms and disappearing-reappearing Oswalds. One new documentary has revived Howard Donahue’s idea that the final bullet that blasted Kennedy’s skull apart might have been fired accidentally by a Secret Service agent in one of the trailing cars. This would help explain the oddity of the Zapruder footage, and might also account for some awkwardly disappearing evidence — notably JFK’s brain — without requiring us to believe anything obviously outrageous.
In the early ’70s Lyndon Johnson made a cryptic remark about JFK possibly being killed because his administration had been “running a damn Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.” This offhand remark turned out to be quite specific; rumours of multiple CIA assassination attempts against Castro were true, as were wilder tales of literal Mafia involvement (confirmed when the CIA “Family Jewels” were declassified in 2007). Oswald would not exactly have been anyone’s first choice as an intelligence asset, and probably had no state sponsor. But notice that it’s 2013 and we still have to say “probably.”
Jesse Walker is invited to free-associate on a series of words or phrases by the staff of TNB. One of the terms they just happened to mention was “Illuminati”:
The Bavarian Illuminati — the actual historical organization, not the all-powerful cabal of legend — were founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776 and suppressed about a decade later. They weren’t the first group to call themselves Illuminati, and they weren’t the first Illuminati to appear in a New World conspiracy theory. In Chiapas in the 1580s, a bishop became convinced that some of the local Indians were “giving cult to the Devil and plotting against our Christian religion.” The secret sect’s beliefs, he added, resembled those of the Spanish heretics known as the Alumbrados, or Illuminati.
But the Bavarians were the biggies. Their alleged machinations set off a panic in Federalist circles at the end of the 1790s. The New England minister Jedidiah Morse sermonized that he had “an official, authenticated list of the names, ages, places of nativity, professions, &c. of the officers and members of a Society of *Illuminati* … consisting of *one hundred* members”; among other things, the plotters allegedly had a plan “to invade the southern states from [Haiti] with an army of blacks … to excite an insurrection among the negroes.” Another Federalist writer warned that Thomas Jefferson was an agent of the cabal. The order entered pop culture, too. In Sally Wood’s novel *Julia and the Illuminated Baron*, published in 1800 and set in prerevolutionary France, a lady Illuminatus describes their initiation ceremony: “disrobed of all coverings except a vest of silver gauze, I am to be exposed to the homage of all the society present upon a marble pedestal placed behind which sacrifices are to be offered.” She adds, “This sect increases daily. They will in a few years overturn Europe and lay France in ruins.”
In the 20th century the Illuminati became stock villains on the far right, appearing alternately as a revolutionary force and as the secret rulers of the world. In the 1960s they started cropping up in countercultural and leftist tales too, thanks partly to some pranksters who thought it would be fun to seed the underground press with stories about Illuminati activities. A couple of those pranksters wrote the cult novel Illuminatus! in the 1970s, and that helped re-inject the idea into mass culture. These days, of course, the Illuminati are everywhere. Er, I mean *stories about* the Illuminati are everywhere.
All of these theories are quite clearly mistaken or deliberately fraudulent … unlike the shadowy Council of 300!
Bruce Schneier on the destruction of public trust in government agencies:
I’ve recently seen two articles speculating on the NSA’s capability, and practice, of spying on members of Congress and other elected officials. The evidence is all circumstantial and smacks of conspiracy thinking — and I have no idea whether any of it is true or not — but it’s a good illustration of what happens when trust in a public institution fails.
The NSA has repeatedly lied about the extent of its spying program. James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has lied about it to Congress. Top-secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, and reported on by the Guardian and other newspapers, repeatedly show that the NSA’s surveillance systems are monitoring the communications of American citizens. The DEA has used this information to apprehend drug smugglers, then lied about it in court. The IRS has used this information to find tax cheats, then lied about it. It’s even been used to arrest a copyright violator. It seems that every time there is an allegation against the NSA, no matter how outlandish, it turns out to be true.
Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald has been playing this well, dribbling the information out one scandal at a time. It’s looking more and more as if the NSA doesn’t know what Snowden took. It’s hard for someone to lie convincingly if he doesn’t know what the opposition actually knows.
All of this denying and lying results in us not trusting anything the NSA says, anything the president says about the NSA, or anything companies say about their involvement with the NSA. We know secrecy corrupts, and we see that corruption. There’s simply no credibility, and — the real problem — no way for us to verify anything these people might say.
In the Wall Street Journal, Jesse Walker has another excerpt from his new book, this time on the phenomenon known as pareidolia:
This November will mark the 50th anniversary of two events that are of special interest to conspiracy buffs. One is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a killing that has spawned dozens of theories about the hidden forces that allegedly carried out the crime. The other is a lecture the historian Richard Hofstadter delivered at Oxford, which Harper’s later published under the title “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Half a century of scholarship has either built on or pushed back against Hofstadter’s conclusions, some of which don’t hold up very well. But it remains the most widely cited essay on American political paranoia.
Some conspiracies are real, of course, but even a conspiracy theory that is entirely false has truths to tell us about the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe it. More, it tells us something about the ways people perceive the world.
The faces are the result of apophenia, the process of projecting patterns onto data. More specifically, they are pareidolia, in which those patterns are perceived as meaningful shapes or sounds. It is pareidolia that allows us to see a man in the moon, to hear a satanic incantation when “Stairway to Heaven” is played backward, or to conjure the image of your subconscious choice while taking a Rorschach test. Indeed, pareidolia makes the whole world a Rorschach test. The Web is filled with delightful pareidolia-themed photo sets, in which unexpected forms appear in mountains, pasta, fire, clocks, clouds.
Human beings have a knack not just for finding patterns in chaos but for constructing stories to make sense of events, especially events that scare us. And a conspiracy story is especially enticing because it imagines an intelligence behind the pattern. It doesn’t just see a shape in the smoke; it sees a face in the smoke.
We will never stop finding patterns. We will always be capable of jumping to conclusions, particularly when we’re dealing with other nations, factions, subcultures or layers of the social hierarchy. And conspiracies, unlike many of the monsters that haunt our folklore, do exist sometimes, so we won’t always be wrong to fear them. As long as our species survives, so will political paranoia.
An excerpt from Jesse Walker’s new book The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory has been posted at disinformation:
[Robert Anton] Wilson laid out the basic instructions for Operation Mindfuck in a memo sent to several friends (including [Paul] Krassner). Participants were “to circulate all rumors contributed by other members,” and they were “to attribute all national calamities, assassinations or conspiracies to the other member-groups.” The one great risk, he cautioned, was that “the Establishment might be paranoid enough to believe some wild legend started by one of us and thereupon round up all of us for killing Abraham Lincoln.”
So they sent a letter on Bavarian Illuminati stationery to the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, just to confirm that “we’ve taken over the Rock Music business. But you’re still so naïve. We took over the business in the 1800s. Beethoven was our first convert.” Robert Welch of the John Birch Society got a letter informing him that Gary Allen was an Illuminati agent. When a New Orleans jury refused to convict one of the men Jim Garrison blamed for the JFK killing, Garrison’s booster Art Kunkin of the leftist Los Angeles Free Press received a missive from the “Order of the Phoenix Angel” revealing that the jurors were all members of the Illuminati. The telltale sign, the letter explained, was that none of them had a left nipple.
The Discordians planted stories about the secret society in various leftist, libertarian, and hippie publications, introducing the Illuminati to the counterculture. “We accused everybody of being in the Illuminati,” Wilson recalled. “Nixon, Johnson, William Buckley, Jr., ourselves, Martian invaders, all the conspiracy buffs, everybody.” But they
did not regard this as a hoax or prank in the ordinary sense. We still considered it guerrilla ontology.
My personal attitude was that if the New Left wanted to live in the particular tunnel-reality of the hard-core paranoid, they had an absolute right to that neurological choice. I saw Discordianism as the Cosmic Giggle Factor, introducing so many alternative paranoias that everybody could pick a favorite, if they were inclined that way. I also hoped that some less gullible souls, overwhelmed by this embarrassment of riches, might see through the whole paranoia game and decide to mutate to a wider, funnier, more hopeful reality-map.
An interview by Tom Jackson:
What do you hope people will learn after reading The United States of Paranoia?
WALKER: I hope they’ll learn that conspiracy theories are not some new invention: that they’ve always been with us and that they aren’t going away. I hope they’ll learn that there isn’t a single all-purpose political or psychological explanation for why such stories take hold. I hope they’ll learn that the American establishment is prone to conspiracy thinking, no less than its critics on the left and the right are. I hope they’ll learn that these stories have something to teach us even when they’re entirely false — that a conspiracy theory doesn’t take hold with a lot of people unless it speaks to their anxieties or experiences.
And I hope that as they read about the things our ancestors believed, they’ll feel a little shock of recognition. The fears and folklore of modern times can sound a lot like the fears and folklore of earlier generations. We’re not as unique as we think.
It seems to me we are living in very paranoid times, akin to what the country went through in the 1970s. Do you think the timing of your book turned out to be good, perhaps by accident?
WALKER: Many people have said this to me. But as I say in the book, “it is always a paranoid time.” If this had come out last year, people would have looked around at all the election-year conspiracy chatter and told me how well-timed the book was. If it had come out the year before that, people would have pointed to the birthers or to the conspiracy theories about the death of bin Laden.
Do you hope some of your readers will become more tolerant? Much of the book seems to argue for tolerance of other peoples’ conspiracy theories, or at least an effort to understand where they are coming from.
WALKER: Well, I’m all for debunking claims that aren’t true, and that includes untrue claims about conspiracies. But I do hope the debunkers will approach their task with a little humility, an awareness that they’re capable of believing dubious tales too.
So, what do you think happened to JFK in Dallas?
Walker: Contrary to what you may have read in the Weekly World News, he died.
Jeff Thomas asks whether the gold market is being manipulated by shadowy conspiracies of governments, big banks, and international bodies:
… we are reminded that, no matter how evil we think a given government may be, no matter how greedy we think a given banker may be, both the world’s governments and the worlds banks have proven time and time again to be guilty of overreach; that is, they assume that their position of power will assure that, if they attempt to control a market, they will succeed.
However, history shows that both governments and banks have a patchwork quilt as a record for effectiveness in this regard. Both exhibit a history of misinterpretation of market drivers, inadequate planning and inadequate execution, to say nothing of a penchant for betraying one another. (The admission by Barclays Bank that they manipulated LIBOR is a good example.)
As such, the concept of a finely-tuned conspiracy of bankers and governments in which all the players (including the egotistical heads of countries) all agree on every facet of a “Grand Plan” is unlikely in the extreme. On the other hand, it is highly likely that an endless series of deals between any two or more parties will crop up along the way. They will succeed or fail to varying degrees. (And we should not overlook the likelihood that, whatever one group should attempt, another group may, inadvertently or not, spoil that attempt through their own plan, which may well be a different one.)
By arguing whether or not gold manipulation exists, we may find that we are wasting our brain cells on the question. A better question, and one that we might choose to monitor on a regular basis, might be, “To what degree is successful manipulation taking place?” We might then use the on-going answer as a guide, to inform our reasoning going forward, as to what impact any perceived manipulation is likely to have with regard to our precious metals investment.
James Miller on token attempts to roll back the security state by local governments and other groups:
New surveillance technology lowers the barrier of effort needed to soak the productive class of the surplus fruits of its labor. From monitoring backyards to ensure taxes are being paid on swimming pools to spying on farmers who violate agricultural regulations, states across the globe are already using new spy tools to extort more loot from the greater public.
All the while, the political class gives an assurance that the technological innovation will not be abused. Newspaper editors parrot the message and paint any critic as a tinfoil hat loon who thinks Big Brother sleeps under their bed. And then there are the television intellectuals who take great joy in making flippant remarks about conspiracy theorists. Each of these personalities pictures him or herself as sitting a few ladder rungs above the horde of bumbling mass-men.
One has to be either lying or painfully ignorant to believe government will not abuse surveillance drones. State officials have rarely failed to use their capacity to terrify the populace. Just recently, journalist Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian revealed that the National Security Agency sweeps up the internet activity of all U.S. residents absent any warrants. Prior to the leak, those politicians in charge of overseeing the government’s oversight activities claimed the snooping was done in the public good and not as widespread as suspected. The new details of the program contradict the assurance, as the NSA’s spy activity is more intrusive – and prone to abuse – than originally thought.
A sterling record of misconduct is still not enough to convince enlightened thinkers and academics of the state’s propensity to terrorize. There are still a handful of civil liberty organizations calling attention to the dangers of the widespread use of surveillance drones and data gathering. But their beef is focused more on the right to privacy rather than a usurpation of basic property rights.
Here’s an unpleasant idea to disturb your narrative of economic recovery:
You may have noticed the small blurb recently that the ECB had eased the rules for asset backed securitizations. You may have read this snippet and thinking nothing of it you moved on. This would have been a mistake because just here you would have noticed the cracks of a crumbling empire.
The French banks, the Spanish banks, the Portuguese banks are all engaged in an ongoing charade so they do not need to ask the EU for help. They all are taking their Real Estate loans, the properties that they have confiscated, the commercial loans that are no longer paying and they have put them into massive securitizations that are pledged at the ECB as they are given cash for the collateral. The collateral, as you may suppose, has all of the value of cents on the Dollar but they are given money at par while the ECB carries them on their books at par. It is a fraudulent scheme jam packed with money created out of nothing but it is judged to be a better plan that to have to admit to accurate financials and have the banks of Europe default all across the Continent.
[. . .]
There will be nothing but lying until September 22, 2013 which is the date of the German elections. This is the drop dead date that I have been asked about for so long. Then, as soon as the celebration is over that Ms. Merkel is to remain in power, the world will turn on its axis. The status quo will disappear and there will be a “shock and horror” campaign as the Southern nations of Europe demand more help and Germany squirms and then refuses to provide it because it does not have the assets to do so.
Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and even Italy are all going to line up at the trough only to discover that the promise of water was just that, a promise, and does not exist. A Biblical drought will be upon the Continent and from the political battles will emerge new alliances and new screams calling the traitors by name. The twin towers upon which the markets rest, money from nothing and fairy tale financials, will decompose in the light of this new sun and our old friend, Fear, will return to haunt us.
Daniel Ben-Ami points out that current campaigns to vilify bankers (“banksters”) over their role in the economic crisis that began in 2007-2008 conveniently ignores the politicians’ dirty hands:
There is at least one area where mainstream politicians can legitimately claim considerable success: they have offloaded much of the blame for the economic crisis from themselves and on to banks and other financial institutions.
Much of the public has accepted the premise that greedy bankers were largely responsible for the economic turmoil that emerged in 2007-8. There is little discussion of the government’s role in creating the conditions for the financial crash, let alone any examination of the economy’s underlying weaknesses.
Criticism of the government’s economic policy is usually confined to it being heartless or ill thought out. Often the two are combined, in the accusation that the government is obeying the diktat of its banker friends by imposing cuts. Campaigners also often allege that a shady global financial network is the real power in the world. In this conspiratorial worldview, a labyrinth of offshore tax havens helps the rootless rich evade the power of national authorities.
[. . .]
But in truth, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic bear a large share of the blame for the crisis. To understand their culpability, it is necessary to go back at least to the early 1980s rather than just to 2007. For decades it was clear that investment and innovation were insufficient. Yet rather than tackle these underlying problems, the authorities pursued policies that ended up creating a credit bubble.
Public spending was kept high and interest rates artificially low. Often, governments also used additional measures to ease the supply of credit, such as reforming the financial markets. The hope was that such moves would keep the market ticking over in the short term and the economy would somehow correct itself in the longer term.
This was the backdrop to the financial crisis that emerged in 2007-8. Bankers certainly played a role, but governments created the conditions for the credit bubble to emerge. Underlying this development was the failure of politicians to tackle or even recognise structural economic weaknesses.
[. . .]
Underlying anti-banking campaigns is the common assumption that financial institutions are part of a giant global conspiracy to undermine nation states.
This view was most vividly put forward by Matt Taibbi, a campaigning American journalist, in a 2009 article in Rolling Stone magazine and in a subsequent book. He famously condemned Goldman Sachs, a top Wall Street investment bank, as ‘a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’. In the UK, the New Economics Foundation, a think tank, adopted the image with a short video entitled Taming the Vampire Squid: Take Back Our Banks.
There are several reasons to object to such imagery and the conspiratorial worldview that underlies it. For one thing it is strongly reminiscent of Nazi imagery of Jews as central to an international financial conspiracy. For example, in Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler talked of Jews as being ‘like leeches… they were slowly sucking the blood from the pores of the national body’.
In the Guardian, Saul Frampton looks at the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s works:
Sometime in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the actors John Heminges and Henry Condell published Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies — what we now know as the First Folio. It was the literary event of the century, recording for all time the sound of Shakespeare’s English and the sweep of his imagination: Elsinore, Egypt and the Forest of Arden; a balcony, a spotted handkerchief and a skull.
Yet despite this shrine to Shakespeare’s memory, erected by those who knew him, sceptics have continued to doubt his authorship of the plays. He was, they insist, inadequately educated, insufficiently travelled, and didn’t know how to spell his own name. A range of alternative candidates have come and gone over the centuries, including Anne Hathaway, the Jesuits, and more recently Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the subject of Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous. As always, conspiracy is more fun than consensus, and the doubters have the internet on their side. Shakespeare has thus become the focus of a global conspiracy industry, joining company with reptilian elites, self-destructing lightbulbs and skeletons on the moon.
Scholars have recently fought back against this scepticism, however. Books such as James Shapiro’s Contested Will and Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells’s Shakespeare Beyond Doubt marshal facts, allusions and funeral monuments to prove that Shakespeare did indeed write the plays and poems attributed to him. Or as Iago says at the end of Othello: “what you know, you know.”
So Shakespeare wrote “Shakespeare”. The printing of the First Folio, however, raises another, ultimately more interesting, question. Without the Folio, Shakespeare’s plays — scattered around in playscripts or in smaller quarto editions — might have been lost to posterity. But did Heminges and Condell edit the text?
H/T to Tim O’Reilly for the link.
A letter from L. Neil Smith to this week’s Libertarian Enterprise:
Here’s a matter that may reveal more about psychology or politics than it does about astronomy. You’ll recall, a couple of years ago, the flap over the “demotion” of Pluto, theretofore the tenth planet of the Solar System, to the mean and niggardly status of “dwarf planet”.
I have always believed that an international conspiracy, possibly composed of those who hate our freedom, carried out this astronomical assassination because Pluto is the only planet discovered by an American, Clyde Tombaugh.
However, given the fact that Pluto, whatever its size, is an independent body circling the same primary we do (unlike the Asteroids of the Belt or those found at various Trojan positions around the System, or parked in orbit around Mars) and the pathetic and petty way this demotion was carried out, many people, including yours truly, objected to it as unnecessary, inaccurate, and stupid.
Now we learn (because we don’t always keep up on these things) that in addition to the moon Charon, which we’ve known about for a long while, Pluto possesses four other moons, Nix, Hydra, and more recently, Styx and Kerberos, all named for various underworld-related entities in Greek mythology.
The System’s “gas giants”, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and the one whose pronunciation mysteriously changes whenever it’s mentioned on TV, all have more moons than we can properly keep track of. Mars, Earth, and Venus, which are also full-blown planets in good standing, possess, respectively, two, one, and zero moons.
And yet Pluto, the little world that has been ignominiously stripped of its rank, and its sword ceremonially broken, has five moons. Count ‘em: five whole moons! I maintain that this confirms its proper dignity as a first-class planet, and to the list of historic phrases like “Carthage must be destroyed!” “Remember the Alamo”, and “Hillary wears army boots!”, we should now add “Restore Pluto!”
L. Neil Smith
In his Forbes column, Tim Worstall gleefully recounts the steps in a publishing cock-up by The Observer:
It looks like The Guardian/Observer* has managed to get itself mightily stung over a revelation about PRISM and the NSA. Which is all very amusing given the paper’s part in the Glenn Greenwald/Edward Snowden revelations. But what turns it into an absolute joy is that, while the news originally came from someone with, hmm, rather “out there” views, the actual information itself seems to be roughly true. And yet they’ve still taken the piece down.
The story starts here, at a site called The Privacy Surgeon. The site does an interview with an ex-NSA guy called Wayne Madsen. In which he claims that there are various European and other countries that cooperate with the NSA in the collection and then dissemination of information picked up from the monitoring of communications.
[. . .]
So, The Guardian/Observer has published a piece using allegations made by someone we’d already be predisposed to think of as being less than entirely correct in his descriptions of the real world. And, as a result, they’ve taken the piece down:
This article has been taken down pending an investigation.
So far so good, just as in any other walk of life you think you’ve made a mistake you try to correct it. Just as Mother always told you you should. The slightly unfortunate thing is that the Sunday papers in the UK print quite early on the Saturday evening. Thus we get this front page of the physical paper:
The paper is now running as its front page a story that it has already retracted online. This is something of an “Ooops!” moment and as such one to be treasured as an example of the fallibility of both human beings and organisations that contain them.
However, the story really gets even better than this.
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