TagConspiracy Theory

Trailer for Film Adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth

io9: First trailer for Philip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth with Alanis Morissette

A few years ago I would have been excited to see something like this coming to the mainstream. Now I cringe with the anticipation of the tedious conversations with n00bs and normals that this film will probably lead me into. Not to mention the the probability that it will become a Truther/Tea Partier favorite instead of a mind opener. One more sign that I’m getting old, or at least jaded.

Brainsturbator’s Best Books of 2010

After the New Economy

Justin Boland lists his favorite reading of 2010. Here are some highlights I particularly want to read:

After the New Economy, by Doug Henwood.

The majority of my reading in the past year has been in Economics, shaped by a couple new jobs that required me to become a fake expert in the field. Perhaps in the near future I’ll do a separate Reading List focused on that, but for now, let me recommend one single volume as the best written, most thoroughly documented book on the subject: Doug Henwood’s After the New Economy. Henwood does something really remarkable here. There are dozens of sources per page, but he juggles an academic level of density with J.K. Rowling readability. He keeps all his math & policy discourse grounded in real world effects on actual working human beings. All in all, this book is fucking devastating because it uses nothing but the US economic system’s own numbers and words—there is no moralizing here. Along the way, Henwood also provides an education in deciphering market metrics and business news. He is a concise and scrupulous teacher. Henwood is often framed as a rabid Socialist, but I get the impression his political agenda is that of a disgruntled accountant…he’s just angry that the numbers don’t really add up on the American Dream.

Equally Worthy: his earlier book Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom is just as good and thorough. Most fans of Henwood suggest starting there, and it is powerful stuff. If you’re interested in a guide to Wall Street, though, the unfortunately named Eric J. Weiner has cornered the market with What Goes Up: The Uncensored History of Modern Wall Street as Told by the Bankers, Brokers, CEOs, and Scoundrels Who Made It Happen, an “oral history” where three generations of Hidden Rulers talk candidly about criminal conspiracies they got away with. It is awesome and very inspirational.

C Street, by Jeff Sharlet.

Sharlet has been doing important work for a long time now covering Christian Dominionist movements, especially in military and political circles. His previous book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, is essential reading if you’re not already familiar. (Start with “Jesus Plus Nothing.”)

Theocrats are scary people, and Sharlet tracks the most powerful among them carefully here. This is the grey zone where The Family morphs into The Fellowship, which has also been referred to as ”The Christian Mafia” and a ”Frat House for Jesus.” This is serious material,of course: the ghost network he outlines in C Street shaping foreign policy, domestic initiatives, and partisan talking points. The amount of media collusion and access to corporate money here is nothing short of spooky.

Brainsturbator: The 2010 Brainsturbator Reading List

The Conspiratainment Complex and Why I Don’t Find Conspiracy Theory Funny Anymore

Glenn Beck chalkboard

Justin Boland is back and updating Brainsturbator and Skilluminati again.

The signal always gets distorted, degraded…and more popular every time. Dumb is accessible, people like dumb. They like aliens, they like Satanist bad guys, and they like to buy products that signify their secret knowledge. It’s hard to exaggerate how hollowed out the Conspiratainment Complex has become in 2010. Conspiracy Theory is literally being taught to Americans on a chalkboard now. Remote Viewing has gone from a classified project to a mini-industry of competing DVD training packages. Even Tila Tequila is tracking the Illuminati’s every move these days. This is an emerging demographic and it’s going to be extremely important in the next decade. […]

Today, these competing meta-narratives are blending into a Conspiratainment mainstream, where the largest possible audience meets the lowest common denominator. Roswell is an article of faith, JFK is holy scripture, and 9/11 is the wedge issue and the litmus test. The Apollo 11 mission exists in a Schroedinger-style quantum state where it simultaneously did and did not land on the moon, although the priesthood agrees there was a cover-up, either way.

Skilluminati: The Conspiratainment Complex

A few years ago, I wrote an article about contemporary subcultures and made the case that the 9/11 Truth movement was a legitimate subculture. Although it was already being productized in the form of DVDs, books and merchandise, I didn’t think it was something that would be appropriated by the mainstream. And though 9/11 still hasn’t been appropriated by the mainstream, thanks to the likes of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, conspiracy theory is more mainstream than ever.

Tangent:

This reminds me of a quote Justin posted on Facebook a while back. I can’t find the specific entry, but I think it was from a 9/11 Truther. It went something like this “Conspiracy theory has never hurt anyone, but the Obama administration has.”

Don’t think for a second I’m letting Obama and company off the hook for their targeted assassinations, Afghan war escalation, etc. But I’m calling bullshit on the “conspiracy theory never hurt anyone” line.

It would be disingenuous to say The Protocols of the Elders of Zion caused the Holocaust, but it did contribute to the antisemitism and paranoia during the first half of the 20th century that enabled WWI and the holocaust. That’s a pretty serious amount of blood on the hands of a conspiracy theory.

And to take a more recent example that didn’t lead to deaths, take a look at the Satanic Panic that resulted in the incarceration of many innocent people – including The West Memphis Three, who remain in prison to this day.

It’s these very issues that lead me to begin distancing myself from conspiracy theory after the second EsoZone. Once I’d hoped that conspiracy theory could enlightening, a way to break down rigid thinking and foster skepticism and critical thinking (as Robert Anton Wilsons’s writings on conspiracy theory had done for me). These days I’m cynical about that prospect (see here and here) of conspiracy theory opening people’s minds. Instead of breaking down “consensus reality,” conspiracy theory has been entrenching many people deeper into their own “reality tunnels.” Before I thought, at the very least, conspiracy theory could be entertaining. It just doesn’t seem funny to me any more.

Meanwhile, as Justin writes:

Conspiracy theory tends towards monolithic explanations, attributing far too much power to far too few people. Political Science assumes the existence of hundreds of co-existing and conflicting conspiracies in any group of over thousand people.

Most real, successful conspiracies are mundane and barely covert: consider the Council for National Policy, an invitation-only Evangelical Conservative influence network with a membership list so powerful it defies belief. What happens when you get Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft into the same room? Throw in Oliver North, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jesse “33°” Helms, James Dobson, and big money sponsors like Richard DeVos, Holland Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife and Nelson Baker Hunt.

Another interesting example is the Family, a Christian theocratic conspiracy, which I’ve covered quite a bit here. The Family tries to keep a low profile, but not exactly a secret. Yet, I could find only one reference to the Family on Alex Jones’s InfoWars – naturally, an article about the possibility that the Family may have helped finance 9/11. Here is a real and well-documented modern conspiracy. Where’s the outrage from conspiracy circles? (To his credit, Jones did have Jeff Sharlet on his show.) I could find no references to the Council for National Policy on InfoWars.

That, I’m afraid, is the sad state of conspiracy theory. Real conspiracies play out before our very eyes, while too many very smart people clutch at straws.

Art is the Weapon: CIA Funded Abstract Expressionism in the Cold War

Jackson Pollock painting

The Independent reports:

The existence of this policy, rumoured and disputed for many years, has now been confirmed for the first time by former CIA officials. Unknown to the artists, the new American art was secretly promoted under a policy known as the “long leash” – arrangements similar in some ways to the indirect CIA backing of the journal Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender. […]

The connection is not quite as odd as it might appear. At this time the new agency, staffed mainly by Yale and Harvard graduates, many of whom collected art and wrote novels in their spare time, was a haven of liberalism when compared with a political world dominated by McCarthy or with J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.

Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.

Full Story: Independent: Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’

See also: coverage of the old rumors from Disinfo and The New Yorker

Image: Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist, 1950. Photo by Detlef Schobert

Flat Earth Society president interviewed by the Guardian

Flat Earth

Daniel Shenton should be the most irrational man in the world. As the new president of the Flat Earth Society, you’d imagine he would also think that evolution is a scam and global warming a myth. He should ­argue that smoking does not cause cancer and HIV does not lead to Aids.

Yes, that Flat Earth Society, a group that has become a living metaphor for backward thinking and a refusal to face scientific facts. Yes, it is still going, and no, this isn’t an early April fool.

In fact, Shenton turns out to have resolutely mainstream views on most issues. The 33-year-old American, originally from Virginia but now living and working in London, is happy with the work of Charles Darwin. He thinks the evidence for man-made global warming is strong, and he dismisses suggestions that his own government was involved with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He is mainstream on most issues, but not all. For when Shenton rides his motorbike, he says it is not gravity that pins him to the road, but the rapid upward motion of a disc-shaped planet. Countries, according to him, spread across this flat world as they appear to do on a map, with Antarctica as a ring of mountains strung around the edge. And, yes, you can fall off.

Guardian: The Earth is flat? What planet is he on?

(Thanks Paul)

Top Five (Less Sensational But More Dangerous) Things to Remember About Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson

2) Robertson’s 1991 book, The New World Order, recycled anti-Semitic conspiracy theories reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and stated that George Bush Sr. was part of a conspiracy to institute “an occult-inspired world socialist dictatorship” (through his work with the United Nations in the first Gulf War). This caused few of Robertson’s neoconservative allies to break with him in any decisive way—although one former neocon, Michael Lind, denounced him in a major exposé in the New York Review of Books.

Religion Dispatches: Top Five (Less Sensational But More Dangerous) Things to Remember About Pat Robertson

(via Religion News)

See also: Fascism by the Numbers.

Obama advisor suggests “cognitive infiltration”

paranoia circo de invierno

Glenn Greenwald on Nudge co-author Cass Sunstein’s creepy propaganda proposal:

Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama’s closest confidants. Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama’s head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.” In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and psuedo-“independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.

Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.” He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”

Glenn Greenwald: The creepy mind-set behind Cass Sunstein’s creepy proposal

See also: Air Force launching blog comment propaganda program

(Photo credit: Circo de Invierno / CC BY 2.0)

The Strange Case of Lee Harvey Oswald

I will make no attempt at drawing conclusions about who shot President Kennedy or why. Nor will I make attempts at drawing conclusions about whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald was involved in the assassination. What is interesting to me is largely contradictory nature of this man that does not seem to be explained by clinical psychology alone. That Lee had schizoid and anti-social tendencies seems clear. His upbringing at the hands of an abusive single mother and his later abusive behavior of his wife Marina speak volumes about his mental state, to say nothing of the constantly shifting allegiances and ever-appearing aliases. This tells us nothing about the man and who he was. Sharp questions remain. Was Lee Harvey Oswald working for American intelligence during his time in the Marines? When did his work for them begin? When did it end? Which of his acts are attributable to personality disorder and which are the actions of a highly trained intelligence asset? Can we draw clear lines between the two? It would seem that a person of Lee’s psychological profile- lonely but not interested in interpersonal relationships, self-destructive, violent, narcissistic- would be an ideal member of the American intelligence community. And yet, his overall intelligence and effectiveness speak against this. The KGB were confused by the man precisely because they expected him to be an agent, but he seemed too dull. Or is Lee’s mediocrity another part of his cover?

Black Sun Gazette: The Strange Case of Lee Harvey Oswald

See also: The Dreadlock Recollections. The last journals of Kerry Thornley

What do the hacked Climate Research Unit e-mails mean?

Recently, one or more of the University of East Anglia’s servers were hacked and a large number of private e-mails exchanges between researchers at Climate Research University were made public.

NASA climate scientist Gavin A. Schmidt writes on his non-NASA endorsed blog:

No doubt, instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context. One example is worth mentioning quickly. Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

Jones is quoted in New York Times on the subject and confirms that that particular e-mail is real, but the university says they cannot confirm that all the material circulating on the Internet is authentic.

You can read a few quotes from the e-mails at the Telegraph.

James Delingpole at the Telegraph claims these e-mails prove there was a conspiracy to hoax the world about global warming, but in my opinion a reading of this material only proves the CRU researchers were earnest, passionate believers in their research.

(Thanks to Trevor for the Telegraph link)

Majority of Republicans polled believe ACORN stole the election for Obama

The poll asked this question: “Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election last year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?” The overall top-line is legitimately won 62%, ACORN stole it 26%.

Among Republicans, however, only 27% say Obama actually won the race, with 52% — an outright majority — saying that ACORN stole it, and 21% are undecided. Among McCain voters, the breakdown is 31%-49%-20%. By comparison, independents weigh in at 72%-18%-10%, and Democrats are

TPM: Majority Of Republicans Think Obama Didn’t Actually Win 2008 Election — ACORN Stole It!

I’m curious if anyone has any polls indicating the percentage of Democrats who believe Bush stole one or more elections.

(For the record, I do think both of Bush’s elections were stolen)

(Thanks Bill!)

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