Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Pre-emptive review of "Voodoo Histories" by David Aaronovitch

So, Aaro's got a book coming out. Instead of waiting for the blessed thing to reach the bookshops, I thought I'd write my review ahead of time. Sort of get your retaliation in first; get it out there and let's get the debate moving - think how much time we wasted waiting for "What's Left", and it was just how we expected it to be. Some might object that this is something of an untraditional, nay avant-garde, nay even unethical book-reviewing practice, but I say pshaw. At the end of the day, this website has been going to five years now, and I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that I have read literally every single word Dave has published in that period, including several pieces on the subject at hand, as it evolved from the original lecture on "Conspiracy Theories from JFK to Princess Diana". What I'm saying here is that I'm as well placed as it's possible to be to guess what Aaro is going to write, and significantly better placed when it comes to writing a critical essay on this book than most of the reviewers will be when it comes out, even spotting them the advantage of having read it. My disagreement with what I think is going to be in "Voodoo Histories" reflects a wider and fundamental political disagreement with Aaro's view of the world. So here goes.

In terms of the content of the book, I think that it will be pretty much run of the mill tomfoolery and bashing - I doubt that the "tin foil hats" joke will be spurned and fear that even the aphorism about "attributing to malice what can be explained by incompetence" might get a run out. Also inevitable is at least one reference to David Icke. Just as all of the "Mumbo Jumbo", "Counterknowledge" crowd who are blurbing Aaro tend to be much keener on bashing the crystals-n-incense crowed than on telling us how it was that the "Sound Science Coalition" happened to be formed under the aegis of Phillip Morris' PR department, I would expect some pretty shameless nutpicking and dirty-fucking-hippie bashing in Aaro's book too. There are quite a few paranoid schizophrenics attracted to parapolitical research, and it is true that people who suffer from that illness often have quite a powerful desire to feel like they understand the world around them. But this is about as interesting as a discussion of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa might be to an article about the Pritikin Nutrition Institute; I hope Aaro will avoid the sort of lazy and hurtful references to mental illness that the Guardian stylebook warns against, but it's a hope rather than a certainty. There's also surely at least a 50/50 chance that he'll libel Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

The history, I suspect, will be scrappy and the selection of "typical" conspiracies almost comically partial. Diana theories get in there, of course, as do lunar landing conspiracists, but Iran Contra will be tossed off in a couple of pages, Watergate in few more and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident most likely not mentioned at all. Oliver Stone's film is likely to get treated as if it were the definitive summary of assassinology (and I bet he gets the official line wrong, repeating the Warren Commission's "lone nut" conclusion and ommitting the House Committee on Assassinations). The whole subject of the 9/11 attacks will get represented by the wackiest end of holograms & thermite trooferism, and so on.

I suspect that on at least one occasion, our man will use as a punchline the ridiculousness of suspecting that the military and security infrastructure of a G7 country might have been co-opted by a single Masonic lodge (something which has definitely happened). The Freemasons! Controlling the secret police! Carrying out acts of domestic terrorism as a pretext for jailing their political enemies! Well it happened, and thirty years later, a member of that same lodge was elected Head of State Government (thanks, anonymous commenter!) on an anti-corruption ticket. Kind of puts in perspective all the friend-of-a-friend-of-someone-who-spoke-at-a-conference-which-invited-someone-who-once-wrote-a-pamphlet-for-an-organisation-that-grew-out-of-another-organisation-which-later-sponsored-HAMAS! stuff, doesn't it?

Of course the reason why it will be such a slapdash job is that the history isn't the point - the point is to construct a suitably pejorative psychological theory of anyone who might object to being given a record of important events which doesn't make sense. And, of course, to pussyfoot round the very obvious reason why Aaro got interested in the subject in the first place; the conspiracy to mislead the public, the Cabinet and the House of Commons over the ussue of nuclear, chemical and/or biological weapons in Iraq. Aaro's line on this, recall, is that the Butler Review and Hutton Inquiry have shown that "Blair didn't lie", that this is all there is to it, and that anyone who objects that the absence of a "smoking gun memo" is hardly dispositive or that both inquiries were severely flawed in their terms of reference, is doing so out of pathological Blair Derangement Syndrome, or out of a wish to feel superior and knowing, or unwillingness to abandon that rhyming slogan, and so on.

But, of course, this is the whole question that this book ought to deal with and I bet it doesn't. We know that inquiries into matters of interest involving that nexus of politics, intelligence and crime which Peter Dale Scott christened "deep events", are almost always atrociously carried out. They're stacked (the stacking of commissions of inquiry through manipulation of their personnel is such a commonplace that it's quite literally a subject for situation comedy), they're crippled by their terms of reference and they're censored. If, per Aaro's thesis, the world is not so exciting and few major events have "conspiracies" at the bottom, then why not set everyone's mind at rest and do the inquiry properly?

Of course there's two reasons (at least). The one that's most congenial to Aaro's point of view is that there are some people who are never satisifed with anything because they just fundamentally don't like or trust the machinery of justice. A subset of this group are the paranoid schizophrenics, who are also attracted to the making of lists and the other accidentalia of conspiracy theory. But there are also plenty of plain and simple stroppy buggers, plus a fair number whose criticism is not in good faith. People like this are always there to keep a conspiracy theory on the go, even in the absence of any evidence, or in the presence of substantial contrary evidence. You don't necessarily want to throw this crowd bones in the form of the ambiguities and loose ends that a full inquiry will always generate.

But that's clearly not the real reason; after all, it's not exactly difficult to marginalise and ridicule the awkward squad out of mainstream public debate, as Aaro proves exhaustively. The main reason why so many inquries are, to use the technical term, "for shit", is that they usually need to be constructed painstakingly to gerrymander round that protean category "Things Which Everyone Agrees It Would Be Wiser Not To Look At Too Closely".

Lee Harvey Oswald, for example, was a walking Thing Which Everyone Agrees &C. He had connections to US and Russian intelligence, to Cuba, to anti-Castro Cubans, and all manner of other interesting folks. Given that the Cuban Missile Crisis was only a short while ago, anyone wanting to find out that Oswald was anything other than a "lone nut" would have been advised to tread very carefully indeed. LBJ actually recruited people to the Warren Commission by telling them that "we've got to be taking this out of the arena where they're testifying that Khrushchev and Castro did this and did that, and kicking us into a war that can kill 40 million Americans in an hour". Jack Ruby also shared this most useful property of an assassin, of being someone who had a powerful coalition of interests militating against ever investigating him properly.

That's an exceptionally obvious case, of course (and of course, none of this is inconsistent with the "lone nut" theory being actually true; to deny this is to fall into a characteristic logical fallacy of the genre, which Aaro will of cours epick up on). But it does seem to be worthwhile to ask a question; why are there so bloody many Damned Things Which Must Not Be Investigated, and doesn't their ubiquity say something rather worrying about our society?

Another interesting question to ask is why there are so bloody many opportunists hanging round the shop, waiting to attach their policy agenda to a massive and shocking event, practically before the bodies have cooled. This is a behavioural characteristic of policy entrepreneurs which is as ubiquitous as it is unattractive, and which is absolutely bound to attract uncharitable questions about whether they had advance notice to get their Powerpoint slides prepared. There is a structural tendency toward what might be called "bong session cui bono" in the conspiracy literature (as opposed to the sensible kind, where it's supported by evidence; in both the Iranian hostages case and the Tonkin Gulf, the people responsible for the conspiracy did in fact do it, and did it because of a benefit they hoped to get). But really, we should be asking no so much "who benefits?" as "who the fucking hell are you anyway, and how did you get yourself into a position where you were able to benefit from this?".

Example: the cui bono links between various PNAC groups, the companies Halliburton and Blackwater and the Bush administration, as unearthed by the 9/11 truthers, are pretty laughable if they're meant to serve as evidence of an "inside job". But, the fact is that within days of the attacks the USA was preparing to invade Iraq, there had been a massive expansion of the powers of the executive branch, and ungodly amounts of noncompetitive military supply contracts were being prepared. And in a number of cases, key stages in the decision processes had been convered up. How the heck that comes to happen, seems like an interesting question to be investigating, doesn't it?

Well, maybe not, not if you're Aaro. David Aaronovitch's consistent vice as a columnist, voluminously documented on our blog, is that he has much too much of a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to people in government. The underlying theory is sort of pop-Rousseauism - the "left lobe theory", under which we the people, if we were really thinking about things, rather than always being distracted by those horrible mediassess and rabble-rousers, would agree to all sorts of sensible-sounding technocratic policies which we don't actually want. And if that's your theory of government, then it would be perfectly natural for the poor beleaguered technocrats to use a crisis to clear out their bottom drawer of political desiderata, wouldn't it? For Dave, Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" is pretty much an operations manual.

And this is the real dark psychological underbelly of "Voodoo Histories" - the portrait that this book keeps in its attic, to steal one of my co-author Chardonnay Chap's best lines. In acual fact, the "Voodoo Histories" view of the world is a pretty good description of how David Aaronovitch thinks things ought to operate. Recall that his thesis (which will be set out live! at the RSA on Thursday) is, per the Random House blurb, that conspiracy theories "elevated their believers to membership of an elite – a group of people able to see beyond lies to a higher reality". Hahaha those conspiracy loons.

But on the other hand, Aaro was a close colleague of John Birt and an alumnus of Weekend World and the "mission to explain". His entire philosophy of the media industry is that the public are, in fact, systematically ignorant of key policy debates, and that it is the job of a journalists to give them access to underlying reality - the famous "mission to explain". So Aaro does, in fact, believe that he is part of an elite, which is able to see beyond lies to a higher reality. It's just a matter of whose version of the truth you're going to pick. Aaro suggests that this choice ought to be made on the basis of " a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense" (per the RSA blurb), but this bluff saloon-bar no-nonsense approach hasn't really done him very well in the single highest-profile piece of analysis in his columnistic career (listed under "That Bloody Prediction in our sidebar).

This is the trouble with nearly all of the modern "sceptic" movement - they are very selective indeed about who they're going to be sceptical about. Dan Hind wrote an entire (and very good) book about this strange failure to follow through on "Enlightenment Values" to their logical conclusion, and Aaronovitch's book is another fine example of the genre. In the final analysis, "Voodoo Histories" is the equivalent of a book on junk science which doesn't mention the tobacco/lung cancer or DDT/malaria scandals - it's a part of the problem disguised as part of the solution.

50 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Edgerton wrote, in _England and the Aeroplane_, appropos Corelli Barnett and others, something like "No-nonsense realists are as capable of talking rubbish as is everyone else." Aaro fits this bill to a t.

Chris Williams

PS: must . . . resist . . . noting comedy giftrap . . . took . .. solemn . . oath. . .

4/27/2009 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Which is online free here!

http://airminded.org/2006/02/16/england-and-the-aeroplane-online/

4/27/2009 04:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So now rather than get up, stretch for the bookshelf, and flick through it to find out how badly I remembered the line, I can do it sitting down. Cool. It turns out was close enough for government work:

"But no-nonsense analysts were and are just as capable of talking nonsense as anyone else."

By the way, that's an astounding preview, BB - well done. We need some kind of spread bet accumulator which will leave you getting brought lots of drinks if its more than 95% right, and shelling out for your round if you've only managed 85% accuracy.

Chris Williams

4/27/2009 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

Liked the preview - which is a fair summary of Aaronovitch's previously published views on these matters.

I have heard though from someone who has a copy of the book that it may not be as bad as we feared.

'Voodoo Histories', I am told, is mainly historical, doesn't constantly go off on one about the left, even cites Chomsky approvingly (which is unusual for Decents in any context).

I'd be surprised if this preview is far off the mark, but it seems like 'Voodoo Histories' is not a 'What's Left' or a 'Liberal Fascism'. One can hope, anyway.

4/27/2009 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger John Emerson said...

I was in high school at the time, politically mainstream, relying entirely on commercial media, and it was absolutely clear to me that calming people down was the overriding task of government starting the minute JFK was declared dead. People didn't even try to pretend.

I found Fetzer's "Assassination Science" pretty convincing. It's nuts and bolts (the autopsy, the Zapruder film, etc.) and doesn't speculate about conspirators and motives.

4/28/2009 03:30:00 AM  
Blogger John Emerson said...

Very peripherally, I've been working on Hofstadter's theory that the Populists were the Ur-paranoids of paranoid America. My reading of the evidence is that farmers were pretty much right that tariffs, deflation, and monopolies were systematically stacked against them. Hofstadter doesn't bother to think about that.

But also and more interesting, the Greenbackers were prophetic monetarists and free-traders, a century or more ahead of their time. But when they said that stuff, it was just craziness.

4/28/2009 03:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon my ignorance, but to what G7 country, what heads of it, and what 30 year period is the following passage alluding?

I suspect that on at least one occasion, our man will use as a punchline the ridiculousness of suspecting that the military and security infrastructure of a G7 country might have been co-opted by a single Masonic lodge (something which has definitely happened). The Freemasons! Controlling the secret police! Carrying out acts of domestic terrorism as a pretext for jailing their political enemies! Well it happened, and thirty years later, a member of that same lodge was elected Head of State on an anti-corruption ticket.
Thanks. :)

4/28/2009 04:02:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Italy; the lodge was Propaganda Due. I should actually have said 20 years - Due began operating illegally in 1976 and Silvio Berlusconi was first elected in 1994.

4/28/2009 04:05:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

It's nuts and bolts (the autopsy, the Zapruder film, etc.) I am personally not a huge fan of assassination science - they have, IMO, wasted an ungodly amount of time and intelligence for the concrete results they've come up with. The only such result I regard as robust is that the Zapruder film was definitely censored - the echoes and timings bit seems very ropey to me.

4/28/2009 04:07:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Talking of friends of friends, Signor Berlusconi is of course a very good friend of a very good friend of David Aaronovitch.

4/28/2009 06:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Berlusconi is Head of Government. It's an open secret that he's angling for Head of State at some point, but he's not there yet.

4/28/2009 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Ahhh yes, good spot, errrr, I put that there to test you ... ummm

4/28/2009 07:28:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common senseNothing Aaro has written really convinces me that he possesses either of these - or certainly, I don't think he possesses enough of either to pin the colours to his mast.

I mean some of his recent output has been based precisely on a lack of common sense and a skewed idea of history (eg his bizarre decision that Gethsemane is antisemitic). In general I find Decent banner-waving for common sense and a firm idea of history really bizarre because of just how often they're willing to abandon any conception of either, based on their own fundamentally irrational prejudices - which is where your idea of 'selective scepticism' comes in.

Despite all that, I'm not quite as pessimistic about this book as you seem to be, BB. Unlike Cohen, Aaro keeps most of his nutjob ranting in the stuff he writes for more esoteric publications, and he might praise an illogical piece of tosh like What's Left but he'd never have put his name to it. I do think you're right that this is bound to be a very selective 'history', but that's the problem in general with people who aren't historians thinking that they can write history.

4/28/2009 08:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Organic, I think you'll find that Aaro argued the precise opposite about Gethsemane. But I interrupted.........
Phil D'Bap

4/28/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

ah yeah, having looked again it's more nuanced than i remember, but it's not the precise opposite, as he asks, 'What is the guy sitting next to me really thinking when he laughs at Otto Fallon?'

The idea of massively widespread antisemitism in Britain is the Decents' favourite conspiracy theory (Aaro's worries about theatregoers are based after all on evidence provided by, er, Aaro's kids talking about schoolmates, not theatregoers), eg Cohen's 'society is happy with the slaughter of Jews'.

4/28/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may be more nuanced, OC, but it is a nuanced argument against the idea that Gethsemane is anti-semitic, not for it, as you wish to suggest. Either way, it's hardly "nut-job ranting", is it? Judge for yourself:
http://www.thejc.com/articles/gethsemane%E2%80%99s-stereotype-jew
Phil D'Bap

4/28/2009 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I think what you're missing is that Aaro's nuances are an integral part of how he writes this stuff.

First, I thought, we have got to get to the stage where Jews can be bad guys because, in life, they sometimes are.Gethsemane's not anti-semitic. It's a play showing Lord Levy (among others) doing what Lord Levy (among others) did, and the Levy character is Jewish because Levy himself is. End of story. Almost.

Second, I wondered whether Hare had quite thought through the implication of having a Jewish Mephistopheles in a play called Gethsemane. Gethsemane may be the garden of Jesus’s doubt, but it also the garden of betrayal. It is where Judas betrays Jesus to the Jewish authorities, and many Jews have died because of what Christians thought about Judas.Or maybe it is anti-semitic. Or maybe David Hare is. Or maybe David Hare isn't actually anti-semitic as such, but, well, you know.

Third, I wondered whether the worry wasn’t so much with the playwright’s intentions, but with the modern theatre audience, and what we think its political orientations are, especially when it comes to the Middle East. What is the guy sitting next to me really thinking when he laughs at Otto Fallon? I am told by my kids that, in places where they wouldn’t dream of a Pakistani or Irish joke, it is once again possible to tell Jewish jokes. And not the kind Jews tell.Or maybe people like it because they think it's anti-semitic, because they're anti-semitic. Well, not actually anti-semitic as such, but you know. And anyway, lots of people are anti-semitic, probably, a bit, so there you are.

It's one big "ooh, don't know, you can't be too careful, I'm not saying I'm just saying" performance. I appreciate you have to be careful throwing around accusations of racism, but the answer to that isn't to throw them around on lengths of elastic.

4/28/2009 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I am told by my kids that, in places where they wouldn't dream of a Pakistani or Irish joke, it is once again possible to tell Jewish jokesReally?

4/28/2009 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Tommy Judd said...

Yes ejh, really.

I want to thank this site for telling me about this new book. As an Aaronovitch fan, I immediately ordered the book from Amazon. Keep up the good work.

4/28/2009 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Do they do troll jokes in the playground?

4/28/2009 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

You know what would be really funny? If someone started up a blog called "Aaronovitch Watch Watch". sheesh.

4/28/2009 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really struggle to believe that kids no longer tell Pakistani or Irish jokes in school playgrounds.

4/28/2009 02:18:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I also struggle to see how Aaro can possibly think that 'something my kids told me' counts as empirical evidence. But on some subjectys it seems that common sense and careful consideration of facts etc are allowed to be disregarded. And the line about his kids is meant to be the killer final line too...

4/28/2009 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger nobody said...

Hmm, wonder if this book will mention the Frankfurt Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory currently popular on the right which, almost rebooting The Protocols Of Zion for a new millenium, suggests that a team of Jewish refugees from the Nazis hatched a plot to destroy Western culture which we're seeing the resullts of now? Or would that hit too close to home for some friends of the decents...

4/28/2009 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

"I want to thank this site for telling me about this new book. As an Aaronovitch fan, I immediately ordered the book from Amazon. Keep up the good work."Because you wrote that, as someone with a desire to irritate rather than respond to arguments I can't answer, I have now mass-ordered from Amazon the entire works of Noam Chomsky, Ralph Miliband, George Monbiot, Antonio Negri, Norman Finkelstein, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault Paul Krugman, John Pilger, Alexander, Patrick and Andrew Cockburn, Edward Said, David Hare, Harold Pinter and numerous others, and shall donate the copies to public libraries. Keep up the good work.

4/28/2009 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gregor said...

An interesting post. The strange paradox about conspiracy theories is that the people who propagate them are usually even fuller of s**t than the governments. And often raise interesting questions that they ruin by their simplicity and stupidity. Sometimes (through offering feeble answers to important questions, cf Zeitgeist) I even wonder if conspiracy theories are a conspiracy in themselves.



One of the greatest shocks I received was when I opened a book, which I think was called ‘the rough guide to conspiracy theories’. There they had an article on Alexander Litvinenko, the ‘heroic dissident’.



Or the crook who fled Russia on criminal charges, formed alliances with crooks in Russia, Ukraine and Italy, befriended Boris ‘crook’ Berezovsky, who kindly introduced him to Andrei ‘crook’ Lugavoi, who most probably poisoned him.



And now according to the mainstream media, and indeed the guide to conspiracy theories, Litvinenko is an all-round-top-bloke who was most probably murdered by Vladimir Hitlerstalin Putin, whilst the delightful ‘émigré dissident’ Boris Berezovsky who helped Putin into power wept at his bedside.


Meanwhile it has also become standard in the British press to write about 'suspicious' apartment bombings in Russia, but it would be seen as loony to write about the 'suspicious London bombings'. Yet aren't there questions from both that are pretty notable?



Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish radioactive poisoning on anybody. But the idea that a crook is a dissident being repeated by a book of ‘conspiracy theories’ was pretty ironic. Though of course the idea that Kennedy was assassinated for being a man of peace was also pretty far-fetched.


Conspiracy theories have become a type of vehicle for myths of good against evil. As a result they have become a type of sub-genre of romantic fiction. As it is I think the state has lied non-stop, and about pretty major events. But to imply they fit into a neat morally polarised package is rubbish.

4/28/2009 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gregor said...

Uh, inserted a hyperlink that didn't come out:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/jan/26/weekend.adrianlevy

4/28/2009 07:06:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Well, yeah, but this just shows that one has a duty to oneself to use your brain, rather than anything else. I mean, after all, one lie told to you by the government or the Times doesn't make you immediately give up on them forever and ridicule anyone who ever believes anything in a government press release. So why should one dodgy conspiracy book make you think that all conspiracy theories are full of shit, when (unlike government press releases and Times news stories) they're not even all produced by the same organisation?)

4/28/2009 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I've always been a bit suspicious of that Ukrainian poisoning. The bit that always seemed a bit odd, was that if you were poisoned by the KGB, would your first port of all really be an expensive clinic for drying out alcoholics? Rather than, I dunno, a clinic that specialised in poisoning?

4/28/2009 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

ps thanks very much for that link by the way, it's very interesting.

Why does everything weird, conspiratorial and crooked seem to end up passing through Italy at some point in the trail, btw? I find myself groping for a Copernican argument here; it is presumably just about possible that all countries are just about equally bad at concealing conspiracies and Italy is uniquely corrupt and conspiracy-prone, but the vice-versa hypothesis should surely at least be entertained?

4/28/2009 07:33:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I also think that Decent reaction to South Ossetia last year could fairly safely fall under the 'conspiracy theory' tag if Aaro's idea of 'common sense and historical accuracy' is applied to it...

Also, whither Lockerbie? It's quite easy to write a book on 12 fairly obviously bogus conspiracy theories (eg Diana and 9/11), as Aaro has done. But the second you start applying cod-psychology or trying to create a definition - or indeed a 'neat morally polarised package', you're in seriously dodgy waters.

4/28/2009 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Gregor said...

'So why should one dodgy conspiracy book make you think that all conspiracy theories are full of shit, when (unlike government press releases and Times news stories) they're not even all produced by the same organisation?)'

I never said that I think all conspiracy theories are full of shit, but that as a publishing genre it seems to fit a niche: it seems built on the Philip K Dick school of good, normal people against secretive wicked societies that purposefully keep people dumb.

I think there was something extremely dubious about the bombings in London, which may make a me a conspiracy loony, but I have not seen any 'official' conspiracy theory that explains what happened. We'll probably never know.

Where most conspiracy theories seem to fall down, as I can see, is that they think that governments do things to make people trust them. A 27 year old who has only really known parties that f**k up non stop (but are elected because the alternative would be worse) I find that hard to believe.

Just look at the Serbian war. There was not even a hypothetical need for a 'false flag' operation. Killing foreigners for a 'good fight' is always a winner in terms of viewers/votes (what difference?). For that reason I am a bit sceptical about 'false flag' conspiracies, but at the same time I do not believe in Al Quaeda as it is reported in the media, and suspect weird things did happen in London and in New York.

Except I do not claim to know what, and have not seen anyone explain what else could have happened.

4/28/2009 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

"Meanwhile it has also become standard in the British press to write about 'suspicious' apartment bombings in Russia, but it would be seen as loony to write about the 'suspicious London bombings'. Yet aren't there questions from both that are pretty notable?"

You've lost me here. Are you seriously suggesting some kind of conspiratorial equivalence round these two?

4/28/2009 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Clearly you are. I'll leave you to it.

4/28/2009 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger Gregor said...

‘Clearly you are. I'll leave you to it.’ You’d be as well doing that, because I’ve found the words ‘equivalence’ or ‘condemn’ are useful for spotting self-righteous decent trolls and I rarely respond. Having said that, ‘conspiratorial equivalence’ is a new one to me. Some conspirators are more conspiratorial than other conspirators? Anyway, you’d better leave me to it as you said.

4/28/2009 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

No, I was referring to the likelihood that the official story is wrong in both the Moscow and 7/7 bombings.

The evidence of FSB involvement in the former is strong; in the latter it's negligible. Even you admit "I have not seen any 'official' (i.e. convincing?) conspiracy theory that explains what happened". Yet you think the media should treat both these alleged imposters the same.

But I guess buying into the story that 4 men whose movements were caught on camera, and some of whom made filmed confessions, did actuall do what they said they'd do, just makes me one of the sheeple. As well as a self-righteous decent troll.

4/28/2009 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gregor said...

Ah, I knew that no-one who uses the word ‘equivalent’ in this sense would be able to ‘leave me to it’.

‘The evidence of FSB involvement in the former is strong; in the latter it's negligible. Even you admit "I have not seen any 'official' (i.e. convincing?) conspiracy theory that explains what happened". Yet you think the media should treat both these alleged imposters the same.’

Strong evidence? Please tell me all about this. What, incidentally, is ‘negligible evidence’? And when did I say ‘the same’? We have a profoundly dishonest government that thought nothing of lying about WMD. Why should it be mad to think that there was something suspicious about their reaction to the London bombings? In Russia where there is no evidence ‘suspicious’ is used as a default term. My point was that to think a state would be capable of a ‘false flag’ operation can be normal discourse if the state is unpopular. Otherwise it is regarded as ‘loony’. Conspiracy theories are a matter of perspective. All this talk of ‘same’ and ‘equivalence’ is mind numbingly stupid.

’But I guess buying into the story that 4 men whose movements were caught on camera, and some of whom made filmed confessions, did actuall do what they said they'd do, just makes me one of the sheeple. As well as a self-righteous decent troll.’

A self-pitying, self-righteous decent troll. If you’d actually read what I’d written, I’d said that there is no credible alternative explanation for the London bombings, but there are many questions unanswered by the state.

4/28/2009 09:03:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

"In Russia where there is no evidence ‘suspicious’ is used as a default term."

No evidence? Do you buy the official story over the Ryazan bomb that didn't go off then?

"And when did I say ‘the same’?"

You didn't. You just stuck the two cases in the same para to imply it.

"If you’d actually read what I’d written, I’d said that there is no credible alternative explanation for the London bombings, but there are many questions unanswered by the state."

So in the absence of any evidence of a plausible explanation to the contrary, you just say, "I think there was something extremely dubious about the bombings in London". I'd take the 'may' out of your next few words.

4/28/2009 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

The evidence of FSB involvement in the former is strong; in the latter it's negligible.It really isn't, by the way. Have you read Nafeez Ahmed's book at all? For four "clean skin", "ordinary Yorkshire lads", the 7/7 bombers had the most surprising network of mates.

Of course, Steve, if you're using "involvement" as a synonym for "they definitely planned it, specifically, in a room with ashtrays", then it might be a good idea if you didn't participate in this discussion of conspiracy theories because it's taking place at a rather higher level than that.

4/28/2009 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Smowboy said...

The "Ur-paranoids of paranoid America" do have a real social base. In the big Western States (Idaho, Montana etc) and much of the South West the Federal government own most of the land (up to 90% in places like Idaho) so there is a conflict between the local population, who really want to dig for gold on that there national park)and the agencies of the Federal government.

Another interesting point is that the US army and air force test all of their secret planes and projects up there, it's also where most of the nuclear missile launchers used to be) so weird lights in the sky, and government intelligence agencies buzzing around is common enough to be common sense.

Every ideology has a material root, that's what really annoys me about Aaro and Cohen, they just never seem to get that.

4/29/2009 02:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Is Ahmed's stuff any good? I've spent most of my adult life defending conspiracy theory, but I tend to avoid it these days (although I still read Lobster). There's just so much of it around, and so much of it is, well, a bit weird. (I remember one blogger who was maintaining that there was no 7/7 bomb - it was a power cut combined with an over-enthusiastic security consultant's simulation exercise - even after we knew how many had died. He's probably maintaining it still.)

4/29/2009 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

He's prolific, but uneven. The first half of his 7/7 book is ghastly - it's a more or less uncritical compendium of everything ever written on the internet about the bombings. The second half is really good and checks out to other sources.

Amusingly, the basic explanation of how the London bombings ended up happening that you get from Nafeez Ahmed is the exact same one that you get from Melanie Phillips - it's all about "Londonistan" and the UK intelligence community's half-fucked up, half-sensible relationship with Islamists.

4/29/2009 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

an over-enthusiastic security consultant's simulation exercise btw, people tend to vastly underestimate the size of the security consultancy and disaster preparedness industry (it's a regulatory requirement for every financial institution to have a detailed and proven DR plan), and therefore to assume that there being a disaster simulation exercise carried out on the very day of some incident or other is much more surprising and meaningful than it actually is.

4/29/2009 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gregor said...

'4/28/2009 09:35:00 PM'
A Decent's definition of 'leave you to it': write repeated posts through evening and the following morning INSISTING that the bloke on the internet WAS doing their very best to IMPLY that there is EQUIVALENCE between the goodies and the baddies.

There was no public enquiry into the London bombings because it would undermine the security services or something. And yes, there are interesting questions about the perpetrators who were very different from the stereotype suicide bombers. Does that mean that Tony had his hands on the plunger? I doubt it. But there is a lot that is weird about it. Incidentally, a real fact: MI5 has doubled in size since 2003; does anyone else find that disturbing?

Can't help noticing the weirdness of decent psychology. If you casually say 'x (Anglosphere) and Y (foreignsphere) are bad', they interpret this first as 'X and Y are equally bad' and then 'X is much, much, much worse than Y'.

4/29/2009 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

However, the Ryazan thing is just qualitatively different. It had actual witnesses and bags of explosives and people who identified themselves as FSB agents.

Regarding Italy, well, it's comparative advantage isn't it? You want machine tools or cars, you go to Germany. You want software, you go to Silicon Valley. You want really good skulduggery, you go to Italy. They have an economic specialisation in conspiracy built up over 2,000 years.

4/29/2009 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I agree with Gregor to some extent: I don't think the official story on 7/7 holds up under scrutiny. I also don't think the official story on 9/11 holds up under scrutiny, and I'm not at all convinced that the official story on Oklahoma City holds up under scrutiny. Official stories very rarely do hold up under scrutiny; fortunately for officialdom, they rarely get much. People forget, people misinterpret, people lie, and people hide their trails and cover their backs, for all sorts of reasons ("I'll be out of a job if this gets out" being a popular one).

If, for example, Mohamed Atta had been doing business with the CIA, and they didn't realise what he was planning - wouldn't that have been the cue for a Library of Alexandria -scale shredding of documents? Similarly, if Sidique Khan had already been on MI5's little list...

4/29/2009 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Official stories very rarely do hold up under scrutiny"

Although most stories don't usually hold up under scrutiny - there's plenty of psychological research on everyday crime that suggests reasons for this...

4/29/2009 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

it's a regulatory requirement for every financial institution to have a detailed and proven DR planDoes that mean that they have them, or that they don't?

4/29/2009 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

They have them and take them very seriously (I have a mate with a senior role in security for a bank). Most large companies have them also, even if its not mandated.

4/29/2009 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Regarding Italy, well, it's comparative advantage isn't it?

Absolute advantage, surely?

4/30/2009 04:33:00 PM  

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