Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Picking nuts

An excerpt from Aaro's book, and I think that I am declaring victory on "shamelessly nutpicks" and "represents 9/11 with nuttiest fringes of thermite & holograms types".

The odd thing is that Aaro appears to have picked the single weakest argument in the anti-conspiracy arsenal. There are lots of reasons for not believing that 9/11 was "an inside job" (most particularly, the lack of any evidence at all, which was also an excellent reason for not believing Iraq had WMD, just sayin'). But the argument Aaro actually uses is the "oh, it would be much too difficult" one.

Look guys. Al Qaeda actually did it. Therefore, Al Qaeda did, actually, recruit 19 guys, get them pilot training, set them up with cover stories and send them off to hijack planes, and keep it secret that they were planning it. The government is a lot bigger and more competent than Al Qaeda. The only other element would have been the cover-up, and governments can do this too. It's certainly true that it's difficult to intimidate and bamboozle investigators and the media into silence on important subjects. It's also difficult to build a road across the Rockies or put a man on the moon, which is why there are special, well-resourced government agencies given the task of doing each of these.

The "argument from governmental incompetence" is, of course, not incidental to Aaro's underlying thesis. It's first cousin to the argument "nobody would bother to monitor my transactions or survey me on CCTV, my life is too boring".

Update: "Little Atoms" in the comments confirm that Peter Dale Scott, Nafeez Ahmed and Robin Ramsay are listed in the bibliography. I will still reserve judgement until I see the book (citing something in the bibliog isn't at all a guarantee that it's dealt with in the text, plus Ramsay has written a number of popular summaries and PDS is a default citation for inventing the term "parapolitics") but this is a good sign with respect to nutpicking. I notice by the way, that the Amazon summary of the book has Aaro arguing that conspiracy mad nutters "linked themselves to the supposed conspiracies of the past (it happened then so it can happen now)". Once more, this is weird - "it provably happened then, so it might have happened now" is a perfectly sound way to reason.


Blogger ejh said...

But does he say "it would be too difficult" or "it would be too difficult to do in entire secrecy bearing in mind that unlike the chaps who actually did it, you'd be asking Americans to kill thousands of Americans"?

4/29/2009 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

I don't quite understand this. Doing things in secrecy is what secret services do; they also employ people who aren't nationals of their own country (the CIA has been known to employ actual Muslims, including Mohammed Atta, who was most likely a quite highly valued double agent, which appears to be the kernel at the centre of this particular strand of trooferism).

Like I say, arguing that it would have been too difficult seems to me to be the daftest way to argue this - doing difficult and nasty things in secret is surely the whole purpose of intelligence organisations.

4/29/2009 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, we have a pretty exact counterpart in Russia, of course, where the FSB really does look to have faked a series of bombings in the 90s to kick off a new Chechen war. And they were caught doing it red-handed, what's more, in Ryazan, which they then claimed to be 'a training exercise.' But that's a whole different environment, and a considerably simpler attack.

The problem with the 9/11 conspiracy theories is that they always postulate ridiculously complicated explanations and cover-ups. Something nice and simple, like, I dunno, the CIA actively encouraging a pre-existing plot, would at least have some inkling of credibility.

4/29/2009 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Ah, OK. So our nominal thesis would be that the guys who did it, did it, but would have been employed by the secret services in the US as opposed to Mr Bin Laden of no fixed abode.

My problem's the same: it's one thing to recruit jihadis to kill infidels, and while there's all sorts of reasons to think somebody might blabber, the people involved won't tend to be repelled by the basic idea.

Whereas if you ask US secret service people to casually kill thousands of Americans, there's a good chance that somebody will think it's not actually what they're supposed to be doing.

In other words the level of difficulty in maintaining secrecy is several notches higher, and I think close to and probably above the bar marked "impossibility".

4/29/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

Whereas if you ask US secret service people to casually kill thousands of Americans, there's a good chance that somebody will think it's not actually what they're supposed to be doing.who's the "you" at the top here? I think there's a quite wrong implicit model of how decisions get made in organisations (of any type, but particularly secret ones) here. Remember, particularly, that "American secret services" and "jihadis" are not, at the boundary, two distinct groups. The tendency to think that double agents are "really" on one side or the other (even worse, that they are always really on one's own side) is always a source of error.

Even if we were to take the worst case obviously straw example of Dick Cheney specifically ordering it to be done in so many words and cackling once he'd said so, the command chain wouldn't necessarily contain even half a dozen more people than were involved in the actual AQ conspiracy. It could even have gone Cheney - Cheney's right hand in CIA (who wouldn't necessarily have been the Director), Mohammed Atta.

Finally, what would you say today if an ex-CIA man showed up in the newspapers saying "Yes, I was there and it was an inside job"? I know I'd say "nutter", rather than "see, this proves that you can't keep a big conspiracy secret".

In general people underestimate how many things do get succcessfully covered up. I was party to a couple of cover-ups when I was a civil servant and none of them have ever got out.

4/29/2009 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

"the CIA has been known to employ actual Muslims, including Mohammed Atta, who was most likely a quite highly valued double agent"

Is there any evidence for this? Khalid Sheikh Mohammed yes, but Atta?

Anyway. Will DA make the logical step from fish-in-a-barrel-shooting-debunking 9/11 conspiracy to the real conspiracy? Who was responsible for the US getting so enmired in Arab politics/economics that on 9/11 they found the guns pointing at them rather than in the other (normal) direction?

I doubt it.

4/29/2009 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I was party to a couple of cover-ups when I was a civil servant and none of them have ever got out.I suspect on a somewhat different ethical and organisational level than 9/11 though.

It could even have gone Cheney - Cheney's right hand in CIA (who wouldn't necessarily have been the Director), Mohammed Atta. I don't think so. There's some distance between Cheney's RHM and Atta, and unless Atta reports personally to the RHM (in which case who recruits him? who pays him? who keeps an eye on him?) there's a lot of leakage there.

The fact that they kept the actual conspiracy secret is quite remarkable, I think: but it's much easier to do if you all know one another and you're all on the same side. And if you're the sort of people who are prepared to die (which Deadeye Dick isn't).

Finally, what would you say today if an ex-CIA man showed up in the newspapers saying "Yes, I was there and it was an inside job"? I'd say "oh, really?" and wait for the evidence (and subsequent laughter).

4/29/2009 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Cheney would presumably have relied on some parallel network outside the US government entirely, wouldn't he? Not the CIA, which he considers to be indistinguishable from the ACLU.

4/29/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

Is there any evidence for this?Some but it's not great quality. He had some ISI connections, who had CIA connections. Reading back I see that my second comment above did indeed confuse Atta with KSM, for which my profoundest apologies.

There's some distance between Cheney's RHM and Atta, and unless Atta reports personally to the RHM (in which case who recruits him? who pays him? who keeps an eye on him?) there's a lot of leakage there.Nah, disagree. All that RHM needs is to be senior enough to know that Atta/KSM/whoever is a CIA asset, plus to have access to a slush fund to pay him off, plus he needs to be sufficiently senior to the bad guy's handler that he can approach the handler's agents without consultation. Since Mr Bad Guy has his own agenda which is hospitable to killing American civilians anyway, he handles the rest.

4/29/2009 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

Alex - parallel network yes, but more likely one inside the CIA rather than outside it - Scott's books are full of these little firms-within-a-firm.

4/29/2009 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

btw, ching, ching!

29 April 2009, 9:15 am

Britain sent in troops

The words “at the request of the Sierra Leone government” and “in support of a UN mission” appear to have been dropped off the end of your sentence there. As it stands, it almost looks as if you were pretending that the successes of Operation Palliser and Operation Barras could be used to support a policy of unilateral liberal interventionism. I’m sure that you’d hate to give this impression (it would make you look disingenuous and/or as if you didn’t know what you were talking about), so it might be a good idea to clarify.

Thanks for your comment! It has been placed in the moderation queue, and if it is approved it will be published here soon!

This was on a story posted by Toube, who "doesn't have time" to do anything about the cesspool of racist drivel on the other posts.

4/29/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

one of the (many) reasons i disliked the x-files was that it never paid attention to the corollary of its "truth is out there" model, which is that planet earth is like the cold war berlin of alien activity, with every secret pan-galactic org stumbling over the plans and etc of all the others all the time

"the wilderness of mirrors is out there (by which we mean IN HERE)" -- this would have made for a better x-files (bcz better fictional examination of internal politics of all the US intelligence agencies, of which there are like 30 official ones, and that's ignoring any cheney-esque private stuff...)

4/29/2009 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

btw, ching, ching!I'll be away from the internet practically all next month, I suggest you all get it out of systems then

4/29/2009 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

I always thought that the X-files should have had at least one episode where there turned out to be a perfectly rational explanation and Mulder ended up just agreeing that Scully was probably right first time, if only for the surprise value.

4/29/2009 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Re RTM/Atta, AFAIR there wasn't a long path to Ollie North for Iran/Contra, was there?

4/29/2009 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be interesting to see, in a week's time, whether the extract - as is being assumed here - somehow says everything that Aaro has to say on the matter.

4/29/2009 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

Yes, perhaps the Times decided to extract a completely unrepresentative passage that badly caricatures one of its senior columnists' views. We might not have to wait till next week though, as Aaro is certain to write a letter of complaint about this calumny.

4/29/2009 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what's Aaro's conclusion going to be? That the internet is a bad thing because it allows people with too much time on their hand to exchange speculations about what is behind the news? There is indeed a lot of rubbish on blogs, but there's also a lot of rubbish in newspapers. You need to have your brain switched on when reading both. Newspapers however are "institutions": they have circulations of six or seven figures, and claim to be part of the fabric of a free society. That's why I worry more about newspaper columnists repeating uncritically talking points from government that I do about rubbish on the internet.


4/29/2009 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, BB, let us take the accusation level down a bit and imagine, for a moment, the difficult business of excerpting a 2,500 word segment that stands alone, from a 310 page book. So I suppose the empirical challenge is whether, in the book, Aaro takes on those more respectable (less "nutty") parts of the 9/11 truth movement. If that's right, why don't you suggest some names and we can see next week whether Aaro does indeed try and cope with their arguments? Fair enough?

4/29/2009 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

wikipedia's version of the tale of the double (triple?) agent yevno azev, who -- while reporting on his co-revolutionaries to the tsarist secret service -- found time to assassinate two of his government bosses (the picture alone is worth the price of admission)

hans magnus enzensberger wrote the definite version of this chapter in russian conspiracy entanglement

4/29/2009 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

If that's right, why don't you suggest some names and we can see next week whether Aaro does indeed try and cope with their arguments? OK then, let's have a gamble. I'll select Peter Dale Scott, Robin Ramsay and Paul Thompson. Two out of three wins. What's the stakes?

4/29/2009 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The extract specifically concerns 9/11 and 7/7, so how about Prof David Ray Griffin, BB, as the leading 9/11 Truth exponent?

4/29/2009 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

No, you said I could name the names (a privilege I am hardly likely to give up, particularly as there are pre-publication copies circulating - Alex Higgins has seen one, for example), and I choose Scott, Ramsay and Thompson. With Nafeez Ahmed as a "bonus ball".

David Ray Griffin is one name and he's not totally valueless - he's co-edited a book with PDS and is all right as a compiler of other people's work - but I specifically ruled out controlled demolition theorists as "nutpicking" in my original review. So no, I'll stick with my list, thanks.

4/29/2009 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but you have to justify your choices with some kind of argument. Griffin's views don't differ from Scott's in any material way, which is why they do some stuff together, but Griffin has a far higher profile. Anyway the co-edited book contains an essay on controlled demolitions, so I'm not sure your distinction holds.

4/29/2009 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

Griffin's views don't differ from Scott's in any material wayYes they do, specifically on the subject of controlled demolitions and on the subject of whether 9/11 was an inside job, both of which are obviously material. Furthermore, Griffin only got interested in the subject after reading Thompson and Ahmed (according to Wikipedia).

I get a strong feeling you're trying it on here, Phil - why do you have such a fucking hot nut for David Griffin? but in case not, here's my "justifications".

Peter Dale Scott - towering figure of the conspiracy literature. Cited by everyone. Not citing him would be like writing about Middle East Studies and not mentioning Edward Said.

Robin Ramsay - the top UK parapolitics researcher. Editor of "Lobster". Very easily accessible.

Paul Thompson - compiler of the "9/11 Timeline", which is for better or worse the definitive compilation. Not mentioning him would be like writing about English cooking and omitting Mrs Beeton.

Nafeez Ahmed - again, British and highly accessible.

Three of these four names are listed in the Wikipedia category "9/11 Truth Movement" and the one who isn't (Ramsay) has regularly published articles in the Times. I'm certainly not cherrypicking obscurities here.

4/29/2009 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I get a strong feeling you're trying it on here, Phil - why do you have such a fucking hot nut for David Griffin?"
I'm not sure what a "fucking hot nut" is, but I'll assume it's an unwarranted obsession. So, not definitive but, Google Peter Dale Scott and 9/11 and you get 77,000 hits. David Ray Griffin and 9/11 gets you 620,000. So I suggest, m'lud, that if anyone is the towering figure of 9/11 conspiracy work it's Griffin. I further suggest that if anyone has a fucking hot nut it's you BB, and (if I may) that you are the one who is trying it on.

4/29/2009 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

Phil, you started off saying "why don't you suggest some names and we can see next week whether Aaro does indeed try and cope with their arguments?" I thought this was pretty silly, but I played along and suggested three names.

Then you went into this "what about David Ray Griffin, wouldn't you prefer David Ray Griffin, let's just say David Ray Griffin, if he mentions David Ray Griffin then that's it, and that's the real quiz" routine, like Paul Daniels trying to get an audience member to change cards. I politely demurred and cited my reason - that I specifically regarded controlled demolition theorists as nutpicks, and that DRG was one such.

Now I'm meant to be impressed by fucking google hits? By your chosen metric, Charlie Sheen and David Icke are the serious scholars Aaro should be engaging with.

The names are Peter Dale Scott, Robin Ramsay, Paul Thompson and Nafeez Ahmed. Your suggestion of David Ray Griffin has been considered and has not been accepted. Management will no longer be entering into correspondence on this matter.

4/29/2009 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog BB, your call. Though on other blogs they might accept that Griffin is a better choice since he says clearly what Dale Scott, with all his "deep politics" euphemisms, continually implies. Phil.

4/29/2009 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

Though on other blogs they might accept that Griffin is a better choice since he says clearly what Dale Scott, with all his "deep politics" euphemisms, continually impliesI'm glad I don't read those blogs then, they sound shit. The entire point was that there were plenty of people in the conspiracy literature who don't make wild and unguarded statements beyond the evidence, but who restrict themselves to stating things that they can back up, while marking any theorising or speculation of their own clearly as such. In other words, who described the data and allowed the reader to make his own inferences, which is what's called "good research practices".

"Stating clearly" things which can't be supported by the evidence is a bad research practice, which is why I don't regard people who indulge in it as being the good researchers. Therefore, Griffin is not a "better choice". This isn't difficult. You and Aaro *want* it to be the case that the best conspiracy researchers are always saying silly things that can't be proved, because that would make them easier to refute. But it isn't actually true.

4/29/2009 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone really should have warned poor old Scott, then, before he teamed up with silly Griffin to edit books and before he agreed to appear on platforms alongside a host of even sillier people (sorry, but a quick google does it). Also BB try entering, just for example, Peter Dale Scott and Payne Stewart to see just how solidly based his assertions are.
May I say this, without seeming rude? I am beginning to wonder if your knowledge quite matches your certainty. Phil

4/29/2009 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

Phil, you're now scrambling around on google, aren't you? It's a bit embarrassing, because you've dug up a reference that's over a year old (a talk given by PDS in which he refers to inaccurate information about the interception of Payne Stewart's aeroplane) and which PDS has disavowed since being corrected on the facts. This is what sensible researchers do, and it is hardly as if David Aaronovitch has never made a mistake.

About a dozen posts ago, you were making a point - you were trying to say that the Times extract might not be representative and that the book itself might deal with a lot more serious points of the general conspiracy literature. How do you think you're doing in arguing for that point, right at the minute?

4/29/2009 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK BB, let's see next week, shall we? I'd say that PDS is a sort of obscurantist version of DRG, unwilling to face up to the implication of his own arguments, and theorise who concretely did what and when, for fear of having to defend a specific position.
Now I come to think of it, that reminds me of someone.......

4/29/2009 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

Yes, Phil it is so terribly unfair of people to not make definite and specific wrong statements so that you and Aaro can triumphantly refute them, isn't it? It's just to terribly unsporting of people who disagree with you to be themselves, rather than straw targets with concentric circles drawn on them.

unwilling to face up to the implication of his own arguments, and theorise who concretely did what and when, for fear of having to defend a specific position.

this just means "unwilling to speculate beyond the evidence and say things he can't prove, for fear of making a mistake he'll later have to retract".

If you think that's "obscurantist" then you're going to be disappointed with Aaro's book, because that's the way you end up doing things if you've got, to coin a phrase "a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense".

4/29/2009 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'd say that PDS is a sort of obscurantist version of DRGI'd say that you'd never read a word of Peter Dale Scott's work before BB mentioned him.

4/29/2009 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger nancy said...

and theorise who concretely did what and when, for fear of having to defend a specific position. I know, I hate it when scientists refuse to speculate on subjects for which there is data available. What wimps.

4/29/2009 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger nancy said...

Currently my favorite conspiracy is that Iran fooled the US into deposing Iraq for them, therefore hugely increasing their influence in the region. I wonder if Chalabi is telling the truth this time...

4/29/2009 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger nancy said...

ejh: I think you're making the mistake of thinking that CIA operatives are all decent people, or indeed American. Some obviously are, others seem to spend their lives interchangeably moving between organized crime, dirty ops for foreign governments and the CIA dirty tricks dept (which is, incidentally, still the primary purpose of the CIA). I don't believe the truthers story because the evidence isn't there. Plausibility? [shrug]

And people really overestimate the ability for this kind of stuff to escape. I mean there is a huge amount of evidence showing that the CIA helped funnel cocaine into the US during the 80s for a variety of reasons (including to fund deniable ops). And what's happened? Most people don't believe it, or even know about it.

4/29/2009 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger nancy said...

Damn, the above was all me.

4/29/2009 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

" Nancy said...

Damn, the above was all me.

I think that's what CIA ops call blowing your cover.

4/29/2009 07:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ISTR that when the San Jose Mercury broke the 'Crack-gate' story, the MSM spin machine columnists all came out with identikit talking points the next day saying: "Why are these African-Americans so prone to wacky conspiracy theories? Let's talk about conspiracy theories." Which is essentially what Aaro is up to.

Chris Williams

4/29/2009 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think you're making the mistake of thinking that CIA operatives are all decent people, or indeed American.I think there's a very large space between "all decent people" and "not one of 'em would think twice about slaughtering thousands of their fellow Americans* without even checking as to whether or not they were communists first".

[* if indeed they were]

4/29/2009 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

"Why are these African-Americans so prone to wacky conspiracy theories?"Ah yes - I don't suppose Aaro does "Hoover flooded the ghettoes with heroin and crack to head off the black revolt"? Might be the only thing Hoover was ever accused of that he didn't actually do.

4/29/2009 08:23:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

chalabi was who i had in mind when i posted abt azev -- someone very shrewd and slippery indeed, with a difft agenda than anyone hiring him, which agenda may prove to be as enigmatic to future history as it is to himself

4/29/2009 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Little Atoms said...

"The names are Peter Dale Scott, Robin Ramsay, Paul Thompson and Nafeez Ahmed".

I have the book, a quick glance at the bibliography shows that Paul Thompson is indeed missing, but the other three are all in there.

4/29/2009 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

I'll have a look when it comes out - as we all know, the presence of a name in a bibliog doesn't necessarily mean the work is discussed in the text. Which PDSes are mentioned?

4/29/2009 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

(sorry, where are my manners, thanks, by the way)

4/29/2009 11:08:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Just thought I'd quibble a bit with Aaro's piece itself.

increasingly, material originating on the net has turned up in popular culture - a millennial version of the word-of-mouth route to popularity'Increasingly'? Yes, the whole concept of 'viral' is a pretty new one, eh Dave... Also, are the words 'CND' circulating in anyone's minds when reading this stuff? The least Aaro could do would be to admit that he's been caught out by taking stuff on teh internets at face value.

Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of English-language websites have sprung up specifically devoted to proselytising for the 9/11 Truth movement.Isn't this quantifiable? How can he possibly justify that 'perhaps' in a book that's meant to be about historical accuracy?

Sites endorsing 9/ll conspiracy theories, and those subscribing to them in passing, far outnumber sites devoted to debunking or refuting such, so what...

Cheap movies, often made using material not cleared for copyright, made and narrated by non-professional film-makerssays the non-professional who's nonetheless presented a couple of documentaries, including that terrible Blair one.

I'm no 'truther' but Aaro's prose is really poor quality here:

Believing that an attack that could kill up to 30,000 people in New York might not provide an adequate casus belliEr, previous WTC attack? Could also have easily killed up to 30,000 if it'd worked. No casus belli there...

another theory, favoured by the makers of [the internet documentary series] Loose ChangeWhy the square brackets?

the faking of videos of Osama bin Laden and others claiming responsibility for the attacksHasn't al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for numerous campus shootings in America, among other things?

Minor quibbles aside, this is just nutpicking, and it's not very interesting either - there has been at least one 'rebuttal to loose change' on terrestrial TV in the last few years, and Aaro really doesn't spend long enough outlining the conspiracy theory itself, and investigating why people might not believe the official version of the facts, aside from the idea that 'they're internet weirdos'... I'm sure that the outlining of the alleged conspiracy theory works a lot better as an after-dinner speech but in prose it just looks like he's cherrypicked the worst excesses of internet paranoia (some of which contract one another) and then claimed them as 'the conspiracy theory' itself.

I disliked the Michael Moore film which was full of dodgy and implausible insinuations, but I'd still like to know why huge chunks of the 9/11 commission were 'inked out'; and I'd like to know why very little footage has appeared of the Pentagon attack. In fact Aaro's approach reminds me of Michael Moore, more than anything else. This is pretty far from an objective, historical account of the issue - just like Moore it's edutainment preaching to the already converted.

Also, does this remind you of anything:

many “independent” or “alternative” media sites routinely replicate [...] material uncritically, and many of these sites link to or cite each otherphysician, heal thyself.

4/30/2009 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

but I'd still like to know why huge chunks of the 9/11 commission were 'inked out'; and I'd like to know why very little footage has appeared of the Pentagon attack

Respectively: the inked out chunks referred to connections between US intelligence, influential Saudis and the 9/11 attackers which had the potential to create a massive international incident, and the Pentagon just on general principles doesn't let people take or broadcast pictures of it very often.

FWIW, I thought the Moore film was very excessively maligned, and that there wasn't all that much in it that was wrong or even particularly tendentious. The bits that everyone gets worked up about were the kid flying a kite in Iraq (which was tendentious in that it didn't really give the flavour of a horrible totalitarian state, but the Iraq war did, in fact, kill lots of kids), and the bit about the UNOCAL pipeline (which was a bit stupidly monocausal, but on the other hand it does accurately summarise the main Great Power economic interest in Afghanistan, and the fact that Karzai was much more at home in oil company boardrooms). Other than that, it was pretty sound.

4/30/2009 08:16:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

My problem with the Moore film was neither of those things, actually - it was the tone of insinuation throughout the whole 'buildup' part - if he thought that Bush wanted it to happen, or had prior knowledge, etc, I'd have liked him to make it explicit. Part of that is probably his narration style which I have a really irrational dislike of. If memory serves me correctly (and it might not) I also remember thinking that he didn't hit some things hard enough (ie who provided pre-war intelligence) because he likes going for the cheap gag...

the inked out chunks referred to connections between US intelligence, influential Saudis and the 9/11 attackersyeah - I mean that's it really. But the inking-out feeds the conpiracy theorists and Aaro's not touched on that at all - and if you're looking for a proper historical account you'd have to make those things visible, as historians will in years to come. Unsurprising that the US Govt inked them out, but omitting anything to do with that is clearly a big problem for a 'history of conspiracy theory' that tries to universalise about the idea of conspiracy theory. There's quite a big difference between the reasons why people are sceptical about aspects of the official history of 9/11 and, i dunno, the Protocols...

Oliver Kamm on radio 5 as we speak... apparently we'd have been obliged to go to war with Iraq sooner or later as it was either going to be a 'rogue state' or a 'failed state' and thus we'd have had to intervene.

4/30/2009 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

...the inked out chunks referred to connections between US intelligence, influential Saudis and the 9/11 attackersI always assumed that the CIA just didn't realise that they were using black highlighter pens.

BTW, if you've never seen Condi Rice's epic filibustering performance in front of the 9/11 Commission, it's worth checking out for comedy value. Credit to the good Doctor, she was like a bullshit avalanche while she was running down the clock.

4/30/2009 08:49:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

cohen has two pieces in Standpoint (which by the way is openly Thatcherite in its new issue). Along with a really boring TV piece on Horizon, he's also contributed a shonky piece of already-out-of-date anecdotal rubbish which he clearly asked to write having been shown up by Martin Bright et al denying his drunken claims about Brown getting Bright sacked (evidence is pretty much limited to - er - the NS website having a few sweary pro-Ken commenters)...

The stuff from Amis, which has zero bearing on the rest of the piece (if it applies to any spin doctor, it's Alastair Campbell), was also stolen from an online commenter - Nick, who apparently loves amis so much, clearly hadn't even read Yellow Dog until last week. And this is especially damning for nick:

It says much about the impunity with which the Brownites have operated that Whelan was certain that none of the journalists present would blow the whistle on the state's interference with press freedom. His insouciance was vindicated, for none did.not until now - only a year after the event! Congrats to 'brave' Nick Cohen...

4/30/2009 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

Alex de Waal in the post I linked above is excellent on "rogue" and "failed" states.

But the inking-out feeds the conpiracy theorists

true, although perhaps not compared to the banquet they'd have got if the material was left in! (Actually, as far as I can make out which might not be very far, the censored material was extremely tame, but the Saudis were hyper sensitive).

In terms of the insinuation in F911, I think this is what me and Phil NonEdwards were talking about and the point of the "opportunists" paragraph of my essay - it's not at all that Bush "wanted" 9/11 to happen - it's more that he very much had his ducks in a row for a load of stuff that he wanted to do and would get the opportunity to put into practice if something horrible happened. And this behaviour is really quite normal at the top levels of society, and it's one of the mechanisms by which accountability is consciously, intentionally and systematically reduced (Peter Dale Scott's original definition of "parapolitics")

4/30/2009 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Aaro mention the Ergenekon conspiracy in Turkey?

which was revealed by the Susurluk car crash

or was the presence of a police chief, a politician and a gangster in the car just a coincidence/cock-up?

Word verification 'decesp' - a decent deception or spy?

4/30/2009 09:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and I see that the first review is in the Statesman today. Haven't read it yet.

4/30/2009 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a letter in the latest London Review of Books from the Anti-Defamation League, the main point of which is that Mearsheimer and Walt are conspiratorialists. It seems that these days you don't have to address the issues that your critics raise, you just have to label them as peddlers of conspiracy theories.

4/30/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Which is part of the more sinister side of trying to universalise about conspiracy theories.

That LRB letter really is pissweak. I can't find any evidence to support the claim that Freeman thinks Israel was behind 9/11... Of course, it's the ADL who are throwing the 'conspiracy theory' accusations around...

4/30/2009 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's apiece of rhetoric really. The following letter isn't much good either.

4/30/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where exactly does de Waal talk about rogue states and failed states? I couldn't find it in his very interesting piece about Save Darfour (which does capture well the ambivalence of Africans to the diea of being saved by Europeans and Americans).


4/30/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

sorry, he doesn't in so many words - the idea is that Sudan has been defined as a rogue, failed, etc while Uganda has been defined as functional.

4/30/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Re ADL letter:

This is what pisses me off about the 9/11 truth movement. As correctly argued here for example . It diverts attention from the real causes of 9/11.

The ADL spokesman is essentially citing Freeman as saying Israel was behind the attacks when what he actually said is that Israeli actions in the middle east were one of the causes of 9/11 (true, IMO).

But the truth movement allows defenders of Israel's foreign policy to tarnish its critics with the same conspiracy brush. Deliberately confusing those that suggest Mossad agents in vans were directing planes with remote controls, with those that suggest that 7 year old boys who witnessed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (as Ziad Jarrah did) might one day seek revenge - however scattergun the choice of perpetrators was.

4/30/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

Indeed. It is not at all out of the question that the 9/11 conspiracy movement has been "seeded" with some of its nuttiest ideas by people who gain (bong session cui bono alert!) from this blurred distinction. AFAIK, the only documented case of this having happened is with respect to the UFOlogy community, via Paul Bennewitz, but I think it's a reasonable suspicion simply because it's such an easy and effective tactic (there are plenty of anecdotes from Northern Ireland of journalists being brought into rooms with security services and shown interesting documents which they weren't allowed to take copies of, but which turned out to contain a pack of lies). I know I'd do it if I was trying to cover something up.

4/30/2009 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I think there's a very large space between "all decent people" and "not one of 'em would think twice about slaughtering thousands of their fellow Americans* without even checking as to whether or not they were communists first".Okay, let me rephrase it. The CIA has over the years employed people who were basically vicious, amoral, murderous, gangsters. I don't think the US govt planned 911, but I think the argument that you would not be be able to find people to carry out such a task doesn't really hold. As Bruschetta said, you'd only need a few (most people involved wouldn't realise they were involved), and the CIA has them in abundance.

4/30/2009 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Oh, and the CIA is structured in such a way that if you don't need to know, you don't know. Making conspiracies fairly easy to carry out.

4/30/2009 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well firstly, nothing's watertight. But secondly and at least as importantly - while of course you can always hire amoral people who will do anything, you can't always:

(a) hire amoral people who will say nothing ;

(b) organise them, pay them and monitor them without having these done by people other than them.

The 9/11 people weren't amoral, though they were wicked: but they were wicked with great purpose, with shared purpose and with the mutual willingness to die in their cause (something amoral gangsters aren't too keen on).

These things all lend themselves to conspiracy and to the ability to keep that conspiracy quiet - and even then I think it's a miracle they managed to do so. But the crucial thing to understand is that amorality isn't necessarily an aid to conspiracy. It's not the wickedness that matters. It's the shared sense of purpose.

5/01/2009 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I used to have these arguments with Truthers, by the way: they'd keep saying aren't you naive, you think the secret services are good people, as if I thought that, or as if that had anything to do with it. It's really not the point.

5/01/2009 02:13:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Johann Hari reviews Aaro (at length) in The Independent today.

He likes it overall but here is a telling quote

Aaronovitch fillets conspiracy theories brilliantly, but ultimately for the wrong reason. He complains they "eventually add up to an idea of the world in which the authorities, including those who we elect, are systematically corrupt and untruthful". In the place of excessive incredulity, he offers an unnecessary credulity.Aaro excessively credulous towards those in power? Who'd have thought it?

5/01/2009 06:01:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

Hari seems to imply that Aaro does discuss the Tonkin Gulf Incident, which I'll read with great interest if he does.

5/01/2009 07:40:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

it would have added an extra layer of depth if he had admitted that he too fell for a conspiracy theory, as we all do sometimes.
This is to an extent true, and it's not the only one Aaro has fallen for either (CND). Weird that Hari doesn't mention the whole WMD thing too.

Essentially, if a conspiracy theory fits in with your idea of the world, it's quite hard to shake off the belief that it must be true - thus Aaro doesn't bother checking facts of stuff he reads on HP Sauce, thus he's happy with the WMD stuff. There's a much more interesting book ready to be written on this stuff that doesn't end up with an endorsement of such blithe credulity towards power as Aaro offers.

5/02/2009 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

I'm intrigued as to whether the Gulf of Tonkin incident gets mentioned and, more generally, Aaro's take on JFK full stop. As it does not necessarily follow that a book debunking CTs per se will have to side with the JFK official version (even the post-Warren one, that said it was likely there was more than one person was involved). In fact, it can be argued, that the seductive allure of CTs have their origins in the JFK theories and that it is the godfather of all modern CTs. In fact DA would go up in my estimation if he gave some leeway to some historical elements of that which he will no doubt effortlessly debunk.

5/02/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Voodoo review in Guard today .

He appears to have a long section about "history operating behind our backs" as a mainstay of movie hypotheses. That "We have a need for conspiracy theories, it seems, even when we know better." (not his words) seems a rather fatuous argument.

Does the proliferation of science-fiction films mean we have an unhealthy concern with technology or exobiology?

5/02/2009 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

Both Hari and the Guardian go big on Pearl Harbor, which is an interesting issue in itself (although again a slightly strange one for anticonspiracists to pick to defend their ground - surely whatever the details of the specific event, nobody seriously disputes that FDR was trying, more or less against the will of the American people, to get the USA into the Second World War?).

5/02/2009 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

in his reivew, Giles Foden seems to suggest that Aaro links this 'Pearl Harbor conspiracy' with the 'conspiracy theory' that directly after 9/11 the Bush admin were angling to go for Iraq - really not sure abot that one as a 'bonkers conspiracy theory' either...

Which again seems to show that this stuff is in the eye of the beholder a lot of the time.

5/03/2009 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

I know he rounds off with a very weak-sounding "anyway, this is a very good book", but that Foden review makes me think that our preliminary reviews have, if anything, been too kind.

I mean, he takes a swipe at Spike Lee! Ouch! Take that, people who haven't been remotely relevant since about 1994! And I can't wait to read his deconstruction of Edge of Darkness's factual accuracy - that will surely be devastating to anyone who thought that show was a documentary!

The new pop enlightenment all seem very keen to tell us that no true skeptic should watch The X-Files or read vampire novels or generally enjoy any fiction that has a vague similarity to something that some nutter somewhere thinks is real. I have no idea why they think this is a good idea. It doesn't make them look more rational - it makes them look disarmingly like those lunatics who try to ban Harry Potter for promoting devil worship.

5/03/2009 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand you could try actually reading the bloody book. Radical, I know......
Phil D'Bap

5/03/2009 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

That'd involve buying it. I'll wait til it is in the remainders or the library. But I probably will end up looking at it, as I'm very interested in how exactly Aaro can possibly justify a chapter on the da vinci code. As far as I can tell, even the most numbskull reader or viewer of that knows it's not true...

A quotation from it, from an FT review:

If all narratives are relative, we are lost ... relativism doesn’t care to distinguish between the scholarly and the slapdash, the committed researcher and the careless loudmouth, the scrupulous and the demagogic.Again, CND anyone? 'Committed researcher' indeed...

In any case relativism is not to blame for conspiracy theories since as Aaro notes they've existed for ages before relativism reared its ugly postmodern head or whatever. Just like Nick blaming 1960s educational theories for everything bad in education, or blaming 'the liberal left' for everything bad, EVER, this is another example of a Decent identifying the cause of 'bad things' based on their own list of stock prejudices.

5/04/2009 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

The irony is that it is Aaro (or at least his thesis) that "doesn’t care to distinguish between the scholarly and the slapdash" by obfuscating PDS and DRG or Gore Vidal and the 9/11 truth movement.

As for da vinci, if he's too indolent to call faction faction then I can't be arsed to pay for his book.

5/04/2009 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

That is a very strange quote indeed from the FT review. Conspiracy theorists in-the-pejorative-sense are some of the least relativist or postmodernist people in the world - they're in general obsessed with the specific and literal truth of a specific narrative version of history.

That's why Peter Dale Scott has had such terrifyingly little success in getting the JFK community to concentrate on the network and milieu itself, rather than the whodunnit they want to solve. The problem with conspiracists is always a shortage of tolerance for ambiguity and relativism, not an excess.

5/04/2009 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Qlipoth said...

BruschettaBoy said:

"Conspiracy theorists in-the-pejorative-sense"There is only a pejorative sense.

The thing that really amazes me about this otherwise very interesting thread (and site) is the entirely uncritical acceptance and use of the cant terms "conspiracy theory" and "conspiracy theorists", as if these were value-neutral. They are not. And they are no more innocently-usable than the terms "political correctness", "chavs" and "uppity n*ggers".

Jamey Hecht:


This phrase is among the tireless workhorses of establishment discourse. Without it, disinformation would be much harder than it is. “Conspiracy theory” is a trigger phrase, saturated with intellectual contempt and deeply anti-intellectual resentment. It makes little sense on its own, and while it’s a priceless tool of propaganda, it is worse than useless as an explanatory category."

I've quoted this innumerable times on the web. It appears to me to be unanswerably true, not to mention admirably succinct. And indeed, no one has ever answered it, much less disagreed with it, still less rebutted it. In general, it's just discreetly ignored, and then the chorus starts up again: Conspiracy theory this, conspiracy theory that, ad infinitum.

The term is a Thoughtstopper, as crude and effective as a baseball bat. No wonder it gets swung around so often.

Cui bono? (That question is rhetorical.)

5/04/2009 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

From the Times review:

Aaronovitch guides us through the Zinoviev letter, another forgery, this time supposed to show that communists were plotting to take over Britain in 1924;urk? The Zinoviev Letter shows us that there's no such thing as a conspiracy???

5/04/2009 11:13:00 PM  

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