Conspiracy

The Bermuda Triangle of Northern Virginia

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For a man whose commute ordinarily requires a quick stroll down the stairs, I spent an inordinate amount of time in traffic yesterday morning, listening to some 9/11 "skeptics" presenting their case on the local Pacifica station. I put skeptics in quotes because their skepticism seems selective: They're the sort of people who will question whether a plane actually hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, but won't question a theory that can't explain just where the hijacked aircraft landed instead. Or, for that matter, why the conspirators bothered to hijack the plane in the first place. People like this usually scoff at Arlen Specter's magic-bullet theory of the Kennedy assassination, but when it suits their prejudices they're willing to posit a magic bullet the size of a Boeing 757.

So I was happy to read Alexander Cockburn's takedown of the 9/11 conspiracy industry yesterday evening. I can quibble with a comment here and there, but I can't quarrel with this:

One characteristic of the nuts is that they have a devout, albeit preposterous belief in American efficiency, thus many of them start with the racist premise that "Arabs in caves" weren't capable of the mission. They believe that military systems work the way Pentagon press flacks and aerospace salesmen say they should work. They believe that at 8.14 am, when AA flight 11 switched off its radio and transponder, an FAA flight controller should have called the National Military Command center and NORAD. They believe, citing reverently (this is from high priest Griffin) "the US Air Force's own website," that an F-15 could have intercepted AA flight 11 "by 8.24, and certainly no later than 8.30."

They appear to have read no military history, which is too bad because if they did they'd know that minutely planned operations—let alone responses to an unprecedented emergency—screw up with monotonous regularity, by reason of stupidity, cowardice, venality, weather and all the other whims of providence….

August Bebel said anti-Semitism is the socialism of the fools. These days the 9/11 conspiracy fever threatens to become the "socialism" of the left, and the passe-partout of many libertarians.

I've got nothing against conspiracy theories per se—any theory of what happened five years ago is going to involve a plot and a cabal—but these yarns are convincing only to people predisposed to believe them. And a story that loses track of a whole damn plane is just surreal. If you're going to go down that road, you might as well invoke the Agent Rogersz theory instead: "It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes."

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  1. Delicious Repo Man shout out, Jesse.

    I have wondered how a large jet with an even larger wingspan could leave a large hole the diameter of the fuselage, but not leave evidence of wings hitting the side of a large building.

    But that’s more of a mildly interesting puzzle as opposed to to the rationale for a conspiracy theory.

  2. Yeah Madpad! It’s always puzzled me how the WTC just kinda fell over the way it did when those hologram planes hit it, just before it was zapped by the death ray from that Raelian spacecraft hovering over Lady Liberty.

    Either that, or the Jews did it. They getcha every time.

  3. It’s always puzzled me how the WTC just kinda fell over the way it did when those hologram planes hit it, just after they were zapped by the death ray from that Raelian spacecraft hovering over Lady Liberty.

    Either that, or the Jews did it. They getcha every time.

    Come on though, I don’t find it “mildly interesting” when square pegs fit into round holes….it fuckin’ freaks me out! That is, unless the round hole is exceptionally large. I think these conspiracy people need to take a cue from the Libertarian Party and water down their schtick to the point where people are only slightly put off by it (Pentagon holes and building #7 = legalized drugs and toned down foreign policy).

    At that point people would go from not taking them seriously to not even paying attention to them at all!

  4. Traffic reporter airplane, single engine. That was the first report of the attack on the AM news (can’t remember if it was WCBS or WINS). While I don’t much care for conspiracy theories, the official version doesn’t line up with many news reports. That doesn’t mean that the official version is wrong. It’s more likely that the intial report was wrong. But it is at least understandable that people would hear a report contradicted by an already truth-challenged administration and be skeptical. And why does everyone have to have an alternative theory to be skeptical of the official version of events?

  5. Any conspiracy-mindedness I had ten years ago pretty much vanished when I read Paul Fusell’s Wartime/u>. Who needs conspiracies when daily life in every occupation is often one big giant FUBAR?

  6. Any conspiracy theory that depends on multiple layers of the governement working as an extremely efficient cohesive unit can pretty much be dismissed outright.

  7. It’s self-serving and loony to assert, as Cockburn does, that 9/11 conspiracy theories are either widespread on the left, or even more common than on the right.

    The UN Black Helicopter crowed has latched onto this just as fiercely as the left-conspiracists, and they are an equally small portion of the population.

  8. That doesn’t mean that the official version is wrong. It’s more likely that the intial report was wrong.

    Here’s something I learned a long time ago:

    Initial reports are almost always wrong.

    Sure, you should follow up on them. But don’t expect them all to pan out. The first draft of history is invariably filled with typos.

    (Remember the fire on the Washington Mall? I got a breathless email about it on 9/11. It never happened either.)

  9. Funny, I just saw Repo Man for the umpteenth time this past weekend on satellite. Classic.

    Re. madpad – There was evidence of wing penetration, albeit not the perfect cookie-cutter image made famous by a certain cartoon supergenius coyote. While IANAE (engineer), I would imagine that the dense construction of the Pentagon had something to do with that, along with the relatively lightweight construction of the wings and their function as giant tanks of explosive Jet-A fuel.

  10. Napoleon said it best, “never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.” I, personally, would be comforted to know that there were people on Earth competent enough to carry off things like the conspiracy nuts posit. Anyone brilliant enough to bring off all those events and never get caught is too smart for me to fight, anyway. The world is a much scarier place if it’s populated by nincompoops with massive weapons than if it’s run by Lex Luthor and 5 other members of the Illuminati, who, presumably, are smart enough to know what they’ve got to lose.

  11. The conspiracy theories are a product of holes in the official story, and in some cases the science doesn’t match up they way we think it should. What I find funny is that the conspiracy theories themselves have the same problems, so I’m expecting some conspiracy theories on the conspiracy theories.

    The way the buildings fell is suspect, but that all. It does not prove anything either way.

    There are some conservatives on the conspiracy side, big deal. Partisan people that think the left or the right has a monopoly on an ideology are idiots and not interested in truth.

    “”Funny, I just saw Repo Man for the umpteenth time this past weekend on satellite. Classic””

    John Wayne’s a fag!! Classic indeed.

  12. The way the buildings fell is suspect…

    Yeah, this gets me, too. If you think about all the other times we’ve plunged great big jetliners laden with fuel into 110 story buildings, then the way these towers collapsed makes no sense at all.

  13. And why does everyone have to have an alternative theory to be skeptical of the official version of events?

    I see different decriptions of skepticism tossed around:

    One posits that true knowledge is always uncertain, therefore it is OK to accept nothing.

    The other posits that the method of obtaining “better” knowledge is through systematic doubt and continual testing until you’ve reached an acceptable level of understanding.

    The first I see as a useless, faux-intellectual, relativistic cop-out; basically, “It doesnt matter if your argument is sound – I’m ‘skeptical’ ” – redefining skepticism as denial of facts as opposed to the rigorous application of reason.

    The second is what I understand as genuine skepticism – that nothing is accepted de facto without systematic testing, and consideration of alternatives.

    I actually see this first attitude a lot from poseur progressives – they refuse to accept whatever they think “the man” is saying, but in the end have little to no concern for having facts at all. They’re happy to just ‘feel’ a certain way about something, independent of reality.

    I see this most regarding Globalization. I might point out that instead of protesting creation of jobs, growing economies (which they call ‘exploitation’), they should oppose the US farm subsidies, which starve African farmers,etc. … they simply shrug and go “yeah, but you know, farmers are like, much cooler than corporate #$%#s. We should like, have subsidies AND aid Africans”.

    They really dont care about what the facts of the matter are, so long as they can imagine a “good-feeling” position to take.

    JG

  14. “They believe that military systems work the way Pentagon press flacks and aerospace salesmen say they should work.”
    Well, I’m so glad we put our trust in them to protect us from Soviet attack for all those years. Not to mention all the wasted money. Not to mention the anti missle system they are building now.

    “They believe that at 8.14 am, when AA flight 11 switched off its radio and transponder, an FAA flight controller should have called the National Military Command center and NORAD.”
    Shouldn’t they have? Isn’t that standard procedure?

    “They appear to have read no military history, which is too bad because if they did they’d know that minutely planned operations — let alone responses to an unprecedented emergency — screw up with monotonous regularity, by reason of stupidity, cowardice, venality, weather and all the other whims of providence….”
    It also doesn’t hurt, when the agency responsible for air defense just HAPPENS to be running drills involving hijackings on the VERY DAY of an attack involving hijackings, confusing the situation.

  15. Karen wrote “Anyone brilliant enough to bring off all those events and never get caught is too smart for me to fight, anyway.”

    I think she has pretty much hit the nail on the head here.

    The attraction of conspiracy theories is the notion that the theorists have “outsmarted” the hugely clever conspirators.

  16. “the notion that the theorists have “outsmarted” the hugely clever conspirators.”

    For a beautiful example of this attitude…
    http://www.911-strike.com/debunking.htm

  17. Last week on NPR’s Talk o’ the Nation they had a bit on conspiracy theories and talked to conspiracy historian Bob Goldberg. He said something that hadn’t occurred to me: Conspiracy theorists seek more than anything else an explanation for something that has gone wrong in order to believe that the world is not as out of control as it appears to be.

    In this sense, conspiracy theorists have a profoundly unlibertarian worldview:

    1. They cannot grasp conceptually or intuitively that a semblance of order can come from complex systems.

    2. They believe that government planning can be — and is — massively successful.

  18. Here’s something I learned a long time ago:

    Initial reports are almost always wrong.

    Jesse, you must have missed yesterdays thread excoriating bush for not acting forcefully based on the initial reports in the first seven minutes.

  19. I wonder if there is any appreciable history of conspiracy theories moving from the lunatic fringes to mainstream acceptance?

  20. I wonder if there is any appreciable history of conspiracy theories moving from the lunatic fringes to mainstream acceptance?

    Gulf War Syndrome.

  21. People who think the moon landings were faked, Fyodor?

  22. Paul,
    I think Bush’s initial reports came long before 9/11, and said something like Bin Laden Determined To Strike Using Airplanes.

  23. “He said something that hadn’t occurred to me: Conspiracy theorists seek more than anything else an explanation for something that has gone wrong in order to believe that the world is not as out of control as it appears to be.”

    i think that makes the most sense, more than personal aggrandizement or whatever. it’s the idea that someone, somewhere in control. almost a replacement for god, a metaphysics of power, and a reaction to what appears to be incredible contempt by those in power for the rest of us.

  24. Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.

    Karen, that’s not Boney, it’s “Hanlon’s Razor.”* NB may have said something similar, probably in French, of course.

    Oh, GWS is not supposed to exist.

    Kevin

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor

  25. Eric,

    Oh yeah!! 🙂

    Paul, re Gulf War Syndrome, that’s an interesting example of evolving views regarding official explanations, yes, but it was never a conspiracty theory about who or what was behind a particular event. I think views on that have changed because the complaints have continued to mount. I don’t believe there’s been any discovery that belies the originally believed understanding of the phenomenon.

    Re criticism of Bush not acting “forcefully” in the first seven minutes, no one thinks he should have picked his reprisal targets or even begun thinking about them in those seven minutes. But he might have gotten off his ass and started doing SOMETHING. Eh, but I’d agree it’s not a very big deal.

  26. Kevin, my point exactly.

    Fyodor, GWS is couched in conspiratorial terms– the cause, the coverup, the actors involved. It’s got Oliver Stone written all over it.

  27. Eric:

    The moonlanding conspiracy aren’t mainstream enough yet.

  28. Paul:

    Well, I would have said the supposed extraterrestrial crash at Roswell, but I think interest in that has died down.

    Crop circles would be another option, but that deflated once people started demonstrating how to make them. (Of which I’m glad, as I had an argument with an otherwise brilliant woman who’d fallen for the hype.)

  29. Speaking of Gulf War Syndrome, I just found this.

  30. re: GWS conspiracy

    (to increase the off-topicness of this)

    I had a little secondhand* experience with GWS ; I dont think there was ever any real “secret” out there, but mostly that it just wasnt simple enough a story for the media/general public to get their heads around… so people increasingly started to ascribe ‘sinister’ motives to government over time, when in fact it was just another example of military bureacracy producing complicated fuck-ups on a broad scale…then later the government’s legalistic denials of responsibility.

    Also, I think there’s a difference between those who claimed to have “GWS”, and people who clearly have gulf war related illnesses. I think plenty of people got properly sick with real illnesses to make clear that it wasnt some “mystery” cause – there were a LOT of vets getting sick at the same time.

    There was no one cause, as far as I understand it – but people now think it was caused mainly by a couple of things.

    -) mainly the “Big Blue PB Pills” [Pyridostigmine Bromide] given to about 400,000 troops,

    -) old, crappy biological-agent vaccines given to about 40,000 forward troops,

    -) exposure to gasified depleted uranium and tons of benzene etc from burning oil fields.

    -)DS-2 , this a decontaminating agent they were using on everything – that now is deemed unsafe for human exposure. Little research on this, but the likelihood was that it contributed strongest to the people who developed assorted nervous system disorders that they call GWS now.

    Here’s a good site that breaks it down pretty clearly. http://www.ei-resource.org/gulfwar.asp

    *One of my best friends, who served as a forward air controller for advance units during Gulf I, died ~3yrs ago, at age 36, of GWS-related illness – in his case, AML leukemia. While sick, he was approached by 3 lawyers all representing different GWS class action suits; he didnt sign on, being a stubborn bastard. I was present at a briefing the lawyers gave on the background of their case, which is where i got some of this info.

    Apparently my buddy probably got sick from a combination of the PB pills and one of the requisites of his gig = as a forward air controller, he’d spot enemy columns, send on coordinates, then watch them get shot to bits, i think mostly by A10 warthogs. One of the downsides of his job (besides not being able to leave his little hole in the ground for a few days at a time) was having to visually inspect the destroyed armor. He’d stick his head inside shot-up tanks and try and estimate how many people had been inside, based on the number of arms/legs he could identify, things like that. Apparently he was one of the fewish people breathing in lots of uranium gas. I believe at the time, the kind of DU they were using in shells was prone to linger as gas far longer than they knew. Now apparently it’s safer, but people still freak out about it. There are hundreds of articles about current usage of DU munitions in iraq right now, and health risks. But i dont think there’s a lot of new science behind it.

    Anyhoo, conspiracy it aint. FUBAR? yes.

    JG

  31. I might add to the above “heavy metal poisoning” (I WILL add to the above our troops being poisoned by defoliants: “agent orange”- was dismissed for years, and its advocates smeared, by the WH, the VA, & the VFW.
    It was VVAW that shoved the aboves collective noses in it, and rubbed it in deep……
    Anyway: Energy in this instance is velocity x mass- to punch a hole in armour, you need either a low velocity”shaped charge”-a whole different concept, or a very high velocity, dense projectile (a kinetic round) Depleted uranium is even denser than lead. So, for a given size, a DP core surrounded by some very hard shell- Tungsten? Tungsten carbide?- is the biggest bang for the buck.
    The byproduct of a kinetic round hitting a tank (besides dead crew & a totalled tank) is very fine heavy metal dust. Wanna breathe lead dust? Can you keep a 19 year old Marine from stickin his head in dead enemy armour??
    Experience tells me the State & it numerous pimps & apologists will smear DU dust vets & thier defenders.
    Even the chickenhawks will chime in, if things start goin bad for the VA, & Cheneys flying monkey, Decider.

  32. I wonder if there is any appreciable history of conspiracy theories moving from the lunatic fringes to mainstream acceptance?

    I’m surprised nobody’s given the obvious answer to this: the JFK assassination. I forget the numbers, but a depressingly large percentage of the population believe Kennedy was killed by a high-level cabal with what would have to be hundreds, if not thousands, of conspirators.

  33. “I wonder if there is any appreciable history of conspiracy theories moving from the lunatic fringes to mainstream acceptance?”

    How about the life and death of Jesus?

  34. This just in on Gulf War Syndrome: it does NOT exist says the VA.

  35. Lamar = thats the same story dude linked to above.

    it’s a bit misleading, as mentioned.

    To quote =

    “U.S. and foreign veterans of the Gulf War do suffer from an array of very real problems, according to the Veterans Administration-sponsored report released Tuesday.

    Yet there is *no one complex of symptoms* to suggest those veterans — nearly 30 percent of all those who served — suffered or still suffer from a single identifiable syndrome.”

    The fact that a strangely large percentage of all that were deployed suffer from a wide array of well-documented illnesses… this is not in dispute at all.

    There may be no ‘gulf war syndrome’, and there can still be many thousands of severely ill people made ill as a consequence of their Gulf service.

    JG

  36. Much of the impetus for vast conspiracy theories shares the same root as Dualism: impute to your enemies an ABSOLUTE evil. It makes you feel so good for just believing and “aligning” yourself with the opposite approach, making you (by implication) ABSOLUTELY good.

    It’s an old gambit. Pretty silly, but old hat. Psychologically it fits with in-group love and out-group hate, and is one of the more primitive aspects to human social psychology.

    That is, it’s a crutch. It allows one to feel good merely for existing in opposition to the Supreme Evil elsewhere.

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