Comments: Adam Curtis

That looks interesting, Jon. I'll have to read the rest of the interview.

I largely agree with what they say here about conspiracies, but only largely. For one thing, from these excerpts, you'd think that conspiracies never occur, or that when they do, they don't succeed. To name some famous examples off the top of my head, the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln succeeded; the Iran-Contra conspiracy largely succeeded; the conspiracy of the 9/11 hijackers succeeded. The Pentagon Papers reveal a US government conspiracy to create a pretext for large-scale terrorism and ultimately war in Vietnam, which succeeded pretty well in devastating Southeast Asia although it failed to achieve US domination. There's also the conspiracy in numerous theaters where the US helps its clients smuggle heroin to raise funds. I get the impression that Curtis and Morris are using "conspiracy" in a narrow sense whose parameters aren't entirely clear to me.

There's also a popular tendency to dismiss systemic explanations, like the Herman-Chomsky propaganda model of media, as "conspiracy theories." I often get the feeling that talk of conspiracy theories is a handy meme, like "anti-American," to dismiss troublesome, discomforting ideas; a masturbatory trope like "inside job" that generates more heat than light. Many of the same people are fond of using terms like "secret," as in "secret wars" and "the secret bombing of Cambodia," which actually refer to events that were secret only to most Americans, not to their targets, to most of the world or to those Americans who bothered to inform themselves. Was the Republican attempt to bring down the Clinton presidency a conspiracy? I think it could be called one without stretching the term too much, but it really was secret only to people who didn't want to hear what the Republicans and the media were saying quite openly.

But I also see that a lot of people like to think of history as a war between shadowy Evil figures who want to take away our candy on one side, and Good (but weak?) Daddies who want to make everything clean, and if John Q. Public only knew the Truth, the Shadowy Overlords would skulk off in defeat. And I don't think so. Americans, at any rate, don't want to know. When Richard Nixon was exposed as the thug he was, it didn't do him any harm; he reconstructed his career as an Elder Statesman with the full cooperation of the corporate media, and there are still plenty of people who think Nixon was unjustly traduced. The Iran-Contra conspiracy was exposed, and again, very little came of the exposure. The Vietnam War is still seen in the US as a tragedy for us, waist-deep in the Big Muddy, rather than for the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians we killed and injured. I think that if it were proven publicly that 9/11 was perpetrated by the Bush gang, not much would happen, not even much of a public outcry.

Was it The Running Man whose climax involves sending a clip out over all the major networks that announces, "The government is lying to you"? And the government collapses just like that. Never happen, except in the movies. In real life, when someone points out that the

Posted by Duncan at January 12, 2010 10:40 AM


...that the Emperor hasn't got anything on, they will be ignored. Besides, it's not the Emperor's fault, it's the fault of the CIA and the Wall Street bankers, who would assassinate him if he put clothes on.

Posted by Duncan at January 12, 2010 10:43 AM


You should just admit, as Jon did, that it's a worldview. Evidence and argument doesn't change worldviews. That doesn't mean they can't change, but it won't often be because somebody sits down and reviews facts. More has to happen for a mind to open, because the brain has protective mechanisms to prevent instability of the mind. At least that's my understanding of books written for lay people like me who have no training in neuropsychology. And that conforms to my observation of how people form their opinons, including me.

As for Curtis, The Power of Nightmares was a very good documentary, though by no means did it tell the whole story. I haven't seen the Century of the Self, but I will now that I know of it. It sounds very interesting.

As for Yemen's civil war of the 60s, I see that Curtis mentions that Nasser supported one side. Maybe I skimmed too quickly, but I didn't see Curtis mention that those crazy Wahabis in Saudi Arabia supported the other side, which of course was directed by Langley with a nod from London. Islamic fundamentalism succeeded largely with US/Brit backing to thwart Nasserism and other arab nationalism, which were of course the real threat to our imperial interests, aka oil. This jihad monster was NOT created accidentally, fellas, and the work on creating it started sooner than you probably think. Of that there is no doubt, whether Curtis wants to see the nose on his face or not. Robert Dreyfuss's Devil's Game is a good overview.

I wish much happiness to all you believers that militarists and the National Security State just consistently get lucky. That is hugely improbable, so I think the chances that you are correct are extremely low, but peace be with you.

Posted by N E at January 12, 2010 12:07 PM

Ditto what Duncan said.

To say that people are congenitally incapable of conspiracy is to say that they cannot organize for a purpose which they keep secret from others.

There is no contradiction between owning such capabalities and being delusional. In fact in many cases it probably helps. Certainly as he says, history is rich with examples of conspiracy, some of which are successful and some of which are not.

Are our leaders evil or merely stupid? Well, you don't have to choose, because these traits are found holding hands a good deal as well.

Posted by RLaing at January 12, 2010 01:23 PM

Also, I think we should keep in mind that politicians lie. What they say, and what they themselves believe, do not need at all to be the same thing.

That they frequently come across as idiots may have more to do with who they are talking to than who they themselves are.

Posted by RLaing at January 12, 2010 01:58 PM

The difference between 'secret plan' and 'conspiracy' is very slight . . .

Posted by Murfyn at January 12, 2010 02:15 PM

Could someone with the technical know-how please tell me how I can trick the Beeb into thinking my computer is British? "Not available in your area" is becoming increasingly infuriating the more of this blog I read...

Posted by Save the Oocytes at January 12, 2010 02:21 PM

N E: I wish much happiness to all you believers that militarists and the National Security State just consistently get lucky.

That, of course, is nothing like what I said. Nor, I think, is it anything like what Curtis and Morris said. This supports my growing suspicion that you don't understand the fine books you read and recommend here that supposedly support your position.

Posted by Duncan at January 12, 2010 02:28 PM

StO: Try using a proxy, such as


Posted by Cloud at January 12, 2010 02:29 PM

It’s the latter. Where people do set out to have conspiracies, they don’t ever end up like they're supposed to.

Not sure what he means by would be helpful if he gave an example.....sometimes the normal everyday workings of power are confused for conspiracies. They are not...

History is a series of unintended consequences resulting from confused actions,

well, to be polite, this is just nonsense.

When one looks at the differences between the so called first world and the third in terms of wealth, power, development, standard of living and so on, its a result of "unintended consequences resulting from confused actions?"

Stuff like this cant be taken seriously.

some of which are committed by people who may think they're taking part in a conspiracy, but it never works out the way they intended...


Posted by tony at January 12, 2010 02:38 PM


Just trying to keep it shorter than you for once! :)

Good luck figuring out a way to tell if I understand those books without reading them yourself!

Many very nice people will make the world a brighter place and never believe that people like Dick Cheney can make use of elements of our Special Forces to do things like 9/11, because after all that's crazy talk. But remember, most of those nice people aren't so thin-skinned and have compassion for crazytalkers, especially supposedly well-read ones.

I bet you haven't wasted much of your time determining whether Donald Rumsfeld would have had to be lucky, very lucky, or the luckiest man in human history to get 9/11 on his watch. (I say 'lucky' rather than 'unlucky' beause I believe he almost orgasmed standing at his lectern, tender-hearted humanitarian that the old goat is.) That's what I thinking about--I wasn't trying to summarize your views.

Jon is obviously a really smart and perceptive guy with a good policy heart, and you seem to be sharp too, but you each should consider the possibility that you don't feel with comfortable with 'conspiracy theories' because of the music that has been playing in the background for the last forty-five years. It's as catchy as the Jeopardy tune, even if you can't hear it very clearly without your tinfoil hat.

Posted by N E at January 12, 2010 02:56 PM

And yet the most common charge filed in Federal courts is "conspiracy"

Posted by Bill jones at January 12, 2010 04:41 PM

Maybe all those people who claim that they don't believe in conspiracies, are secretly working together? To what dreadful end!? OMG!

Posted by Murfyn at January 12, 2010 06:17 PM

Conspiracy theories, a great topic. IMO pretty much all of history can be explained by various helpings of greed, tribalism and incompetence. And maybe a bit of cowardice.

When we talk about conspiracy theories these days it's not about 10 people killing Lincoln. It's about chemtrails, the Illuminati and Stanley Kubrick directing the moon landing somewhere in Burbank. It about 9/11 being a false flag operation directed from Building 7.

Those who embrace these theories think the world is chock full of evil super geniuses out to cull the herd after taking their money, and as part of the herd they just love to wallow in their outrage. It doesn't take a genius to profit from the situation, just someone as smart as Glenn Beck.

Yeah, I vote for blunders.

Posted by Nat at January 12, 2010 06:37 PM


"Those who embrace these theories think . . ."

I knew that followed would be a big wild guess, and you didn't disappoint. You just ASSUME what people think about this, and we all know where the old joke about that goes. I've never read anything about the illuminati that I can remember, and for the life of me I don't know why anyone would want to fake the moon landing or why anyone would think it important to investigate. On the other hand, since you mention the conspiracy to kill Lincoln, I strongly suspect Secretary of War Stanton was behind Lincoln's death, an opinion I gleaned from a very fine book published in 1937 by a very smart amateur historian (he was a chemist and businessman professionally) named Otto Eisenschiml. Wikipedia says the book created a national furor at the time, and it's certainly persuasive enough to have done so, but i have no idea whether it did. But I wouldn't doubt it. People then probably believed such things are possible, what with all those fascist coups taking place in the 30s, including the Wall Street Plot that General Smedley Butler blew the whistle on in the US.

So you can vote for blunders, but you should at least recognize that it isn't really an educated vote. I'm not saying one needs to have an opinion, because people choose their own interests, but assumptions aren't necessary, and the pervasive uninformed disbelief that such things are possible (nurtured by the government) is the great lubricant that greases the machinery of state crimes.

Posted by N E at January 12, 2010 06:55 PM

Bill jones astutely catches on that everyone believes in conspiracies of some sort, because the government convicts people of them all the time. That's absolutely right.

That being said, I think everybody on some level sort of knows that calling people 'conspiracy theorists' is just shorthand for saying the people who espouse them are the kind of crazy nuts who believe that elements within the US government can and do carry out Presidential assassinations or the mass murder of US citizens and get away with it.

I certainly understand why people don't want to believe that, but everyone pretending that it can't happen isn't succeeding as a method of prevention. It's equivalent in effectiveness to abstinence as a birth control method.

Posted by N E at January 12, 2010 08:40 PM

Echoing a number of above commenters, conspiracy and blunders can easily exist hand-in-hand. And often the blunders aren't visible for years to come, if ever, especially for the conspirators. I, of course, am nowhere near the first to note one of the quintessential examples: The overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953. The conspirators saw this as an unqualified success and then went on to Guatemala, etc. Of course 1953 led to 1979.

Also, one could note, that in a world of competing conspiracies (as well as quite a number of open, naked power plays), some conspiracies of course will succeed against others, the latter of which are then often seen as blunders.

For example, I tend to view much of the events of the so-called Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe as being indicative of Western government conspiracies as carried out through the NED, probably the CIA, certainly "good governance" institutions of the international financial institutions. That view hardly means that I don't acknowledge the agency of other actors, including (most likely) Russian intelligence agencies, as well as domestic actors of that country, operating either more or less openly. It's the combined action of all of these agents that led to the result. The problem with "conspiracy," as its used perjoratively, is that "conspiracy" tends to view one group of actors as unrealistically all-powerful and the corollary to that view is that just if that particular group can be exposed, than all will be hunky-dory with the world. This view thereby dismisses structural, systemic issues when, instead, they should be seen as the originators of conspiracies, which are largely the symptoms of systemic problems.

Hence, the 9-11 "truthers," who insist that "the truth will set you free." In other words, expose 9-11 as an "inside job" and all the wars in the Middle East will end. That, of course, is sheer nonsense.

Posted by Rojo at January 12, 2010 09:12 PM

I can recommend Curtis' Documentary The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom if you can get your hands on it. Here is an article and also some more of Curtis' views on conspiracies and the reaction to 'The Power Of Nightmares'.

Posted by Euripides at January 12, 2010 10:40 PM


That's very smart.

With regard to your parenthetical example, things that were going on in the Middle East in the 1970s had a lot more to do with 1979 in Iran than what had happened to Mossadegh in 1953. And what happened was even the result of conspiratorial conduct, but what happened also reinforces your main point. The global economy changed in the early 70s, we knew around then that the shah had cancer (plus he was becoming too damn independent), and for that and other reasons we shifted the fulcrum of our policy from iran to saudi arabia, which has always been the ultimate client state.

I rather suspect we originally intended khomeini to become something different from what he did become (it was absolutely unprecedented for a shia cleric to claim and directly exercise political power, so that seems unpredictable), and of course nobody was planning before 1979 to use the hostages to influence the 1980 election, but plans can be modified as circumstances require, and they had to be, because Carter was trying to free the hostages to win the election himself. Some of this information is already public, but I suspect in forty years much more will be.


The trap sounds interesting, though I'm not convinced by the argument based on the review. The Power of Nightmares was certainly good, but I can only chuckle at how defensive Curtis is about being called a conspiracy theorist. If he really thinks everyone is nice, he's a sap, but I imagine he doesn't really believe that. I would guess that he is backpeddling and on the defensive about the attacks on him by the right for equating the neocons with al qaeda. Getting tagged as a conspiracy theorist is not good for professional journalists, and they all understand that.

Posted by N E at January 12, 2010 11:22 PM

How about that singing dog?

Posted by Marcus at January 13, 2010 12:06 AM

Another thing to keep in mind--and it's quite powerful, if difficult to quantify--is this: people like documentary filmmakers (or political bloggers like Jon) begin with the belief that the important truths are available to be discovered, and once analyzed properly, can be presented to others in an intelligible way. For them, life is a puzzle which can be solved, because the pieces are all present, and their joy is arranging these pieces in a coherent way. This is as basic a psychological motivation as a joy in movement is to a dancer. In many cases this serves them well and is absolutely valid, because there are enough pieces to construct a narrative responsibly. But in other cases, as when dealing with a manipulated historical record, it is demonstrably not valid, and this drive to create a narrative out of what remains does not produce truth, but a manipulating lie.

I like Adam Curtis' documentaries very much. Very, very much. But I was reminded of this bias after watching his film You Have Used Me for a Fish Long Enough, a discussion of mind control experiments undertaken by the CIA and other intelligence agencies from 1950-73.

Curtis' conclusion, based on his inability to find hard evidence to the contrary, is that the human mind proved to be somehow impregnable, foiling the spies and their dastardly plans, causing them to give up. This is the mainstream historian's view, replacing the prior view, which was "The CIA is using drugs to control people's minds? That's incredibly paranoid, you dirty hippie." Then a great gout of official documents in the 70s made this fallback position necessary.

The historical record in this case, and other cases like it, is not just fragmentary, it is clearly compromised. In these instances, I think a responsible consumer of history should heighten his/her skepticism of the extant record. Lying, document destruction, and manipulation is not random noise--it is not evidence of "folly"--it suggests intent. It destroys any chance of a satisfying conclusion; it must bias the historian towards the darker range of outcomes. At the very least, it must change how what remains is viewed.

Because of the CIA's manipulation of the historical record vis a vis MKULTRA, the best Adam Curtis could've come up with, given standard academic sourcing, is "We don't know." That's defensible--we really DON'T know what CIA did in regards MKULTRA, because Richard Helms purposely destroyed vast numbers of MKULTRA documents before he was fired in 1973. Why did he do this? A desire to pass along a nice, clean desk? Or was he trying to hide something?

Unfortunately for Curtis, the only truly reasonable conclusion ("We don't know, but the lengths to which CIA went to alter the historical record suggests suggests the story is much darker than the fragmentary record would lead us to believe") would get Curtis branded as a "conspiracy theorist," which is the kiss of death for a working journalist. Just ask Gary Webb. So Curtis came to the only conclusion he could come to--"that was bad, but it's over now and all is well in this best of all possible democracies." It should be no wonder that he has adopted a worldview that allows him to do stuff like that and still feel good about himself. We all do it. But that doesn't have anything to do with the truth about things like MKULTRA; it's just the world inside Curtis' head.

On a related point: "conspiracy" is a method of doing work, no more no less. To undertake a conspiracy is a hubristic act; it presumes a demonstrably false ability to control outcomes. My view is that "confusions, self-deceptions, and idiocies" are at the very heart of most conspiratorial action, and the large amount of one thing creates a large amount of the other.

Posted by Mike of Angle at January 13, 2010 01:27 AM

Maybe the publicity given to some of the more unbelievable and outrageous conspiracies is a conspiracy itself? It certainly serves the interests of any real conspirators as a means to discredit serious investigations into their activities.

Posted by Jeff65 at January 13, 2010 02:51 AM

When we talk about conspiracy theories these days it's not about 10 people killing Lincoln. It's about chemtrails, the Illuminati and Stanley Kubrick directing the moon landing somewhere in Burbank. It about 9/11 being a false flag operation directed from Building 7.
-- Nell

Maybe it depends on which social circles you're moving in, but in the American media this isn't true at all. When Josh Marshall helped uncover the partisan firings of federal prosecutors, Time's Washington bureau chief originally dismissed it as a conspiracy theory. Gary Webb's career was destroyed in large part by smearing him as a conspiracy theorist -- someone on the level of a truther.

When someone in the media dismisses an idea as a conspiracy theory, it's even odds the idea is true.

Posted by Carl at January 13, 2010 03:12 AM

Mike of Angle

Very smart.




What social circles one is in does matter, and what political circles too. People on the right are much less skittish about concpiracy theories, which isn't all good. (Remember the Elders of Zion?) And people without money in my experience are far less incredulous too. Journalists are far and away the most skittish about anything likely to be branded a conspiracy theory, which is definitely a socially unhealthy state of affairs, but professionally healthy for them.

By the way, the first half of The Forty Years War by Schachtman and Colodny, which lays out something close to the real story of Watergate, shows the enormous divergence between official history and what really was going on during the Nixon years. When people challenge official narratives, they usually get smeered somehow, whether by being called conspiracy theorists or revisionists or something else. Official narratives of the past are sacrosanct, especially the recent past. So it's always nice to get a glimpse of real history like the first half of that book. But you have to remember that publishers, like the editors that journalists report to, will only go so far. Like Curtis, they'll always pull back from some conclusions. If you read with that in mind, you might even begin to sense some of an author's conclusions that didn't make it through the editing process.

Posted by N E at January 13, 2010 07:31 AM

You guys imagining the government packing explosives and thermite into the WTC haven't even gotten close to seeing what's really at the heart of reality as we don't know it. Now there's a conspiracy theory.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 13, 2010 08:48 AM

N E: you each should consider the possibility that you don't feel with comfortable with 'conspiracy theories'

What you said back there, somewhere in the strangling verbiage, about what happens when you assume. (Being briefer than you is easy, even for me.)

I'm not uncomfortable with conspiracy theories. In fact, I pointed out at some length that conspiracies do happen, and they sometimes succeed. I argued against dismissing conspiracy theories out of hand. That you choose to misread me the way you did is interesting.

I intend to read Peter Dale Scott's Deep Politics, and I picked up Rebecca Solnit's new book at the library but decided it was too long to check out just now. But I've noticed that Noam Chomsky has praised Scott's work, which is odd if Chomsky were the JFK-bashing CIA asset we've been told he is around these parts, and if Scott were so upsetting to Chomsky's neurobiologically-based distaste for "conspiracy theories."

Posted by Duncan at January 13, 2010 10:49 AM

donald johnson

That article is hilarious. It reminds me of the pothead professor in animal house played by Donald Sutherland, who imagined how the universe could actually be both infinitely large and infinitely small--at the same time. WHOA!

But Donald, I'm only too glad to tell you that the evildoers would not have had to "pack" explosives or thermite or anything else into the WTC buildings. Thermititic material apparently can be mixed into a liquid and applied the way liquids are, maybe even sprayed on (dunno that one) but certainly brushed on. So all that had to happen was painting or application of an insulation or primer. My understanding is that once dried, the thermitic material is capable of detonation--or so at least say some scientists who have done it within the past year. (I'd be astonished if their work isn't honest.)

So, in terms of the how, somebody would have had to mix thermite into a liquid form and deliver it in cans to the WTC, but they wouldn't even need to know what was in the cans. Somebody would have to apply it in the buildings, but that wouldn't involve knowing it was an explosive either. The people who mix it wouldn't have needed to know what it was going to be delivered or for what purpose. And the people who delivered it and appied it could have thought it was just paint or primer or an insulator of some kind. Of course, somebody presumably would much later have to detonate it, but if it's too risky or cruel to have the person who detonates it remember that he did that, short term memory really can be erased with a pill. Medical doctors can do it, so that's not sci fi. (one doesn't need the "blinky blink" of will smith in Men in Black). But erasing somebody's memory probably wouldn't be necessary anyway, because military people understand orders and security classifications and don't second-guess them. They just don't. You might remember the old ditty "mine is not to question why, mine is but to do or die."

So you can believe in VAST conspiracies if that straw man is comfortable for you, but the only big conspiracy involves the coverup, which everyone always thinks is necessary because all institutions will be damaged indiscriminately if people believe we live in the disgraceful sort of country where the government does things like that. And they are right to think that. So the military people protect the military, intel people protect their respective agencies, and so on. The truth just isn't part of the equation. And the media makes sure that any of its intrepid employees who get the idea of being brave are ruined a la Gary Webb, because no media organization wants to jeopardize itself by tangling with the military and intel agencies either. That just doesn't happen, at least not about something big.

But I forgot one other very real conspiracy. People conspire to preserve their peace of mind and not turn their world upside down--the world inside their heads, of course. That really is a vast conspiracy.

Posted by N E at January 13, 2010 11:02 AM

Not getting drawn into the 9/11 stuff, NE. There are skeptical websites that you can argue with by people who seem to know what they're talking about. I'm just here to tell you how the universe works--and incidentally, Nick Bostrom and David Chalmers (can't remember if he was mentioned, but he thinks, iirc, there's a reasonable possibility we're in a simulation) are actually smart guys. One man's paranoid lunacy is another man's seriously considered hypothesis.

On conspiracy theories, everyone believes in some of them, me included. I take for granted Tonkin Gulf was at least in part a conspiracy, but maybe not. The Iraq War was a conspiracy--some of the Bushies might have believed in the WMD's or not, but they knew they were lying about the evidence.

Okay, I'm off to look for glitches in the Matrix.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 13, 2010 11:29 AM

"Every time you ever read transcripts or detailed descriptions of what goes on at high level policy decisions - I'm sure it’s true of the Kennedy administration, I'm sure it’s true today in the Bush administration - The arguments, the self-absorption, the disagreements and the narcissism are incredible."

I think this is a bit over the top. Not the way I recall the ExComm transcripts I read, admittedly quite a few years back. Instead, I think you find a great deal of "axiomatic thinking," people whose worldview & opinions are basically locked down. Only with skepticism and creative thinking at the top (Kennedy, yes; W, most definitely no) can you get out with something slightly innovative.

Posted by Ralph Hitchens at January 13, 2010 11:43 AM


Sorry that I didn't read what you wrote closely enough. I was probably on autopilot. My bad.

Scott's Deep Politics is a slow read, and it covers so much ground that it's challenging, but in my opinion it's a very good book. Scott and Chomsky go way back, and Zinn too. They were all opposing the Vietnam War on campus at the same time, and Scott is perhaps as impressive an academic as Chomsky, though Scott's field is literature. Scott's mind is most definitely in Chomsky's league, so he can get away with calling Chomsky's political analysis a little superficial.

Chomsky has a political distaste for conspiracy theories, not neurological. He would agree with Scott about plenty of facts, but not how they should be used. Fundamentally, Chomsky is an activist, and he wants to affect change, so as much as he might be perceived as ideological, in a way he is fundamentally a pragmatist too. Just a pragmatist of a different stripe.

One of the first issues that puzzled me after I began to explore these issues in depth was why Chomsky thinks what he does about the JFK assassination, because at this late date his opinion has many problems that wouldn't have been so clear a decade or two ago. He was alive when JFK was killed, was a leader in the anti-war movement, is principled and courageous and extaordinarily dedicated--what's the explanation for his glib rejection of conspiracy theories of any kind, when the JFK assassination is no longer easily disputable by informed people with his intelligence? I wondered that very much. I have never for a second felt that I understand anything better than Chomsky, or that I could ever keep pace with him mentally, because he strikes me as a genius or very close, and I most definitely am not. (My only exceptional mental skill/flaw is unusual perseverence.) So Chomsky's view on this felt like an important thing for me to figure out, strange as that may seem to many people.

Here's a clip where Scott talks about some of this:

I have never shared Barry Zwicker's negative view of Chomsky (I think he authored something that got picked up a lot by the "9/11 Truth" folks) even if Chomsky does end up serving a gate-keeper function on the left. Everybody always ends up serving some function that they didn't sign up for, and Chomsky is no exception. I don't share the view of people who seem to think Chomsky has some obligation to get involved in calling for a 9/11 investigation or look at the JFK evidence released in the last 15 years or anything like that. I suspect he rightly knows that would be a distraction that would never stop and that it would swallow up his entire work and that would be all he ever got to talk about ever after. That's no way to spend one's old age. And, if that weren't bad enough, it wouldn't lead to anything anyway in and of itself, because that isn't how change comes about. I agree with Chomsky that far.

My only disagreement is that I think at this point it has to be part of the equation simply because real political change can't come about when the political process is rigged, and the political process will remain rigged and thus basically a sham as long as the National Security State can manipulate events and the media and even change Presidents when necessary to protect itself. Because that's what the National Security State does when it's interests are threatened, not because of a vast conspiracy, because that's basically what it exists to do. It is our Frankenstein Monster. So people have to open their eyes to that, or we're not going to get real political change until we have a crisis on our hands the likes of which the world has never seen. And that's probably not even hyperbole, if one is able to believe the reports we get from our scientists and assess what is likely to happen when the United States, "the indispensable nation," is no longer able to keep a finger in all the holes appearing in the many dikes around the world.

So I personally think with the benefit of vast hindsight that Chomsky took the wrong path long ago with regard to conspiracies, but he had to make his choice about this 40 years ago, when that wasn't as clear as I think it is now. So I think it's unfair for the author at the link below to judge Chomsky so harshly. I link to the article only because it includes some facts that are useful in understanding how long ago Chomsky made his choice and some of what is known about it. (Chomsky was happy as an academic, and he didn't set out to become a famous leftist with an endlessly busy schedule that undoubtedly stole his personal life. He just ended up with that role by doing the right thing. I think that somebody who did that shouldn't get too much crap about anything.)

Posted by N E at January 13, 2010 11:55 AM

"I'm just here to tell you how the universe works."

--It's about time. I thought I was going to have to wait forever!

Posted by N E at January 13, 2010 12:05 PM

I like that universe-as-simulation theory, except that Roger Penrose (Shadows of the Mind)has also convinced me that the human brain cannot be a Turing machine, and therefore our universe is not (wholly) a Turing machine either. So if we are a simulation, it's in some qualitatively different way than a guy running The Sims on his computer.

Posted by Cloud at January 13, 2010 12:45 PM

At the risk of taking the simulation article too seriously, I offer this: "You can't fool me, it's turtles all the way down!".

Posted by Murfyn at January 13, 2010 12:47 PM

For anyone else interested in the simulation argument, Nick Bostrom's webpage on the subject.

To further your paranoia needs, you can also read the wikipedia entry on the "Fermi Paradox" and focus on the zoo hypothesis (the simulation idea can be seen as a variant).

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 13, 2010 12:50 PM

Also see:
"The Lifebox, The Seashell, and The Soul" by Rudy Rucker, for intelligent discussion of how the world is like a computation.

Posted by Murfyn at January 13, 2010 02:44 PM

Donald Johnson:

What's really fascinating to me is how much of this stuff that interests you made it into the dialogue between Captain Kirk and Mister Spock in Star Trek. (I watched all those episodes as a kid, because computers and cable tv and even video games didn't exist yet, forcing either creative activity or watching reruns on me, so I chose reruns of course.) I wonder if that was Gene Roddenberry's touch, or if there is a Hollywood conspiracy at work. Could Hollywood be controlled by aliens? I guess not unless we subscribe to right-wing racist banter, or at least the old kind before Israel started kicking ass.

Some smart guy some time is going to develop a psychological axiom that applies to modern life: Because there is too much to know, it's not possible to be sure of anything.

And then maybe a social scientist (a real one) will come along and explain the effects such a belief has on the way people think about society and government. (I'd say uncertainty makes people passive and easier to lead by their noses.)

I wonder if somebody has already done that and I just missed it or don't remember it.

Posted by N E at January 13, 2010 03:05 PM

"What's really fascinating to me is how much of this stuff that interests you made it into the dialogue between Captain Kirk and Mister Spock in Star Trek."

Well, it goes back to Descartes or earlier--at least the Matrix stuff does. I think I first encountered the theme of a universe in a computer in a story by Stanislaw Lem.

The Fermi paradox--well, any SF reader or UFO junkie or reader of Sagan (back when he was the chief scientific popularizer) would have been aware of that.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 13, 2010 04:27 PM

I loved to read science fiction when I was younger, but then I fell prey to films. Descartes preceded Nietzsche, but old Friedrich's eternal recurrences remind me of this sort of thought game. I'm not by nature that attracted to these kind of thought games, but the ideas are interesting. I just assume that there is other life in the universe, that we aren't likely to turn out to be the most impressive life form among all of them present in a universe of 70 sextillion stars, and that maybe space is just really big so aliens only drop by for a visit every million years or so. Imagining is fun, but I have no idea.

Posted by N E at January 13, 2010 06:19 PM

I loved to read science fiction when I was younger, but then I fell prey to films. Descartes preceded Nietzsche, but old Friedrich's eternal recurrences remind me of this sort of thought game. I'm not by nature that attracted to these kind of thought games, but the ideas are interesting. I just assume that there is other life in the universe, that we aren't likely to turn out to be the most impressive life form among all of them present in a universe of 70 sextillion stars, and that maybe space is just really big so aliens only drop by for a visit every million years or so. Imagining is fun, and founding a religion like Scientology is lucrative, so that's probably the way to go.

Posted by N E at January 13, 2010 06:21 PM

I'm actually pleasantly surprised this conversation veered in this direction. I tried not to break a perfectly good discussion of the topic, there's nothing like an out of place messiah complex to ruin your day. But I guess it's perfectly safe to offer my two cents here.

Still, hiding the existence of extraterrestrial life would technically qualify more as a cover-up than as a conspiracy, discouraging more "preaching" on the subject on my part.

I guess there's that conspiracy that human governments, particularly current or former superpowers, have agreed to accept extraterrestrial technology in exchange for an extensive and er... invasive study of our species.

Though if you're at all interested in what our government consistently denies (nations like the UK and Mexico have finally, at the least, conceded their lack of a logical explanation), interestingly enough its the blue-collar and small business owners in our midst that document this phenomena the best.

If you want to see the official Congressional hearing with as diverse big wigs as military officers, scientists and pilots talking about their experiences here's the conference in full, complete with bizarre singing solo (no, for real).

If you want a shorter summary video of layman who was at the right place at the right time, see here. He even took his respective video sighting to a university which concluded that energy emanating from the craft equaled the power of humanity's most powerful magnetic generators, at full power!

Lucky others have caught some objects flying in echelon formation and even doing fleet maneuvers in great numbers, right outside our atmosphere unfortunately suggesting that militarism hasn't become obsolete even for such advanced civilizations.

If you've made it this far (if anyone, no responses since NE's hours ago) and if you're at least on the fence about the whole thing, don't let it freak you out!

To me, it makes me feel somewhat at peace that the greater sentient universe shares our pain. Likely as our Earth begins another annual revolution around the sun, some beings in another galaxy or even another system have just learned how to make tools, others like us are just starting to understand their place in the universe..

And others are interstellar empires, playing out the politics of our Earth on a galactic scale. To my pleasure, that will forever be a blow to the ego of even the most arrogant earthling elite.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at January 14, 2010 03:54 AM


I bet you are indeed happy that this thread ended up here. You owe Donald Johnson big time. I watched that short video you linked, and I swear I saw that same UFO on an old Twilight Zone episode, maybe "To Serve Man" (one of my all-time favorites).

I watched bits and pieces of the long video, but Nikolay, that thing is two hours long and looks to be all testimonials! I've been spoiled by Hollywood--there needs to be some action in there. But I don't doubt some or all of those former officers are telling the truth as they recall it and experienced it. I just have no idea what to make of it all or time to try.

Good luck with your studies!

Posted by N E at January 14, 2010 08:35 AM

I'm agnostic on UFO's--I read a lot of that material when I was young. The general topic of ET's and so forth is fascinating. Carl Sagan was a big believer in intelligent life in the universe and thought there were likely to be large numbers (thousands or millions, I forget) of advanced civilizations in our galaxy alone. But he was very skeptical of UFO's. There was a debate in the literature in the 80's, I think, about the Fermi paradox--if there were so many ET's, why aren't they here? Sagan, not wanting to be linked to the UFO believers, argued (with many others) that interstellar distances were so vast that nobody ever tries to bridge them. Others argued that eventually a very advanced civilization would colonize the galaxy (though maybe preserving some wildlife refuges like ours).

I think it's impossible to guess how many civilizations there might be until someone demonstrates how life actually started (I mean more than just the informed speculation about RNA worlds and so forth). And even then, some leading evolutionary biologists (Mayr, Simpson, Gould) thought it was highly unlikely that given life, you'd get intelligent life. Others disagree (Conway Morris, for example). But anyway, one answer to the question of why nobody visits (presupposing UFO's aren't real) is that there isn't anyone out there or not very many anyway--if the universe is infinite there are bound to be others, but maybe inconceivably far away, too far to visit.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 14, 2010 06:14 PM

I find it interesting how these "conspiracy" threads on ATR so often shift from JFK, then to 9/11, then to UFOs--as if all information placed outside The Official History is equivalent. It's not, of course, and people reading a blog like this would do well to remember that much of what THEY believe is dismissed as paranoia/conspiracy theory, and have a little rachmanus for those of us whose reading and psychology have led to slightly different conclusions. Most people consider the idea that Rupert Murdoch influences the papers he owns to be "a conspiracy theory," which gives you an idea of just how stupid and destructive this meme is.

What I know about 9/11 could be fit into a single stick of thermite, but I'd bet that the 9/11 kerfuffle will follow the JFK one: thirty to forty years of scuffles between the government line and citizen skeptics, then enough circumstantial evidence and declassified material to lead to a consensus that the government line was bullshit. Precisely how it will turn out to be bullshit, I haven't a clue, but that's where the smart money is, not that they lie about everything else, but somehow played straight with us about 9/11.

As far as UFOs go, Sagan's opinion is based on human technology circa 1990; and in that limited way, he is right--aliens could not conceivably ride chemical-powered rockets across the vast distances of space. But there is nothing in the persistent, consistent UFO phenomenon that suggests these crafts (if they are crafts) are using that technology. Sagan's trying to answer a question the answer to which he cannot possibly know, and a chair at Cornell, accessible TV show, and groovy vocal style does not give him the essential information he needs. Just like Adam Curtis' deft filmmaking and thoughtfulness does not fill in the MKULTRA files, or Noam Chomsky's linguistic genius and high moral character fix the absurdities of JFK's autopsy. These puzzles are not currently solvable; maybe they will be someday, maybe not, but insisting on a solution says everything about the psychological needs of the "solver" and nothing about the truth.

My opinion on UFOs was formed by a conversation I had with a dear departed friend of mine, CDB Bryan. In addition to being the son of famed book editor/CIA man/UFO buff J. Bryan III, CDB wrote a wonderful book about John Mack's 1992 abductee conference at Harvard/MIT. I asked him, "What do you think? Are people really being abducted by aliens?" And Courty said, "When I started writing the book, I was sure they were all crazy. Every single one of them. By the time I finished, I was sure there was something going on, something real." "Do you know what it is?" "I haven't a clue."

Posted by Mike of Angle at January 14, 2010 09:23 PM

Thanks for the love as always, NE ;).

Well, I've mentioned here before that whatever these people see (there's too many witnesses and too much consistency to discount their observations) it has to be something no one is publicly acknowledging and yet, that might not have anything to do with something out of this world. The theory that these UFOs are experimental aircraft is pretty believable considering increasing "triangular UFO" civilian sightings eventually forced Lockheed to unveil the F-117 Nighthawk early thus confirming the flying object. One could Google the "Aurora" project as more proof of a man-made phenomena.

But then what the hell are these things doing flying literally meters from population centers? If you looked through the videos from said layman a post ago, you'll find that considering that unmarked vehicles that rolled through his backyard and flew circles over his house, he was lucky. A poor guy in Mexico got radiation poisoning when he came too close to the same type of craft.

Of course then there's the theory from a Alex Jones that worlds elite are faking an alien presence to eventually feign an alien invasion, causing them to reign supremely over a duped world.

Makes sense... in a way.

Interestingly enough, the governments treatment of Ufologists has varied greatly. The British police officer Alan Godfrey got the treatment popularized by Hollywood. He was threatened, framed and harassed over a several year period until he left the force himself. Leo Stringfield and his civilian UFO organization however was asked to cooperate with his former bosses, USAF intelligence, to screen UFO activity sent directly from the Air Force's own Ground Oberver Corps. It gets more complicated when you know the United Kingdom doesn't bullshit the public too much when these events occur, while the United States government prefers to explain every single instance away.

Although a widespread enough phenomena to convince 50% of Americans in a FOX NEWS POLL that we are not alone, theres enough theories (I say theories lightly) going around about the geopolitics of Terra Firma to verify any about the possible geopolitics of the Milky Way. It would be a good idea to make like an astrobiologist and wait until we've at least garrisoned a celestial body with some form of life before we make any major investigations. Or perhaps humanity might advance enough that a decaying galactic empire might answer that question for us, in the guise of destroying non-existent human "WPD" (Weapons of Planetary Destruction).

One's things for sure, when our Shwarzian webmaster despairs for our species once again, I instead remind myself that there's likely a sentient being out there who are just as dumbfounded at the idiocy of its own kind.

Our species might not be the only dimwits in the universe and that's reassurance enough me.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at January 14, 2010 10:16 PM

As much as I hate posting a message immediately after I posted my own, I didn't see Mike's post and it brings up some deep stuff.

What attracted me, especially in my not too far off teenage angsty years, to the UFO phenomena among other things was my journey, a quest of sorts, for meaning. Then again, what else is new? That's what everybody with any critical thinking craves. If that fills some kind of psychological need... Well.. so be it. I'm sure somewhere along the line everyone was positive, for example, that life itself was some Creator's grievous accident or at least an overlooked error. One may have thought that the way we tumble all the way through its tragic end meant he also had a witty sense of humor.

But I agree, it's best not to think you will have it all. Meaning I mean. Exploring all these things did give me some much needed perspective though. Its a big world (let alone universe) we live in, and one should respect that.

If I were go to extra philosophical on everyone, when it comes down to it, I think its always a good idea to measure a life by how you will be remembered. Perhaps wrangling about all this stuff on a comments section is your preferred method, perhaps not.

Heh. Maybe its pretty agreeable that that anyone still seeking an audience from their respective soapbox do something of more (literal) substance. Doing something for those unfortunate (to say the least) quake victims mentioned on the posts at the top can be good. Personally, I'm heading to my bank account now to donate again.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at January 14, 2010 11:16 PM

Nikolay, Mike of Angle, Donald Johnson:

This is all interesting stuff. In poking around Wikipedia after reading Donald Johnson's reference to Fermi's paradox, I saw mention that the universe has 700,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars (if I counted those 23 zeroes right, i don't know how to scientific notation on my keyboard). For me, that's a humbling number, and my impression of human thought across the ages is that people consistently discover that a whole bunch of things everyone used to think were hokum, crazy, silly, and just plain wrong. That's a trend I'm confident will continue. I can't begin to imagine what might be out there in terms of varieties of life, experience, consciousness, sensation and other things for which we have no language and perhaps even no perception. (And that's assuming we're not just a simulation.)

I don't pay much attention to UFOs or fake moon landings because I don't see enough significance. Now if I thought people were being murdered, then my ears might perk up. I can understand someone being interested or curious, but I'm not on board with Alex Jones about global elites being able to use alien abductions somehow to increase their power. My own hunch, which is nothing but bias and ignorance in action, is that alien abductions are a cover for something. For example, if you're going to mess with somebody's head or involve them in something you want to be able to keep doing even if some information leaks out, it's better than anybody who talks about the matter be considered crazy. Because then the "aw come on" response kicks in, and powerfully. Once the words "alien abduction" or "ritual satanic abuse" or the like are uttered, there is a zero percent chance that the story will be taken seriously in the media.

So I'd bet something is going on, but hell if I know what. Maybe what Nikolay hints at, maybe something else. I don't put much stock in testimonials or eyewitness observations just because perception can be easily manipulated by the skillful.

Mike of Angle:

It's already known that the official story about 9/11 is bullshit. And that there was a coverup, which continues. What isn't known is what really happened, and that may never be known in terms of who was actually responsible. Eventually, whether in 100 years or 200, there will be a consensus among scientists as to some questions of physics, but that probably won't happen for a long, long time. Not publically. Experts are whores, and most ins

Posted by N E at January 15, 2010 12:38 AM

"I find it interesting how these "conspiracy" threads on ATR so often shift from JFK, then to 9/11, then to UFOs--as if all information placed outside The Official History is equivalent. "

I'm the one who brings up other "fringe" subjects and I do this because on some things I'm on the fringe and on others I'm not, but to me it looks like there's a common psychology to many or all of us who believe or at least toy with topics that are not mainstream. There's something cool about knowing things the mainstream thinks silly, or at least thinking you know such things. As for which things are plausible and which aren't, you often can't tell from the outside unless you immerse yourself in the subject and you can keep a mind that is both open and critical simultaneously, which ain't easy and even then you can be mistaken. The majority of strange ideas are probably wrong, but you never know. Unfortunately you can't go around investigating them all and what looks crazy to one person may not be crazy to another. My college geology professor thought the asteroid impact theory for dinosaur extinction was nutty when it first came out--that's because for about 100 years or so most geologists were trained to think along Lyellian uniformitarian lines. Some teenager who'd been reading astronomy books in the local library would have picked up on the fact that asteroid impacts were not in fact science fiction--not all the large impacts occurred in the early days of the solar system, but what some astronomers and a few geologists knew didn't reach most geologists until Alvarez and company found the clay layer with all the iridium. OTOH most fringe theories in geology are in fact crazy--the Flood geology of some creationists, for instance.

On JFK and 9/11, it might be worthwhile to have a blog or website devoted to the subject where skeptics and non-skeptics could debate such things. I've decided I'm neutral on JFK and dismissive of 9/11 truthers, but would sit in the stands and watch others argue.

"As far as UFOs go, Sagan's opinion is based on human technology circa 1990; and in that limited way, he is right--aliens could not conceivably ride chemical-powered rockets across the vast distances of space. "

That's incorrect. The stodgy physicists (not all fall in that category) who disbelieve in the realistic possibility of interstellar travel start off by assuming matter/antimatter rockets, which is the best rocket you can imagine and then they show the mass ratio of propellant to payload still ends up being ridiculous if you want to approach light speed and then slow down when you reach your destination. The counter to this is to suggest hibernation, or space arks or aliens downloading themselves into computers or wormholes or von Neumann machines (self-reproducing robots), all of which involves things that might not be possible.

I misspoke about Sagan himself--he was willing to speculate about interstellar travel being possible, which made him slightly more daring than the stodgier types I mentioned just now, but thought that galactic colonization would be very slow. He had a mathematical model for this. Others disagree with the model.

What is interesting about Sagan was that he was an optimist about the number of alien civilizations (he also was an optimist in claiming they'd have to be benevolent if they were advanced, since otherwise they'd have exterminated themselves) and he even speculated about aliens having visited earth in a book written with a Russian co-author in the 60's (based on some Babylonian myth), but then he distanced himself from the UFO types and the ancient astronaut types once they started hitting the best seller lists. But believing in the likelihood of there being a great many alien civilizations, virtually all of them much older than ours and presumably far more advanced, he had to answer Fermi's question--where are they? His answer--interstellar travel and colonization is tough and he thought that before believing UFO's were alien spacecraft, you needed much stronger evidence. Which is fine, but since he thought there might be creatures who reached our level of intelligence geological eras before we did, it seems unlikely we could understand them or know their limitations.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 15, 2010 01:03 AM

F*** my life. Only I could contradict myself in the same sentence. Everyone should ignore the last paragraph of my last post. Can't complain about soapboxes when you're standing on one. What was that about physchological needs... Mike?

Good effort, bad result.

Hope my other points are thoughtful.

9/11 is self-explanatory. The military-industrial complex conducted Operation Gladio successfully with less fanfare.

Though I contest your point that contact of the first, fifth kinds and everything in between has a real agenda. That's why Fox News reports on UFO sightings just as Keith Olberman interviews MUFON volunteers. Thats technically not to say they're isn't one whether the UFO phenomena was designed to create deception or the government has a hand in tolerating it. Its just the UFO phenomena can't really fit into either of the two bantering "ideaologies" that the elite brainwashed us into sticking to. You don't have to be officially conservative or liberal to believe in extraterrestrial life.

Anyway, as I was saying in a previous post. That was not just some eyewitness account. On the fellows profile he also has a video showing the results of an evaluation of the tape by the University of Mexico. They even checked for tampering.

Not only was the tape found to be unaltered, it had a magnetic energy reading through the roof. As explained in the video, the level of magnetism on the tape was so high its as if the guy stuffed the tape inside a super magnetic generator of which there are only two or less. Further tests concluded the object was the source.

If you have the time as you say, this video explains it better and will be less time-intensive than reading my chicken scratch especially with what passes as coherent sentences at 2 A.M. EST.

Music choice isn't mine ;).

I'm just about out of commission for tonight but to answer you're other question... have people died? Well not deliberately. (Googling Officer Alan Godfrey and how this changed his career for the worst.) Have people disappeared? Your call.

For what its worth, Happy New Year NE!

Posted by Nikolay Levin at January 15, 2010 02:05 AM

Don't get me wrong, DJ--I wasn't seriously cracking on Sagan, whom I like. My point was a general one, which I'm sure you got; if UFOs are alien craft, they are employing a model of reality vastly different from the one we currently have. And if they're doing that, us not seeing them/understanding their vehicles, etc, is perfectly logical.

I tend to let my brother the Caltech quantum physicist guide me on such issues, and there is a level of "could be" and "we don't know" in our conversations that I find somewhat heartening. I'm all right with not knowing, that's because my personality is not the puzzle-mad one, but the worrying one. Not knowing works for me! :-)

As to JFK, the sides are much too divided for there to be any single forum of debate; there are places like which explain the case quite responsibly.

I think one can talk about all these topics in an intellectually responsible manner; but conflating them (as is done so frequently) is distracting, and when you add that to the complexity of the topics themselves, can encourage either a blanket acceptance of every theory, or a blanket rejection.

Must go parody Dickens now.

Posted by Mike of Angle at January 15, 2010 03:27 PM

Wow, i just noticed that whatever I intended to say a couple comments back didn't quite make it, and I don't even remember what it was.

I'm glad that you know what operation gladio was Nikolay. That puts you in a small minority of people in the US. I bet you know what Operation Northwoods was too.

I agree with Mike of Angle that talking about UFOs and JFK and 911 does have the effect of making it all sound crazy. (Sorry Nikolay.) I'm sure (and I mean sure) that Langley and the NSA dedicate resources to that effort.

Posted by N E at January 15, 2010 07:50 PM

The current Glenn Greenwald post is relevant here--


Little as I care for the 9/11 truth movement, Cass Sunstein is a really nasty piece of work for suggesting this. And yeah, presumably it's already happening. I've been in a blog where I half-suspected someone was doing more than just arguing in good faith for a bad position though in that case the subject was the I/P conflict.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 15, 2010 08:27 PM

Fair enough NE. I'll give it a rest for now :-).

"...I think one can talk about all these topics in an intellectually responsible manner; but conflating them (as is done so frequently) is distracting, and when you add that to the complexity of the topics themselves, can encourage either a blanket acceptance of every theory, or a blanket rejection..."

Mike Of Angle, understandable. Though of course according to Web Traffic Agents this blog gets an average of 1,451 unique visits EACH DAY and that's peanuts to Michelle Malkin's. No doubt, since their immense presence is so obviously felt here, so, rest assured its not like we're drastically changing the direction of the national debate by throwing some topics together in one blog ;-). So now that we got that load off our back...

I would go further in my thoughts on debating these things. As much as I am entertained by good conversation about a lot of these matters, there's something I find much more useful of our energy. Why not put together a protest, organizing a fundraiser rather than sitting on our lard asses (as my hippie burnout professor said) and making a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Of course I'm as guilty of this as everyone else, which is especially egregious given I'm the generation that the fate of the world now falls on. But its hard to resist the draw myself. This post explains the phenomena better, even our own webmaster was a victim "June 15, 2004
It's Unlikely You'll Read This".

To the consternation of me and likely another anarchist "tony", that visits here often, why isn't there any talk of defying on all fronts and building an anarchist collective, Paris Commune-style! Personally, I've been trying to connect with the local Rachacha (Rochester for short) Anarchist Charter, twice to no avail. Despite Kodak sending all the local factories south of the border, there is no unrest among the workers in The City That George Eastman Built ™. Although I have no trust for those city slickers on the other coast, I'm gonna try to put my prejudices aside to get in touch with the larger NYC Anarchist scene.

The fact of the matter is with all this lively discussion what I fell most good about is the five dollars, donated via the top post that I'll never get back (I didn't mention karma you leaf munching Buddhists!) Its good that (mostly) like and rational minds can connect here on the internet. Whats the next step?

Posted by Nikolay Levin at January 16, 2010 12:29 AM

Donald Johnson:

Thanks for the link to Greenwald and Cass Sunstein's article, neither of which i had yet seen though they do fall squarely within my principle area of interest and research (amateur).

I haven't read more than the abstract to Sunstein's article, but he didn't propose anything new based on that. The CIA and other intel agencies have been in the business of disinformation, infiltration, and general "countersubversion" since before the Cold War began, and they really began perfecting it with COINTELPRO and the more secret CIA programs in the 70s. There is a literature on that, and the CIA finally declassified and released its infamous "family jewels" documents a couple of years ago, so they can be reviewed via the National Security Archive website. (Don't mistakenly presume that even they are the whole story; much more has been destroyed--tens of thousands of files maintained by James Angleton and the whole of the MKULTRA documents to name just two known instances--and assuredly much more never released. Hell, the CIA hasn't even released all of the JFK assassination documents yet, which of course it long maintained didn't even exist.)

Information on more recent intelligence activities is of course harder to come by, because the government prefers to wait several decades before declassifying documents (for some legitimate and some illegitimate reasons).
But far more than enough documents have been released to know that the sort of disinformation operations that Sunstein proposed have already been going on for decades, and there really is no good reason to assume they just stopped doing these things, because nothing forced them to stop. If anything, the National Security State is stronger than ever now. So I'm sure they still are doing everything they can, and sometimes there are some reports of what that consists of.
See, for example, a report by Wayne Madsen on an alleged NSA unit to spread disinformation about 9/11 that got picked up in some of the foreign media:

Almost certainly, the contempt that many people have for the "9/11 Truth movement" or "Truthers" is often built partly on people's impressions of foolish behavior or crazy opinions directly or indirectly fostered by the intel agencies to create bad impressions of conpiracy theorists. It certainly is easy to do that, and those tasked to do it probably think it's fun too. They just have to find some fool to go on Letterman and start shouting, or rant at Clinton when he's on TV, and broadcast that footage. It makes a bad impression, because it shows bad manners, stupidity, a lack of respect and patriotism, and out-of-control behavior as a whole, and generally it is unimpressive to the overwhelming majority of people. There are many ways to accomplish the same thing, including but not limited to hiring bloggers or commenters at blogs. Although the internet is new to the last 20 years, communication isn't, and old tactics just have to be adapted to new media. I'd say the possibility that practices like those proposed by Sunstein aren't already widespread is as close to zero percent as possible, though of course we can't know how big the practice is, because all that information is classified. Researchers have worked hard for decades to find out what was happening in the 50s and 60s, and even that picture is far from complete. But we do know that about every other communist in the United States from 1940 to 1980 was an FBI informant, and we have a good record of intel operations to discredit the anti-war movement in the 60s and 70s. The amount of intelligence activity in proportion to the amount of actual subversion was absurdly large, and we're now taking part in the sequel. We literally cannot take anything we see or hear at face value. That doesn't mean that it isn't possible to know what's true, but we have to be careful and do some work.

As for Sunstein, he wrote a fine book called FDR's Second Bill of Rights, and he hold many opinions with which I am in agreement. But I obviously don't like his proposal at all either, and I like Krugman too, very much, but I thought Greenwald had the better position in their exchange. I see from Wikipedia that Sunstein was born in 1954 and is Jewish, as I would have guessed from his name, and though it may not be specifically true of him, Jews obviously have better reasons than most people to really dislike conspiracy theories, especially those theories that bring Isreal into the picture as a perpetrator. That probably calls to mind The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the conspiracy theory that helped lead to the murder of most of the Jews of Europe, and that consequently so profoundly turned a whole generation of liberal thinkers against paranoia that they lost even a healthy measure of skepticism about the potential of men with unaccountable power to do evil.

So Sunstein's proposal is deplorable and foolish but not new, and it doesn't surprise me.

While I'm at it, I'll add a comment on this tendency to drag Israel into conspiracy theories too. Israel has become a bad actor, but suggesting that Israel is responsible for 9/11 is as ridiculous as suggesting that Pakisan or Saudi Arabia were responsible, or that a rag-tag group of poorly trained arabs pulled it off. None of those potential perpetrators had any control over our air force, had the ability to use the several military war games that simultaneously occurred that day as a cover, and most importantly, could ensure that no investigation would follow. Only the National Security apparatus of one nation in the world could do all those things, so that's what the perpetrators had to control.

That some men with great power and fanatical beliefs were able to give orders to implement a covert operation that resulted in the deaths of thousands of americans doesn't make the whole United States government or military responsible or complicit, any more than everyone in the government and CIA knew who killed JFK, and I would bet the number of people with understanding of the whole plan could be counted on one hand. People assume such plans require widespread knowledge, but they don't know how such plans work. These types of plans have been devised for many decades, and the intel agencies are not so stupid as to devise plans that require large numbers of people to know what is happening, let alone why. I recently read a fascinating book about the covert war in Europe during WWII, and the author noted that many of the covert ops soldiers he interviewed had not understood their own role in events until his book appeared more than fifty years after their missions were completed. They hadn't known what they were doing. That's how covert operations work.

What is a shame, and shameful, is that the many in the government and military, including in our present administration, responded to 9/11 by facilitating a coverup and, worse, have allowed the war on terror to continue to be perpetuated under a slightly reformulated name and brand. That doesn't speak well of them, but they real reasons that aren't evil or murderous. Those reasons involve a mix of recognizing that they can't really do anything about it anyway, political pragmatism, careerism, opportunism, fear, bowing to political and social pressures, and not wanting to be considered crazy. Any one of them individually would be ruined by boldness, right up to President Obama, so they aren't crazy to not take on that battle. But the social consequence is our collective ruin, bit by bit. We've been at it for a long time now, so we need to stop this process sooner rather than later.

Suggested solutions to this problem are welcome.

Posted by N E at January 16, 2010 12:22 PM

Nikolay, I didn't mean to suggest that you couldn't or shouldn't talk about whatever floats your boat. Go cat go, as they say.

If I were interested in changing the world, I wouldn't hold a protest, I'd form a bank. Or a religion. I'm totally serious.

My feelings on Cass Sunstein can be summed up easily: never trust somebody from The Harvard Lampoon.

(Actually, his opinion is completely consonant with somebody who was on The Lampoon between '72-'75. I know the psychology of that set very, very well.)

Posted by Mike of Angle at January 16, 2010 02:34 PM

Mike of Angle

Why choose? You can combine a religion and bank easily enough. Or maybe that's redundant, given how so much religion works.

Posted by N E at January 16, 2010 03:35 PM

A quote from "Raw Story", which is one of Greenwald's links--

"Sunstein "wants to hold blogs and web hosting services accountable for the remarks of commenters on websites while altering libel laws to make it easier to sue for spreading 'rumors,'

That sounds like that would put you out of business, N.E. For that matter, it would put stodgy establishmentarian me out of business--anyone who speculated without absolute proof that the government was doing bad things could be sued or that's what it sounds like.

Posted by Donald Johnson at January 16, 2010 04:14 PM

Donald Johnson

All I read is the abstract of that article. It is always laughably ironic when liberals clamor for censorship of taboo ideas.

I don't think Dick Cheney is likely to ever sue me for libel. That would really prove too delightful for me. If I were significant, the problems I might have wouldn't be lawsuits, but I'm so far from significant that I can't even see it. I remember some years ago McDonalds sued some little entity in Europe for libeling them, and the defendant proved its claims, which got worldwide attention and probably didn't strike McDonald's upper management as desirable when they evaluated the decision-making of whoever authorized filing the suit. I think you'd be ok too, not that you're as insignificant as I am.

Requiring sites to police comments is obviously a bad and dangerous idea, and if Sunstein proposed that, he deserves ridicule for it. I agree with Sunstein about FDR and maybe some other things, but I don't know much else about him. I think some liberals are just so damn scared that everything is going to spiral out of their control.

Posted by N E at January 16, 2010 07:28 PM

NE, I'd look at this as a counter-point to that argument, especially since it stands out from all the other 9/11 documentaries and in a good way. Although the indication that Hollywood is controlled by Jews and that there is a cohesive "Jewish Criminal Network" are questionable, the rest is not only enlightening but intriguing. Its worth watching all the way through.

Oh, Mike of Angle. Its only finding a place where banks and religions are irreverent that would change the world, or at least start to. There's an isolated commune in Tecumseh, Missouri that hasn't supported our empire for decades and there's still that group of Nam' vets in Hawaii that refuse to rejoin civilization. Living among only themselves, they enjoy a mutual understanding only they know. Perhaps we can take a lesson from their courage, before we have to endure their depravity to convince us?

I'm sure you baby boomers aren't quite game. But maybe it was worth a shot ;-).

Posted by Nikolay Levin at January 17, 2010 03:35 AM

Nikolay--I'll have to dig around a bit on those groups you mention. A world without banks or religions sounds fine to me.

PS--I'm not a baby boomer; I was born in 1969.

Posted by Mike of Angle at January 18, 2010 01:25 AM

Yeah.. I knew I was way off on that even before I posted it. I think it was just too late and I was too tired to correct it. Looked like the thread had died out as well.

If the webmaster was born around the Reagen era than you had to be, at the earliest, a Generation X'er to have known Jon...

Then again I could have screwed up Jonathon's birthday too!

Of course, the baby boomer generation is defined by none other than... what do you know? The counter-culture movement. So I would of been wrong across the board anyway.

But you knew what I meant... I think.

Damn. Need more Earl Grey.

Thanks, Mike.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at January 18, 2010 03:00 AM

N E, I can't speak for all the commenters here, or for Jon for that matter. But I don't come to this blog looking for a complete, fair and balanced news experience. If Jon doesn't focus much on internecine struggle among our Shadowy Overlords, that's bound to be at least partly because (as you concede) information about such things only tends to surface after decades. On the other hand, information like this does surface from time to time, and is duly noted.

Still, the writers I read do pay attention to factions within the rest of the government, and in the corporate sectors. Alexander Cockburn, for example, has written about divisions within the military over the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, and has co-written a book on US involvement in the drug trade, including its connection to such operations as Gladio. Noam Chomsky also relies on internal documents and writes about the role played by internal divisions among ruling elites in bringing the US invasion of Vietnam to an end. For that matter, he typically brushes aside the obsession with personalities in favor of attention to systemic factors. I myself would be happy to learn more about what's going on in those circles, but I don't expect much information to become available for some time yet, and by then it'll be too late, and we don't want to dwell on the dead past, let's keep our eyes on the future instead.

It's ironic, really: the Truthers who posted at Empire Burlesque dismissed Zinn as a mere historian with no interest in the real world, while you dismiss him and Chomsky as mere "activists" with no interest in the deeper historical factors. You're wrong about that too, as others have pointed out. What you have in common with the boys at Empire Burlesque is that you ignorantly (dishonestly?) dismiss persons who reach different conclusions than you start from, by attacking them personally and inaccurately rather than addressing their arguments. By the way, Chomsky is primarily a linguist, and his "research" on politics is, like yours, "amateur." He's also widely dismissed by liberals as a conspiracy theorist, which is as far off target as your dismissal. As long as you remain committed to the Little Father Kept in the Dark by the Evil Boyars narrative, you're probably going to continue making similar mistakes.

Posted by Duncan at January 18, 2010 10:41 AM