I love conspiracy theories. I wrote a novella centered on the conspiracy theories and political machinations.  (Not to spoil it, but it involves a takeover of the United States government by an insane dictator.  But that’s another story.) The point is, I’ve spent a lot of time reading popular conspiracy theories.

Lately, a lot of attention has been paid to so-called “fake news” on social media, and the role they played in the recent U.S. Election.

I’m not sure why they are calling these stories “fake news”–they appear to be similar to the old conspiracy theories that flourished, beginning in the late 1990s.  It’s part and parcel of what Warren Spector, the creator of the great conspiracy-theory video game Deus Ex, called “millennial weirdness”.

People who listen to the radio frequently are familiar with these things.  A lot of strange ideas have been floated over the air on shows like Coast to Coast AM for decades now. It’s not new.

I think what is new is the politicization of conspiracy theories. In the old days, conspiracies were about the Illuminati or Extraterrestrial life, and those are never on the ballot. But now, the conspiracy theories are deliberately meant to certain political factions.

It may have started with the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which were inevitably explicitly political in nature.  Or it might have just been that political strategists realized they could take advantage of people’s love for conspiracies in order to advance their aims.  (Good strategists are always looking for any edge they can get.)

But I’m curious about is why the term “fake news” (which evokes something more like satirical sites on the order of The Onion) seems to have supplanted the term “conspiracy theory”. What reasons could there be for this?

In my previous post, I wrote something that I’d like to enlarge on a bit.  I mentioned how the alleged Bob Dylan conspiracy required a bunch of people to be involved in a conspiracy that would not come to fruition until long after they were dead.  I realized this might be a good rule of thumb for determining how likely a conspiracy is to be true: “are the alleged conspirators going to be around to reap the success of their conspiracy?”

In a lot of these Illuminati/Freemasons/CIA/Assorted Other Shadowy Group conspiracy theories, there is at least a strong insinuation, if it is  not outright stated, that it is all part of some centuries-old plot.  And that has always struck me as really unlikely because it requires these conspirators to not only know which actions will have which consequences centuries later, but also care enough about how it develops after they’re dead.

Most real conspiracies (here are some) are conspiracies that generate immediate results for the conspirators. They’re not doing it to achieve some long-run goal decades later.  And while I’m not saying that all conspirators care only about themselves–ideologues of any type will often justify whatever they are doing by saying “it’s for future generations”–I am saying that it’s one measure of assessing a theory’s plausibility.  There needs to be something in it for the conspirators, not just for future generations of conspirators.

Conspiracy theories like the Dylan one, which are supposedly about making money, strike me as especially unlikely, since people generally have a preference to have money sooner rather than later, and especially have a preference to have money before they are dead rather than after.  This is one of the finer points of decision theory.

Via Thingy, a hilarious and bizarre conspiracy theory about how famous singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was a puppet of U.S. intelligence. Thingy doesn’t know if it was written as satire or not.  My hunch is that it wasn’t, because clearly the author, one Miles Mathis, spent a lot of time either researching or making up a bunch of random things to string together.  I don’t think even Jonathan Swift had enough patience to write a satire that long.

What’s funny about this is that there is a tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small kernel of truth behind all this nonsense:

We know Intelligence was running all sorts of secret operations in the 1960’s. Many of them have since been partially de-classified, like Operation Mockingbird, Operation Bluebird, Operation Chaos, MKULTRA, and many many more. But there appears to have been an even larger, more fundamental Operation beneath all of them. This was Operation Rolling Stone. It was the promotion of change in all forms. To what end? The promotion of trade.

He’s right that it’s not a coincidence that the 1960s social upheaval and the work of liberals, like Dylan, did lead to the promotion of trade. It’s ironic because many of the liberals were not in favor of capitalism, yet they ended up promoting it.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have become way more amenable to the idea of free trade post-’60s.

But it wasn’t a conspiracy by U.S. intelligence, or the Illuminati, or the Elders of Zion, or the Freemasons, or the Esoteric Order of Dagon. It just happened.  I think it’s because the social values of ’60s liberals are quite compatible with laissez-faire trade–values like not discriminating against people based on skin color, or gender, or religion etc. It doesn’t require an elaborate conspiracy where Bob secretly sets the stage for Jim who twenty years down the road will secretly say something to Dan that will motivate him conspire with Harry to fundamentally alter the culture of the United States.

So, I guess, he did identify a correlation between to phenomena.  I think it’s even true that there is a causal relationship there.  Where he goes completely off track is in attributing it to some conscious conspiracy by a bunch of people, most whom would be dead long before any of their efforts came to anything.

That said, he does go a little overboard in asserting how much trade has accelerated in the last half-century, saying:

Gentlemen in the early 19th century looked down on trade, as we see from reading Dickens or Austen, or watching Downton Abbey. The English aristocracy mocked American wealth, since it came from trade.

Where does he think the English aristocracy’s wealth came from? Ever heard of the East India Company?

Is it a joke, or is it for real?  The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

You’ve all heard various conspiracy theories about “the Illuminati”, right? When you love reading conspiracies as much as I do, you see the Illuminati crop up all the time.  But for all the times I’ve heard about them, I never bothered to visit their Wikipedia page and ask: “just who are these guys?”

Well, turns out there was a historical group called ‘the Illuminati“.  They were an offshoot of the Freemasons founded in Bavaria in the 1700s by this guy Adam Weishaupt. But they came into conflict with the Church and were disbanded in 1785.

And just wait till you hear what diabolical schemes these scumbags had in mind! Are you ready to hear what the legendary, mystery-shrouded, secret society wanted? Wikipedia gives the grisly details of their nefarious doctrine:

The society’s goals were to oppose superstition, prejudice, religious influence over public life and abuses of state power, and to support women’s education and gender equality.

So… the famed secret society… the group whose name has formed the basis of all kinds of conspiracy theories… were a bunch of liberaltarians?

It’s a bit underwhelming to go looking for a sinister cabal of super-powerful malevolent cultists, and instead find the blog section at The Daily Beast.

Now, I do want to point out that in the 229 years since the society dissolved, considerable progress has been made towards almost all of the Illuminati’s goals throughout the world, and especially in the United States and Europe.  And, truth be told, I think that’s a good thing.

To a conspiracy theorist, this makes it look as if the Illuminati were secretly controlling events behind the scenes.  After all, how could their goals enjoy such success without the hidden hand that holds the world manipulating things? Pr-etty conve-e-enient, eh?

On the other hand, it could just be that Weishaupt and his friends foresaw that societal trends were going in that direction anyway, and were just ahead of their time.

But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet.  The best part is that in 1799, a guy named Augustin Barruel wrote a book called  Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism that claimed the Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. And you probably thought the John Birch society was who came up with blaming them for everything. Quoth the Wikipedia synopsis:

Barruel defines the three forms of conspiracy as the “conspiracy of impiety” against God and Christianity, the “conspiracy of rebellion” against kings and monarchs, and “the conspiracy of anarchy” against society in general. He sees the end of the 18th century as “one continuous chain of cunning, art, and seduction” intended to bring about the “overthrow of the altar, the ruin of the throne, and the dissolution of all civil society”

More than anything else, Barruel’s writing reminds me of Peter Hitchens whenever he gets on the subject of what he calls the “cultural revolution” in the 1960s. He too sees cultural change and social upheaval as a conscious effort secretly advanced by important people in society.  And who can say for sure if that’s wrong? Heck, Edmund Burke attested to the existence of a conspiracy as described by Barruel.

Conspiracies or coincidence? They report, you decide. But I’ll leave you with this: maybe the pattern is real, but there are no century-spanning conspiracies–it’s just that the same things keep happening over and over. “Condemned to repeat it”, like the fella said.

Some time ago, eurobrat had a post about how the radio program Coast-to-Coast AM had transformed from a show about the paranormal to another conservative talk-show.  I wrote about it at the time, and the other day, for various reasons, I found myself reading up on the program again.

It seems there has been something of a falling-out between the creator and original host of Coast, Art Bell, and the current host, George Noory. Bell himself was upset with the show’s newly-political tone under the Noory regime, and subsequently there has been some back-and-forth and even some competition for the same guests between Noory’s Coast and Bell’s (now defunct) new program Dark Matter.

It’s a good story of the protege who has turned against his mentor–it’s practically the stuff of High Drama.  I don’t know how much stock to put in the Wikipedia articles on this (Noory’s Wiki page in particular does not follow the Wikipedia guidelines for how an article should read) but the Coast article claims:

The Commonsense show [Don’t know what that is–has Thomas Paine got a show now?–MM] has described Noory led Coast to Coast by the following: When Art Bell relinquished control of his program to corporate interests, Premier and ultimately Clear Channel, Coast to Coast was never the same as the show took a turn and became reflective of “the corporate message”

I have no idea if this accusation is true, but the program is definitely owned by Clear Channel Communications, which syndicates, through its subsidiary Premiere Networks, shows like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck.  (Interestingly, Clear Channel itself is owned by Bain Capital–Mitt Romney’s old company. Like any good Coast-to-Coast conspiracy theory, this one has a trail you can follow pretty far up!)

My point, though, has less to do with the political machinations, real or imaginary, that may or may not lie behind the change in the program’s focus.  Rather, I want to revisit eurobrat’s original point that Coast now “sounds like everything else out there”.

As I alluded to in my other post on this topic, “Diversifying” is generally considered a sound strategy, and yet the logic here seems to have been “homogenizing”.  But more and more, I realize how common this is, and to some extent this transformation does suggest Clear Channel is responsible, because it’s exactly the sort of thing a big company does when it takes ownership of something.  It’s sort of like what I wrote about regarding the saga of Electronic Arts and BioWare’s Mass Effect: they acquire something unique and successful just to turn it into a knock-off of something else.

A few months ago, for the first time, I got cable television.  Seeing the college football bowl games was nice, but apart from that, I have not found a lot worth watching. The only things I watch much that aren’t over the air are C-SPAN and the History Channel.

It was on the latter that I saw a program called “Ancient Aliens”.  (On the former, one may only see modern imbeciles.)  It is about the “ancient astronauts” hypothesis, which supposes that aliens visited humanity some time in the past.  The episode I saw was about the idea that the Norse Gods were in fact alien beings who visited the vikings.

It’s both an amusing and an annoying show. Annoying because it couches everything in the following way (Not a quote, just a paraphrase):

Could it possibly be that Thor was actually real, and the stories of his fantastical hammer are true?

I kept waiting for someone to say, “well, you can’t actually disprove it, but it’s extremely unlikely.”  But no one ever did.  All they did was keep saying non sequiturs, like “well, we modern humans certainly can build things as powerful as the legends say Thor’s  Hammer was.”  They seem to be implying that this suggests Thor’s Hammer was a thing, when Occam’s Razor suggests it means that modern humans can make stuff the vikings could only imagine.

(Interestingly, I saw another program on the History channel about the Nazis and their interest in the occult and mythology. It claimed that SS leader Heinrich Himmler believed in similar ideas of the reality of such artifacts from Norse mythology. That program  treated this as evidence of just how completely insane Himmler was.)

As I said, the show was kind of amusing, and it’s a cool idea for science fiction writers to play with, even if it’s a bit of a cliche at this point.  But it was presented as a very plausible idea, not as a wild theory based on largely on “wouldn’t it be cool if…?”

It reminded me of the radio show Coast-to-Coast AM, and lo and behold, I see from Wikipedia that George Noory, host of that program, was in a few episodes. Both programs are rather entertaining in their way, and yet there is always the lingering fear that some people, somewhere may take them as established fact.

Did you hear about this weird rant by the House stenographer right before the vote to re-open the government?  Very strange stuff:

I don’t know if there’s audio, but according to this article, part of what she said was:

“This is not one nation under God. It never was,” she said. “Had it been … the Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons, they go against God.”

Longtime readers know my mantra: I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but I love thinking about them. This would make a great opening scene for a Dan Brown-esque conspiracy novel.

CNN ran an article last week by Professor Gabriel J. Chin, explaining why Texas Senator Ted Cruz is eligible to be President.  For those of you who don’t know, there is some concern over whether or not he is a “natural born citizen”, because he was born in Canada. His mother was a U.S. citizen, but his father was a Cuban citizen.

So, in the opinion of this legal scholar, someone who was born in a foreign country still qualifies as a natural born citizen, even if born in another nation, as long as their mother was a citizen. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating.

And so once again, I must ask the question: why didn’t the press mention this any of those times when people were alleging President Obama was ineligible because he had been born in Kenya? That would have been a much better way of counter-acting the so-called “birther” conspiracy than anything else.  Where Obama was born never even mattered from a legal perspective.

I don’t remember any CNN articles pointing this out when they talked about the conspiracy theory.  I mean, the conspiracy stuff is ridiculous enough as it is, but when you throw in the fact that even if it were all true, it is totally unimportant, that would make them look really bad. And yet, nobody seems to have bothered to consult any legal experts when the questions were raised about Obama.

I often have insomnia, and, because I love conspiracy theories even though I don’t believe in them, I used to occasionally listen to the radio show Coast to Coast AM. I always especially enjoyed their Halloween episode, when the show would be retitled Ghost to Ghost AM.  I remember they talked about “Shadow People” on one such episode that was cool.  Everything on the show was so utter madness of course, but I wonder if most of the callers were playing pranks.  (The time “Gordon Freeman” called in being a prime example.)

I bring this up because of eurobrat’s post saying Coast to Coast has now become more of a typical Republican radio talk show.  That’s too bad; although I can’t say that it’s surprising.  “Paranoid style in American Politics” and all that. I wonder if it was just the host who happened to be on that night.  Even then, it’s an odd marketing strategy: “let’s try to be like all the other stuff out there.”

It’s actually a surprisingly common device you’ll see in all forms of marketing.  It’s not a good idea.  Generally, the best way to market your product, whatever it may be, is to differentiate it, not imitate what everybody else is doing.


So, to continue in this vein of highly improbable reinterpretations of things that I am so fond of, let me tell you about another wacky idea I cooked up.

It all started when I was watching this Mass Effect 3 episode of the game commentary show “Spoiler Warning”, and one of the hosts, Josh, mentioned that Cerberus can “still manage to succeed despite being terrible at everything”. (He says it at about the 2:00 minute mark):

Hmmm.  Is there any other organization you can think of that still succeeds, despite making lots of bad decisions and being widely despised?  An organization which, when seemingly being beaten, simply uses its seemingly-inexhaustible resources to take the advantage?