Saturday, November 22, 2014
The Skeptics Society Conspiracy Phobes - And Why They Discredit Themselves
Cover of new pamphlet received from the Skeptics Society, purporting to expose conspiracy theories.
Having just started reading Richard Charnin's new book, Reclaiming Science: The JFK Conspiracy, I can say I am already delighted on seeing the depth of the analyses to come, and the focus on science, making the book a nice complement to Prof. James Fetzer's Assassination Science. Because science is what we need here to counter the flood of disinformation that first arrived with the Warren Commission Report - not to mention the efforts of all its apologists to defend it.
"Reclaiming Science" is an apt title because it entails reclaiming the content that has hitherto been obfuscated and distorted under the specious science (or what I call pseudo-science) of the Warren Report as well as the apologists like Gerald Posner ('Case Closed') and Vince Bugliosi ('Reclaiming History') who have sought to reinforce that pseudo-science . I showed much of that in my FAQ (Part 5) addressing the bullets and wounds back in in November of last year, e.g.
Today, the 51st anniversary of the JFK assassination, is a good opportunity to re-examine the entrenched CT phobics, especially the more sophisticated ones that have surfaced in organizations like The Skeptics Society. For example, via a little pamphlet (see cover image at top) put out recently - which I received in the post three days earlier. Perhaps 21 years ago I had a letter published in the journal of that organization wherein I warned that expressions of hyper-skepticism could backfire and were counterproductive. This was after the magazine took some initial critical shots at the claim for conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination - revealing like so many others before and since that they hadn't done their homework.
Before proceeding further let us remind ourselves of the definition of conspiracy (e.g. from the Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary):
“A treacherous, surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons”
Why this simple definition should cause so many heads to explode - especially in the US of A- is frankly beyond me. It is elemental and has been demonstrated many times as I will show - hence, it's not as if we're talking or writing about ghosts, poltergeists, elves or fairies.
An easier question to address is: Why are so many would-be skeptical critics broken on the 'wheel' of the JFK assassination? Well, because they treat it frivolously - without the respect it is due - more often conflating it with nonsense pseudo conspiracies (which shouldn't even be dignified by the name) such as the claim of the "faked Apollo Moon landing" or the UN seeking to take over the nation via black helicopters or the claim government agents are secretly using the Post Office to buy up all the ammo so gun owners can't get any. Each of these, by contrast to the JFK assassination, demonstrates ignorance or manifest paranoia.
Apart from the presumption of frivolity, without due diligence in approaching a controversial political-historical topic, and with only uninformed, indiscriminate skepticism expressed - the whole exercise becomes one of merely academic pique, or "bullshit" in the parlance of Harry Frankfurt in his masterpiece, On Bullshit. According to Frankfurt:
"Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk (or write) without knowing what he is talking (or writing) about. Thus, the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person's obligations or opportunities to speak(or write) about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts relevant to the topic."
Such is the case with the contents of the Skeptics Society pamphlet.. What is the error that threads its way throughout the book? While the authors specifically target ALL conspiracy theories - as if these were a form of general mental disorder- they are implicitly attacking the reality of actual conspiracies! (Bear in mind once a conspiracy exists it is no longer "theory".) Logically, then, if ab initio all conspiracy theories are false, foolish or invalid (meaning other explanations can suffice and the ones advanced are daffy) it means there can be no real conspiracies either!
But we know this to be false, because Watergate was certainly a real conspiracy, exposed in Nixon's White House Tapes (get hold of them as I have and listen!) as was Iran-Contra. To refuse to label a crime, especially a political one, a conspiracy - is therefore to be dishonest in one's approach to historical or political knowledge and education. It is also to be guilty of spreading disinformation,
To fix ideas, let me offer some perspectives on the Iran –Contra conspiracy which was implemented by Reagan cronies such as Oliver North, John Poindexter, Albert Hakim and Caspar Weinberger. (Reagan always denied any involvement, though it is incredible that such a plan could have unfolded without topmost authority. But, being generous, mayhap Reagan's Alzheimer's had already set in and someone like Poindexter was needed to oversee it!)
All the charges against the above-named characters and others are listed on page xiv of the Introduction to The Iran –Contra Report (1994) published by Random House at the behest of Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh. (Note: Weinberger, “charged with four counts of false statements and perjury, was pardoned by George Bush” That would be George Senior).
The basic facts to take away concerning the Iran-Contra conspiracy are these:
- Shipping Israeli Hawk and TOW missiles to Iran from 1985-86 to obtain the release of American hostages held in the Middle East. This was despite an embargo on such sales.
- The money from the sales of these arms was to be funneled into Nicaragua to support the Rightist “Contras’, a violation of the then Boland Amendment, and basically exposing the Reagan administration’s covert support for paramilitary activities conducted against the Sandinista government.
As noted in Walsh’s Introduction (p. xv):
“The Iran and Contra operations were merged when funds generated from the sale of weapons to Iran were diverted to support the Contra mission in Nicaragua. Although this diversion may be the most dramatic aspect of Iran-contra, it is important to emphasize that both the Iran and contra operations, separately, violated United States policy and the law.”
Violation of policy thus was via the violation of the Boland Amendment, named for Rep. Edward Boland (D-MA). The amendment restricted U.S. aid to the contras and “prohibited the use of U.S. funds for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.”
But even Rep. Boland likely couldn't have conceived of the dastardly lengths to which the Reaganites would go even before his amendment was in the public domain. I am referring, of course, to the “October Surprise” whereby Reaganites (known at the time also to be strongly supported by the Republican Heritage Council with Nazi links- see, e.g. Russ Bellant’s book: ‘Old Nazis, The New Right and the Republican Party’, 1991, pp. 41-44)) used back channels to make a secret deal with Iran to postpone release of the 52 American hostages in return for arms sales after the election.
Corroborating this, on July 18, 1981 the then USSR's TASS news agency reported the emergency landing near the USSR-Turkish border of an Argentine-registered transport aircraft leased and flown by Israelis, carrying a full load of US weaponry and military spare parts. The US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, Nicholas Veliotes, subsequently investigated this occurrence and concluded that the downed aircraft was on its third such flight in a series of shipments of US weapons to Iran which had been authorized by high officials in the Reagan Administration.
Before people start talking “tinfoil hats” let’s examine what was at stake and in particular the federal conspiracy law as it would relate to the later arms-for-hostages dealings of Iran-Contra. As noted on p. 56 of The Iran –Contra Report:
“The federal conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 371, states that ‘it is a crime to conspire to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose’”
This would have been violated under three criminal actions by the perpetrators identified by Walsh (ibid.):
1) “Using government resources, the conspirators conducted an unauthorized covert program in support of the contras.”
2) “North and Poindexter used their Government positions to create a hidden slush fund under the exclusive control of the conspirators”
3) “By secretly pursuing their own ends, the conspirators outraged the Iranians they were attempting to persuade and thus jeopardized the success of the Iran initiative.”
In terms of the scale and scope of the deal, on p. 338 of the Iran-Contra Report we see: “3300 TOWs for hostages”, then on p. 339, we note: “In fact, 1,000 TOW missiles had been delivered to Iran between February 15 and 17, 1986.”
These facts are germane and important because they disclose the extent of the conspiracy as well as the people involved. But this is the essential nature of all real conspiracies in the political realm - to somehow leverage power to the advantage of those seeking to impose their own agenda. It was applicable in the Iran-Contra conspiracy as it was in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy - the objective in the latter to implement a much larger national security state and permanent war state.
The authors of the Skeptic Society's pamphlet, meanwhile, step into reeking heaps of virtual 'doggy doo' as they go their merry way making wild generalizations about all claimed conspiracies and conflating them indiscriminately. This is in addition to plenty of dime store psychology meted out such as citing a waste of paper called 'American Conspiracy Theories' in which it is claimed "researchers have found that inducing anxiety or loss of control triggers respondents to see non-existent patterns and evoke conspiratorial explanations."
Proving again that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing especially in subjective areas like psychology and psychiatry (for an excellent exposure of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual and all the psycho-malarkey within it, check out 'The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry') Such psycho-babble also elicited the scorn and rebuke of my friend Rolf (formerly a member of the Spezialdienst) when I emailed him a scan of the pertinent material. His rejoinder was that this anti-conspiracy crowd that relies on such babble "needs their own heads examined".
In the case of the pamphlet, its lone (peripheral) foray into the Kennedy assassination occurs on page 4, under the header, 'Ingredients for Conspiratorial Thinking' (hmmmm.....was Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh guilty of "conspiratorial thinking" for pursuing Iran-Contra?) Therein, the authors (Michael Shermer and Pat Linse) babble:
"Conspiracy theories connect the dots of random events into meaningful patterns (patternicity) and then infuse those patterns with intentional agency (agenticity). Add to this confirmation bias, the tendency to look for or find confirmatory evidence for what you already believe- and the hindsight bias (after the fact explanation for what you already know happened) and we have the foundation for conspiratorial cognition."
Which is fulsome horse pockey. Indeed, by the clever use of this pseudo-scientific, dime store psychology template virtually any real conspiracy could be dismissed as nothing more then a combo of : P (patternicity)+ A (agenticity) + H (hindsight) + C (confirmation bias) nonsense!
Think of it! In the case of the Iran-Contra conspiracy, the shipping manifests revealing the assorted Hawk and TOW missiles destined for Iran would be likened to "seeing a pattern". This would then be "infused with agenticity"(sic) because the missiles ended up with the Iranians - so someone had to be a bad guy in doing it- since the Iranians were bad guys holding American hostages. The next step would be to accuse Prosecutor Walsh of "looking for confirmatory evidence of what he already believed", i..e. the guilt of Oliver North, John Poindexter et al. because they "used their Government positions to create a hidden slush fund under the exclusive control of the conspirators”. And finally, the coup de grace, Walsh would be accused of "hindsight bias" - advancing explanations after the fact for what he already knew happened. (Of course he knew, he uncovered the evidence in the course of his investigation!)
So, in other words, their bandying about of this pseudo-process is useless because it errs by proposing an excessively subjective and open-ended standard for parsing objective evidence. Hence, tying proof of conspiracy to sophisticated second guessing.
Shermer and Linse then move on to the Kennedy assassination (ibid.):
"Consider the Kennedy assassination: Knowing what we know now, film footage of Dealey Plaza from Nov. 22, 1963 seems pregnant with enigmas and ironies - from the oddly expectant expressions on the faces of the onlookers on the grassy knoll (What were they thinking?) to the play of shadows in the background (Could that flash of light have been on a gun barrel?) Each odd excrescence, every random lump in the visual texture, seems suspicious"
But here the authors invoke too much in the way of red herring, and not enough substance. Sure, there were random flashes and visuals appearing in the setting, i.e. in the Zapruder film as well as the Nix film. High tech investigation of one photo - from Mary Moorman- even disclosed the outline of a shooter behind the stockade fence on the grassy knoll, e.g.
This "Badgeman" photo above, compliments of Richard Charnin - from his blog- in contrast to the woolly speculations of the skeptic duo, was declared authentic by an MIT analysis team - as Charnin observes. (For the likely identity of 'Badgeman' see my Sept. 20th post: 'Switzerland: Destination for the Kennedy Assassins?' )
But even if one would claim to be so bleary-eyed or visually deficient as to see nothing peculiar in the image, or the evident outline of a gunman in the photo (including muzzle blast), the autopsy photos - fraudulent and real - shown below, ought to give pause. These are not based on random flashes or expectant expressions on living faces but the stark consequences after the rifles were fired.
These, along with the released CIA files about Oswald, seem to be what the hyper-skeptics have missed.
And perhaps this is why these skeptics who fancy themselves informed and smart enough to take on the JFK assassination, ought to back away and regard it instead as the "fire breathing dragon of American history" - in the words of one Truthdig journalist who interviewed Tom Hanks for a supposed series he had planned on HBO (later cancelled). Hanks was ultimately gobbled up by this fire-breathing dragon because in the end he was too flippant in his approach to the facts, as well as arrogant in seeking to "do the American public a service" - because they "have been snookered into believing that Lee Harvey Oswald was framed."
These lessons, which occur from time to time, ought to also steer other presumptuous fools clear of this event in any future forays where they go after ALL conspiracies. Oh, they might wish to stay away from Iran-Contra, Watergate and BCCI too!
Btw, I have no problem - not one, if this pair, Pat Linse and Michael Shermer (or the entire Skeptics Society), want to go after those who suggest the Apollo Moon landings were faked or that the Air Force is secretly hiding aliens somewhere in Area 51. But if you plan to try to skunk those of us who've seriously investigated the Kennedy assassination - conflating us with the nutsos above- you had best be loaded for bear!