Apr 162013
 

There were four of us at the VUW campus today for a bit less than two hours during the midday rush. There was a bit of rain, but not enough to hinder us too much as we distributed AE911Truth flyers and Experts Speak Out DVDs.

We each had the usual mix of strange and rewarding experiences talking with students and other passersby. So far as we can tell, the tutors generally seem rather truth-averse. Mike was told by a gentleman who appeared to be an instructor that he (the instructor) would have nothing to do with “your crazy conspiracy theories”. So much for the spirit of free, open and honest academic inquiry. Another faculty member awkwardly avoided one of our group whom he knew very well, shall we say. We were also told that we shouldn’t have been distributing DVDs on a day when three people had been killed at the Boston Marathon. This person did not express concern about the 55 dead from recent car bombs in Iraq.

Overall, we have a higher rate of acceptance of our materials on campus than we do anywhere else, but we also get perhaps the strongest negative reactions. Perhaps there is a secret VUW Thought Police Force that keeps faculty members in line.

I spoke to a gentleman who claimed to be a debunker of non-official ideas about 9/11. He cited the example of WTC7, which fell because there was a “large missing chunk” which escaped notice because it was on the opposite side of the building that was being photographed. The missing chunk was caused by falling debris from either WTC1 or WTC2 that must have somehow curved around to damage the back of WTC7. Missing Chunk Man also said there was incompetence involved, which was covered up to protect the incompetents who could have prevented Osama bin Laden from executing his evil plot. Missing Chunk Man had worked himself into to such a twisted frenzy of explanations, that he forgot to give back the DVD and flyer I had put in his hand a few minutes prior. I noticed that he was examining the flyer rather intently as he walked away.

I also spoke to a representative of the Fijian truth movement. She pointed out that we would not have been able to have the conversation we were having on the streets of Fiji. New Zealand is not yet under a military dictatorship, but in the meantime, we’ll have to settle for a mere surveillance society.

 Posted by at 10:06 am
Mar 262013
 

Bearing the enticing title of Lizard People, Church Steeples & Tin-Foil Hats, a March 25th, 2013 Salient feature article by student journalist Laetitia Laubscher makes a brief mention of NZ911Truth.org. The Salient article, while necessarily promoting the VUW conspiracy theories course, as did a June 2012 article by professional journalist Kerry McBride, bears little resemblance to the earlier DomPost advertorial. Ms Laubscher has actually researched her topic, and even went so far as to solicit comment from NZ911Truth.

I have some observations on the article which I will keep to myself for now, but meanwhile, please read the article and leave a comment on the on the article’s comment section.

 Posted by at 9:23 am
Mar 132013
 

The highly touted conspiracy theory course at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) has now gained a regular spot in the academic calendar. Search this site for Kerry McBride to get background on the course and some commentary on the possible motivations for it.

With this class under way, we decided to have our first group action on the VUW campus on March 12. (Although this was our first group appearance on campus, one of our members had already distributed hundreds of DVDs a couple of years ago during clubs week.) We stationed ourselves outside the building where the class was held and distributed our AE911Truth flyers and the latest DVD from that group, Experts Speak Out, with stunning labels created by one of our members. We also distributed some other compilation DVDs to others who were not evidently enrolled in the course.

We spoke to two people who were enrolled in the course. They were receptive to us, but also said that they were withholding any comment on the course because they had only had one class session so far.

In general, the reception on campus was better than any other location we have visited to date. That said, one of our group had a discussion with a young man who seemed to be off the scale on the Dark Side. It’s just as well that these types don’t usually engage us in conversation. We had other stimulating discussions with Kiwi students and several international students. One student commented to me that his English language class was laced with pro-USA propaganda.

One of our members has a close family member who fears for his/her safety, thinking that the police may go G20 on us for exercising our rights of free speech. This same member offered DVDs to two police officers who seemed positively frightened at the offer of free truth info. No G20 action yet; in fact most uniformed people seem to be intimidated by us. That said, I recall some good conversations that TruthMama and I had with some police officers at a demo a couple of years ago. We weren’t the centre of attention, so perhaps that made them feel less threatened by us.

We’re thinking of re-visiting the VUW campus over the next few months. There were four of us, and we were there around midday. Come out and join us next time!

 Posted by at 9:01 am
Jan 102013
 

From Corbett Report:

Meet Zbigniew Brzezinski, Conspiracy Theorist
Conspiracy theorists Zbigniew Brzezinski believe that organizations of interest work behind the scenes to manipulate world politics. They believe that false flag terror events are used to justify wars of aggression on political enemies. They believe that humanitarian rhetoric is used to mask military aggression, as in Syria. In short, they are realistic observers of world politics, just like Zbigniew Brzezinski. Join us today on The Corbett Report as we here all about the conspiratorial view of history straight from the horse’s mouth.

My comment: we must be prepared to immediately counter the term “conspiracy theorist” when it is brought up in conversation. Zbigniew Brzezinski is one of those who tries to have his cake and eat it too. Arm yourself with the information and tactics in this podcast.

 Posted by at 10:14 am
Nov 022012
 

Previous articles in this series

On Page 2, there were several individual articles apparently meant to cover some of the Conspiracy Theories to be examined in the projected course. The most prominent article was on 9/11. Here is a partial look at it.

” WHAT HAPPENED: On September 11, 2001, hijackers from the terrorist group al Qaeda took over four commercial aircraft. American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airline (sic) Flight 175 were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, causing them to collapse. American Airlines flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia. A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, was headed for Washington DC but crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when passengers wrestled control back from the hijackers.”

In this advertorial covering the topic of Conspiracy Theories, Ms McBride presents the Official Conspiracy Theory (OCT) as fact, which it isn’t, and does not mention that the OCT is itself a Conspiracy Theory.

“CONSPIRACY THEORY: Within hours of the fall of the Twin Towers, suggestions began to spread that the towers had fallen in too uniform a fashion – much like a controlled demolition.”

True

“The early early theories focused on anomalies in the public evidence,”

False, unless by “anomalies” you mean bald faced lies from government officials, and the illegal destruction of evidence at a crime scene. Otherwise, I don’t know what she means by “anomalies in the public evidence”.

“before moving onto the theory that the government of the United States had arranged the attacks in an elaborate coverup.”

That is a straw man argument followed by a nonsensical statement. Ms McBride presents an exaggerated, cartoon version of the prevailing Conspiracy Theory so that it may be ridiculed for its simple-mindedness, then states that people said that the attacks were arranged in an elaborate coverup. Doesn’t the coverup come *after* the event?

Ms McBride refers to the film Loose Change, which appeared in its first version in 2005, then mentions the theory that states that the Twin Towers and “a third tower in the World Trade Center complex known as Tower 7 were brought down by explosives set up inside.” True!

The theory has been written about by dozens of authors; with most arguing that the impact of the aircrafts and resulting fires would not have weakened the buildings enough to cause such a large-scale collapse. They have said Tower 7 had only sustained minor damage when it too tumbled down.

If Ms McBride is going to use an Ad Verecundiam (appeal to authority) fallacy, she should at least cite one out of her dozens of authorities. The choice of words here is typical of OCT defenders. If you have seen the videos of the destruction of WCT1 and WCT2, the word “collapse” likely does not spring to mind. “Massive explosions followed by pyroclastic dust clouds” is more like it. She writes that Tower 7 (usually referred to as WTC7) “tumbled down”. Video footage by major television networks show a different sort of phenomena from the top-down destruction of the taller towers, a classic controlled demolition. “Tumbling down” and “collapsing rapidly into its own footprint” are clearly not the same thing.

However, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has stated that the crashes, plus the fires caused, led to the gravity-driven collapse of the buildings. It was said the fire caused the steel structure of the buildings to weaken significantly, leading to the collapses. They said Tower 7 was also brought down by the spread of fires from the nearby towers, which weakened the building’s structure.

NIST is a political body, a division of the United States Department of Commerce, not an independent scientific research organisation, as its name implies. NIST was loyal to its government masters and produced a highly disputed story about the destruction of WTC7. Perhaps the best answer to the NIST report is David Ray Griffin’s The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7: Why the Final Official Report About 9/11 Is Unscientific and False. Dr Griffin exposes the NIST report as a scientific fraud, wherein they ignored evidence, lied about other evidence, and just made up evidence when it suited them.

Theorists have disputed NIST’s findings, stating the US government had orchestrated the attacks to give them a catalyst to begin a war with Iraq.

I’ll let that one go except to point out that it is a non sequitur.

It is often argued that the removal of the debris from Ground Zero without a forensic investigation is evidence that a coverup was being carried out. However, most scientists and researchers have critiqued the theories, saying the science used is shaky and lacks evidence.

Whatever else you may choose to believe about 9/11, you must agree that it was a crime. The wholesale removal of evidence from a crime scene before an investigation can be pursued by the proper authorities is itself a crime. You shouldn’t have to argue that; it just is. If Ms McBride has evidence that “most scientists and researchers” have critiqued the theory that the illegal removal of evidence from a crime scene is not a crime, I would like to see her sources.

Perhaps Ms McBride was just having a bad non sequitur day, and meant to write that some scientists, such as the scientists at Popular Mechanics Magazine agree with the OCT. Other scientists not working for a mainstream DIY magazine have found evidence of military grade explosives in WTC dust, and demonstrate that there are many other problems with the OCT.

No investigations carried out have found evidence to indicate the US government orchestrated the attacks.

I will agree that no investigations carried out by the US government “have found evidence to indicate the US government orchestrated the attacks”. That is hardly to be expected. This claim is reminiscent of the claim by NIST that they found no evidence of explosives in the WTC7 debris, the reason being that they did not look for evidence of explosives. At any rate, her last sentence is a transparently clumsy straw man argument that attempts to discredit and/or ignore the actual provable claims made by independent scientists and researchers.

This article, with its non sequiturs and (s)tumbling logical fallacies could only placate the most somnolent and credulous of readers. Next time we will see how Ms McBride tries to convince her readers of the Lone Nut theory.

 Posted by at 10:22 am
Nov 012012
 

Over the next few weeks I plan to post a series of articles concerning the DomPost’s Conspiracy Theory article of June 23 2012. This first post is a discussion of the first page of the advertorial. Please refer to the link above for the full text of the article.

Additional topics to be covered in future articles are:

Who wrote the advertorial?

Kerry McBride’s biography as it appears on the DomPost site:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/blogs/the-inside-story/6574265/The-Dominion-Post-news-reporters

Kerry was selected as a Fairfax intern and joined The Dominion Post in 2011. She reports on council and civic issues, as well as writing for the Capital Day page. She has covered issues in Wellington, including Wellington City Council’s spy car, earthquake strengthening and the Occupy Wellington protest.

Kerry has a degree in political science and international relations from Victoria University, and completed journalism training at Massey University.

We can see that Ms McBride is a young reporter whose credentials include a degree from the same university and from the same department promoted in the advertorial. She has been entrusted with covering issues with controversial political content. Without further information, we can infer only that Ms McBride should have some background information on the lecturers mentioned in the advertorial, and with the department offering the course.

Possible further information about Ms McBride may be found on her Twitter page, which seems to focus on personal, rather than professional matters.
http://twitter.com/Kerry_McBride

The Advertorial

Next, let’s look at the advertorial itself, and what qualifies it as an advertorial, as opposed to a feature article
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advertorial

An advertorial is an advertisement in the form of an editorial. The term “advertorial” is a portmanteau of “advertisement” and “editorial.” Merriam-Webster dates the origin of the word to 1946.

In printed publications, the advertisement is usually written in the form of an objective article and designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story. In television, the advertisement is similar to a short infomercial presentation of products or services.”

The form, content and source all indicate that this story is an advertorial. While written “in the form of an objective article”, it is not objective. The story quotes only the course presenters and others who support the viewpoint of the story. If any attempts were made to solicit comments from so-called Conspiracy Theorists who may have questioned the motivation, intent or legitimacy of the course, those details are omitted. The subject matter is highly controversial, therefore some non-laudatory viewpoints would have been included if this were an objective article and not merely a large promotional vehicle.

Am I being a bit harsh here? I don’t think so. Yes, to paraphrase some later verbiage you will read here, newspapers are full of articles that may be considered as promotional material (advertising or advertorials) that feature commercial entities such as businesses, cinema, theatre and other events. These articles do not touch on politically sensitive or controversial topics, however. That is why I claim that this politically biased promotion of a university course is an advertorial.

The story features seven photographs, including two dramatic photos from Ground Zero on 9/11. The layout, covering all of the first two pages of Section C, except for a 14cm x 37cm advertisement at the bottom of Page C1, is pretty grand and splashy for an article about a Philosophy/Psychology course being offered at one of the local universities at some indefinite time in the following year. No sponsor is listed in the advertorial, therefore we do not know at whose bidding this generous, highly favourable coverage appeared.

Now for a look at some of the actual advertorial content. The headline reads, “Conspiracies: Fact or fiction?” The large type subheading reads:

Believe it or not, a new Victoria University course will investigate the philosophy and psychology behind conspiracy theories – and what it takes for people to believe them. Kerry McBride looks at why people distrust the United States government, whether 3.5-metre reptilian humanoids rule the world and why New Zealanders still think Suzie the waitress poised the All Blacks.

The promotional material for the course ensues on the first page. On the second page are separate articles about conspiracy theories relating to 9/11, Roswell, the moon landing, Suzie the waitress, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Let us first look at the information in the subheading quoted above. “Believe it or not, a new Victoria University course will investigate the philosophy and psychology behind conspiracy theories…” Not being overly credulous, I decided – believe it or not – not to believe it! Instead, my crack team of one investigator checked with VUW to see if such a course was indeed in the offing. Our findings:

    1. The course was not “new”. It had already been offered in TRIMESTER 2 2011, from 11 July to 12 November 2011, and previously, apparently for the first time, in 2009.
    2. The same or similar course is scheduled for the first trimester of 2013, but the information concerning the 2013 offering was not made available until over three months after the publication of the advertorial. More recently, an article has appeared on an AUT website wherein one of the course presenters says that the course had been offered on a trial basis previously, but is now set to become a permanent feature of the catalogue.
    3. The required course book (PHIL215) for the previous course is not listed when searching on the course book (book store) web page, and the course book for the future offering is not yet available.
    VUW bookstore

As for the remaining assertions of the breathless subheading, the course outline is more academic in tone.

Finally, let’s get to the first sentence of the article itself. After all, we have no evidence that the author wrote the headline or subheading, that job being often assigned to editors. The first sentence: “History is full of events that were once thought to be conspiracy theories, but are now accepted as truth.” I think the intention behind her tortured prose is, “History is full of events for which there were competing explanations: the official explanation, and one or more competing non-official explanations. Eventually, one of the non-official explanations turned out to be true, and the official explanation, false.” A few sentences down, Philosophy lecturer Stuart Brock is quoted as saying, “There are conspiracy theories throughout history that people now accept as true,” confirming my interpretation.

Dr Brock is paraphrased as saying that the course will give students the chance to get beyond the “nuttiness” of conspiracy theories and explore the reasoning behind them. (Note the word “reasoning”. He does not say that they will explore “reasons” or “facts”. Again, we must allow for the possibility of his being misquoted.) He cites Watergate as an example of something “which everyone now accepts as true, but at the time people really thought it was nutty.”

To think that Watergate is not “nutty” is, by definition, to subscribe to a Conspiracy Theory, so let’s have a brief look at Watergate. The incipient Watergate event was a burglary by a small group of people, allegedly working on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election campaign committee, the Committee to reelect the President, or CREEP. (The actual motivation for the burglary remains a matter of speculation.) The burglary itself constituted a conspiracy (more than one person involved in the burglary), as did the coverup, which also involved a number of people. There eventually arose various Conspiracy Theories concerning Who knew What and When, the “nuttiest” of which included complicity on the part of the President himself, which turned out to be true. Those of us of a certain age well remember the question, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” The received Official Conspiracy Theory (hereinafter, OCT) posits that President Nixon, while he probably did not authorise the initial break in, did participate in the ensuing coverup. He resigned from office shortly before he was to have been impeached by the US Congress.

However, I must point out that the Official Watergate Conspiracy Theory is a “limited hangout” theory, i.e., a version of events that limits culpability to certain actors while excluding some of the true actors. An OCT is a version of events that is generally accepted by Mainstream Media (MSM), university lecturers and a majority (supposedly) of the general public. Wikipedia is an excellent gauge for OCTs, as it makes no claim to reporting “the truth”, but received opinion, or a “neutral” point of view. Therefore, I must object to the use of “true” or “truth” when applied to a Conspiracy Theory that has been formed to explain events, which has some validity, but includes only part of the available facts, thereby shielding some of the perpetrators from blame. To say, for example, that the Official Watergate Conspiracy Theory is “true” is false. There is much more to be learned about the events and various actors in the Watergate scandal than is generally known. To say that the Official Watergate Conspiracy Theory is “true” is just as bad as calling other Conspiracy Theories “nutty” without a proper investigation. Both statements are meant to imply that a particular chapter of history has already been written, and to discourage people from doing further research on their own.

I therefore contend that not only are the terms “Conspiracy Theory” and “Conspiracy Theorist” meant to be “thought stoppers”, or buzz words that discourage most people from giving the matter or person discussed any serious thought, but some Official Conspiracy Theories, such as the 9/11 and Watergate OCTs, are also meant to discourage any serious consideration. Case Closed, as it were.

What is the rationale behind this course offering? Why would two distinguished university lecturers from two different departments devote so much attention to what many consider a fringe pop culture phenomenon? Dr Brock is quoted as follows: “It’s about examining what it is that makes people buy into one theory, but not another. What common thread do these theories have that divides opinion so clearly?” The Conspiracy Theories covered include a couple of serious political topics as well as ones that are easy for most people to ridicule, such as the humanoid lizard belief.

Dr Brock is paraphrased as saying, “(T)he course is not concerned with simply arguing about whether a theory is true, (i)nstead it challenges students to think about what it would take for a theory to be seen as credible, and how theories are formed over time.” Students are discouraged from dismissing Conspiracy Theories as “nutty”, but instead to evaluate them more carefully.

The advertorial states (without citing the source, but apparently this also comes from Dr Brock) that students tend to fall into two categories, “vocal believers of the theories, and vocal opponents”. I would hope that some students would exhibit some flickers of cognition between Stimulus and Response, but these cogitators must be in the minority. The philosophy lecturer’s final quote in this advertorial is, “It’s nice to get a controlled dialog going between the two sides, and we do that by thinking about theories in more abstract ways.”

Let us summarize the quotes from the philosopher. The goals of the course are
* to examine “what makes people buy into” some theories and not others
* to find ways to make a Conspiracy Theory (be seen to be) more credible
* to see how theories are formed over time
* to control the dialog between Conspiracy Theory believers and non-believers
* to think about Conspiracy Theories in (more) abstract ways
* to examine the validity of the various Conspiracy Theories by using the Trivium and analysing them to detect possible Logical Fallacies.
* (I made that last one up. He never said that.)

These first five points, which I did not make up, come not from a professor of marketing and public relations, but from a professor of philosophy. The other course lecturer is Dr Marc Wilson, who was also interviewed. Dr Wilson grouped Conspiracy Theories into four categories, but his four categories can be condensed into two: theories involving elite ruling class groups at different government and corporate levels, and “alien conspiracies”, which also seem to fall under the general rubric of elite ruling class conspiracies. His distinctions are therefore without any qualitative differences. I find obvious merit in some of his points, but first I will cite most of his statements quoted in the advertorial.

“We find relatively few people believe the alien conspiracies, but are more likely to believe the others.”

I must pause in the quotation to parse this sentence. I think what he meant (I’m hoping he was misquoted) was that more people believe the non-alien conspiracies than believe the alien conspiracies. Continuing to quote Dr Wilson:

“People tend to believe things consistent with what we want to believe. If they have been slighted in some way by government or an organisation, they are far more likely to think there is something sneaky going on. But relatively few people have had paranormal experiences, so there is less belief out there that aliens are going to take over the planet.”

The advertorial states that the course will include the topics of Suzie the waitress and the Rainbow Warrior bombing. Continuing the quotation of Dr Wilson, “That is far more relevant to them than whether or not there are aliens hidden in Roswell.”

I draw some conclusions from these statements. To put his first point more broadly, if a person has been slighted by an organisation, that person is more likely to believe bad things about that organisation than someone who has been well treated by that organisation. Among the subsets of bad things that a slighted person might believe is that the organisation against which he holds a grudge engages in malevolent conspiracies. This seems plausible.

Next, the “alien conspiracies” seem to comprise two different theories: (1) present or future aliens as a ruling elite, and (2) our (human) ruling elites hiding evidence of extra-terrestrial visitors to our planet.

Dr Wilson states that people who have had paranormal experiences are more likely to believe “alien conspiracies”. I am sceptical of that claim, which leads me to wonder how much he has actually looked into ET (extraterrestrial) conspiracy theories and paranormal experiences, which often have no ET component.

Let’s say there is one part of the population that has had a paranormal experience of some sort, like having a strong impression that they have seen their one of their dead relatives standing in front of them and perhaps saying something, like warning them not to ride in a car that day. Does that automatically make that person more likely to believe a rather fringe conspiracy theory involving aliens or humanoid reptiles after having the paranormal experience than before the paranormal experience? I remain to be convinced of that.

The statement that people are more likely to believe Conspiracy Theories involving a subject they are familiar with, to expand a bit on Dr Wilson’s claim of New Zealand specific beliefs, is obviously true. If you don’t know very much about a topic, then that probably means that you have not taken an interest in it, and you are not very likely to entertain Conspiracy Theories involving that topic.

I conclude from these quotes that Dr Wilson has answered at least one of Dr Brock’s questions, i.e., what makes people “buy into” certain Conspiracy Theories and not others. Dr Wilson finds that people buy into theories on topics they know and care about, and don’t buy into theories on topics that do not interest them. Furthermore, if a person has a negative view of a person, organisation or movement, that person is more likely to entertain negative thoughts about that entity (including Conspiracy Theories) than the person otherwise would.

The next interviewee is the ever credulous staunch defender of received opinion, Vicky Hyde. She is quoted as saying that “the course is a brilliant tool for challenging thinking and getting people to look beyond what they read about online.” Apparently though, people are not to challenge what they read about in newspapers. Today’s so-called sceptics are by and large, staunch defenders of the received opinions of mainstream media, corporations and governments. While sceptics (skeptics) including Michael Shermer and James Randi do some useful work in debunking obvious scammers, they always do so within the framework of politically correct, received opinion. Ms Hyde’s other comments, inexplicably included in the advertorial, do not merit examination.

The next interviewee was local photographer and certified paranormal investigator, James Gilberd. Mr Gilberd and his local group are serious investigators, using scientific methods in their investigations into paranormal phenomena. A careful look at their website reveals not a whiff of a conspiracy theory, only serious investigations of unexplained phenomena by an experienced team of enthusiasts, some sporting advanced degrees in medicine and science. Judging from his quotes, Mr Gilberd, who regards most Conspiracy Theories as “bunk”, seemed to have misunderstood the nature and intent of the course, thinking it was meant to “research the paranormal and things outside the usual realms of science”, offering “reasoned discussions” and a “balanced academic study”.

Next time: a look at some of the accompanying articles.

 Posted by at 10:04 am