Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

Tag: Conspiracy theories

Delusion is hard work

Cruz: Was it murder, or just a dog thing?

Cruz: Was it murder, or just a dog thing?

A 3-year-old Samoyed died three days after it competed in the Westminster Kennel Club show last month. And it may be… murder.

Cruz’s owner says the dog appeared to have been poisoned. Cruz’s handler – who’s now out of a job, I guess – takes it a bit further, and suggests Cruz may have been poisoned by animal rights activists, who stage protests at the event each year.

As a dog owner myself, I’ll go with what the vet who treated Cruz told The New York Times: “Dogs are dogs. It’s not anyone’s fault. They eat stuff; they get into things; they make bad decisions.”

Yes, obvious. So why is it always a conspiracy?

Conspiracies are complex ideas. They have to be. Because there’s generally an obvious answer to every question: Terrorists hijacked jetliners and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. And for an alternate theory to dispute this conclusion – the Bush administration planted explosives in these buildings – a conspiracy theory must circumnavigate a lot of eyewitness testimony, forensic science, the public record and common sense, including how a demonstrably inept administration could even pull off such a flawless endeavor. And then you get to the realization that it would take the silence of thousands of people to keep the government’s role in 9/11 a secret, and after more than 10 years not one person has stepped forward to confess, “Yes, I was a part of this massive conspiracy and subsequent cover-up.”

Some of the greatest conspiracy theories are non-partisan in nature. The United States military is engaged in a massive coverup of UFOs visiting the Earth? I’ll bet that’s a belief shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. The assassinations of JFK and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are big in the conspiracy world.  Elvis, Tupac and Michael Jackson are alive. Paul is dead.

I can think of  few liberal conspiracy theories. The pharmaceutical companies are keeping disease-curing drugs from us, so that they can continue to make money off of our illnesses. Car manufacturers have deliberately kept a successful electric car off the market so that we continue to rely on fossil fuelmobiles. And here’s a good one one: That a President of the United States would approve a plan to break into the party headquarters of his political opponent in search of anything that could be used against him in the next election.

Of course, that last one  proved to be true….

But most conspiracy theories – particularly the outright ridiculous, demonstrably false ones –  seem fueled by conservative fears. Here’s a short list: Obama is a Muslim. Obama was born in Kenya. Obama is taking away our guns. Obama will use drones to kill U.S. citizens on American soil. Voter fraud. Climate change. Muslim extremists are introducing Sharia law into the United States. The New Black Panther Party is intimidating voters and influencing elections. The Holocaust never happened. Fluoridated water is a mind-control scheme. Jet contrails are actually the U.S. government conducting a chemical attack on its own people. The shootings of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School were faked in order to get people behind gun control. Planned Parenthood is a corporation that wants to keep abortions coming so that its stockholders can make money. Liberals control the media (Even though virtually all media outlets are owned by right-leaning corporations). And the United Nation’s “Agenda 21,” its non-binding plan for sustainable development in a world that’s outgrowing its resources, is actually the foundation of a plan for a One World Order (The Illuminati, the Freemasons and the Fourth Reich are also hard at work on a One World Order).

Operating hand-in-claw with many of these conspiracy theories is the need to demonize the other side. Obama is a socialist, a communist, an agent of Satan. The rhetoric needs to be heavy, because of the overwhelming evidence that he is actually a decent guy and perfect family man.

Delusion is hard work.

I feel badly for the folks who lost a beloved dog. But in crying conspiracy, and accusing animal rights activists of the deed, Cruz’s bereaved survivors are overlooking the obvious. Animal rights people seem the least likely suspects to be behind the death of a dog.

If I were Cruz’s people, I’d be looking at other, more-obvious suspects. Like, do the owners of the other 32 Samoyed dogs at the show that weekend have alibis? Now that is a murder mystery that I can buy into.

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: June 5

First music of the day, Bill Frisell’s Disfarmer. First sounds from outside, coming through the open windows: crows.

1, A food crisis is coming to our planet, and it is our fault. “The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries,” The Times writes in its lead story. Price jumps, the result of that high-school economics class primary rule of inequity between supply and demand, have hit poorer countries harder. But now we’re seeing the effects of global warming on crop yields as well, say scientists, and it’s coming much sooner than they’d expected. The planet’s population, at about 7 billion, is expected to grow to 10 billion by the end of the century. Food production will have to double before that, and we’re making it hard on ourselves to meet that goal. “Unlike in the past,” The Times writes, “that demand must somehow be met on a planet where little new land is available for farming,where water supplies are tightening, where the temperature is rising, where the weather has become erratic and where the food system is already showing serious signs of instability.”

2, “In reports of Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s death on Friday at the age of 83, the general rule of obituaries held,” The Times writes: “Do not speak ill of the dead.” The face of assisted suicide, his obituary does note that Kevorkian was a difficult man, described as “erratic, loud, playing by his own rules.” Praise for his efforts on behalf of terminally ill patients taking charge of their own end of life was decidedly muted, The Times notes. Dr. Kevorkian, as best I can tell, did not pass on while hooked up to one of his “suicide machines.”

3, The Smith Corona manual typewriter on which the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski tapped out his manifesto was sold in auction last week for $22,003.

4, Conservatives want a nation with the lowest tax burden of any major country, limited government with little regulatory powers, where one’s religion is a litmus test and prayer in schools is encouraged, same-sex marriage is outlawed and outlaws are tortured, the military is the top spending priority, generals rather than civilians make policy decisions and none of its zealously patriotic citizens ever burns a flag. If this is your fantasy nation, careful what you wish for. In noting those goals, so typical of the Tea Party and many Republicans, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof writes that “when many Republicans insist on ‘starving the beast’ of government, cutting taxes, regulations and social services – slashing everything but the military – well, those are steps toward Pakistan.”

5, In Arts & Leisure, we learn about how the marvelous HBO series Treme, set in New Orleans, is increasingly emphasizing food in its story lines. Real chefs and food writers make cameos, and Anthony Bourdain has been doing some of the writing. David Chang, owner of a couple of tiny but trendy New York City restaurants, gets his close-up next Sunday. “I take back everything I’ve ever said about actors..,” he says. “Moving a piece of vegetable into another container in a really hot kitchen while you’re speaking is a real feat. I started thinking,’Wow, that Tom Cruise guy is an amazing actor. How the hell does he talk and shoot a gun at the same time?’ ”

6, In the magazine, Bill Keller wonders why smart folks can be taken in by conspiracy theories. “Our receptiveness to the outlandish is primed by the fact that that we know of actual conspiracies,” he writes. “Watergate happened….” The loss of faith in authorities further loosens the bricks in the foundation, and these days holds open the door for “self-appointed authorities.” But conspiracy theorists fly in the face of proven incompetence, Keller writes. “In my own experience, governments, corporations and other powerful institutions are not usually that good at making things happen according to plan, let alone at keeping secrets.”

7, The Summer Reading edition of the Book Review is here! Fifty-six pages of biblio-ecstasy! But too much to read this morning. I have to mow the lawn now.  I’ll report back later.

The Critical Mass

I read the Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: May 1

Today’s coffee goes with a chocolate-almond biscotti. First music of the day, Bob Dylan’s Biograph. Thankfully, the dog is in the mood to sleep in this morning.

1, “Republican leaders, activists and donors,” the Times writes, “anxious that the party’s initial presidential field could squander a chance to capture grass-roots energy and build a strong case against President Obama at the outset of the 2012 race, are stepping up appeals for additional candidates to jump in starting with Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana.” Daniels? Wasn’t that George W. Bush’s budget director, the guy who helped take the surplus that Clinton handed over and turned it into a historic debt? Keep looking. “The race needs more responsible adults who can do the job,” said a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Which raises an interesting question. How do irresponsible incompetents even get to the position where they’re viable candidates to lead the world’s most-important nation?

2, The construction of a 64-mile highway in southern Afghanistan has cost about $121 million so far, with a final price tag expected to reach $176 million. That’s $2.8 million a mile. Security alone has cost an estimated $43.5 million, including about $1 million a year being paid to a local leader – suspected of having ties to insurgents – to keep the construction workers safe. The unfinished section of highway runs through Taliban territory. “Despite the expense, a stretch of the highway completed just six months ago is already falling apart and remains treacherous,” the Times writes. “Cost overruns are already more than 100 percent, all for a road where it was never certain that local Afghan officials wanted it as badly as the American officials who planned it.”

3, The tornadoes that swept through the South this week, killing at least 350 people, were the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Katrina. But, “It ain’t like Katrina,” said one man whose house was destroyed.”We’re getting help.”  Obama’s disaster declarations for Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi mean “the Federal government will pay 75 percent of the uninsured costs of repairing public buildings, like a damaged fire station,” the Times writes of the “unimaginable wasteland” that was once the town of Alberta, near Tuscaloosa, Ala. The federal funding means “residents can apply for modest recovery grants; and that businesses can apply for low-interest loans.”

4, Bill Blackbeard, who compulsively collected newspaper comic strips to the point that he made himself an authority on them, died unnoticed in March in California. Word of the death of the “enigmatic, somewhat elusive figure” first began appearing on the Internet, as Blackbeard left no survivors who might otherwise get out the word. His personal archive reached 2.5 million strips published between 1893 and 2006. Comics consumed his life. “There were newspapers in the garage, where stacks stretched to the ceiling,” the Times writes of Blackbeard’s home near San Francisco. “There were newspapers in the bedroom. There were newspapers in the living room, where foot traffic was dictated by the paths carved among tottering piles. There were newspapers in the kitchen. There were newspapers everywhere but the bathroom and that, Mr. Blackbeard told inquisitors, was only because the humidity would have been bad for them.” When Blackbeard’s archive was acquired by Ohio State University, “it took six semi trucks to move the collection, more than 75 tons in all.”

5, Fleet Foxes, whose marvelous 2008 debut album was filled with harmonies that seemed to come from some Gothic church lost in the Pacific Northwest woods, releases its new record on Tuesday. Songwriter Robin Peckhold calls himself “optimistically crestfallen,” a good quality for our artists.

6, “If you have ever attended an Internet conference,” a Syracuse University student named Caitlin Dewey writes of her web-fueled romance in the Sunday Styles section, “you understand how pale skin, thick glasses and scruffy hair can be attractive; otherwise, I can’t explain it to you.” I worry about the social skills of these youngsters. “He took me out for dinner and read his e-mails while we waited for our food,” she writes. “He took me to a party at his friend’s house where they proceeded to argue for hours about Web design while I sat on a futon and stared at the ceiling, drunk and bored and terribly concerned that I looked thinner online.”

7, In Tibet, nomadic yak herders are harvesting an aphrodisiac, much-sought after in Beijing and Shanghai,  that several weeks of collecting can earn a man enough money to live on for a year.  It’s a fungus that takes root in the bodies of dead caterpillar larvae and grows, grass-like, out of their heads.

8, The Obama birthers won’t go away, despite overwhelming evidence that the President was born in Hawaii, the Week in Review points out. Americans seem particularly eager to accept conspiracy theories, from the attack on Pearl Harbor (FDR had advance warning), the Kennedy assassination (Lone gunman? Impossible!) to Roswell (The government is hiding dead aliens from us). The Times writes, “Kathryn Olmstead, a history professor at the University of California, Davis, notes that the John Birch Society claimed that President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican and staunch cold warrior, was actually a secret communist. But the attacks on Obama, she argued, are at essence about race. And because these theories are fueled by partisan hatred, many won’t be satisfied.’They”ll always question the authenticity of the documents they’re given,’ she said, ‘because they’re not driven by a quest for truth.’ ”

9, The magazine examines the disturbing cases of American soldiers murdering Afghan civilians. Sport killings. Sociologist Stjepan Mestrovic, who specializes in war crimes, “excoriated the tendency of the Army – and the news media – to blame such crimes on ‘a few bad apples’ or ‘a rogue platoon,’ ” the Times writes. “Close examination of these events, Mestrovic argued, invariably reveals that the ‘bad actor’ explanation ‘doesn’t fit the picture.’ ”

10, The Book Review examines 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day. Author Dorian Lynskey has plenty of opinions – he values the protest songs of Phil Ochs over Bob Dylan – and worries, according to reviewer Sean Wilentz, that he may have written not simply a history of protest music but a eulogy.” If so, I’m not inclined to blame our musicians: I’ve certainly heard plenty of protest songs over the past decade; you probably haven’t, because commercial radio doesn’t play a song like James McMurtry’s scorching “We Can’t Make it Here.”  Rather, as Wilentz points out, it’s the result of a ’60s protest culture that “seemed to run out of steam a long time ago.”

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén