Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conspiracy Playlists: Revolution

Here's one of my playlists, to consider Bailyn and Wood by. You should be able to listen at least once for free. I am experimenting with this site, Lala.com, as a place to post playlists.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Links on past and upcoming topics: American Revolution, Antisemitism

Monday, September 14, 2009

Message on class meeting for 9/15/09

This is in response to some questions I have had about tomorrow's class, on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Let me explain again in writing what I want to you to be ready to do in class: Make some notes for yourself, and be ready, verbally, to take a position for or against one of the interpretations of conspiracy theory you have encountered in the readings, using an example from the Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories as your evidence. The point is to start working with these various interpretations yourselves, rather just have me explain them to you.

It is best to think of the individual readings so far, besides Fenster’s survey (meaning Hofstadter and most of the individual chapters in Conspiracy Nation), as spinning out their own theories of why conspiracy theory appeals to people and how we should evaluate the phenomenon (especially, how dangerous we should think it is). Among the options would be “agency panic” from Timothy Melley, the “poor person’s cognitive mapping” explained by Fran Mason (based on the work of Frederic Jameson), and Jodi Dean’s defense of alien abduction mythology as (in effect), a perfectly valid and functional alternative belief system. Then there is Hofstadter, whose ideas we have not fully talked out yet. His interpretation applies the psychiatric concept of “paranoia,” to begin with, and then links conspiracy theory to the basically anti-democratic politics of the extreme Right (think Nazism or Fascism) and the fears of the old white, native-born middle classes, who feel their status as the dominant group in American society to be threatened by the changes of the modern world. (For an application of this idea to recent politics, see this post: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2009/09/entitled.php#more?ref=fpblg  ). There are other interpretations in the reading, but these are probably the most eligible options to which you can apply your thinking right now. 

As a way of getting some critical distance from these interpretations, consider some other ideas that have been floated concerning the conspiracy theories being floated about President Obama's health-care plan. Some articles linked earlier have seen them as examples of a persistent insanity in American politics, and/or as an example of popular political ignorance. The following article and video presents a kind of conspiracy theory of these conspiracy theories, that they are a political tool being used by conservative ideologues and the health insurance to distract a lot of middle- and working-class people from their own economic interests: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-blumenthal/get-the-government-out-of_b_285361.html . This one may well have some merit, considering that the public phase corporate lobbying campaigns are really all about selling hidden agendas.

See you tomorrow,
Jeff Pasley

P.S. I will be around my office most of the day Tuesday between 11AM and our class, so come and see me if you have questions.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Eisenhower's fears of militarism and right-wing extremism

More background on Hofstadter's "Paranoid Style" and the ideas and fears (of fears!) behind Seven Days in May:
  • People did not seem familiar with President Eisenhower's warning against the "military-industrial complex." This clip from the film Why We Fight includes the good parts of that speech and also explains it. Watch it, and marvel that Ike was a Republican!
  • A New York Times column explains another Eisenhower warning, against people looking for answers from authoritarian leaders, like General Scott in the movie.
Now playing: The Beatles - We Can Work It Out

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Conspiracy Playlists -- The Adventure Begins

The creation of my History of Conspiracy Theory course coincided with the onset of the mp3 era, so it was natural for a music fan like myself to make a CD to listen to while working on it. In putting that together, I realized that this music was an integral part of the whole subject for me. I vividly remember having originally picked up on the paranoia that pulsated through the culture of the 60s and 70s from the music I heard on the radio as a kid, including several of the songs on the list below, before I knew what any of it was about. Over time, this little amusement mushroomed into a lengthy series of conspiracy- and paranoia-themed CDs that I cannot seem to stop making. Having long wanted to share of these playlists without incurring the wrath of the RIAA, I am going to start posting a few of them here, along such links to versions of the songs themselves I happen across. Mp3s of most of these can be purchased from the usual outlets,  

CONSPIRACY MUSIC: Paranoia (original CD)
1. Paranoid Larry and His Imaginary Band - Paranoid Larry Theme Song (2:08)
2. Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth (2:40)

3. Uncle Tupelo - We've Been Had (3:26)
4 .Radiohead - Black Star (4:07)

5. X - Someone's Watching (4:49)
6. The Kinks - Here Come The People In Grey (3:46)
7. The Undisputed Truth - Smiling Faces Sometimes (3:14)
8. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising (2:20)
9. Marvin Gaye - I Heard It Through the Grapevine (3:15)
10. The Temptations - (I Know) I'm Losing You (2:28)
11. Four Tops - Reach Out (I'll Be There) (3:01)
12. Green Day - Basket Case (3:03)
13. The Kinks - Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues (3:32)

14. Harvey Danger - Flagpole Sitta (3:38)
15. Garbage - I Think I'm Paranoid (3:37)
16. Black Sabbath - Paranoid (2:47)
17. Clem Snide - The Ballad of David Icke (1:51)
18. Bob Dylan - Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues [Live] (4:25)
19. Soul Coughing - Unmarked Helicopters (3:22)
20. Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Imagination Is a Powerful Deceiver (3:40)
21. Offspring - Conspiracy Of One (2:18)
22. The Black Crowes - A Conspiracy (4:46)
23. The Kinks - Destroyer (3:47)
24. Radiohead - Paranoid Android (6:23)

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Conspiracy Theory Today -- starters for 2009 students

    Deep Thoughts about Conspiracy Theory and "Right-Wing Rage"
    Continuity of anti-Obama groups back to McVeigh era:Death Panelists and Birthers

    Now playing: The Old Haunts - Poisonous Times
    via FoxyTunes

    Thursday, July 03, 2008

    Brainwashing in the News

    I just published a post on my Common-Place blog that coulda shoulda gone here as well, on the explicit use of Communist "brainwashing" techniques in the U.S. Phantom Zone prisaon at Guantanamo Bay. Read and enjoy.

    Friday, May 09, 2008

    Format of the test

    I am getting questions about the format of the test. It will be a pretty typical history test, but I gather a lot of you are new to history courses. It will be a written test rather than multiple choice, so you will need a blue book (available in Brady Commons at the bookstore or from the machine). Make sure you can explain and correctly use all the terms on the study sheet, and you will be fine. I am out of town right now, so I think the easiest way to reassure people is to provide a sample test, in the same format, but from a different course of mine. Same type of questions, different material, nothing fancy.

    Term Sheet Updated -- all systems go for final

    I updated the term sheet for the final and posted the last lecture outline just now. The final exam is in our usual room next Tuesday at 8AM. It is a written exam, so you will need blue books, preferably the 81/2'' x 11'' kind. Post any last questions here.

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Film clips shown in class, 24 April 2008

    I have to be out of town again today, once again thanks to our fair city's poor transportation links, so Marlin will be showing a couple of film clips. The first is a roughly 10-minute dramatization of one of the Salem witch trials, from the 1985 PBS film Three Sovereigns for Sarah. Vanessa Redgrave stars as Sarah Cloyce.

    Then, looking forward to the last week of class when we will consider anti-Semitism and its attendant conspiracy theories, including Holocaust denial, you will be seeing roughly the last half of Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., a 1999 documentary. The films tells the sad of story of a self-taught engineer who made his living improving capital punishment equipment for various states. Then he made a big mistake. Leuchter claimed to have worked on gas chambers, and because of that, was tapped by Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel to investigate the site of the Auschwitz death camp, with the intent of "proving" that there were never any gas chambers there. Leuchter's surreptitious, comically inept investigation was used as evidence in defense of Zündel during a hate crimes trial in Canada. Naturally, Leuchter's business was ruined by the publicity from the trial, and most of the states he claims to have worked with now deny any association with him. The clip to be shown picks up with Leuchter talking about his work on capital punishment, and then turns to the story of the Auschwitz investigation.

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    Where we are going from here, and other announcements

    The lecture outlines page now has everything we have done up through the second witchcraft lecture yesterday. For the rest of the semester, you should be doing the readings listed for topics 12, 13, & 15 on the syllabus. The only textbook left is Norman Cohn's Warrant for Genocide. Please ask any current housekeeping questions, including ones about the paper, in this thread.

    Also, office hours this week are going to be postponed until Monday afternoon, 4/28/08, 2-5PM. I have to go out of town Friday.

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Term Paper Question Answered

    A question was posted about what kind of term paper we were looking for. I posted a long document about this in February. Please read that if you haven't, because you do have to write on one of those assignments. Also, please note that if you do topic #2, where you pick a conspiracy theory to write on, you need to get approval of the topic. That will involve talking to me and writing a short proposal describing the conspiracy theory you want to investigate, the questions you have about it, and listing the sources you plan to use. If at all possible, the sources should include some print materials as well as web sites.

    Ask any general questions about the paper by commenting on this post.

    Sunday, March 02, 2008

    Midterm questions -- ask here [UPDATED]

    If you have any questions about the midterm, I would appreciate it if you ask them as comments here rather than emailing. This way everyone can get the same answers. I will make sure this post stays on top on the blog through Thursday. I should also have pointed out that everything posted on this blog can be used as sources on the take-home midterm and the term paper.

    While you are studying and writing, enjoy this BBC news item revealing that this year's Best Actress Oscar winner, Marion Cotillard, is also an avid conspiracy theorist. Because there is no better source on architectural engineering and astrophysics than a French actress!

    UPDATE: Click here for emergency access to the key chapters in Conspiracy Nation.

    UPDATE 2: Someone asked in class where there were examples of the Turabian citation style somewhere on the Internet. Yes there is.

    Saturday, March 01, 2008

    Anti-Catholicism, Premillenial Dispensationalism, and the Republican Party

    You may remember Pastor John Hagee from the the PBS documentary Apocalypse! we watch clips from when we were discussing John Nelson Darby's "premillenial dispensationalism" in class last week. Hagee was and is one of America's leading preachers of Darby's prophetic system, which includes the Rapture, the Tribulation, and large doses of venom against the Catholic Church, a.k.a. "The Whore of Babylon." What you might not know is that Hagee is also major force in the Christian conservative wing of the Republican party, gladly embraced as a supporter even by not notably Christian figures such as likely GOP nominee John McCain.

    Check out this item from the American Prospect's blog, and note the statistics on the levels of public belief in biblical and Bible-related (since that's all Darby's system is) prophecies:

    Last fall, John Hagee gave a speech at the late Jerry Falwell's church, where he shared the stage with Tim LaHaye, co-author of the best-selling Left Behind series of novels. "How close are we to the second coming of Christ?" Hagee asked. "The Bible clearly states that heaven and earth shall pass away. … The signs of his coming are very clear in Scripture. If you listen closely, you can hear the hoofbeats of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, racing toward the battle of Armageddon."

    For Hagee, the Bible prophesies that certain events will take place before the Second Coming. Hagee believes that many of these events have already occurred or are occurring. Referring to the Rapture, during which he believes Christians will be whisked away to heaven to wait for the Second Coming, Hagee said, "We’re going up in a twinkling of an eye. Jesus Christ could be here before you get home tonight."

    While John McCain clearly doesn't believe this stuff, he knows that millions of Americans do. A 2002 Time magazine poll found that “fully 59% [of Americans] say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack.” A 2007 AP/Ipsos poll found that one quarter of Americans believed that Jesus Christ would return in 2007 and 46% of evangelicals believed that it was “somewhat likely.” A comprehensive study of Pentecostals and charismatic evangelical Christians conducted by the Pew Center on Religion and Public Life in 2006 found that “Pentecostals have particularly strong views on 'the rapture of the church,' the teaching that before the world comes to an end the faithful will be saved and taken up to heaven.” According to the survey, 90% of American Pentecostals held that belief, while 69% of charismatics and 59% of other Christians did.

    For video of the good pastor explaining the anti-Catholic aspects of his theology -- the proper word is actually "eschatology" -- see my history & politics blog.

    The "Whore of Babylon" Achieving New Heights of Popularity

    I rather like this song but I wonder if Conor Oberst (spelling?) actually knows what the phrase "Whore of Babylon" actually refers to?

    Thursday, February 28, 2008

    Conspiracy Theory Tactics Used against Barack Obama

    Pasted below is a story that I thought everyone should read, study, and send to their parents and relatives. Here we have conspiratorial thinking and prejudice being consciously deployed as political tools, right in front of us. A commentary on "Talking Points Memo" explains the strategy and I make a historical comparison on my main blog, "Publick Occurrences 2.0."

    Obama Fights False Links to Islam, Denounces Views of Farrakhan Who Praised Him

    AP News

    Feb 27, 2008 17:52 EST

    For Barack Obama, it is an ember that he has doused time and again, only to see it flicker anew: links to Islam fanned by false rumors, innuendo and association.

    Obama and his campaign reacted strongly this week when a photo of him in Kenyan tribal garb began spreading on the Internet. And the praise he received Sunday from Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan prompted pointed questions — during Tuesday night's presidential debate and also in a private meeting over the weekend with Jewish leaders in Cleveland.

    During the debate, Obama repeated his denunciation of Farrakhan's views, which have included numerous anti-Semitic comments. And, after being pressed, he rejected Farrakhan's support in the presidential race.

    The Democratic candidate says repeatedly that he's a Christian who took the oath of office on a family Bible. Yet on the Internet and on talk radio — and in a campaign introduction for John McCain this week — he is often depicted, falsely, as a Muslim with shadowy ties and his middle name, Hussein, is emphasized as a reminder of Iraq's former leader.

    "If anyone is still puzzled about the facts, in fact I have never been a Muslim," he told the Jewish leaders in Cleveland, according to a transcript of the private session.

    The photo of Obama wearing Kenyan tribal raiments — taken by an Associated Press photographer during his visit in 2006 to the country where his father was born — resurfaced on the Internet amid unsubstantiated claims that it was being circulated by members of Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. Clinton and her aides said they had nothing to do with it. The Obama campaign accused them of "shameful, offensive fear-mongering."

    On Tuesday Republican candidate McCain denounced the introduction he got in Cincinnati that criticized Obama in vivid terms. Talk show host Bill Cunningham referred to Obama three times as "Barack Hussein Obama" and called him a "hack, Chicago-style" politician during the introduction of McCain.

    The Obama campaign is closely attuned to the rumors and insinuations. Information on Obama's Christian faith is prominently available on the "Know the facts" page of his Web site. The campaign has distributed flyers to churches in states with presidential contests. And it encourages supporters to flag any attack that may make its way into cyberspace.

    "Our campaign is vigilant in quickly responding to any information about Senator Obama that surfaces, be it on the Internet, in the media or from our opponents," spokesman Bill Burton said Wednesday.

    If there is confusion — and opportunity for political mischief — it derives at least in part from Obama's rich cultural background. His mother was a white woman from Kansas, his father was Kenyan and he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country.

    "My grandfather, who was Kenyan, converted to Christianity, then converted to Islam," Obama said Sunday. "My father never practiced; he was basically agnostic. So, other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for four years when I was a child, I have very little connection to the Islamic religion."

    Obama has become careful in denouncing the links, lately noting that some rumors about him also have been insulting to Muslims. Jim Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, said many Arab Americans are drawn to Obama because of his cultural background.

    "It is clear he wants to have a broader relationship with the Muslim world," Zogby said. "He has a biography that connects him to the Muslim world."

    Obama, though in the presidential limelight now for more than a year, is still introducing himself to voters. An AP-Yahoo poll in January asked people to volunteer the first few words that came to mind about each of the candidates, and 4 percent of the respondents, unprompted, mentioned the word Muslim when describing Obama.

    Some of the rumors and allegations about Obama are clearly not true, yet still spread, often anonymously:

    _ A debunked chain e-mail circulating widely on the Internet suggests he is hiding his Islamic roots. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

    He took his Senate oath with his hand on a family Bible, and he says, "Whenever I'm in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America." In fact, no candidate could survive if he publicly spurned the pledge.

    _ Another false report says he attended a Muslim madrassa school as a child in Jakarta. Obama was born in Hawaii and moved to Indonesia when he was 6 to live with his mother and stepfather. He returned to Hawaii when he was 10 to live with his maternal grandparents. Interviews last year by The Associated Press at the Catholic elementary school in Jakarta found that it is a public and secular institution and has been open to students of all faiths since before Obama attended in the late 1960s. Said vice principal Akmad Solichin: "Yes, most of our students are Muslim, but there are Christians as well. Everyone's welcome here."

    _ Obama also has faced questions about his pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where he has been a member for 20 years. Trinity calls itself "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian." But it accepts non-black congregants. The United Church of Christ's president and general minister, the Rev. John H. Thomas, was quoted in a church publication as pointing out that the Rev. Jane Fisler-Hoffman, Illinois Conference Minister, who is white, "has been a member of the congregation for years."

    _ Obama has been asked about Farrakhan's words of praise and Farrakhan's receipt of an award from "Trumpet Newsmagazine," a Trinity church publication last month. Obama told Jewish leaders Sunday: "An award was given to Farrakhan for his work on behalf of ex-offenders completely unrelated to his controversial statements. And I believe that was a mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community and I said so."

    Farrakhan did not endorse Obama but said Sunday: "This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better." Asked Tuesday night whether he would accept support from Farrakhan, Obama said: "I live in Chicago. He lives in Chicago. I've been very clear, in terms of me believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate. And I have consistently distanced myself from him."

    Following an exchange with Clinton, he then added: "There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."

    Source: AP News

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    Ron Paul and the Dark Secret of I-35

    Perhaps you have seen the signs around Columbia, or people holding the signs, for back-running presidential candidate Ron Paul. He is the only one of the GOP candidates who has questioned the Iraq War, Gitmo, or the Bush administration's internal security measures, and often comes off like a refreshingly candid fellow. Ron Paul is also, I am afraid, a believer and promoter of nativist (anti-immigrant) conspiracy theories. Along with CNN host Lou Dobbs and a surprising number of other legitimate figures, Paul believes that secret plans are afoot to create a North American Union out of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. I am especially partial to this theory, because part of it involves the Most Boring Freeway in the Universe, one which I have driven up and down 100s of times between Kansas City and Minnesota, Interstate 35.

    As FactCheck.org reports,
    "According to Paul, a secret organization run by unaccountable government figures is in league with foreign corporations who are all bent on usurping American sovereignty. That's not from the script for a new X-Files movie. (Or not that we know of.) It's the gist of Paul's description of a supposed 'NAFTA Superhighway.' Paul describes it on his Web site as 'a ten-lane colossus the width of several football fields, with freight and rail lines, fiber-optic cable lines, and oil and natural gas pipelines running alongside.' And that's not all. According to Paul, the ultimate plan is to form a North American Union with a single currency and unlimited travel within its borders, all headed up by 'an unholy alliance of foreign consortiums and officials from several governments' that together form the shadowy 'quasi-government organization called the ‘Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America,’ or SPP.'

    The problem with Paul's claim is that there are no plans to build a NAFTA Superhighway. Or a North American Union, for that matter. And while the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America does exist, it’s just a boring bureaucracy."
    The rest of this story is very much worth reading.