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I've been giving a lot of thought to the discussions here about proper list
etiquette the past couple of days, which were inspired largely by the
three-way exchange between myself, Mitchel Cohen and Jonathan Campbell. I
think that this post from Phil raises the kinds of issues that concern me,
and which have prompted my perhaps overly heated posts here (I should say
that I think limiting posts each day is a great idea, and pledge to honor
that myself.)

To me, 9/11 conspiracy theories, which are rampant among certain segments of
the left and have received considerable airing on Pacifica radio, are the
political equivalent of HIV-AIDs denial and its apparent latter-day form,
HPV denial in regards to cervical cancer (see especially Jonathan's post on
this subject, but also Mitchel's, in which it is suggested that HPV may have
little or nothing to do with this particular cancer.) That is, they
represent a triumph of ignorance and fantasy over facts and evidence,
something the left needs to avoid seriously if it is to be credible and get
anywhere.

Faced with posts of this kind, I see three alternatives:

1. Ignore them entirely.
2. Refute point by point the arguments made.
3. Interpret them politically.

The first is always a possibility, and in fact I have chosen to do that
recently in order to stick to the minimum posting guidelines.

The second is not an option, not only because it is not appropriate for this
particular list, but because it would take time and energy that could not be
justified. Eg, if someone posted a Holocaust denial article complete with a
long list of arguments for why the gas chambers never existed, would the
appropriate response by list members be to refute it point by point, digging
deeply into historical resources? I doubt very much that anyone here would
do this.

The third alternative seems to me the most appropriate on a list devoted to
furthering left analysis and progressive causes, although it also makes the
poster who pursues this avenue most vulnerable to accusations of ad hominem
argumentation. But when it comes to 9/11 conspiracies and AIDS conspiracies,
in my personal view the most important issue for leftists is to understand
why these views are so rampant, and yes, sometimes to parody and ridicule
them, because parody and ridicule are political tools and justifiable ones
in many cases. I could also give the example, in the scientific domain, of
climate change skepticism. If someone posts a contrarian view on that
subject, would most people here debate the scientific details with long
posts about modeling and satellite data or try to get behind the politics of
the debate? (I give this example with some hesitation, because I don't agree
that leftists should be telling the public that scientific truth is arrived
at by majority vote or even consensus.)

In sum, I will try to abide by the guidelines that people here have urged,
but I think it would be inhibiting to political expression and analysis to
give up the tools of parody and ridicule entirely, even if they should be
used in a gentle manner rather than in a nasty way. I admit to fault on this
score, and will try to do better, but please don't expect me to entirely
ignore some of the more outrageous things that are posted here, especially
when lives are at stake as Carrol pointed out earlier.

best wishes, Michael

On 2/18/07, Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
>  http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,2006830,00.html
>
> Comment
>  *A 9/11 conspiracy virus is sweeping the world, but it has no basis in
> fact*
>
> Loose Change is a sharp, slick film with an authoritative voiceover, but
> it drowns the truth in an ocean of nonsense
>
> George Monbiot
> Tuesday February 6, 2007
> The Guardian
>
> There is a virus sweeping the world. It infects opponents of the Bush
> government, sucks their brains out through their eyes and turns them into
> gibbering idiots. First cultivated in a laboratory in the US, the strain
> reached these shores a few months ago. In the past fortnight, it has become
> an epidemic. Scarcely a day now passes without someone possessed by this
> sickness, eyes rolling, lips flecked with foam, trying to infect me.
>
> Article continues
> The disease is called Loose Change. It is a film made by three young men
> that airs most of the standard conspiracy theories about the attacks of
> September 11 2001 <javascript:void(0)>. Unlike the other 9/11 conspiracy
> films, Loose Change is sharp and swift, with a thumping soundtrack, slick
> graphics and a calm and authoritative voiceover. Its makers claim that it
> has now been watched by 100 million people.
>
> The Pentagon, the film maintains, was not hit by a commercial airliner.
> There was "no discernible trace" of a plane found in the wreckage, and the
> entrance and exit holes in the building were far too small. It was hit by a
> cruise missile. The twin towers were brought down by means of "a carefully
> planned controlled demolition". You can see the small puffs of smoke caused
> by explosives just below the cascading sections. All other hypotheses are
> implausible: the fire was not hot enough to melt steel and the towers fell
> too quickly. Building 7 was destroyed by the same means a few hours later.
>
> Flight 93 did not crash, but was redirected to Cleveland airport, where
> the passengers were taken into a Nasa building and never seen again. Their
> voices had been cloned by the Los Alamos laboratories and used to make fake
> calls to their relatives. The footage of Osama bin Laden, claiming
> responsibility for the attacks, was faked. The US government carried out
> this great crime for four reasons: to help Larry Silverstein, who leased the
> towers, to collect his insurance money; to assist insider traders betting on
> falling airline stocks; to steal the gold in the basement; and to grant
> George Bush new executive powers, so that he could carry out his plans for
> world domination.
>
> Even if you have seen or read no other accounts of 9/11, and your brain
> has not yet been liquidised, a few problems must occur to you. The first is
> the complete absence of scientific advice. At one point, the presenter asks:
> "So what brought down the twin towers? Let's ask the experts." But they
> don't ask the experts. The film-makers take some old quotes, edit them to
> remove any contradictions, then denounce all subsequent retractions as
> further evidence of conspiracy.
>
> The only people they interview are a janitor, a group of firemen, and a
> flight instructor. They let the janitor speak at length, but cut the firemen
> off in mid-sentence. The flight instructor speaks in short clips, which give
> the impression that his pupil, the hijacker Hani Hanjour, was incapable of
> hitting the Pentagon. Elsewhere he has said the opposite: he had "no doubt"
> that Hanjour could have done it.
>
> Where are the structural engineers, the materials scientists, the
> specialists in ballistics, explosives or fire? The film-makers now say that
> the third edition of the film will be fact-checked by an expert, but he
> turns out to be "a theology professor". They don't name him, but I would bet
> that it's David Ray Griffin, who also happens to be the high priest of the
> 9/11 conspiracists.
>
> The next evident flaw is that the plot they propose must have involved
> tens of thousands of people. It could not have been executed without the
> help of demolition experts, the security firms guarding the World Trade
> Centre, Mayor Giuliani (who hastily disposed of the remains), much of the US
> air force, the Federal Aviation Administration and the North American
> Aerospace Defence Command, the relatives of the people "killed" in the plane
> crashes, the rest of the Pentagon's staff, the Los Alamos laboratories, the
> FBI, the CIA, and the investigators who picked through the rubble.
>
> If there is one universal American characteristic, it is a confessional
> culture that permits no one with a good story to keep his mouth shut. People
> appear on the Jerry Springer Show to admit to carnal relations with their
> tractors. Yet none of the participants in this monumental crime has sought
> to blow the whistle - before, during or after the attacks. No one has
> volunteered to tell the greatest story ever told.
>
> Read some conflicting accounts, and Loose Change's case crumbles faster
> than the twin towers. Hundreds of people saw a plane hit the Pentagon.
> Because it collided with one of the world's best-defended buildings at full
> speed, the plane was pulverised - even so, plane parts and body parts were
> in fact recovered. The wings and tail disintegrated when they hit the wall,
> which is why the holes weren't bigger.
>
> The failure of the twin towers has been exhaustively documented by the
> National Institute of Standards and Technology. Far from being impossible,
> the collapse turns out to have been inevitable. The planes cut some of the
> support columns and ignited fires sufficient to weaken (but not melt) the
> remaining steel structures. As the perimeter columns buckled, the weight of
> the collapsing top stories generated a momentum the rest of the building
> could not arrest. Puffs of smoke were blown out of the structure by
> compression as the building fell.
>
> Counterpunch, the radical leftwing magazine, commissioned its own expert -
> an aerospace and mechanical engineer - to test the official findings. He
> shows that the institute must have been right. He also demonstrates how
> Building 7 collapsed. Burning debris falling from the twin towers ruptured
> the oil pipes feeding its emergency generators. The reduction in pressure
> triggered the automatic pumping system, which poured thousands of gallons of
> diesel on to the fire. The support trusses weakened and buckled, and the
> building imploded. Popular Mechanics magazine polled 300 experts and came to
> the same conclusions.
>
> So the critics - even Counterpunch - are labelled co-conspirators, and the
> plot expands until it comes to involve a substantial part of the world's
> population. There is no reasoning with this madness. People believe Loose
> Change because it proposes a closed world: comprehensible, controllable,
> small. Despite the great evil that runs it, it is more companionable than
> the chaos that really governs our lives, a world without destination or
> purpose. This neat story draws campaigners away from real issues - global
> warming, the Iraq war, nuclear weapons, privatisation, inequality - while
> permanently wrecking their credibility. Bush did capitalise on the attacks,
> and he did follow a pre-existing agenda, spelt out, as Loose Change says, by
> the Project for the New American Century. But by drowning this truth in an
> ocean of nonsense, the conspiracists ensure that it can never again be taken
> seriously.
>
> The film's greatest flaw is this: the men who made it are still alive. If
> the US government is running an all-knowing, all-encompassing conspiracy,
> why did it not snuff them out long ago? There is only one possible
> explanation. They are in fact agents of the Bush regime, employed to
> distract people from its real abuses of power. This, if you are inclined to
> believe such stories, is surely a more plausible theory than the one
> proposed in Loose Change.
>
> www.monbiot.com
>



-- 
www.michaelbalter.com

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Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
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