Monday, 27 September 2010

Implausible Deniability #2: David Kelly

While I'm gathering unto me various bits and pieces from the four corners of the webosphere, below is a couple of comments I submitted to the tail end of  a rather good Aaronovitch Watch thread, relating to David Kelly's death and similar events, expanding on the notion of implausible denial.

But first, a piece from Private Eye which reports the first known use of the Kelly Affair as a threat. In these particular circumstances, the threat is rather implausible, and it's beginning to sound rather as though the scumbag issuing it got a bit carried away, to the point of slavering dementitude. But I'm sure other scumbags may be more plausible, in which case the threats are less likely to be splashed all over the Eye.

Regardless of the matter of actual explicit threats, what is called in the context of debates about libel law the 'chilling effect', and in general may be called the 'latent deterrent effect', probably has a rather wider application. Even if you only suspect that Kelly may have been rubbed out, you, a possessor of highly discreditable government secrets, are likely to keep you gob firmly shut, without anyone having to shout threats at you. In fact, this applies whatever you think actually happened to Kelly, since even on an unassisted suicide hypothesis he was pretty clearly hounded, and probably the most plausible motive for him to kill himself would have been the threat to remove his pension rights. (Whether this is actually very plausible depends on such matters as whether he would have expected his life insurance to be invalidated by suicide - which I admit I haven't looked into, not being an investigative journalist.)

PFI at all costs
Private Eye #1271, p12
17 Sept 2010
IN 2003 Dr Peter Brambleby, then director of public health for Norwich Primary Care Trust (PCT), received requests from senior clinicians at the PFI flagship Norfolk and Norwich hospital (Eyes passim) to look into their concerns about changes to the design and build that they believed put patients at risk.
The ventilation system and isolation facilities were top of their list, but so were a lack of management response and a culture of secrecy.

Edward Feser on Counterknowledge and Conspiracy Theories

1. Conspiracy Theories

Edward Feser is a teacher of and writer on philosophy, who has written a couple of articles on 'conspiracy theories', one on the counterknowledge website, one not

Feser summarises his views on the possibility of treasonable or similarly criminal conspiracies carried out by members of the government and government agencies as follows:

First, that while conspiracies of a small-scale nature do sometimes occur, the nature of modern bureaucracies makes it practically impossible for would-be conspirators secretly and effectively to engineer anything on the scale of a 9/11 “inside job” or JFK assassination scenario. Second, while liberal democratic societies are capable of great evil, the adversarial nature of their institutions and the diverse ends and belief systems of the people staffing these institutions make it practically impossible for would-be conspirators to organize enough relevant personnel to do evil of the specific sort involved in 9/11 “inside job” or JFK assassination scenarios. Third, the scale of deception posited in conspiracy scenarios of this scale is so all-encompassing that it effectively undermines the very evidential base that conspiracy theorists themselves must rely on to support their theories.

Implausible Deniability #1: The Mavi Marmara

I notice the UN inquiry into the Gaza flotilla seems to have found that what was pretty clearly the case at the time was indeed the case, i.e. the Mavi Marmara was fired on from the air before any of the IDF special forces ever put themselves in harm's way.

BBC Radio 4 news ran the story once that I heard, on PM (which is where I heard it, to be fair) but with dismissively little detail. The inquiry findings were, when I checked, relegated to about 8th place on BBC News's Middle East page, with some irrelevant froth about something Ahmedinejad said getting much higher billing.

Basically this stuff is being trickled out so there's no definitive time at which it becomes a 'story', and the initial Israeli news management position (that scrap of video of unknown provenance, etc - sticks as the dominant narrative in the public mind. The message 'step out of line and we will slaughter you with impunity' is however of course pretty clear to its intended recipients.(,7340,L-3958202,00.html)

Below, edited highlights of a thread on Crooked Timber done from shortly after the events, featuring the concept of 'implausible deniability'. It's basically my contribution, others that address it, and an alternative viewpoint included at the end.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

From the Standpoint of Michael Burleigh

This is a brief exchange with historian Michael Burleigh in Standpoint Blog comments. I had linked to it, but the link is now dead. It is however reproduced elsewhere. It's not possible to link directly to it at that location, so I'm copying it here.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Bleeding Osborne

I'm not given to writing about the bleeding obvious, but occasionally it's irresistable, for example when it comes to the coalition government.

I've just been listening to Any Questions and Any Answers (why do I do it?), much of which was dedicated to missing the point about Osborne's remarks on the benefits lifestyle choice. Plenty of ludicrous anecdotes, for example about a family who are buying a house for cash out of their accumulated benefits (rather than, say, being criminals for whom claiming dole is a necessary front, etc.). And plenty of protests that most people on the dole have not elected to live in poverty, and even one mention of the fairly stringent regime currently in operation that requires everyone on the dole to satisfy the Jobcentre that they are indeed seeking work, no matter how statistically unlikely it may that they will get any.

But no real focus on the key issues:

(1) the welfare budget cut of 4bn has not been calculated on the basis that there are 4bn worth of improper claims currently being honoured (which btw, one might conclude at least prima facie, would mean there are 4bn worth of jobs currently unfilled).

(2) there has been no indication that there is to be any targeting of benefit 'cheats'.

In other words, the cuts that have been plucked out of the air are to apply indiscriminately to welfare recipients, and are supposed to work by making the dole less 'appealing' both to the evil benefits barons who are currently choosing to live the high life on 60 quid a week or whatever it is, and to those who have no choice. Which is a bit unfortunate for the latter.

Themes, Disgusting Bloodthirsty Chickenhawks, Etc.

[EDIT: if you've followed a link promising neocon propaganda about torture, you may (it's hard to believe, but you just might) wish to skip my musings and go directly here.]

The recent spasm of interest in the Hutton/Kelly business (which I’ve been unobtrusively and undogmatically mentioning for years - links to follow, when I track them down) has brought a bit of traffic to what was previously not much more than an archive of my sporadic productions. I’m going to try and keep it going as a proper blog, and among other things to gather together various bits and bobs I’ve blurted into cyberspace over the last few years. That includes quite a few longish emails I’ve circulated to a select group of one or two hapless victims, and this post is one of those.

But first, a word on the theme of Themes, and specifically the prospect of this becoming a conspiracy-theory-themed blog.

The trouble with ‘conspiracy theories’ is that I don’t really consider it to be a theme at all. My interest in use of the term is twofold: first, as a form of abuse that has been very successfully disguised as an ordinary descriptive term and is thus a cause of much sophistical rhetoric and a great deal of self-censorship. The climate of self-censorship can be observed in the great lengths people go to to deny being ‘conspiracy theorists’ or propounding ‘conspiracy theories’.

The deceptive nature of the term as it is used lies in a peculiar feature: the term can be applied to any theory about a conspiracy (though this is done selectively), but once the label is applied, it is treated as indicating that the theory has certain defects, notably and most crudely, being untrue. Yet the basis for inferring such defects is shifty: sometimes it is treated as deriving directly from the definition of 'conspiracy theory' (but this would mean it can only be applied after a theory is shown to be defective), sometimes from a general empirical truth about all conspiracy theories (but there is clearly no such general fact, if the term applies to any theory of conspiracy). By shifting between these different positions sufficiently skilfully, polemicists can perform the conjuring trick of inferring the defects without having to justify the application of the discrediting term.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Week in Tinfoil: Conspiracy Theory News in the UK, Aug 30 - Sep 5 2010

Another week's worth of conspiracy- and 'conspiracy theory'-related news stories. I'm sure I've missed some - I haven't been paying very close attention to the news, which not ideal. And it's a bit late for the intended Sunday slot. Any suggestions for things to add gratefully accepted. Thanks to Bensix for the early spot of the Demos paper in response to last week's instalment.

On to the week's tinfoilery:

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Who lacks imagination? Howard Jacobson on 'Conspiracy Theorists' last Saturday’s Independent (28 August 2010):

Conspiracy theorists lack imagination: In our determined unimaginativeness, we turn Kelly and Blair alike into less than men.
('We' here of course means 'they': and make sure you're not one of them.)

Unfortunately, what follows is itself lacking in imagination. The introduction is a dreary trudge through the usual weary tropes:

those who see a conspiracy in the fall of every sparrow (shurely: suspect foul play behind the violent death of a publicly dissenting member of the military-intelligence establishment?)

Too much time on their hands


An overactive imagination (This is a cunning decoy hidden among all the other ever-so-reasonable possibilities)

they invent where invention is not called for

they reject plain and feasible explanations in favour of elaborate and unlikely ones

they mentally inhabit a middle earth of spies and secret agents, of liars, double-dealers, hypocrites, and murderers (like the one - hobbits aside - that Kelly physically inhabited then?)

the world explicable to them only as a place where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted to tell the truth

And later: the monkey of conspiracy is out of the cage

But what's the gimmick? What peg is this stuff hung on? Well, we know this already from the title and lead, and it's a pretty flimsy one, based on a minor departure from the otherwise rote recitation of ritual abuse:

But of this I am sure: suspicion might be the word for it, daydreaming might the word for it, but imagination is not. Instead of an excess of imagination, They have too little of it. That might get the attention of one of two of the lighter-sleeping readers.

So we have our headline, but how is it justified? What is the intriguing insight that underlies this modicum of originality in Jacobson's otherwise entirely pedestrian screed? We'll ignore the deeply uninformative literary namedropping, and get to the point.

Instead of the blind and innocent victim of malign political forces (for which read the "Bliar" Blair, or those he had unloosed), we were presented with a man more like ourselves in nature and in circumstance – a challenge to our imagination in the sense that profound fellow-feeling for suffering is always difficult when we would rather root out blame and apportion punishment.