The BBC’s ‘The Coming Storm’: QAnon and how to start a conspiracy theory

The BBC pod­cast The Com­ing Storm.

The Com­ing Storm, the lat­est pod­cast from the BBC, is a riv­et­ing explo­ration of the phe­nom­e­non that is QAnon

QAnon is in many ways the ulti­mate expres­sion of the cul­ture wars that rage today between the over-edu­cat­ed and anti-edu­cat­ed. In that it states, in a mat­ter of fact man­ner, that the Amer­i­ca they are liv­ing in is not the one described by the lib­er­al intel­li­gentsia, but one that is in fact run from with­in the depths of the deep state by a coven of pae­dophile cannibals. 

Incred­i­bly, indeed incom­pre­hen­si­bly, some 23% of Repub­li­can vot­ers in the US sub­scribe to this quote real­i­ty unquote.

How it all began. He came, he saw, he left a polite note.

Writ­ten and pre­sent­ed by Gabriel Gate­house, inter­na­tion­al edi­tor on BBC 2’s News­night, it is, for almost all of its 8 episodes, a gen­uine­ly scep­ti­cal enquiry. Giv­ing equal­ly short shrift both to its cen­tral claims, and to any­one who air­i­ly insists that only dim-wit­ted Amer­i­cans would be suf­fi­cient­ly cretinous to give cre­dence to that sort of guff. 

On the con­trary, as he goes on to calm­ly explore, peo­ple every­where have always believed that sort of nonsense.

This par­tic­u­lar man­i­fes­ta­tion seems to go back to that twin phe­nom­e­non of the 1990s. The ruth­less ambi­tion and cor­rup­tion of the Clin­tons and the resent­ment that that gen­er­at­ed, com­bined with the vast blank and unreg­u­lat­ed can­vass that the Inter­net sud­den­ly pre­sent­ed us with.

The Com­ing Storm is an exten­sive­ly researched, deep dive into how all of that got start­ed, and Gate­house is com­mand­ing, genial and mea­sured. Except that is for a cou­ple of brief min­utes, towards the end of episode 2, when he goes off script. 

It’s then that he intro­duces us to Juani­ta Broad­drick, who alleges that Bill Clin­ton raped her in 1978. An accu­sa­tion Clin­ton flat­ly and res­olute­ly denies. 

Broad­drick only made the accu­sa­tion dur­ing Clinton’s impeach­ment tri­al, some 20 years lat­er. And that was after she’d pre­vi­ous­ly denied it, only months earlier. 

Where it all began, the Comet ping pong pizzeria.

Nev­er­the­less, her detailed rec­ol­lec­tion of those events is all too cred­i­ble and it’s impos­si­ble not to con­clude she’s telling the truth. And Gate­house is demon­stra­bly of the same opin­ion. It’s what he does next that is, to use one of Alice’s words, curi­ous. Because he con­cludes the re-telling of her sto­ry with:

The media knew about her alle­ga­tions but they sat on it. It was too explo­sive. The stakes were too high.”

No it wasn’t, no they weren’t and no they didn’t.

The main­stream media hound­ed Clin­ton dur­ing those weeks, months and years. Espe­cial­ly over any­thing that had the whiff of sex. But they decid­ed that what­ev­er had hap­pened had tak­en place 20 years ago, and that all any of them had to go on now was her word ver­sus his.

More to the point, by this stage the Amer­i­can pub­lic was bored to tears with tales of Bill’s sex­u­al pec­ca­dil­los, which were doing lit­tle more than fur­ther deep­en­ing the abyss that divid­ed and divides the states there into red and blue ones.

What Gate­house does in this telling is to present us with one of those clas­sic exam­ples of an Aris­totelian syl­lo­gism that fails to func­tion. One of those How-not-to syl­lo­gisms. All bus­es are green, that vehi­cle is green, there­fore it’s a bus. 

Sent from below.

Assum­ing that her ver­sion of events is true, what we have here are two, inde­pen­dent, un-con­nect­ed events. Event one, she was raped. And Event two, the main­stream media decides against giv­ing her sto­ry the kind of exten­sive cov­er­age that some might have liked. 

There’s no causal­ly con­nect­ing because here, but Gate­house mag­ics one into exis­tence. Which is exact­ly how you con­struct a con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, before send­ing it out and on its mer­ry way, into the uni­verse and the dig­i­tal aether beyond. 

You describe two, sep­a­rate and uncon­nect­ed events as if they were obvi­ous­ly linked. Indeed, as if that con­nec­tion were so obvi­ous, it’s sur­pris­ing to you that any­one should call that so say con­nec­tion into doubt. 

In oth­er words, and clear­ly inad­ver­tent­ly, Gate­house has erect­ed the scaf­fold­ing and is using the archi­tec­ture need­ed to con­struct the very phe­nom­e­non he was sup­posed to have been mere­ly report­ing on. 

Curi­ouser and curiouser. 

Still, it’s a crack­ing pod­cast. And that minor blip aside, Gate­house is thought­ful and mea­sured and is a won­der­ful­ly engag­ing host.

You can lis­ten to it here:

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How Hilarious Was that Pat Shortt Tweet? And What Would We Do Without Twitter?!

donkeyWas that Pat Shortt tweet the fun­ni­est thing ever? For those of you who missed it, he tweet­ed a shot of a very glum Bri­an Cody above, and one of a very jovial Pat Shortt beneath. And under­neath he wrote with supreme and all too unflinch­ing irony:

Top is sad Kilken­ny man. Below is hap­py Tip­per­ary man.

Price­less! Even that omis­sion of the indef­i­nite arti­cle, bril­liant.  Some of you I imag­ine mightn’t be com­plete­ly up to speed with the trib­al dynam­ics  of Gael­ic games. So, very briefly, here’s what was actu­al­ly going there.

You see Cody is the man­ag­er of the Kilken­ny hurl­ing team. And they were only after los­ing their qual­i­fy­ing match with Cork. So they were out. And unsur­pris­ing­ly, Cody was not a hap­py man. But what was Shortt so pleased about, I hear you ask? After all, he’s from Tipperary?

That hilarious Pat Shortt tweet.

That hilar­i­ous Pat Shortt tweet.

But here’s the catch! Even though Tipp weren’t even play­ing in the match in ques­tion, Shortt was sim­ply delight­ed as a Tip­per­ary man to see Kilken­ny get beat! That’s because there’s huge rival­ry between Tipp and Kilken­ny. Huge. And just the sight of them get­ting beat, regard­less of who they’re play­ing, is liable to put a smile on a Tip­per­ary man’s face.

And they were only after los­ing! In the All Ire­land! Class!

That’s what was so hilar­i­ous about that tweet. And talk­ing of which, where would we be with­out Twit­ter! How else would the likes of Pat Shortt get to share those kind of bril­liant one lin­ers? In the old days the only place you’d get to hear stuff like that would be from one of those delight­ful taxi dri­vers. Or at best, a friend­ly bar man (un-coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Shortt has a pub near Mid­dle­ton), ever keen to impart their end­less wit and bot­tom­less wis­dom. But now you get to read that kind of stuff all day!

What a world we live in. Class.

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How Fantastic are the New Carlsberg Ads?!

horse-manure-002Most ads are mes­mer­i­cal­ly dull, jaw-drop­ping­ly tedious and unsul­lied by any­thing that could be mis­tak­en, how­ev­er remote­ly, for an idea. So how refresh­ing (pun intend­ed!) are the new Carls­berg ads?!

If ever there were a beer in need of being rebrand­ed, it was sure­ly Carls­berg! Some of you will prob­a­bly remem­ber that bizarre ad of theirs from back in the day.

A man walks down a cor­ri­dor, but stops to answer the phone he hears ring­ing in a room. Turns out it’s the Carls­berg Cus­tomer Com­plaints Depart­ment — you can see it here.

That’s hard­ly the sort of thing you want peo­ple to see in your ad! If any­thing, you should be telling them that when they drink Carls­berg, they won’t have any­thing to com­plain about at all!

But worse is to come. The ad con­cludes with an end­line that says, “Carls­berg; prob­a­bly the best larg­er in the world.”

Prob­a­bly! Any of the more expe­ri­enced ad men will tell you that you should real­ly steer away from words like “prob­a­bly”. “Def­i­nite­ly” would have been much stronger.

That same ambi­gu­i­ty was all over one of their more recent cam­paigns. “Carls­berg don’t do…” it went, and then they showed you all sorts of things that Carls­berg didn’t do. Like hol­i­days, apart­ments, the list was end­less. How neg­a­tive is that?! Don’t tell us what Carls­berg does­n’t do! Tell us some of the things that it does, like refresh­ing the parts that oth­er beers can­not reach!

And they fin­ished with that hope­less­ly defen­sive end­line, again! Prob­a­bly the best larg­er in the world!

Calls-for-a-CarlsbergWell as the fel­la said, if it’s broke, fix it. So it’s won­der­ful­ly refresh­ing (there it is again!) to see the much more pos­i­tive ads that they’ve now come out with. 

The first one appeared on our screens last sum­mer. It gen­tly ref­er­ences an obscure indie film from the 60s star­ring Steve McQueen. A man is sen­tenced to life in a health spa, but he fash­ions an escape, a great one if you will, and is reward­ed with a crate (ged­it!!) of Carlsberg. 

And the new end­line that it now fin­ish­es with? “That calls for a Carls­berg!”.

Thank God! That dread­ful dif­fi­dence has been replaced with firm, man­ly assertive­ness. Would it be hyper­bole to sug­gest that it is to ads what Steve McQueen was to method acting?

spartacus-movie-image-1The sec­ond, in what I hope will be a long run­ning cam­paign, is out at the moment. Once again, an obscure indie film from the 60s is ref­er­enced, this one by Stan­ley Kubrick. “I am Spar­ti­cus” they all shout. And they end up drink­ing over-lit pints of Carls­berg in an ane­mic Euro bar float­ing above a teenage graph­ic artist’s much, much younger broth­er’s vision of the future.

It’s hip, urban, and edgie. More to the point, it’s absolute­ly hilar­i­ous! And it ends on that glo­ri­ous endline. 

As much as I’d love to be able to claim that they’d devised the cam­paign here in Dublin, it is alas the work of Fold7 in Lon­don. Hats off to you, peo­ple. What can I say; that calls for a Carlsberg!

If there are any ads that you’ve seen, that you think are as incred­i­ble as those traf­fic-stop­ping pair of Carls­berg ads, drop me a line in the com­ment box below. 

I don’t of course believe you. But I would be curi­ous to see them.

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The New Yorker Magazine, A Beam of Light Illuminating Innumerable Worlds.

The New York­er staff writer Jon­ah Lehrer resigned in July, after even­tu­al­ly being forced to admit that a num­ber of the quotes he’d attrib­uted to Bob Dylan in his best sell­ing book Imag­ine: How Cre­ativ­i­ty Works had been made up by him.

You can read about it here in The Wash­ing­ton Post, or you can get the full account of pre­cise­ly how he was unmasked by the man respon­si­ble, Michael C. Moyni­han, in his fas­ci­nat­ing piece in The Tablet, here.

Inevitably, some peo­ple have sug­gest­ed that this could be as dam­ag­ing for The New York­er as Jayson Blair was for The New York Times after sim­i­lar behav­ior there. 

But Lehrer’s “lies” were in his best sell­ing book, not the mag­a­zine. And if any­thing, what both cas­es point to is how increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult it is to get away with that kind of dis­hon­esty in this day and age. Espe­cial­ly when you write for a pub­li­ca­tion like The New York­er, which is so just­ly famed for the qual­i­ty of its writ­ing and the metic­u­lous care with which each and every piece is put together.

I’ve been sub­scrib­ing for about ten years now, and I waft about the place in a per­ma­nent state of won­der at the qual­i­ty of each and every issue.

The July 9th and 16th edi­tion for instance con­tained the fol­low­ing (there are 47 issues every year so some of the hol­i­day issues cov­er two weeks, instead of the usu­al one):

There was a fas­ci­nat­ing if inevitably depress­ing overview by Dex­ter Filkins of where Afghanistan is after ten years of US occu­pa­tion, and what’s like­ly to hap­pen there after they leave in 2014. 

At over 10,000 words long, there are few if any oth­er pub­li­ca­tions in the world pre­pared to pro­vide their writ­ers with that kind of win­dow, and to give them the funds need­ed to con­duct the sort of research a piece like that demands.

Then there was a piece by Michael Specter on Oxitec and the genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied mos­qui­tos that they’ve released into cer­tain care­ful­ly con­trolled envi­ron­ments in the Caribbean and, now, in Brazil. These have been genet­i­cal­ly designed to self-destruct.

What will the unfore­seen con­se­quences be of releas­ing crea­tures cre­at­ed by man in the lab­o­ra­to­ry into the envi­ron­ment? On the oth­er hand, very unusu­al­ly, mos­qui­tos appear to exist for the sole pur­pose of reproducing. 

They don’t seem to be part of any­thing else’s diet, and the only crea­ture they seem to rely on is us. And they’re respon­si­ble for half the deaths in the his­to­ry of human­i­ty. So sure­ly the pos­si­bil­i­ty of elim­i­nat­ing them is some­thing to be welcomed?

Nathan Heller had a piece on the uber-hip TED talks and their mes­sian­ic advocates. 

And there were won­der­ful­ly illu­mi­nat­ing and qui­et­ly mov­ing extracts from the diary kept by the Amer­i­can writer Mavis Gal­lant as she strug­gled to bal­ance being a woman, a writer, and an Amer­i­can try­ing to eek out a liv­ing in the detri­tus that was left of Europe in the after­math of the II World War.

Then there are their sta­ble of crit­ics. Antho­ny Lane on cin­e­ma, Alex Ross on clas­si­cal music, Judith Thur­man on fash­ion and Peter Schjel­dahl on art, to name but four of their unflap­pable titans. Plus the finan­cial page, their Shouts and Mur­murs (Joel Stein was par­tic­u­lar­ly fun­ny in this issue), their car­toons and of course their fiction.

It’s a slow week when I man­age to fin­ish read­ing an entire issue in any giv­en week, and the short sto­ry that they pub­lish is usu­al­ly, alas, an inevitable casu­al­ty. But I make an excep­tion for William Trevor, Junot Diaz (who had a piece in the fol­low­ing issue), Alice Munroe, Colm Tóibín and any of the old­er pieces by Updike or Nabokov that they occa­sion­al­ly publish.

It is by a coun­try mile the best writ­ten, most metic­u­lous­ly researched and impec­ca­bly curat­ed pub­li­ca­tion in the world. And at a lit­tle over $100 a year for a sub­scrip­tion, it’ll cost you bare­ly two Euro a week. If you’ve any curios­i­ty at all, about any­thing under the sun, you should treat your­self now.

And so what if you don’t man­age to fin­ish read­ing it (or even open­ing it) every week. Your read and unread copies will be greed­i­ly wel­comed by friends and fam­i­ly alike.

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