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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