Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
Steamshovelpress.com is back! New web content! New book product! New conference information! PLUS: a new, daily, twitterish quip: "Parapolitics Offhand!"
Now available on CD and through US Mail only: Popular Parapolitics, 219 pages, illustrated, of comentary on the nexus of parapolitics and popular culture. $15 post paid from Kenn Thomas, POB 210553, St. Louis, MO 63121.
Jesse Ventura Suspects a Conspiracy About His Show About Conspiracies
By James McGirk
His TruTV program brings in big ratings investigating time travel and lizard people. But when he starts questioning the government...
Most retired governors use their connections to assume quiet but well-paid positions in the private sector, or loud but well-paid positions as commentators on cable news networks. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura lately, though, has been prowling obscure government facilities, confronting squirming civil servants, and demanding "the truth" while hosting a reality television show on truTV called Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura.
In the third season, the show has hit its stride. Two lackluster investigators have been replaced with Jesse Ventura's son Tyrel and Oliver Stone's son Sean. The chemistry is great. Tyrel is skinny and slightly awkward and dresses like Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, standing in stark contrast from his ranting hulk of a father. Sean Stone is leather-clad and rebellious, assigned only the most dangerous missions. A third investigator, June Sarpong, is a British West African with a posh accent and an MBE (Member of the British Empire, a step below a knighthood). The subject matter will be familiar to anyone interested in conspiracies, but is presented with flair. White vans pull up and reveal contacts (who always seem to be old cronies of Ventura's). The team interviews mad colonels, mystics and time travelers. It moves along at a relentless pace with considerable charm.
It's entertaining stuff, and the ratings are blockbuster for cable. About 1.5 million people watch the premiere of each episode, and many more see the series in reruns. But for all its goofy appeal, Conspiracy Theory has occasionally seemed to strike on something real--and, as befits both his program's subject matter and his own personal history, Ventura now is convinced that someone is out to shut the program down.
The suspicions began in November 2010, when truTV aired a doozy of an episode, called "Police State." It was spliced with footage of World War II concentration camps and implied that FEMA could be about to institute martial law. The team explored a network of government centers that use data-mining software to comb through intelligence gathered by federal agencies, presumably to look for potential terror suspects. (It would work a bit like Google's keyword advertising: The software might flag someone whose emails to Pakistan mentioned crop-spraying, the precursors for Sarin gas, for example.) They interviewed a young Ron Paul supporter who was put on a government watch list for no apparent reason. Then the team infiltrated a storage facility containing hundreds of thousands of plastic grave liners. Next stop was a pair of mysterious government installations that looked like prisons but had playgrounds attached to them. Finally Ventura flew to Washington D.C. to confront the authors of a bill, H.R. 645 that authorized FEMA to designate military bases as "National Emergency Centers."
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA6) refused to meet with Ventura, so Ventura confronted Rep. Steve Cohen, one of the bill's co-sponsors. Cohen floundered during the interview. He seemed unfamiliar with the bill and flustered by Ventura's thundering rebukes. After the telecast, he released an op-ed accusing Turner Broadcasting System of gross inaccuracy, condemned the references to the Holocaust, and compared the "dangerously stirred fears" to Timothy McVeigh's "consuming hatred and distrust of government... The show makes professional wrestling, where Ventura earned his fortune, look like an Olympic sport," Cohen said.
A typical episode gets rerun dozens of times, but "Police State" aired once and then never again. (It's circulating on YouTube, uploaded by users who say it's been "banned.") A representative of Turner Broadcasting System (which owns truTV) said that the "Prison State" episode did not repeat after the initial telecast because of scheduling considerations. Ventura thinks it's more than that. He likened it to MSNBC's cancellation of Donahue in 2003. (Phil Donahue insinuated that his anti-war stance was responsible for his firing. An NBC Executive told The New York Times that the show's cost and disappointing ratings were to blame.) He has taken issue with some last-minute scheduling changes that could hurt the show's ratings. And he points out that an episode he and his team filmed for this season, about whether the TSA's full-body scanners are carcinogenic, was shelved by network execs.
"It's clear they're doing everything they can to make it a failure so they don't have to renew it," Ventura said when he appeared on The Alex Jones Show's Infowars Nightly News on November 28. The "they" he refers to, as is typical with conspiracy theories, is vaguely defined. "Look at what the facts are," he said on a follow-up appearance last week. "The FEMA show was taken off, after airing only one time... and the TSA show, again... we completed the show and they chose not to air it. Somebody on their end made the decision. They've chosen not to air it. TruTV, the network did. Who influenced truTV to do that, I do not know."
That speculation has a friend in Alex Jones, an affable Texan with a devoted following who believes an elite cabal of globalists (mostly the scions of old British banking families) are using the Federal Reserve to take over the United States, reduce us all to toothless dependency, and will one day trigger a catastrophe that culls the population to a more manageable size. He is a frequent guest on Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura, particularly on episodes that concern the U.S. government and seem to point to a grander, more unified conspiracy theory. Ventura doesn't agree with his one-world government ideas, though says that "after doing the show, nothing seems beyond belief."
While the implication of sinister motives for cable-TV programming decisions may be far-fetched, Ventura's right, at least, that some genres of conspiracy investigations are safer, more attractive bets for a TV station than others. The most outlandish ones, like those featuring reptilians or time travel, are neatly and entertainingly debunked or discredited by Ventura's team. Theories that involve government malfeasance are a different breed entirely. Some haven't been so implausible. The fusion centers that skim our data are undeniably creepy. So too was the massive excavation uncovered in the Ozark Mountains during Season Three.
But the more specious government-related theories, like FEMA camps, present a dilemma. Cohen's reference to Timothy McVeigh may seem alarmist, but there's obviously danger involved in propagating extreme views of the government. Ventura, though, thinks the audience is smart enough to separate truth from speculation.
"People should take the show with a grain of salt," he says. "[The way it works] is that someone brings us the conspiracy, and if there's enough meat on the bone, we'll put our team on it, and if someone we interview tells us a lie we can only look into it."
That answer may not always be acceptable to, say, truTV's lawyers who are worried about the network being taken to court for slander. But Ventura's never gotten along all that well with authority. As a professional wrestler he sued his employer, Titan Sports, to retrieve royalties. When he retired he blamed blood clots in his lungs allegedly caused by his wartime exposure to Agent Orange. More recently he's sued the TSA and Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper who accused Ventura of defaming the SEALs.
Yet for all his rabble rousing, Ventura seems sincere. He comes off as genuinely protective of his inner circle and personally afflicted by the canceled episodes. That accusations of censorship get more people talking aboutand potentially watching the showis just a coincidence. Or is it?
Beast of the Month: November & December 2012
Here are the latest winners for Beast of the Month. Monthly columns should return in 2013.
November 2012: Todd Akin
Why did the Republicans get their asses kicked in the 2012 election? Sorry, Mitt Romney wasn't the real problem, the real problem was the GOP candidates just plain scared most Americans. And nobody perfectly represented this scariness like Akins, who led off a "Rape Brigade" of rogues who just couldn't stop talking about rape in a stunningly offensive way.
December 2012: SuperPACs
For all the Democratic victories, the real winner of the 2012 election was still money and the corruptive influence of SuperPAcs on democracy. And it seems that the negative influence of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling will only continue in the coming years.
I ADOPTED A DOG IN ITS FINAL HOURS ON "DEATH ROW," AND IT MIGHT BE THE BEST DECISION I'VE EVER MADE
When I decided to get a pup for my new pet-friendly apartment, little did I know I would be racing against the clock to save a sick doggie's life.
Dec 3, 2012
On Friday, I went to Jill Zarin's birthday party with my friend Sam Lansky, who had an in-depth conversation with me about what kind of animal I would get for my new apartment.
"I want a dog," I said, "but I'm not sure I can afford one. So I'm thinking I'll get a cat."
"Just be careful," he said. "Sometimes if you get a cat, you end up living alone forever."
"Jesus," I said, laughing. "That's so not true."
"Really?" he said. "Name one woman or gay who adopted a cat, and then ended up meeting a man after."
"Huh. I can't," I said.
"Exactly," he said. "If you get a cat, something happens where it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's just science."
"But -- what if I named the cat, 'Marry Me'?" I said.
"Well, that could work," he said.
I went home that night, and I thought of a friend who did in fact meet a great guy who has a cat, texted Sam to nah-nah-nah his "science" theory and then opened up my monthly budget. I've been saying I wanted a dog forever. When I was a kid, around 8, I actually had a scheme where I was going to dig up the carpet in my room, replace it with dirt and then surreptitiously adopt a dog without telling my parents. I never had the courage to do this, although I did have a habit of using my paper-route money to continually purchase cats and bring them home through my bedroom window. My parents let me keep them, until it reached the point of ridiculousness after Cat No. 4.
Now that I'm an adult, I realized that I could make my 8-year-old dreams come true. All I said when I was living in San Diego was how I couldn't wait to get a dog, as I slept with my father's guide dog almost every night. So I went through my monthly take-home-pay and figured out the cost of doggie day care, food, vet expenses and more, and while I can't exactly be a clotheshorse or be springing for $100-meals out as a dog owner, I realized that it was absolutely feasible. I was going to do it.
I posted on my Twitter and Facebook at 11 p.m., "I've come to an important decision. I'm going to adopt a dog. Now to figure out which kind." The suggestions came flooding in, but then my friend Dennis Burger added to the thread: "Mandy, if this is a move you're making soon -- like, now -- please consider this guy. He's going to be destroyed tomorrow if no one adopts him."
I'm a big believer in fate, synchronicity and no coincidences. I clicked on the dog's profile, which had been shared more than a thousand times from a Web site called Urgent Pets on Death Row, Inc., and indeed, the 18-month-old pit mix was going to be euthanized if no one adopted him. In the past this has happened as early as the morning at Animal Care & Control, and so with no time to lose, I put down the deposit to adopt him the next day, a few minutes before midnight.
When I headed out to the Brooklyn location the next morning on Saturday, the waiting room was overflowing with cats removed from homes who had elderly owners or from Hurricane Sandy, and I went to the front to make sure Samsung was indeed safe, and there hadn't been any kind of awful error where he was put to sleep regardless of my adoption hold. They assured me he was safe, but it was going to be a few hours.
I sat and waited and tried not to let my heart break from all of the sweet cats who so desperately wanted owners around me. (The dogs are kept in the back, away from the waiting room.) Please, if you are considering adopting an animal, go to a shelter. Save a life. These animals are so precious and loving. They deserve a life, and you can give it to them.
"We were all hoping you would come!" one volunteer said, pulling up Samsung's ID number and chart, and I filled out the adoption papers which asked me things like if the dog grew or got sick would I abandon him. No, no, no.
When Samsung was brought out by volunteer Elisa Lafont, she was beaming.
"This is a very special dog," she said. "I'm so glad you came."
Elisa comes out from Long Island to volunteer at the shelter and give the pets the attention and love they need, and she also helps to spread word of animals that are placed on "Death Row." The reason that Samsung was listed there was because, as often happens when dogs remain in a shelter, he contracted kennel cough, and because Animal Care & Control is limited in space, and accepts all animals, they cannot be a no-kill shelter. Samsung getting sick meant he was now on the "euth list," as much as everyone hated to put him there. Other than his cough, which can be cured with a course of antibiotics, he is a very healthy, happy, loving dog.
Elisa later told me, "Weird thing is I almost didn't go in Saturday. Because I was in a mood and wasn't sure. But then I saw Sam was on the list and knew I had to go in, in case I wouldn't ever see him again. So when I saw he was reserved when I woke up, I was relieved. I told him when I had him in our cuddle spot that 'I was doing my best to make sure he would make it out, that I was praying hard. To please hold on a little longer.'"
I could see just how special he was when Elisa brought him out.
"This is your new mommy," she said. "She saved your life, Samsung." Elisa gave him a special Snoopy collar to wear for the cab ride home.
He knows how to do "Paw," "Sit" and "Stay" and he licks you with appreciation. When the car service came to take us back to Manhattan, he curled up below the seat and patiently looked up at me. It was my very first night in my new studio, and my new dog would be spending it with me.
I lay out the food and water in some makeshift Tupperware, and then showed him that he was allowed to jump on the bed with me. I didn't intend to fall asleep at 8:30 p.m., but as he curled up next to me and put his paw on my hand, that's exactly what I did. My boots and jacket were still on, and the next morning we woke up at 6 a.m. Samsung nuzzled and licked me and stared up at me with his sweet soulful eyes.
"You're still a little sick, Samsung," I told him. "But you're going to get better. I'm not giving up on you."
He rested his head on my chest, and his heart beat next to mine.
Will the New Osama bin Laden Film "Zero Dark Thirty" Rehabilitate Torture?
Adam Serwer| Mon Dec. 10, 2012
Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal want their cinematic portrayal of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, to be seen as more than just a movie. "What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film," Bigelow told The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins. The film is a "hybrid of the filmic and the journalistic," writer Mark Boal told New York. Speaking to Matt Lauer on NBC's Today, Bigelow said, "I think the film doesn't have an agenda. I think it just shows the story as, you know, the story of the greatest manhunt in history. And that's part of that history." But the film, according to those who have seen it, shows torture as central to the discovery of bin Laden's location, and this departs from what is publicly known about the raid on Abbottabad. So is Bigelow rehabilitating torture?
According to the New York Daily News, the film, which opens next month, "includes graphic torture scenes, including depictions of waterboarding and sexual humiliation, used to obtain information from detainees which ultimately help pinpoint bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan." Bigelow is no fan of torture, but she says she had to stick with the facts: "I wish that it wasn't a part of history, but it is and was." Not accurate history.
Filkins' fawning piece on Bigelow he writes that "she feels a little like what she imagines the men and women who chased bin Laden must feel: elated" points out that the Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) explained that the original information that led to bin Laden didn't come from a CIA detainee. Feinstein's letter was unequivocal: "The suggestion that the operation was carried out based on information gained through the harsh treatment of CIA detainees is not only inaccurate, it trivializes the work of individuals across multiple U.S. agencies that led to UBL and the eventual operation." Nor was Feinstein the only one to say so; a letter from the then-CIA director Leon Panetta sent to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) echoed the same findings.
Defenders of Bush-era enhanced interrogation waged a fierce public relations campaign to rehabilitate torture in the aftermath of the bin Laden killing, in part to award Bush credit for the raid. But the facts kept getting in the way. Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official responsible for the destruction of videos recording the (ineffectual) torture of detainee Abu Zubayda, went on 60 Minutes and was unable to rebut the fact that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed lied when questioned about bin Laden's courier, despite being tortured. The CIA inspector general found that "you could not in good conscience reach a definitive conclusion about whether any specific technique was especially effective, or [whether] the enhanced techniques in the aggregate really worked." Republicans are currently attempting to block a Senate intelligence committee investigation of the efficacy of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Someone attempting to make a "journalistic" feature film on the hunt for Osama bin Laden could be expected to be aware of all this. When Filkins asked Boal about the portrayal of torture departing from the known facts, he replied, "It's a movie, not a documentary." Bigelow and Boal want their film to be seen as a contribution to the historical record, not as mere entertainment. So far they are winning over influential film critics. If you're thinking of giving them an award, Zero Dark Thirty is "history"; if you're a journalist asking a question about a factual error in the film, it's just a movie.
The critical acclaim Zero Dark Thirty is already receiving suggests that it may do what Karl Rove could not have done with all the money in the world: embed in the popular imagination the efficacy, even the necessity, of torture, despite available evidence to the contrary. Whatever the artistic merits of the film, that will be its moral legacy. That's quite an accomplishment, but not a journalistic one.
Ken Fisher, Billionaire Forbes Writer, Attempts To Argue That The U.S. Needs Fewer Jobs
The Huffington Post | By Mark Gongloff
For years Americans have pondered the mystery of how to create more jobs. Turns out we've been thinking about it all wrong: What we need are fewer jobs.
Billionaire investor and author Ken Fisher explains in Forbes -- the Christmas Eve issue, on newsstands soon! -- that "Job Growth Is Overrated."
"Believe it or not, I'm for fewer jobs, not more," he starts out.
OK, this is a good start: It is good to acknowledge right up front that readers might not quite believe that a sentient human being is somehow against more jobs.
But you expect that maybe Fisher is then going to do a bait-and-switch of some kind: He says he's against jobs, but what he really means is that he is for some other mind-blowing kind of employment that's not exactly a "job" as we commonly think of the term. Like being a financial advisor, say. Or maybe Fisher is sort of like a Situationist, somebody who believes the entire social construct of "work" is a sham that keeps people from ever truly enjoying life. Fine, sounds good.
But, no, what Fisher means is that he really, really can't stand jobs, or people who want them, or people who want to create them:
"Throughout 2012 we heard politicians and pundits of all stripes yammering endlessly on the need for job growththat we don't have enough jobs," he continues. "It's pure rubbish."
Jobs, Fisher explains, are actually signs of weakness in the economy. Jobs mean we can't produce stuff without human beings lousing up the place, instead of nice, clean robots, which are not constantly pestering you for health care and maternity leave and breaks. The greater our economy's productivity, the less we need of such nuisances. Then we can all sip cocktails on the beach for the rest of our days. Sous les paves, la plage.
"In the long run we will all benefit," Fisher says, by nobody having any jobs any more, forever. He then goes on to extol the virtues of investing in a handful of companies he says will be top-notch at destroying jobs, including Anheuser-Busch InBev and Walmart.
The massive mistake Fisher is making is understandable: People often think that productivity and jobs are mutually exclusive. The government's official measure of productivity is calculated by dividing output by worker hour. If you can get more output with fewer worker hours, voila, productivity.
But history shows that higher productivity and more jobs typically go hand in hand, according to a paper a few years back by William Nordhaus of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Nordhaus looked at times in ye olde American history when productivity was rising and found, what do you know, jobs were rising then, too. When productivity is high, prices fall, which gives workers the ability to buy more stuff. Higher demand leads to more production and more jobs.
One notable exception was around the late 1990s, early 2000s, when computers were boosting American productivity like crazy, but China was taking all of our jobs. That experience maybe colors our thinking about productivity as a job-killer.
But China, at the very same time, was enjoying both rising productivity and more jobs.
More recently, China is no longer undercutting the rest of the world on labor costs quite as much as any more. And some of those jobs the U.S. lost to China might be coming back here. Exhibit A: Apple, which said on Thursday it is going to start making stuff in the U.S. again.
We don't have to live in Ken Fisher's zero-jobs world. Although we could all use more days at the beach.