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An excellent article by James Meigs, Editor-In-Chief, Popular Mechanics. It’s one of those articles that you read and find yourself nodding with every word, that is if you’ve got any skeptical inclinations whatsoever and you have a call-in radio show in Sohum. I haven’t been vilified quite to the extent of Popular Mechanics (and I wonder just how many of those same people who have poured through volumes including Crossing the Rubicon or anything David Griffin has written have bothered to pick up the Popular Mechanics book – the lone book which is intended to debunk rather than reinforce the theories. Since my interview with Chip Berlet I’ve received more than a few odd letters, e-mails, and telephone calls and I’ve been accused of everything from denial to Illuminati membership.


On February 7, 2005, I became a member of the Bush/Halliburton/Zionist/CIA/New World Order/ Illuminati conspiracy for global domination. It was on that day the March 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics, with its cover story debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, hit newsstands. Within hours, the online community of 9/11 conspiracy buffs—which calls itself the “9/11 Truth Movement”—was aflame with wild fantasies about me and my staff, the magazine I edit, and the article we had published.The Web site, an organization that claims that questioning the “official” story of 9/11 is “an act of responsible citizenship,” fired one of the first salvos: “Popular Mechanics Attacks Its 9/11 LIES Straw Man,” read the headline of a piece by a leading conspiracy theorist named Jim Hoffman.

We had begun our plunge down the rabbit hole. Within hours, a post on, which claims to be dedicated to “radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth,” called me “James Meigs the Coward and Traitor.” Not long afterward, another prominent conspiracy theorist produced an analysis that concluded that Popular Mechanics is a CIA front organization. Invective and threats soon clogged the comments section of our Web site and poured in by e-mail:

I was amused at your attempts to prove the conspirator theorists wrong by your interviewing people who work for the government. Face it: The U.S. government planned this attack to further its own agenda in the Middle East.Rest assured, puppet boys . . . when the hammer comes down about the biggest crime ever perpetrated in the history of man—AND IT WILL—it will be VERY easy to identify the co-conspirators by their flimsy, awkwardly ignorant of reality magazine articles. Keep that in mind the next time you align yourself with evil scum.


I shouldn’t have been surprised. In researching the article we’d spent enough time studying the conspiracy movement to get a feel for its style: the tone of outraged patriotism, the apocalyptic rhetoric, the casual use of invective. A common refrain in conspiracy circles is the claim that “We’re just asking questions.” One would think that at least some quarters of the conspiracy movement might welcome a mainstream publication’s serious, nonideological attempt to answer those questions. One would be wrong.

Then Godwin’s Law kicked in:

It was only a matter of time before the Nazis got dragged in. Christopher Bollyn, a prominent conspiracy theorist affiliated with the far-right American Free Press, weighed in a few weeks later with a piece titled “The Hidden Hand of the CIA, 911 And Popular Mechanics.” The article begins with a brief history of Hitler’s consolidation of power following the Reichstag fire in 1933. “Like Nazi Germany of 1933,” Bollyn wrote, “American newsstands today carry a mainstream magazine dedicated to pushing the government’s truth of 9/11 while viciously smearing independent researchers as extremists who peddle fantasies and make poisonous claims.”In a few short weeks, Popular Mechanics had gone from being a 100-year-old journal about science, engineering, car maintenance, and home improvement to being a pivotal player in a global conspiracy on a par with Nazi Germany.

The article goes on to describe the cycle of argument employed by the conspiracy buffs in very familiar detail. But I think the article and the point was summed best by an e-mail contributor who said:

Some people are open to any possibility, and honestly examine all evidence in a rational manner to come to a conclusion, followed by a moral evaluation. Others start with a desire for a specific moral evaluation, and then work backwards assembling any fact that supports them, and dismissing any fact that does not.

Now, this tendency is not exclusive to conspiracy theorists. We’ve certainly seen plenty of that around here, in discussions about everything from Paul Gallegos to rating local hamburgers. But it resonates particularly when it comes to conspiracy theorists, and we seem to be more saturated with them locally than in most other places – even considering that the call-ins and bloggers aren’t representative of the population as a whole. Conspiracies are easy, especially when you’re “just asking questions.” And the intellectual intransigence doesn’t bother me nearly so much as the virulent anger coming from the mouths of conspiracy theory adherents when you don’t come around to “the obvious.” Sometimes my radio show sounds like the Scopes Monkey Trial.

By the way, Skeptic Magazine, published by Michael Shermer, a former fundamentalist Christian, makes yet another attempt at rational discussion of the topic. But I think you have to buy the hard copy.


In a blistering letter response Karen Harris, the “ministerial consultant,” informs:

A recent letter published in your paper questioned whether the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is a religious organization. We would like to clarify any misunderstanding that this may have created. We Unitarians have been active in our religion for many years. The second U.S. president, John Adams, was a Unitarian.

And furthermore:

We are a religious organization made up of individuals with different basic beliefs, but all of whom agree to certain principles.

We covenant together to explore and embrace openly the fundamental mysteries of existence, to nurture a sense of family and to enhance the quality of life for ourselves, our children and the larger community.

We respect the contributions of each person in our activities and our discussions, seeking truth in the interactions of differing views. We recognize and honor the diversity among us.

And here’s the kicker!

We hope this helps clear any misunderstandings and wish everyone a happy holiday season.

See that? No “merry Christmas.” She’s shoving your nose into it with “happy holiday season,” an offense to the Christian faith. Let’s take away their tax exempt status!

For the record, those “certain principles” are as follows (this is sort of like the Unitarian Ten Commandments):

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Nothing about the death of the ego though. And nothing about the immortal soul.

That chalice comes from here.

I made my calls yesterday. Everybody is still very tight-lipped about ongoing talks. What little I’ve gathered is just rumor, but they suggest that the talks aren’t going very well. I’m not going to repeat mere rumors here.

I’m also wondering what ever happened to the audit. The newspaper accounts of November suggested that the report was going to be finished by early December. We’re a bit overdue it seems. Are they keeping it under wraps for negotiation purposes?

Meanwhile, next week is the deadline for your Board of Directors vote. Get your ballot in the mail today!

Meanwhile it’s 218 days until Reggae on the River. The fans are hoping.

Somehow (with my help) a discussion about the power of the Eureka mayor over at Fred’s blog veered into a Second Amendment debate. I previously posted some thoughts on the subject and promised a follow-up. I guess this is as good a time as any.

Let me first say that from a purely philosophical view, I have nothing against gun control. But for the concern for the integrity of the Bill of Rights, I’d have no problem if the government rounded up every gun and tossed them into a bonfire. I don’t see guns as a deterrent to crime nor tyranny. As gun control advocates point out, crime is no lower where gun ownership is plenty, and the rates of crime are lower in states and countries with tight to absolute bans – the exceptions touted by the NRA being the exceptions that underscore the rule. And if a revolution becomes necessary, the revolution will get the guns. It won’t be fought with handguns anyway – probably more likely with bombs set off by wireless technology.

But I do oppose certain forms of gun control in this country because they violate the Second Amendment, and the precedents that compromise that “embarrassing amendment” threaten to compromise the rest of the Bill of Rights as well.

I do agree with the gun control advocates’ structural argument. The Second Amendment contains a qualifying preface clause. And as has been discussed in other contexts in this blog including the most recent post, every word in a law is presumed to have meaning and effect. Therefore:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

cannot be interpreted as merely

The right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Obviously, as the Supreme Court has ruled, the weapon in question must have some reasonable connection to the purpose of a militia (courts have thus denied the protection to the ownership of sawed-off shot guns and switch blades). But we don’t know more than that. Unfortunately, the drafters left no clue as to what a “well regulated militia” is, or how the clarification should define or limit the right to bear arms.

The Constitution has often been analogised to a contract. For instance, in 1994 when the Republicans promoted their “contract with America,” some Democrats responded that they already had a contract with America. It has all the elements (except arguably consent of every citizen, though natural law advocates have often spoke of the “social contract” you sign upon birth). It is a basic principle of contract law that ambiguities shall be strictly construed against the drafter of the contract. Therefore, the ambiguity of the Second Amendment should be strictly construed against state power (as should the ambiguities in other Constitutional provisions – it’s really not that well-written a document when you get down to it).

This means that any infringement upon the right to keep and bear arms should involve a compelling state interest of the nature that would justify an infringement of First or Fourth Amendment rights. Certainly the interest of keeping automatic weapons, howitzers, and H-bombs out of private hands qualifies. Handguns probably not. Semi-automatics are more problematic. Outright bans of guns, such as the ordinance in San Francisco, are clearly unconstitutional. In my view anyway.

A note about my previous exercise – the article, written by a very liberal law professor, draws similar conclusions with somewhat different reasoning. It applies a more liberal approach to Constitutional interpretation to draw a “conservative” conclusion. I posted the portion of his article that describes his methodology, which is generally not accepted by straight “strict constructionists” and “original intent” advocates (the two are often combined, but they’re really not the same thing as liberals would argue that the “living document” approach is “original intent.”). The article The Embarrassing Second Amendment was spread all across the Internet by the NRA and their allies, but they certainly don’t agree with the methodology; not the conservative wing of the gun rights movement anyway. There’s a little bit of hypocrisy involved and when the first section is separated and presented to conservatives they often confirm the same.

Them’s my thoughts on the subject, for what they’re worth.

Photo source.

Addendum: Sorry. CSGV stands for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. And by the way, I don’t see any Constitutional argument against mandated child safety locks.


December 2006
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