The Conspiracy Files – Where is Hillary? A Coda.

As a follow-up to the refutation of the Hillary fake news expose that I published last year  (Sept 3rd) in which I dismantled the argument that evidence from people’s camera-phones pointed to some green-screen or photo-shopping shenanigans from Hillary’s team. I offer a recent photo from a recent Trump rally.

trumpflorida

With as much cogency it would be possible to argue that the images on the phones do not correspond to the purported presence of Trump himself.  The colours are wrong, the man (who stands in such contrast to the background) is not visible on the screens. The screen images are bright but the room is ill-lit and gloomy. What dark forces are at work? Why the trickery? What is the Trump team trying to hide? Is he dead already? Is he in jail for his multiple misdemeanours? Is he living in a basement in the Kremlin? Of course, all such speculation would be silliness, as I believe I have demonstrated in the anti-Hillary story that I looked at.

The interesting aspect is that nobody is saying these things. The internet is not a-flutter with strange theories about Trump in the way it was with his opponent even though there is no disparity of evidence. What this suggests to me is that the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ or ‘left’ and ‘right’ camps are not simply equivalent ideologies which our upbringing, prejudices and education steer us into choosing between. The more I think about it the less plausible it appears to me that the political divide in America is about opinions and policies – that confronted with sound arguments an adherent could change allegiance. It’s much more profound than that, and takes place at an emotional level. It has more to do with notions such as race, respect, manners, self-esteem, empathy and maturity. Not things that are necessarily immutable but not easy to change or subject to discussion.

Liberal thought is relatively free of using conspiracy notions as a weapon because that’s not a plane that interests it. Devout Jews and Christians may debate furiously about the correct day of the Sabbath but if they asked an atheist which argument he found most convincing he would probably say he didn’t even care to waste energy thinking about it. The left and the right are very often not playing the same game. The right never stops stirring the scandal-pot; the e-mails, Benghazi, birtherism, Pizzagate, pay-to-play, Hillary’s fatal illness, her dementia, election fraud ….. the list goes on. The left, in contrast, seems to mostly be interested in improprieties for which there is reasonable evidence – tax secrecy, a ludicrous doctor’s affirmation, pussygate, Russian hacking. The interest also seems to be proportionate, not obsessive. Speculating that Trump’s father may have been an orangutan is treated as a joke, not as litigable slander. Calling Obama a Muslim, by contrast, is just witless calumny, tirelessly repeated.

This appears to be a genuinely cognitive difference that in the US is reflected in political identification more than in most western societies. It’s not simply a function of intelligence, although educational attainment must play a part. If we can discriminate between “politics as argument” and “politics as  emotion” I would tentatively suggest that the US has gone further towards the latter than any other modern democracy that I know of and that the drift is showing no sign of abating. It’s an interesting, even disturbing, phenomenon and one that I’d like to return to in another post.

Did it happen just because I remember it?

I’ve just had a very disturbing experience. I was viewing some clips about the current US political scene – mostly focused on the upcoming presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (pace third party candidates). Reading some of the comments I found myself becoming annoyed at the wilful ignorance and selective bias of many of the pro-Trump contributors. I remembered a clip I’d seen a while back in which a much younger Trump was ridiculing Republican voters and saying if he ever wanted to be president it would be easy to manipulate them into supporting because they were so stupid. I thought it would be the perfect response to some of the more egregiously pro-Trump posts to just put up a link to the interview.

This is Trump in 1988 on being asked about a presidential run:

This was the interview I remembered – the cocky brat lounging insolently with his expensive suit and elaborate coiffure. I didn’t remember Oprah (I vaguely had the idea it had something to do with People or Rolling Stone), but the backdrop, the lighting, the body-language fitted perfectly with my recollection.  All I had to do was Google “trump republicans stupid” to be directed to the relevant clip, right?

djtrump

Yes! The words fitted perfectly with what I remembered and they were exactly the way Trump expresses himself. That’s what he said and that’s  just how I remembered it. You can see from the backdrop that it’s clearly the same interview. The only thing left was to find the relevant video on Youtube.

The problem is there isn’t any such video. There most likely never was. I made the whole thing up in my head and I believed it as surely as I believe most things I remember. The quote is a meme that I probably saw either on my internet trawls or in a Facebook post somewhere. At some point, editing software in my brain must have spliced it seamlessly with the Oprah interview. If ‘d half-remembered the People connection that must have come from the meme, and that Fox News was hardly a player in 1998 must have just slipped past me – he surely meant “right wing mainstream media” and that’s what I ‘heard’.

But I’m a smart person with excellent recall so I felt sure if I kept on digging I’d be proven right in what I remembered. But the opposite happened – everywhere I looked the signs pointed to it being a fake quote.

And yet …. here are some quotes from a Reddit forum:

  • “I know I saw it too, because I remember the intonation of his voice when he was saying it, and I thought, how in the world can people watch this and feel he’s worth a vote? “
  • “I forwarded the video to a friend on 6/11. It has been edited since then; the quote removed. Weird”
  • “I absolutely without an inkling of doubt saw the video!! I thought to myself I can’t wait till it’s plastered everywhere on tv. I had a conversation with my Uber driver 2wks ago, discussing all things insane about Trump. When I mentioned the video she responded with, “you saw that video?” “
  • “i remember this too. i saw the video and shared it on FB.”
  • “Yes ! I saw the same video and when I went to search for it this morning to prove for a friend- it’s GONE! Wth! How is this even legal????”
  • “I was talking to my husband about this, we were both sure we had seen this video and were wondering why the memes all say People Magazine”
  • “I saw the video too. My ex-wife (who I get along well with) forwarded me the link. I watched it and thought, ‘wow, what a gaff, this is going to haunt him in this race.’ “

Of course, a conspiracy has now  been born that involves mysterious powers deleting something that actually happened across the whole internet, no less. Like most conspiracies it would only require one person on the entire planet to have made a copy of the Youtube clip or have the original interview on an old VHS tape gathering dust in the attic for the whole house of cards to come tumbling down.  It’s an invidious choice – either you have to accept that recorded facts witnessed by millions of people can be ‘deleted’ from history or that hundreds or even thousands of unrelated people  can independently misremember what would appear to be the very same thing. As a rational person I have to accept the latter, even though it goes against my own powerful recollection.

Memory is a fickle, subjective thing. If it’s not supported by present reality we have to ultimately reject it, even if it won’t go down without a fight – the alternative is a step on the road to madness.

The Conspiracy Files – Where is Hillary?

There’s a lot of nonsense on Youtube – entertaining, but nonsense nevertheless. A lot of it is prefaced with “You’ve got to see this….”, ” You won’t believe this….” and similar examples of carnival-barkery. I consider myself a rational, even sceptical, person so I am always intrigued to view the wilder fringes of what might be considered the “conspiracy-theory” genre. Sometimes the uploads are genuinely mystifying, like a well-executed trick in a magic show. Sometimes, though, they are so bad you can figuratively see the card being palmed.

One that I came across recently and would like to share concerns a Hillary Clinton rally held recently in Reno. The conspiracy revolves around the fact that the official recording camera at the back of the auditorium appears to show a different image from the hand-held phones of some members of the audience. You might think that would be obvious, but this Youtuber manages to talk it up to a full blown establishment conspiracy in which imaginary rallies are staged and inexpertly photoshopped in order to disguise the absence of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The truth is more obvious, and prosaic. If you can stand the hysterical faux-outraged commentary, watch this clip (astonishingly, it’s just one of several similar ones). You may see through it immediately but you can read my comments after and see if you agree with them.

Well, I don’t know if you could stomach five minutes of your intelligence being insulted like that, but if you did – well done you and thanks for staying with me. My hint at the outset indicates that my explanation for this crock of nonsense revolves around what anyone who’s ever had a camera knows – that images look different depending on where you are standing and what camera settings you use. The video is shot from a point-of-view high up and at the back of the auditorium with a zoom lens or narrow arc of field so that the speakers do not appear as small dots in the distance. This also means that the depth of field will be flattened, giving the illusion that the members of the audience that we can see appear to be closer to the stage than they are in reality.

The cameraphones we see in the audience are thus further away from their subject than they appear in the video, their point-of-view is much lower (looking up at Hillary rather than down) and they are recording with a wide field of view rather than the narrow one the main footage is shot on. We would thus expect two completely different images – which is what we get – and this answers the question “Where is Hillary?”.

Here are two images;  one of one of the audience’s phones being used as evidence that she casts no image on a screen and one of the hall before Hillary arrives. The first, rather obvious point, is that we can’t see much in the cameraphone image at all – mostly ill-resolved blurs – but we can interpret it in the light of what we know the hall looks like from the right-hand image.

I can’t make the first image any clearer but I can make it bigger.

Exhibit C

What’s immediately apparent is that we get a much wider vista than the official footage – we can see all the lighting scaffolding at the top of the screen and then the grids of what look like reflective squares high up on the wall. The people on the staircase are mistily visible and the red-white-and-blue horizontal decoration is also identifiable. We can clearly see the main flag, very fuzzily and the large blue “Better Together” card across the lectern. We can also see a blue/turquoise smudge above it and towards its left side. That’s Hillary. The mystery is solved. It turns out that if you stand back quite a way and get an image on your iphone which is then video-ed by another camera much further away and focussed somewhere completely else, you may well find that a person that you can see as plainly as a pikestaff is rendered as an amorphous smudge. Well, who knew? Practically anybody who ever took a photo and saw that it didn’t exactly agree with the image in their mind, that’s who.

My point in this blog is not to ridicule the people who post this sort of thing, ridiculous though they are. Generally they have a specific agenda they wish to forward and they are not scrupulous about being honest about it – they are not fools, except in the sense that being exposed makes them appear so. My real point is that the world is full of those who would like our money, our vote, our admiration or our credulity, or all of these without really meriting any of them. And if something actually beggars belief, it is unlikely to be true. We owe it to ourselves to be alert and sceptical and to cultivate those qualities even though it is often much easier to be credulous and unreflective or to take things on authority or because they conform easily already to our own prejudices and preferences.

I would love to hear your comments on this or if there are other subjects you would like to see covered. As always, no trolling or name-calling please.