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Skepticism, thy name is paranoia

Well, perhaps. Some theorists continue to posit that many odd events were strange - indeed, stranger than truth.

By LISA TOLIN, Associated Press
Published December 18, 2005

Sure, we all know the one about the second gunman on the grassy knoll. And thanks to a little book by Dan Brown, we know Leonardo Da Vinci may or may not have slipped Mary Magdalene into The Last Supper.

But did the Titanic sink because of a secret fraud conspiracy? Are Nazis hanging out in Antarctica? Was a CIA experiment in mind-control behind the Jonestown massacre?

James McConnachie and Robin Tudge lay out these theories and many, many more in The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories (Rough Guides, $14.99), which bills itself as "the definitive guide to the world's most controversial conspiracies."

It's full of the usual suspects. The largest index entry is for the CIA, followed closely by the Nazis, Bushes (Georges H.W. and W.) and Clintons (Bill and Hillary). McConnachie and Tudge - a TV presenter and journalist, respectively - lay out the claims dispassionately, though they acknowledge some are "outright insane."

"Once you've left behind the reassuringly two-dimensional dry land of believing what the government or the media or indeed anyone else tells you, you're in a new and infinitely more complex world," they write. "Everybody seems to have an agenda, no one can be trusted - your field of vision is constricted by the mask of ideology and, and looking down into the murkier depths, it's easy to give way to panic and paranoia."

Some theories:

ALIENS WALK AMONG US

You thought Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were the first? People have reported seeing mysterious "MiB" traveling in Cadillacs since the 1950s. Some have said the men have shiny skin, pointy chins and no fingernails.

The source: The stories seem to draw heavily from a 1956 book titled They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, in which a man claimed he was visited by three MiB who warned him not to talk about his UFO experience.

The truth: In the 1950s, the CIA actually did mount a campaign to stop people from talking about UFOs, according to McConnachie and Tudge. That was partly to keep folks from finding out about early spy planes.

WOULD A SHAKESPEARE BY ANY OTHER NAME SMELL AS SWEET?

This one goes like this: The poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe did not die as supposed in 1593, stabbed in a barroom brawl. Instead, he faked his own death and took up William Shakespeare's quill to avoid execution. Marlowe was in trouble for atheism, blasphemy and sedition for allegedly calling Protestants "hypocritical asses" and saying the New Testament was "filthily written."

The source: The theory is a favorite of the Marlowe Society and was made popular in a 1955 book, The Man Who Was Shakespeare, which used peculiarities of Shakespeare's sonnets to make its case.

The truth: There was the little problem of the corpse. And what happened to the real Shakespeare? Some say he was bumped off - but the Bard wasn't particularly kind to Marlowe, even when he supposedly was Marlowe. In As You Like It, he was said to refer to the fatal brawl when he mentioned "a great reckoning in a little room."

LUNAR LUNACY

You know the 1969 moon landing: "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." But were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon and in Apollo 11 or faking the whole thing at Area 51 in Nevada?

The source: Even Armstrong was skeptical about whether Americans could get to the moon - he gave it a 50-50 chance, according to McConnachie and Tudge. But the Soviets were winning the space race, so there was a whole lot of pressure to plant that American flag. But why did it wave? Surely there's no wind on the moon. And how come there were no stars in that jet-black sky? By 1971, a fake moon landing figured into a James Bond movie. And then there was the 1978 conspiracy flick Capricorn One, which had NASA's first manned mission to Mars being contrived on a sound stage.

The truth: Astronomer Phil Plait gives some explanations at www.badastronomy.com - the flag appeared to wave because it was structurally designed to do so. And the stars couldn't compete with the bright lunar landscape, given the short exposure time needed for good photos. And for the rest of the story, we'd have to ask Armstrong. Maybe we should send the Men In Black.

[Last modified December 15, 2005, 11:30:07]


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