Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Guilty Little Pleasure

I love conspiracy theories. I love the idea that the facts as presented could be explained in a way that fits the just as well as the accepted explanation, especially when it conveniently explains some other facts that are conventionally held to be unrelated, but mysterious. So for me "we didn't actually land on the moon: they faked it in a studio" doesn't qualify as fun, because "I don't understand physics well enough to understand how space travel works" isn't a fact that I need explained. But some things do need explaining. We complain when a movie or a book leaves loose ends, and we expect our stories to wrap everything up. If there's a gun in act one, someone needs to be shot by act three. If a loquacious limo driver dominates the prologue, he has to have a role in the denouement. And if an airliner disappears without a verifiable trace, and then another airliner that looks almost the same drops out of the sky in a war zone, we demand that the two be related.

As you may recall, the incomplete location data from MH370 suggested that the airplane was somewhere on a line stretching from Kazakhstan to Australia. My favourite conspiracy theory (link in Russian) postulates that MH17, shot down on the Ukrainian/Russian border, is the same aircraft. MH370, the theory goes, ended up at an American military base Diego-Garcia. from there the CIA transported it to the Netherlands where it took off packed with explosives and the already dead bodies of the original passengers. The pilots parachuted out and the airplane continued on autopilot to the designated location, where it was programmed to explode.

"Evidence" presented for the theory includes the undocumented claims that:

  • passports found at the site were all very new, and unscorched
  • some of the passports were clipped or punched in the way that their countries indicate invalidated passports
  • a flight status screen showed the flight as cancelled
  • the registration of the two aircraft differs only by an O versus a D: 9M-MRO for MH370 and 9M-MRD for MH17
  • no relatives gave media interviews
  • all the Facebook accounts of the passengers were created on April 21st, after the disappearance of MH370, and nothing was posted to them
  • The configuration of windows and painted flag shown on news photos of the wreckage matches MRO, not MRD.
  • the corpses were said to have a strange odour, and seemed to be drained of blood, not freshly dead

Now I don't have a problem with passports being found in excellent condition despite being onboard an airplane that was shot down. The passports were not in the engines nor the fuel tanks. They were probably in protective cases in secure pockets of people's carry-ons, at least that's where mine is. Unlike human beings, passports held flat the way people tend to put them away are not damaged by extreme pressure changes or long falls, and if we trust Ray Bradbury can sustain temperatures approaching 451 Fahrenheit.

The clipped passports thing is a little odd. I suppose there may be people who keep their expired passport with their valid one. I've seen pilots produce multiple licences ... actually I remember doing that myself once at a flight test. I'd just added the new paper to the original. The examiner told me to put the old one away at home somewhere. Now I have a file folder full.

I'm not surprised that the flight information site would mark the flight cancelled, seeing as they almost certainly didn't program it with the option of "shot down by missile". The data at that page--the same flight number on consecutive days--could be interpreted as a record of arrivals, and the arrival of the July 14th flight has most decidedly been cancelled.

The similarity in the registrations is kind of startling, and it is actually true. It would be a good way to cast doubt on a report by someone who claimed to have seen a change in the tail number from departure to arrival, but it becomes a lot less mysterious if you consider that all Malaysian Airlines operates B777s registered as 9M-MRA through to 9M-MRQ. The prefix 9M simply represents Malaysia, and it's very normal for an airline to buy several aircraft at once and have consecutive registrations.

Perhaps relatives in other countries were more circumspect, but the distraught sister of Andre Anghel, the lone Canadian on board, allowed herself to be interviewed on the radio. I had to pull over and cry after listening to her. She spoke about her brother going to medical school in Romania and then on holiday with his German girlfriend. She had sent him a text saying she loved him, and it was very important to her that he had seen that text before he turned his phone off for the last time, but she didn't know if he had.

Andre has a Facebook page, created January 21st 2007, and the good sense to keep most of his posts private, but updates to his public profile picture, along with comments on them from his friends can be seen prior to the disappearance of MH370.

I like the windows one, because it makes plane spotters into sleuthing heroes, the holders and creators of a distributed database of information on these airplanes that is also shared with the world through sites like airliners.net. I'll leave it to someone else to resolve the disappearing window mystery.

Here are some more English language sources for these and other bizarre conspiracy theories about the two flights. I like the one that just says matter of factly that aliens were responsible for MH370, now let's move on to MH17.

My theory, and it's a pop psychology theory, not a conspiracy theory, is that in this big confusing world, it's on some level comforting that someone has everything under control. Some people prefer to believe that their own government would kill thousands of people, largely their own citizens, as a calculated provocation, than accept that that same government, tasked with their protection, would fail to act against foreign terrorists. Planes don't get accidentally shot down or disappear for no reason we can know. It's all linked up and someone is in control. It's like when you're a kid and trusting that your parents really do know everything. It's like believing that when things go wrong it's a test, it's making way for something better to happen. Anything other than the possibility that things just happen. People abhor disorder and terrible things that have no explanation. Religions literally arise from such things.

Also if you speak a language you want to practise, read things that interest you. My new word of the day is якобы supposedly, a word no Russian-speaking conspiracy theorist should be without.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

You speak Russian too? When do you get your most interesting woman in the world award? I personally have never understood how apparently normal humans get into the whole conspiracy thing. It must be the same sort of human trait that makes world religions possible.

Tyler Hoppenfeld said...

Green Hair, Green Bottle, most interesting person in the world... Coincidence? I think not! https://imgflip.com/i/b3sgb

World'sMostAnxiousPerson said...

clipped passports are easy to explain. If you get a visa for a country it may be valid for, say 10 years, even if your passport isn't.

when you renew your passport, they clip the corner but the visa inside is still good. You just travel with your new passport and old visa.

The law of averages says there must have been at least one person on that plane in that situation.

But why let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy eh?

Aviatrix said...

Ha ha Tyler. Perfect. I'm so busted.

You got it, Anxious.

majroj said...

The big lie just encompasses everything. You start with a conclusion then throw in assertions to make it seem plausible. Saves SO much time, you get off early, nazdrovye!