My Notre Dame Conspiracy Theory

On Monday 15thApril 2019 at 6.45pm a fire was spotted on the roof of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Two hours later the spire and the roof had entirely collapsed and three separate fires seemed to be burning within the cathedral. First reports suggest that the fire might be linked with work going on on the roof, a part of which is covered in metal scaffolding which has so far survived the fire.

Let’s suppose work stopped at 5.30pm, and the last person left the site around 6pm. 45 minutes later, flames were seen emerging from the timber roof. The oak beams are about a foot thick. What would it take to set them alight in less than an hour, with flames visible from the street below? A bit of careless electric wiring in the vicinity of an oily rag, next to a gas canister..?

Pull the other one, it’s got gargoyles on.

I wrote here about the Yellow Vests as long ago as last November, before the significance of the movement was obvious (the sempiternal story of the man who peaked too soon.)

The link to climate change was the fact that the protest started in reaction to a rise in the carbon tax on motor fuel. President Macron was obliged to give way on a key part of his climate policy, and at the same time distribute ten billion euros in subsidies to the working poor, thus bursting through the EU 3% maximum budget deficit rule, at one stroke destroying his twin projects of leading the European Union and making the planet great again.

The Yellow Vest protests have continued, at a lower level of intensity, (only one old lady killed by the police and eleven people blinded by plastic bullets) for nearly six months now. Macron’s response has been to instigate and carry out a massive campaign of local consultation, involving all sectors of society in all regions of France, in which the President answered questions for up to six hours at a time. The results of these “debates” and of a couple of million opinions collected via the internet were to be collated and to form the basis of a radical government programme to satisfy the discontent expressed by the Yellow Vest movement. The culmination was to come this week, with a solemn 25 minute declaration by the President Macron on television at 8 pm tonight, followed by a press conference on Wednesday. The presidential declaration was recorded at 6 pm, minutes before the fire broke out at Notre Dame. Its broadcast has been postponed.

The French media have been discussing nothing but the likely content of President Macron’s speech for months now. It is generally agreed that he is in an impossible situation. The Yellow Vests, still supported by a majority of the population despite nearly six months of disruptive and often violent demonstrations, are demanding a massive transfer of wealth to the poor, particularly to the working poor, plus a massive improvement in social amenities. It is inconceivable that the long term closure of local hospitals, railway stations, post offices, and rural schools can continue. It is likewise inconceivable that aid to the poor can be financed without reducing France’s civil service and the often generous social welfare programme which it administers. Macron’s announced proposals, supposedly based on the most extensive consultations ever conducted in a democracy, were bound to disappoint, and the Yellow Vests were planning to redouble their efforts next weekend in answer to that inevitable disappointment. So for months the media have been previewing tonight’s announcement, hoping for a miracle, and expecting a disaster.

And now, thanks to the burning of Notre Dame, the miracle hasn’t happened, and the disaster has been averted. I’m no expert in the combustibility of 700-year-old oak beams, (help! Is there a dendrochronologist in the house?) but I’d have thought it would take more than a chance fag end to set foot-thick oak beams on fire. So was it deliberate? Did some ISIS fanatic or a mad atheist Yellow Vest on the building site smuggle a can of petrol up the scaffolding and spread it over the timbers before knocking off for the day? The number of workers on the site can’t be enormous. Their movements are presumably easy to trace. The images we have seen this evening are from a small number of ground level cameras. But from a hundred windows overlooking the cathedral a hundred telephones will have produced accurately dated records of the event.

We conspiracy theorists tend to believe that major disasters are manipulated by super-rich rock stars in furtherance of their pet leftwing projects in favour of the planet; hence the question: “Cui Bono?”

Well it’s not the Yellow Vests who will benefit, that’s for sure. It’s possible that all demonstrations in Paris will be banned. The Yellow Vests’ protests have been marked by fireworks and smoke bombs from the peaceful demonstrators, followed by torching of cars and banks by Black Bloc infiltrators. Anyone lighting anything in Paris in the next few months could be shot on sight, with little public protest. Macron is safe – home and dry. Dry as a 700-year-old oak beam. He won’t soak the rich, which was the demand of three quarters of the population, and he won’t face massive protests. There will be an inquiry into the fire, conducted by the Paris Prefecture of Police. Three weeks ago the Interior Minister sacked the Paris Prefect of Police and installed one more closely aligned to government thinking.

What’s all this got to do with things climatical?

In 2012 Professor Lewandowsky suggested a weak but significant link between belief in conspiracy theories and climate scepticism. In this and a number of articles here in the past few months I’ve been reporting on the fact that a number of academic enquiries into conspiracy theorising, some financed by the British Government and the European Union, have gone much further, stating that climate scepticism is a conspiracy theory, and tarnishing the name of honest Cartesian doubt by associating it with such nefarious practices as exercising one’s democratic right to vote for Trump or Brexit. These studies have largely deserted the study of honest-to-goodness conspiracy theories (e.g. about the untimely rash of lone gunmen putting paid to left wing politicians like Kennedy, Kennedy King and X.) A grainy 8mm movie, a stray bullet found on a stretcher; these are archaic relics of the pre-internet age.Now a google search will reveal that WMD weren’t (so the Bush/Blair conspiracy was) and that 97% of scientists agree (so the climate denialists are conspirators.) Problem solved. The rest is fake news.

The internet age has produced a spontaneous rash of evidence. The one piece of material evidence in the first Kennedy assassination was the Zapruder 8mm film. For 9/11 there were hundreds of photos and films. For the 2016 Democrat campaign there were the thousands of emails revealed byWikileaks. You can’t do conspiracy like you used to. You have to cover yourself. Brutally. Hence the forced removal of Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy. Hence Professors Runciman and Naughton trashing climate scepticism by assimilating scientific scepticism to fear of vaccination and immigrants. (Would it be too much to expect three Cambridge professors to produce a rational argument? Yes it would. German academics in the thirties at least had the decency to wait for the rise of Hitler to power before espousing his irrational doctrines. Ranchman and Naughton have reversed the process, espousing the Prinzip even before the arrival of the Führer. )

So,what with the public being equipped with these I-phone thingies and all, it’s more difficult to execute a conspiratorial project without being detected. But it doesn’t matter if you’re detected, because you’ve got your defence ready. Any accusation of wrongdoing can now be countered by the accusation that the accusers are guilty of conspiracy theorising. Any questioning of any official policy can be met with the defence that to doubt the official line is to accuse the powers that be of conspiracy. And conspiracy theorising has been shown scientifically to be nefarious. So watch it.

[Apart from anything else, these past few hours have provided a lesson on the stupidity of modern journalists. The fire broke out in the roof, and was filmed spectacularly until the roof fell in, resulting in the level of the flames lowering significantly. This led to several commentators opining that the fire was abating, when what was clearly happening was that the wooden roof, previously burning in plain sight on top of the cathedral, was now burning inside the walls, out of sight.

There was much discussion about the potential loss of works of art. While you wouldn’t expect an average journalist to have expert knowledge of the artistic content of the cathedral, you might expect an averagely educated Frenchman to know that a 13th century stained glass window was more important than a 19th century oil painting, (or than the crown of thorns of Christ, which has apparently been saved). And that stained glass windows are lined in lead, and, though the journalist might be pardoned for not knowing the exact melting point of lead, there wasn’t much point in speculating about their survival when the TV images the whole world was watching showed sparks flying out of the stone frames of the windows.]

You can see the same visual ignorance at work in any news report from the front in Syria, Libya, or wherever. Or in the analysis of any graph of global mean temperature, for that matter.


  1. If the news reports are correct, church burnings are a popular means of expression for certain immigrant groups on France.
    “Accident” can be a very broad, highly subjective term.


  2. As nobody trusts the establishment or government anymore, if it is announced that the Notre Dame fire was not arson, but was the result of a highly unlikely accident, it will not be believed and conspiracy theories will rattle on for years, just as they have with 9/11. I personally don’t understand how a cathedral – not just any cathedral, but Notre Dame, a priceless medieval gothic masterpiece and the symbol of an entire nation – which has stood for 850 years, presumably now protected by a bristling array of smoke alarms (linked directly to the emergency services) and/or a state of the art sprinkler system – can burn to the ground in just hours. Also, with the recent spate of 10 church desecrations across France in a period of just one week (some of those churches also named Notre Dame) are you seriously telling me that the building was not protected by security personnel?


  3. Jaime. I presume there are systems that protect wooden roofs against fire, but I doubt if they are sprinklers, unless in holy settings gravity can be reversed. Given the dimensions of the wooden beams required to support the roof and the density of oak, I find it almost unbelievable how quickly the fire spread to the extent that the whole roof and steeple were consumed. From some of the news footage I saw, the fire wasn’t spreading, instead it was consuming the entire structure all at one go. I don’t think the bombardiers were able to save anything.


  4. Yes Alan, if it started in the roof, I guess sprinkler systems might not be applicable in that respect. I’m not au fait with fire prevention systems in medieval gothic cathedrals I must admit, though I presume they exist.

    It was 12 church attacks in one week, as reported by Breitbart on March 20th, culminating in the arson attempt on the St Sulpice, Paris’s 2nd largest church. But the authorities have found no evidence of arson at Notre Dame and are treating the fire as an accident.


  5. The roof may be held up with huge oak beams, but you do have to consider the support structure between the beams and the coating ie wood and plaster. As to the steeple, it strikes me it might have created a furnace effect, where heat rising up drew in fresh air at the bottom.

    The York Minster fire would be a good point of reference for how these kinds of fires might burn.

    I wouldn’t assume it had any significant anti-fire measures either.


  6. Jaime. Further perusal of video images of the whole Notre Dame roof burning, suggests to me that after the fire started in a localized area the heat generated rapidly caused more and more of the roof timbers to ignite when they exceeded ignition temperatures as a result of radiant heating. Since most of the heat generated would have been carried away upwards by convection, this might explain why much of lower roof and the vaulting was preserved. This is in contrast to York Minster where the collapse of the roof in the vicinity of the fire caused more damage locally but removed the source of radiant heat at roof level, so saving the majority of the roof from igniting.
    Restoration of Notre Dame will be a far larger task than York Minster.


  7. There was a lot of thinner wood up in les combles:

    Many anti-woodworm treatments used to involve inflammable solvents. I think those have been banned in the UK but if the renovators were using preservatives containing unwise or illegal solvents then a spark might have been enough to get a small strut burning, thereby gasifying more solvents, thereby igniting more struts, and on and on.

    Just a guess.


    Not a guess: XR’s supporters started fuming about the Notre Dame fire within an hour of the first news reports. Bloody Brexit had been stealing their headlines for months and now this bloody cathedral goes up in flames on the first bloody day of their biggest protest. E.g.:

    The fire at #NotreDame is really sad, but even sadder is seeing how much quicker and louder this event has hit the media compared to all the vital #InternationalRebellion action going on around the world today. One building v. the future of our species #ExtinctionRebellion


    Interesting to see @BBCNews using the fire at #NotreDame as an excuse to ignore the #ClimateChange protests by @ExtinctionR

    Yes, indeed. Misrepresented science, counterproductive tactics, stupidly unrealizable targets – those should have continued to grab headlines while Notre Dame burned.

    (Will XR-founder Gail Bradbrook interpret the conflagration as negative feedback from Grandmother Ayahuasca, who helped found XR and confirmed its righteous path by providing an unlikely coincidence? Prolly not. Woo woo is usually one-way.)


  8. look at what happened to Windsor Castle.. Notre Dame I think had a history of being underfunded, including for the resto project. so corners cut? and no fire control system in the roof at all? (Bet Westminster estate, is in a similar bad state.)


  9. Actually, what nobody’s telling you is that the restoration work involved fitting insulating cladding to comply with EU energy efficiency directives and, to cut corners and save money, they used non flame retardant ones. It was probably some bloke’s fridge which exploded, causing the cladding to ignite. Fortunately, there were no fatalities on this occasion.


  10. “I’m not au fait with fire prevention systems in medieval gothic cathedrals I must admit, though I presume they exist.”

    Yes, mist systems exist (as Alan notes you need pressure to oppose gravity and go upwards), but not in Notre Dame according to ABC7: ‘There is extensive damage inside the 850-year-old landmark, but firefighters were able to contain the worst of the blaze to the roof and the 250-foot spire. The ancient building did not have a fire suppression system, but conversely, St. Patrick’s Cathedral had its own extensive renovations completed three years ago that included a state of the art high-pressure water mist system that would activate in the event of a fire.’
    A number of articles report (as Barry notes) under-funding and poor maintenance.

    AFP claim to have seen Macron’s speech and cite some content, which speech Macron has said is coming out ‘in the next days so that we can act’:

    Some rather unrestrained speculation and speculative connections here. A modest wait might perhaps see some actual evidence emerge.


  11. Apparently there was a first fire alert at 6.20 pm, leading to the cathedral being evacuated, but this was considered a false alarm. Action was take only on the second alert at 6.45pm. There’s a similarity here to the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, where a small explosion led to the boat being evacuated, with a second explosion some minutes later sinking the ship. President Miterrand wasn’t to know that one of the crew members would go back to fetch his camera, and drown.

    A journalist reported that the fire might have started days ago and have been smouldering undetected. There were only about sixteen people working on the roof at any one time, and they had knocked off at 4pm. It’s odd that the investigators announced that they didn’t suspect criminal activity, given the deliberate fire which damaged St Sulpice recently.

    President Macron’s important prerecorded message on Monday night was cancelled. On Tuesday he gave a shorter speech entirely devoted to the Notre Dame fire. Wednesday’s cabinet meeting will be entirely devoted to the rebuilding of Notre Dame, which Macron is planning to do in five years. Wednesday evening he was supposed to give a press conference about the measures proposed in the cancelled Monday evening speech, but I imagine that will be delayed for five years too.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s a bit of a gift for Macron, as Geoff points out. His Presidency was teetering on the edge with all the domestic troubles; even the EU were furious that he’d gone rogue on Brexit. Now suddenly he’s the man who will rebuild Our Lady of Paris and, by logical extension, the heart and soul of an increasingly fractious and divided nation.

    I’m of the opinion that Our Lady has fallen, that She is gone for good. Her skeleton remains. That is all. Throwing up a modern facsimile of her former beauty, which took hundreds of years to develop via the dedicated manual labours of highly skilled and no doubt intensely religious craftsmen and women, in just 5 years, is not rebuilding the soul of a nation, it is an exercise in the 3-D photocopying of a lost ancient tangible national symbol.

    It’s odd isn’t it. Speculating – sans evidence – that the fire was accidental is deemed acceptable but speculating – aussi sans evidence – that the fire was deliberate in the context of very recent attacks on French churches, is a big no, no.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. The recent spell of dry and breezy weather might have played a role, at least in the spread of the fire, on the assumption that Paris weather has been similar to that in Southern England.

    There are reports that half the detectives in Paris are working on the case, no doubt hoping to find a “far-right” arsonist, rather than a jihadist.


  14. Mediaeval cathedral builders were building in stone and oak at the limit of building technology, and often beyond (as many building collapses during construction attest). Possibly Notre Dame’s wooden roof was near its stability limit and could not accommodate the additional stress of the weight of a network of fire suppression pipework + its contained water.
    This morning there was a discussion about how the restoration would be done; whether to go the traditional route, as York did, and use oak, or to use steel. If they use oak, the wood will require up to 20 years to fully season and gain strength. Since several hundred tons will be required, I doubt if the whole of Europe could currently supply it and not in five years. One possibility might be to use the Foret de Tronçais, which was planted to supply oak for the French Navy but is now “Surplus aux exigences”.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “It’s odd isn’t it. Speculating – sans evidence – that the fire was accidental is deemed acceptable but speculating – aussi sans evidence – that the fire was deliberate in the context of very recent attacks on French churches, is a big no, no.”

    There’s no compelling need for either, one can simply withhold significant directional speculation (i.e. beyond merely acknowledging a range of possibilities) pending the emergence of evidence. Of course if none emerged, or was itself suspicious in some way, this presents more of a challenge. In any case the above is not odd but related to a fundamental principle that underpins our legal system and is also a basic principle of the human rights system, i.e. ‘the presumption of innocence’. If too many speculative assumptions and associated emotive weight gathers around particular theories of deliberate cause, this can potentially result in a kind of judgement without trial (in this case of the president / state actors or the terrorists or whoever) in the minds of many, which also could later bias official proceedings should any then occur for whatever reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I understand that detailed 3-D imagery of Notre Dame created for computer games such as Assassins Creed will be used in the restoration. There is a higher purpose in everything.



    If too many speculative assumptions and associated emotive weight gathers around particular theories of deliberate cause, this can potentially result in a kind of judgement without trial … in the minds of many, which also could later bias official proceedings…

    Not only official proceedings, but also public opinion and the judgement of history. My point in speculating without evidence, and giving it the provocative title of a conspiracy theory, is to highlight the danger of the current consensus about the danger of conspiracy theorising. If people are afraid to speculate without evidence, for fear of being labelled mental defectives, then the official version automatically becomes the truth. (“Official” needs to be taken in a large sense. There’s an “official” version of the Trump/Russia collusion story, unsupported by Mueller or the government, jut as there’s an “official” version of climate catastrophe, supposedly supported by “the science,” though defended by very few actual scientists.)

    Speculation about the first Kennedy assassination was carried out in a very public manner, being discussed seriously in serious media outlets. Speculation about 9/11 much less so, and speculation about the Salisbury poisonings hardly at all. No-one likes being labelled a tinfoil hat wearing flat earther, with the result that sensible people suspend their judgement, leaving the field free to the tinfoil hat wearing flat earthers. Of course most most conspiracy theories are stupid. That’s because most people are stupid, on all sides of any argument.

    For the moment it seems that Notre Dame has been saved by a miracle; and so has Macron’s political future. Macron has personally and publicly linked the two monumental events. That’s worth commenting on. If inflammable woodworm killer is responsible as Vinny Burgoo suggests, well, that’s an important advance in our scientific understanding. I hope history records that it was first proposed here.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Geoff, granted. But time, and so the emergence of relevant information of which some may represent actual factual evidence, plus a range of involved perspectives for comparison, inquiry outputs, potential observations of defensiveness or other cover-up actions, etc etc. is key for helping separate tinfoil hat stuff from questions that have some reasonable basis in reality (whether eventually these happen to be proved right or wrong). So an example where the embers are still warm, is not most supportive of the point. You note the climate catastrophe case but there are several decades of emergence / threads to chew on here, and no need whatever for speculation absent evidence in order to challenge authority consensus; considering that even mainstream science doesn’t support imminent climate catastrophe for instance, then all its evidence counts against and not for, the highest authority / widest public narrative, along with much more. It’s likely regarding ND that the authorities emphasised the accidental exactly in order to avoid an emotive reaction of public scapegoating (that’s mostly likely to occur spuriously before any real information emerges to fill the vacuum) e.g. of Islam via terrorism. But whatever, one would certainly hope that emergence per above angles does actually take place.


  19. Andy, I believe that, if the authorities had held fire (excuse the unintentional pun) on ruling out arson and declaring that the investigation was basically one which would be looking at accidental causes, then the inevitable speculation about foul play might actually have been dampened down slightly. As it is, the rush not to attribute blame seems unseemly and suspiciously hasty. As you point out, there was no real need to commit either way, pending the emergence of hard evidence from a presumably extremely rigorous investigation. Like I say, trust in government and the establishment is at an all time low. Their behaviour only serves to increase this mistrust, not to lessen it. I for one am curious to discover how arson could be ruled out before even the fire has been put out completely.


  20. Jaime,

    Well they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they’d said the investigation was already kicked off but *hadn’t* added that it was ‘likely’, or ‘believed to be’ or ‘probably’ (or similar, there’s different wording across different outlets) an accident (which is not uncommon in renovations), then there’d immediately be massive speculation and pressure regarding potential culprits. While the intent can also backfire to some extent, I’d guess it’s the lesser of two evils. Of course nothing can be ruled out without evidence, but I haven’t seen any official wording that actually does this, albeit within a thousand headline writers some will likely change the emphasis.


  21. Very OT: Is it OK if I dump a transcript of the full Sky News Boulton/Boardman interview here? It’s from a video that has now disappeared from Sky’s YouTube channel (presumably for commercial reasons rather than sabotage by Macron et/ou les gilets jaunes).

    I used to use Zippyshare links for such things but that’s been blocked in the UK since last month (presumably for commercial reasons rather than anything to do with woodworm).


  22. Buildings ARE more likely to catch fire during construction and subsequent maintenance work.

    The oak should have been very dry and combustible. There may have been 5? 50? 500? years of dust, old oils, preservatives, waxes, polishes etc.

    There will have been a powerful up draught of air to fan the flames, and take the flames and heat further up.

    Apart from the roof structure, there isn’t very much that can burn inside a medieval church, until it is furnished with pews, paintings, tapestries, religious paraphernalia etc.

    With plastered masonry vaulted ceilings beneath the roof structure, how would anyone inside notice a fire?

    How was the alarm initially triggered and over ridden?

    Was it people on the outside that were the first to notice smoke/flames? If so, the fire may have been smouldering for hours without anyone noticing minor wisps of smoke rising through gaps along the roof ridge line

    My semi-educated guesswork places “negligence” at the top of the likely causes. Gauloise or Gitanes?

    It would suit Macron if he could blame his enemies.

    In the UK, Listed Buidings/Ancient Monuments et al would insist on like-for-like reconstruction.

    Leaded windows do allow some flexibility to absorb expansion within heated glass. Large paned windows tend to shatter


  23. GolfCharlie. Clearly if there is to be a competition between architects for the best design for a replacement spire (announced by Macron) there is no intention to necessarily replace like for like in the Notre Dame restoration.
    The enormous problem (or even impossibility) of sourcing hundreds of tonnes of seasoned oak timbers may mean using alternative materials like steel. I read that the fire consumed wood from 1300 separate trees.
    Macron’s promise to restore the cathedral in five years must be a desire to have the work completed before the Paris Olympics. If restoration requires using seasoned oak, I can’t see how this time limit can be adhered to.


  24. Hans,

    “Please don’t feed Lewandowsky”.

    I would argue in defence that it is rather inevitable that conspiracy theories have taken hold in today’s media controlled world, where official narratives are so heavily plugged, often accompanied by dubious evidence, as the ONLY narratives worthy of serious consideration whilst deviation from the official narrative is increasingly censured by the establishment as “hate speech”, socially harmful, anti-science etc. Lewandowsky is part of this establishment.

    “An examination of the media‘s systemic failure would draw attention to its actual role in society as a tool of mass persuasion on behalf of the ruling elite. Perhaps if the official doctrines of the over-staged Warren and 9/11 Commission Reports were not treated as articles of faith, people wouldn’t be suspicious of a rogue shadow government hidden behind such obvious dog-and-pony shows. If there is no incriminating evidence in the JFK files, why on earth is the public forbidden to see them half a century later?

    Instead, it is the working class who are demonized for expressing the human need to grasp the social totality denied by a corporate-controlled media that performs the opposite of its expected function. They are left with no choice but to fill in the enormous blanks left gaping by a press in service of the status quo and a government with no transparency. It is always the people who are blamed for the media’s failure to do its job.”

    What is a “conspiracy theory” anyway? One man’s obsessive, dysfunctional ideologically-driven “conspiracist ideation” is another man’s [actually, rather a lot of men’s and women’s] widely held belief:

    “The same can be said across the pond or for the West in general. Look no further than a recent article in British newspaper The Guardian alleging that “60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories.” Its definition of ‘conspiracy’ is so broad that it doesn’t simply refer to beliefs about UFOs or the moon landing, but a general distrust of institutions, official narratives and authority figures in any form.

    The article then conflates Brexit voters who hold anti-immigrant views with anyone polled who believes that “the world is run by a secret global cabal of people who control events together”, and then almost comically states “the most widespread conspiracy belief in the UK, shared by 44% of people, was that ‘even though we live in what’s called a democracy, a few people will always run things in this country anyway.’”

    That is to say, The Guardian regards a view generally held by most rational people with an accurate understanding of life under capitalism as a ‘conspiracy’ belief equivalent to racism.”

    When did the term “conspiracy theory” first emerge and for what purpose was the label employed?

    “The term ‘conspiracy theory’ itself is a weapon. Its use is so ubiquitous that it automatically implies unconvincing improbability and worthiness of dismissal. How and when did it come to be so widely dispersed in the cultural lexicon? In the 1970s, the CIA had been the subject of numerous scandals with disclosures about its activities ranging from meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries to administering mind-control experiments on citizens in MK-ULTRA. The revelations about its clandestine influence on the press was yet another divulgence. It turns out that a likely possibility for the genesis of the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ and its far-reaching dissemination was revealed in an important 1976 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The New York Times in CIA Document 1035–960.

    The dispatch showed that by the late 1960s, the spy agency was so worried about pervasive skepticism toward the Warren Commission ruling that it issued a bulletin to its elite liaisons in the press to quell subversion. Entitled “Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report”, the communique encouraged the fourth estate to discredit doubters by spreading propaganda. It specifically employed the term while stressing the need to rein in dissenting opinion among journalists and the public:”


  25. Jaime,

    Conspiracy theories have always existed, even though they haven’t always been so handily named. They are in part a feature of cultural resistance, from which both apt innate skepticism and inapt innate skepticism arise, hence the source of that which we consider both good / healthy questioning of authority, and bad / unhealthy ‘denial’. Neither are these anything to do with reasoned skepticism (in most socially conflicted topics, e.g. climate change, the public doesn’t have enough knowledge to exercise reason about the conflict anyhow). The common root of something that can be both good and bad is not generally appreciated. In their measurement of conspiracy theory since 1890 (via newspaper letter columns), Uscinski and Parent found no twenty-first-century surge in paranoid thinking: ‘On the contrary, averaging out the short-term ups and downs, they conclude that the amount of “conspiracy talk” has remained constant since the nineteen-sixties and has actually declined since the eighteen-nineties: “We do not live in an age of conspiracy theories and have not for some time.” That we believe we do makes sense, since that sentiment, too, is a constant.’ Indeed there’s some evidence that citizens of ancient Rome and Egypt and other old civilisations similarly believed that they were living in an age of conspiracy overload; this itself is tied to endemic emotive memes such as ‘our times are special’, ‘we are special’, where ‘special’ can be special good or special bad, or both, but in fact no times are special (these memes contribute to the climate change cultural narrative too). The ‘letters from heaven’ chain letter examples date back to the heiroglyphs and sometimes feature conspiracy theory. I guess the ‘good’ part of the root is what you (and Geoff) are emphasising, i.e. *apt* innate skepticism, but this doesn’t change the likelihood on evidence that our age features no more conspiracy theorizing than any other, and possibly somewhat less, plus that most conspiracy theories are in fact bonkers. It does highlight the fact that this is a price worth paying to provide the healthy resistance that prevents unhealthy cultural (so typically elite too) dominance, and also more healthy change (static is bad). If there was a way to accomplish such balancing without conspiracy theories, this would be good, but any system consciously contrived (including science, the law, etc) can still be subverted by culture (periodically and / or in certain domains), so instinctive resistance is a guaranteed backstop safeguard despite the price, because long evolution has ensured its strange operation can never be silenced.


  26. Alan Kendall, Yes, agree entirely. I guessed Easter in 5 years on Bishop Hill. The masonry is not a problem that cannot be solved with enough money (possibility of some minor structural damage and cleaning or replacement of protruding elements) The structural timber is another matter.

    It could be resolved to “appear” similar, with GluLam (Glue Laminated) timber, carved and stained. A design competition suggests it is NOT to be replicated, as would be required in the UK.


  27. Mark Steyn has an interesting and rather darkly humorous post on the Notre Dame blaze.

    Beyond that are the larger questions: When the iconic house of worship at the heart of French Christianity decides to mark Holy Week by going up in flames, it’s too obviously symbolic of something …but of what exactly? Two thousand churches have been vandalized in the last two years: Valérie Boyer, who represents Bouches-du-Rhône in the National Assembly, said earlier this month that “every day at least two churches are profaned” – by which she means arson, smashed statutes of Jesus and Mary, and protestors who leave human fecal matter in the shape of a cross. This is a fact of life in modern France.

    As it is, there is no shortage of excitable young Mohammedans gleefully celebrating on social media. In 2017 some inept hammer-wielding nutter yelling “Allahu Akbar!” had a crack at Notre Dame, and a couple of years before that the historian Dominique Venner blew his brains out on the altar to protest same-sex marriage. I love France but, in recent years, it’s hard not to pick up on the sense that it’s coming apart – and that, when the center cannot hold, the things at that center, the obsolete embodiments of a once cohesive society, are a natural target.

    In addition, the authorities’ eagerness to assure us that it was an accident at a time when such a conclusion could not possibly be known – and when their own response to the emergency was, to put it politely, somewhat dilatory – was itself enough to invite suspicion: “Sure, it might be an accident. But, even if it weren’t, they’d still tell us it was…”

    So, precisely because Paris is full of people who would love to burn down Notre Dame four days before Good Friday, it seems bizarrely improbable that it should happen by accident: that a highly desirable target should be taken out by some slapdash workman leaving a cigarette butt near his combustible foam take-out box – the lunchpack of Notre Dame – and letting the dried-out twelfth-century timbers do the rest.

    [My bold]

    “The lunchpack of Notre Dame”. Love that.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Jaime Jessop, I am confident that there were “Défense de Fumer” signs, and no French Workman would ignore them.
    It may not have been a French branded cigarette
    It may not have contained tobacco anyway.
    The Fire must therefore have been caused by Global Warming

    Liked by 2 people

  29. “…at a time when such a conclusion could not possibly be known…”

    So indeed the prosecutor, a role only involved when the possibility of culpability is present, whether by negligence or intent, did not draw a conclusion. From Tuesday:

    “Nothing suggests that it was a voluntary act … We are favoring the theory of an accident,” Heitz told reporters, adding that a team of 50 people were working on a probe into how the fire started. He said the investigation would likely be “long and complex.”

    The purpose of which investigation is to confirm or deny such a theory, and in either case determine the maximum details still retrievable. He needn’t have declared which option he thought the odds favoured; per above, damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. Will be interesting to see what emerges.


  30. Is it known whether Notre Dame is still sealed off as a Crime Scene, as would be the case in the UK, or is it a “secured site” for public safety and to prevent looting or other crimes being committed?

    I appreciate there are major differences between French and UK Law, and how matters are investigated etc, but I have no real idea about how the French go about it.


    Many thanks for those two videos. The second is an interview with a retired ex chief architect on the site. The interviewer is France’s most well know TV new presenter. Somehow the information doesn’t seem to be circulating as you might expect.

    Today’s news is that the investigators found workers who admitted smoking on the site. They also found seven cigarette ends. Must be made of the same material as the hijacker’s passport that fell out of the plane that hit the twin towers.

    The latest theory is sparks from a short circuit from electric bells which the church authorities installed against the advice of the renovators. When you see the German woodworker failing to light an oak beam with petrol and a blow torch, you have to wonder…

    I won’t speculate any more. I’ve got to get my application for French citizenship in before Brexit.


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