Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Burning Question: Do I Believe in Strange Things?

Believing in ghosts has a certain stigma attached to it, something like the "stigma" of being observed in Central Park with wild hair and no pants accusing people of stealing your squirrel. So does belief -- I don't really like the term, but maybe we'll get to that in a later post -- in anything even vaguely out of the ordinary, physically speaking. If you tell people you think it's possible we may have been spotted a time or two by UFOs, or that you just think there's something out there that's unexplained, you'll either get a story out of them or a ghastly roll of the eyes and a newfound concern about whether you're cool enough to hang out with any more.

I'm well aware of the lack of absolute evidence for X-Files phenomena. And I admit that deciding what you think about them may be more of a litmus test for your personality than a meaningful gauge of the truth of the matter. When I hear a story, I'm usually more compelled by the idea that it was true than the humdrum business of pointing out that it sounds like an urban legend. I'd rather let my imagination get carried away than be a wet blanket, which may be why I'm such a fantastic writer. When someone tells me about something that happened to them -- and I've heard a few pretty good ones, from people who just aren't the type to make things up -- my first instinct is to say "Wow," not "Oh, brother, what a rube you are." That's just me. But that doesn't amount to proof of anything.

No amount of accumulated anecdote will satisfy skeptics, unless they're skeptics who just haven't heard the right one. So I fear it's pointless to post links to records of multiple people who don't know each other telling the same story about the same incident on the same day etc. etc. because as intriguing and suggestive as they are, especially considered as an aggregate, they aren't nearly enough to overcome the doubting Thomases, who demand to know what ghosts are made of and how the aliens got here and where the tape recorder is hidden. I also fear that videos taken by, for instance, the Mexican Air Force will carry little water because the green men do not pop out of the hatch and speak English. And should the Mexican defense minister believe that evidence is worthy of publication, well, who's ever heard of the Mexican Air Force anyway?
In an exclusive interview with the La Prensa newspaper, Maussan stated that the Secretary of National Defense himself, Ricardo Clemente Vega Garcia, authorized the broadcast of this material to both domestic and foreign news media.

According to the researcher, the encounter occurred on March 5, when an aircraft belonging to the Mexican Air Force, a Merlin C26/A, was engaged in drug interdiction patrols. At around 17:00 hours it detected the presence of 11 objects following it.
Furthermore, were there to have been an especially strange and exceedingly well-documented case, with literally hundreds of witnesses and adjoining photos and videos, in my old stomping ground not too many years ago, I'd worry that highlighting it would just seem like a strange form of bragging to point it out.

When the "Phoenix Lights" were reported last year, I yawned. I didn't see them, and breathless TV broadcasts were underwhelming. It seemed easy enough to dismiss the lights as flares or military aircraft. UFOs? You've got to be kidding.

Still, as the March 13 anniversary of the sightings approached, I was curious enough to seek out some witnesses. I suspected most would turn out to be UFO devotees. My skepticism was heightened by a New Times story last week that debunked the extraterrestrial theorizing and discredited a leading local theorist, Jim Dilettoso, as a "quack scientist."

I found several people with credible credentials who witnessed the lights. At the least, their stories are interesting. Even if you regard their accounts dubiously, as I do, they raise legitimate questions.

Enough questions, says Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, that what happened that night "may rank as the most dramatic UFO event in the past 50 years."

First, a little background. The lights were spotted between 7:30 and 10:30 in the evening over a 300-mile corridor from the Nevada line through Prescott Valley and Phoenix to the northern edge of Tucson. Some reports indicate that a single "V" formation traveled across the state, while others suggest multiple UFO events. The lights were seen by hundreds of people.

Here are four: Dr. Bradley Evans, 47, is a clinical psychiatrist from Tucson. He and his wife, Kris, were driving north on Interstate 10 to a swimming meet in Tempe. They watched the lights for 20 minutes or so move slowly south in a diamond formation and pass over them at an estimated 1,500 feet. Even then, with the car's moon roof open, they heard not a sound from the sky. He was "awed" by the experience and has no idea what he saw. Kris said she couldn't explain it either and guesses it was "something military."

Trig Johnston, 50, is a retired commercial airline pilot who lives in north Scottsdale. His 22-year-old son was looking for Comet Hale-Bopp that night when he noticed the lights and told his dad.

"I looked up and remember saying out loud, "I'm going to chalk this up to an illusion.' It was the size of 25 airliners, moving at about 100 knots at maybe 5,000 feet, and it didn't make a sound.

I've flown 747s across oceans and not seen anything like I saw that night," Johnston said.

"I don't expect anybody to take my word for it," he added. "This was something you had to see for yourself to believe."

Max Saracen, 34, is a real estate consultant who lives in north Phoenix. He and his wife, Shahla, were driving west on Deer Valley Road when they saw a huge triangular craft. They pulled off the road, got out and watched it pass overhead. "It was very spooky -- this gigantic ship blocking out the stars and silently creeping across the sky. I don't know of any aircraft with silent engines."

Dr. X is a physician who lives near Squaw Peak in Phoenix and asked to remain anonymous for fear of ridicule.

Her home has an elevated, panoramic view of the Valley, and she has some of the best known videotape and photographs of the lights. Though she had no prior interest in UFOs, the episode prompted her to begin her own investigation.

"I think what happened is mind-boggling," she said. "I'm trying to be as scientific as I can, and a number of things just don't compute."

I'm not given to an otherworldly answer. But neither do I think these four people and so many others who saw the lights are all exaggerating or delusional.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ten Most Censored Countries

Even I didn't know Equatorial Guinea was a dictatorship, and I actually pay a lot of attention to this stuff. And guess who else is on the list: my old bete noir, Belarus. I've been saying it and saying it. Yet more proof that I know, sadly, what I'm talking about.

If you're curious, the United States didn't make it. I should hope not, since it's my meal ticket we're talking about. Although I have noticed the company cutting out my references to "delicious watermelons" and "sweet molasses-candied yams" and "fresh, clear Georgia moonshine" in my stories about Army land encroachment buffer programs, which I certainly think is censorship. They don't feed us! Ever! What else are we going to end up thinking about all day?

Quick Update: I did a little checking on this Equatorial Guinea situation, and sure enough, it's a one-man system that has the good fortune to have discovered oil. That's how you get decades of human rights abuses -- an economy that gets free money from the outside world and doesn't have to develop a middle class. (That's what we have in Saudi Arabia, for instance.)

The country's official Web site has this to say: "The Equatorial Guinea government is composed of representatives from 9 different political parties and several minority ethnic groups." When they're trumpeting their pluralism so gamely, you know something's amiss. Namely: "The Government did not prosecute any members of the security forces considered responsible for unlawful killings in previous years, nor is it likely to do so." You'd be surprised how easy that was to find.

And Bombs Are What That Attitude Gets You

This article about the leader of Hezbollah, the current and probably eternal target of Israel's military wrath, isn't very long or penetrating, but it does have one of the most interesting quotes I've ever read about the Arab world:
"Nasrallah is doing what Arab governments are unwilling or incapable of doing — fighting Israel. He is embarrassing them," said Vali Nasr, an expert on Shiites who lectures on national security affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif.

"Many people in the Middle East reward courage, not wisdom," said Nasr.
There you have it. I don't know about you, but it has the ring of truth to me, and beyond that I don't feel I have anything to add to the war discussion.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A New Friend! A New Friend!

Lest anyone neglect the comments section -- and why would you do that, with all the sparkling repartee? -- check out "Hat Tip and Headlines." I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Slam Dunk

Like DailyKos says, who needs pundits when we have political cartoonists who can tell the future three years in advance? This would normally be a flippant question, but in this case it's very serious. Because the cartoonist had this one pegged on the nose.

To Care About Politics, or Not to Care

I had a dispiriting conversation with a friend from work yesterday. We're journalists, mind you, and we know more than your average Joe about what's going on in this town. We talk to "officials" and "sources" and "spokespeople," and we follow how things get done and what the powerful do with their power. And this guy is no slouch upstairs -- never mind military environmental policy, the stuff he writes about is obscure. And he does very well. So he should know when he's being sold a snow job.

And yet, he came out with the old "both the Democrats and Republicans do it" line that drives me crazy like nothing else. I just do not understand where this comes from. This guy has made no secret of the fact that he doesn't like living here, and he's said it's about the phoniness of the people and the dispiriting abuses of authority. That's fine. I haven't lived here as long as he has, and I'm sure he's seen his share of phonies. But he uses this, in his mind, to tell himself that all politics, all politicians and all political arguments are essentially the same species of bullshit. He believes the Democrats lie as often and as badly as the Republicans. I got him to say a Democrat probably wouldn't be tapping peoples' phones, but that was it. And that's sad. I think my subsequent rant made some headway with him -- I never stammered and everything I said made sense -- but what I really, really needed just then was to show him this video of Bush. Because it says it all. He scripted an interview with some soldiers and then pretended it was a spontaneous, warmly humorous episode that displayed his common touch. Not only was the administration outed as having written the entire thing ahead of time, Bush comes off looking like a complete idiot, like he's struggling to remember a few simple lines.

Show me a serious Democrat -- a presidential contender -- who could have foisted this performance on the public, and I'll show you a Manchurian Candidate.

The Agony of Human Contact

Should I feel bad that I followed this entire Dungeons and Dragons Stephen Colbert rant without missing a beat? I mean, I even know what a Displacer Beast looks like.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Very Hard Case

Tell you what: you read the first three paragraphs of this, and if you're not curious to read the rest, feel free to skip it. But let me tell you, it is a complicated pill to swallow. Saddam's "poison master" -- you read that right -- may have essentially been abused to death by American soldiers. You have to read the rest to understand just how insane and evil this guy was, and what the evidence for and against the charges is, so that you know why this is an interesting (though appalling) case. Of course if we hadn't invaded, this guy would still be plying his trade and we wouldn't have to ask ourselves these questions.

Among all the former henchmen of Saddam Hussein, there may have been no man more deserving of the death penalty than Dr. Muhammad Munim al-Azmerli. For decades, he allegedly served as Iraq's poison master, brewing potions for political assassinations out of ricin, snake venom and nitrogen mustard. He tested his wares on prisoners of the Baathist regime, as many as 100 individuals altogether, including Iranians, Kurds and a Saudi Arabian, according to declassified U.S. intelligence reports. His compatriots said he would feed detainees poisoned food, test explosives on the living and give prisoners drugs that caused memory loss and sexual dysfunction. Those who survived were often killed.

But Azmerli never got the chance to face the justice he deserved. He died at the age of 65 in a U.S. military hospital near Baghdad on Jan. 31, 2004, the only Iraqi weapons scientist known to have died in American custody. The neurosurgeon who examined him in the final days of his life said he was suffering from two separate brain hemorrhages. One had been caused days earlier when he allegedly fell from his hospital bed onto the floor. The second hemorrhage, which was considered life threatening on its own, had been caused more than three weeks earlier when Azmerli was in U.S. military custody, according to doctors' statements to Army investigators. After two years, and two separate investigations, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command classified Azmerli's death as "undetermined," and closed his case in September 2005.

This summer, Salon began its own investigation into the circumstances surrounding Azmerli's death, raising new questions about the causes of his injuries and the quality of the CID criminal inquiries. In response to these questions, the Army decided this week to open a third investigation into the death of Saddam's poison master. "Your inquiry prompted us to do another review of the case," said CID spokesman Christopher Grey on Thursday. "The investigative report was prematurely closed due to operational tempo." Grey would not comment on the specific focus of the third investigation.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Something worth reading

This post by David Neiwert.

Hat Tip and Headlines

In the blogworld, a hat tip is the equivalent of warmly shaking hands, embracing the Other as a friend, and generally is the nicest thing you can do for a person. I tip my hat to Nolo, who kept Lapplander fresh and juicy while I was dithering elsewhere and playing Hemingway. (I wasn't even, really -- I need to get back on the creative writing wagon.) In her honor I dedicate this latest headline roundup.

Voting Rights Amendment Fight Splits GOP

This is plain ridiculous, and is an indication that not only are some Republicans certifiable jackasses but that the party's much-ballyhooed discipline in Congress is no more. Want proof? (The baddie here is Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Wonderland.)
One of the conservatives supporting changes to the Voting Rights Act said GOP leaders were "playing politics" with a law that is unfairly targeting his home region because of its past — and failing to account for progress in racial relations." Do you think we treat Japan or Germany differently [because of World War II]?" asked Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia. "Do we treat the British any differently because of the Stamp Act? … If we're going to do that, then let's go back to the Indians and say they butchered Custer.

If we want to rely on everything we do in government based on history, then we'd have a screwed-up place, if you ask me," Westmoreland added. "Because what they're saying is nobody can ever do better."

One House leadership aide, who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of the negotiations, said that top Republicans had "had a lot of engagement" with Westmoreland and others who launched the unexpected rebellion.

But sighing at the turn of events since the renewal first sailed through the House Judiciary Committee this year, the aide added: "The reason we brought this whole thing up is to show people we're for extending the Voting Rights Act. Instead, we created our own problem."
Esquire Magazine Writes a Truly Terrible McCain Piece

It has a lot of unnecessary swearing, for one thing, including a weirdly repetitive mention of dog feces, but is interesting for the way it reveals how a lot of journalists still see McCain. Check out the link, which references some of the funnier bits and in turn links to the full article.

Justice Department: "The President is Always Right"

Unlike the jokes and mockumentaries you may see at Daily Kos, this quote is absolutely 100 percent verbatim accurate. Which is unnerving.

The Administration Wanted Phone Records Before 9/11

Pretty much says it all. The money quotes:
The U.S. National Security Agency asked AT&T Inc. to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site seven months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, lawyers claimed June 23 in court papers filed in New York federal court.

The allegation is part of a court filing adding AT&T, the nation's largest telephone company, as a defendant in a breach of privacy case filed earlier this month on behalf of Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. customers. The suit alleges that the three carriers, the NSA and President George W. Bush violated the Telecommunications Act of 1934 and the U.S. Constitution, and seeks money damages.


I had tickets to a concert with The Roots, Talib Kweli and Pharcyde on Thursday night. For those of you who don't know who they are, my hint is that with their type of music, the end of one line usually rhymes with the end of the next line.

But I couldn't get in because of this damn losing the wallet fiasco, since I didn't have a valid ID. All I had (and of course my replacement driver's license showed up Friday morning in the mail) was my International Student Identification Card, which by lucky chance was taken out of my wallet with a paw's full of other stuff just before it went missing. The good man checking the line for underage wannabe MCs was not amused, since it looks, I admit, like I bought it at a store, which in fact he accused me of. (His actual words: "That's not a real ID. You bought that at a store. Terry, we got ID trouble here.") Shamefaced, and out the $20, I thought about joining a bunch of protesters across the street, just for fun and to have something to do until the show ended and I could get a ride home. They were upset because Kool Cigarettes was sponsoring the show -- I don't know if Kool actually made a cut of the profits; probably -- and had I known that, I may have even decided not to go, so I thought it was a worthy cause, and it's been a while since I raised any real hell. But they were packing up their operation since the line was almost all inside at that point, and although there was some exciting talk of a "Midnight Madness" or something that was happening at a Marriott somewhere, I decided to get a cab home.

The first cabbie to appear was a Venezuelan gentleman named Roger. He had a German last name that I won't repeat for privacy reasons, but there you have it. He spent a few moments complimenting all the girls getting into the club, which I thought was actually kind of endearing and all-American of him, and then we were off to the races. And the funny thing was, we told each other ghost stories all the way back to my place, which was not close by. One of his true ones, about a friend renting an apartment and the basement having a creepy feeling, and then hearing footsteps on the stairway when there was no one there, and then finding out someone had hung himself down there. . . Well, you kind of had to be there to hear the sincerity in his voice. I don't care what anyone says, I believe at least half the ghost stories out there. The people who roll their eyes and say "Come on" every single time are the ones who aren't paying attention to reality.

So, to wind up, I came home and had a Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, not only to calm my haunted nerves but to savor the fine oatmeal finish, and watched a Red Sox game my roommate was already engrossed in. It went 11 innings and I apparently fell asleep on the couch. I woke up around 5 a.m. Friday morning and didn't get back to sleep before work, so that was a pip. It did have the unexpected bonus of giving me time to cook a big breakfast with my groceries for once. It was delicious.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Could it get any more entertaining than this?

Courtesy of TPMmuckraker, it appears that the GOP nominee for Lieberman's senate seat has a habit of counting cards, badly. Moreover, even now that he's been outed, he's refusing to withdraw as the GOP candidate. More here, because no paraphrase of mine can do it justice.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Now available on DVD. If you haven't seen it already, here's your chance.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Paul Hackett gets a clue

Former Ohio senate hopeful Paul Hackett, darling of out-of-state progressives everywhere, has decided to close ranks with his former primary opponent. According to the Associated Press,

Paul Hackett said on Monday that he blames himself for fomenting discord within the party and that he was hurting himself and his former primary opponent, Rep. Sherrod Brown, by sulking over the way his primary challenge ended in February. The two rallied in Cincinnati in Monday to show their new unity.

"It's totally unproductive for me to be largely responsible for this antagonistic relationship between me and Sherrod," Hackett told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday.

All I have to say is it's about time.

<Ed. note: Humorlessly edited for format by Lapp.>

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Back in the Pink, And Already Linking to Bad News

My computer had a virus. Now it's gone. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't free, but it did have the effect of making me live for more than a week without a home computer, and I have to say I somehow didn't miss it one bit. I probably would have over the long term, but I went to the gym more often, hung out with my friends more after work and generally even enjoyed my time in my room more than usual by listening to music and writing by hand. Now there's a lost art.

Anyway, foreign policy experts from liberal to conservative have weighed in at their favorite magazine (Foreign Policy) to give their take on the effect our actions are having on the terrorism front. The news: pretty much everything Bush is doing is hurting us big time, including Guantanamo, the war in Iraq, and energy policy (think oil), as well as a few you wouldn't expect. This isn't an ideologically slanted poll (or magazine, for that matter -- I rather like it, although it's a bit dry), so you know they're onto something.
These dark conclusions appear to stem from the experts’ belief that the U.S. national security apparatus is in serious disrepair. “Foreign-policy experts have never been in so much agreement about an administration’s performance abroad,” says Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and an index participant. “The reason is that it’s clear to nearly all that Bush and his team have had a totally unrealistic view of what they can accomplish with military force and threats of force.”