When Weirdos Ask Good Questions

March 2, 2007

Against my better judgment, I’m becoming a fan of Coast to Coast with George Noory.

You know, whacko overnight radio.

Radio where people call in claiming to be psychics or have visions of Armageddon. People who have had sex with aliens. Lotcoast_to_coast.jpgs of conspiracies are forwarded, nearly all of which Noory seems to agree with.

It’s the old Art Bell show. (Semi-retired Bell only hosts the show on Sundays, typically).

The show is good from the get-go, from the moment the deep-voiced announcer gravely intones the various continental phone numbers: “West of the Rockies, George Noory can be reached at…”

A whole vast sweeping continent in the midnight dark ready to tell ghost stories. It just gives you a chill.

I find myself drawing the curtains, lest I be startled by a peeping grey alien.

Red Elk the shaman discusses his dreams of a coming cataclysm. Indian mythology, Jesus and aliens all get jumbled together in a tasty melange.

Breaking news.grey_alien.jpg Seven-foot-tall reptilian beings have been spotted in the French Quarter in New Orleans. No, it’s not Mardi Gras. The witnesses are credible, so verifies the guest UFOlogist.

Somehow, amid of all this Weekly World News fodder, a seemingly legit story manages to find its way into the mix.

Did you know that honeybees are disappearing, en masse?

That’s right. The honeybees that pollinate vast swaths of American agriculture land are flying off and simply not returning to their colonies. Absent massive numbers of bee corpses, where are the bees dropping dead?

This is not a bogus story. It has made CNN and the pages of the New York Times. Pesticides, genetic mutation, global warming? Nobody knows why it’s happening. But the effects on the honey industry and on agriculture in general could be devastating.

And I wouldn’t have known anything about it if I hadn’t listened to Coast to Coast.

My old reporter’s instincts told me to check and verify with other sources, and so I did.

But the danger of shows like Coast to Coast, of course, is that the ignorant and gullible don’t know when to distinguish the fantasies and the lunatic conspiracies from the legitimate stories.

But tabloid radio is little different from the mainstream media in that regard, as old-line TV networks sell out their hard-news reputations for celebrity gossip “specials,” pedophile-entrapment series’ and opinion shows masquerading as news.

It really takes an enquiring mind to sift the wheat from the chaffe.

Another good example is Alex Jones’ Infowars site.

Jones’ perspective/worldview is of the old right-wing (non-neocon), libertarian, isolationist sort. Which means among Jones’ loopy, looney labyrinthine coalex_jones-bw.jpgnspiracy theories about the evils of the New World Order and big government, he is nonetheless asking a lot of surprisingly good and hard-hitting questions. Questions which governments and the mainstream media have not satisfactorily answered.

Take a cursory glance at his site and you’ll see a lot of points on which to agree. It’s just his over-arching conspiracy construct that taints some otherwise good observations.

Jones is presently battling the BBC over a provocative 9/11 conspiracy incident that makes the British network look like an accessory to an evil plot.

Jones and other 9/11 conspiracy buffs allege that many minutes prior to the collapse of World Trade Center Building Number 7 (the Salomon Brothers building), a BBC reporter announced its collapse on the air. Somehow the BBC had been “tipped off” but then mis-timed the collapse announcement.

Yet at the same time the reporter announces the collapse, a time-stamped video shows the building still standing, directly behind her left shoulder. It’s on the web, you can see it for yourself.

What does it prove? Was it merely a mistake, or proof that the building was slated for demolition as part of the fear campaign that would sweep a fascist New World Order into power?

Instead of saying Jones’ allegations are hogwash and offering proof of same, the 9-11.jpgBBC counters with (to paraphrase), “it’s old news, and anyway, we’ve lost our 9/11 tapes.”

The latter statement has raised flags at rival news networks. The idea of a major news operation “losing” or misplacing its 9/11 footage stretches credulity.

Rather than making Jones and other conspiracists eat crow, the BBC has added fuel to the fire. The conspiracy, so it seems, is deeper than previously thought.

The end result: Now it looks like Alex Jones is really on to something.

The 9/11 conspiracy theories don’t persuade me, but they are understandably appealing because they allow people to assign evil to particular cabals. Evil men behind closed doors are methodically and consciously planning world domination.

It’s comforting, in a way, to blame the man behind the curtain. It’s more orderly and understandable than messy everyday reality.

But, in truth, bad things happen in the world for more banal reasons, mainly having to do with the attainment and hoarding of money. Everyday corporate machinations are too dull. Blaming a system is a nebulous prospect for the population. Finding a Darth Vader is much more graspable.

So when you engage the fringe media, enjoy the goofy parts, and think deeply when, occasionally, they hit upon some damned good questions.


When Evil is Confused for Smart

March 2, 2007

He was evil, sure, but he was smart; you can’t deny that.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Charles Keating, Dick Cheney, Ken Lay, you name the guy. All smart guys.hitler-study-map-65per.gif

As Pat Buchanan once observed, Hitler was a bad guy, but he sure had moxie.

Enron—The Smartest Guys in the Room, so the film title goes.

Al Capone was smart because he seized power and got rich by killing the right people and paying the right graft and instilling the proper fear. That guy may not have known much, maybe he didn’t finish school, but boy, he had street smarts.

I keep hearing how people who exploit other people or scam the system or usurp power and tell a big lie to sway large numbers of gullible people are smart. I still hear this every day. Hell, even I say it myself once in awhile.

Nowhere in this practical, survivalist, jungle-law conception of smartness does the notion of wisdom intercede. Were Einstein, Schweitzer, Gandhi or Cesar Chavez not smart for eschewing personal wealth and expending a lot of their energy to make the world better?

einstein-2-75perc.jpgTo me, a smart man is not merely so because of a facility to scheme and hoard. Moxie, cojones or a proficiency for reptilian power maneuvering do not mark a smart man. Wisdom does. A truly smart man is reflective. He sees the world as troubled, looks at the historical and social causes of those troubles and sets out—even at the cost of personal sacrifice—to correct them. To do otherwise consigns the world to the perpetuation of injustice, ignorance, hunger, inequality. Making the world better for all is the smart thing to do. Does a truly smart man want anything less than a cleaner, safer, more tolerant world for his grandchildren to live in?

The smart man (or smart person, to be inclusive) leaves the world better than he found it; not one who builds a a self-accumulated mountain of gold treasure and leaves in his wake a trail of tears, or scarred or poisoned Earth.zordon.jpg

A smart man knows that perpetuating a system that rewards greediness, pettiness, selfishness and ignorance is stupid, and ultimately suicidal.

Do I in my complacency, apathy, conformity and feeling of powerlessness and tendency toward self preservation exhibit the amount of smartness that I should?


Am I a hypocrite?

Yes, but—and there is a but—there is a kernel of wisdom in my self awareness. The possibility of hope and change in my own self-criticism.

It’s something that a lot of so-called smart men never realize.

In the postmodern neocon world, ’60-style idealism that demands change, progress, social justice, et. al., is called naive. The really smart guys, they say, realize that humanity is scum and thus are smart enough to claw and scratch their way to their own material security.

I don’t call that smart. I call it giving up. I call it an insult to the intelligence and potential of the human race.

This is all nothing that wiser people have not said before—nothing better than what the best of the Greek, Roman, Native American, Chinese, German, French and other philosophers have said.

I just felt the need to say it.


My Beef With the ACLU

February 23, 2007

I joined the ACLU around the time the Patriot Act was being rushed through our derelict post-9/11 Congress; during that weird McCarthyite period when pervasive fear of dissent gripped us all.

I felt powerless in the wake of BushCo.’s executive power bush-sieg-heil-60perc.jpggrab and unconstitutional rulings, and so I sent in my small contribution, something like $25 or less, and got my ACLU card to carry.

I did it because I didn’t like the idea that an executive-branch cabal could, on their say-so, declare anyone an enemy combatant or a terrorist and so deprive people of due process and legal representation. This scared me at least as much as potential terrorism.

I wanted to help protect the traditional American notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s something that protects all of us from Salem Witch Hunts, or at least is supposed to. I didn’t like the idea that mere accusation was now equal to guilt. Getting away from that kind of Dark-Age barbarity was why America was founded in the first place. Now, as in the days of old, if you’re branded a criminal, a terrorist or whatever, then you must be one. Never mind allowing the accused proper resources/time/attorney access/and a properly unbiased justice-illustr-25-perc.jpgvenue to have one’s case heard—if and when it would ever be heard. Never mind humane conditions either. Things like the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act are supposed to be prevented by the Constitution. But the Constitution has not been defended and has not been followed by those whose sworn duty it is to defend. Our government has kidnapped people, held them in barbarous conditions, then let them go when they realized the accused were not guilty. Is this the American justice system? It’s what Dick Cheney has called “The Dark Side”—the new gloves-off, no-rules way that we have to fight Terrorism, he argues. When we throw the baby out with the bath water, it seems obvious that the terrorists have won. They’ve won by sitting back and watching our fears cause us to do stupid things against ourselves. Terrorists would certainly cheer another 9/11, but they really don’t need one. If we keep fighting perpetual wars that cost us in the trillions, we will bankrupt ourselves soon enough just as sure as the Soviets bankrupted themselves on military expenditures. If we continue to weaken our Constitution, we will bankrupt ourselves morally. We will no longer be seen as a moral example for the world. We will cave from within.

But that is not what I intended to write.

What I wanted to write concerned a certain religious program I happened to come across this past Sunday morning.

It was a slickly produced anti-ACLU screed filled with half-truths and constant misrepresentations. It was called, “Is the ACLU Good for America?coral-ridge-kennedy-crop.jpg” and it was a “special” segment of the “Coral Ridge Hour” produced by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Coral Ridge Ministries, under the direction of the Rev. James Kennedy.

Kennedy’s war with the ACLU evidently goes back years, as a cursory glance of Google attests. I wish I had written down some of the claims being made on the show, but I was already familiar with the similar stale litany of anti-ACLU canards.

The non-partisan ProCon.org offers a good roundup of the for- and against-ACLU arguments, in relation to specific controversial issues.

Interestingly in nearly all the cases, the anti-ACLU arguments boil down to the kind of this-therefore-that “logic:”

The ACLU seems always to defend criminals, so they must be pro-criminal.

The ACLU seems always to defend pedophiles, so they must promote pedophilia.

The ACLU seems always to defend terrorists, so they must be pro-terrorist.

The ACLU always wants prayer, religious symbols and so on taken out of schools, therefore they are anti-religion.

Rev. Kennedy and his ilk make these kinds of statements and claims because they know they can get away with it and because it will loosen the purses and wallets of those who lack or those who don’t want to exercise their God-given critical thinking skills.

The ACLU has one agenda only, and it is: Is the Constitution being followed?

If not, then they do their best to make sure that it is. Everyone, no matter how heinous they aclu-anti-relig-45perc.jpgmight be, is guaranteed a fair trial. So if the ACLU helps defend an accused child rapist, or an accused terrorist, or a KKK member who wants to march to state his case, that doesn’t mean the ACLU promotes or condones pedophiles, terrorists or white supremacists.

It only means one thing. It means they promote and condone the Constitution. It means that the rules are supposed to be the same for everybody when a case comes to court. Everybody—even the most despised defendant.

How hard is that to grasp?

The good reverend Kennedy might even be surprised to know that the ACLU itself would defend his right to continue making stupid statements. After all, opinions aren’t always based on fully-thought-through logic. People can believe and state that the Earth is flat if they want. The ACLU would defend their right to say so.

The Cool Aqua blog has a few interesting things to say about the Rev. Kennedy’s beef with the ACLU, if you’re so inclined to visit.

So where’s my beef? How has the ACLU done wrong by me? I’m afraid my beef with them is a little more mundane; not so dramatic.

After I sent them my modest contribution, it seems the ACLU squandered it in paper and postage and time trying to get me to give them more money. On top of junk-mail-enviro-60perc.jpgtheir own added mailings, they sold my name and address to practically every other non-profit social justice group in existence, worsening my junk mail input (not to mention the adverse effect on the environment).

So, how much of my contribution went to fighting the assault on our Constitution? Not as much as I had hoped, I’m afraid.

I still agree with the philosophy and efforts of the ACLU, but I declined to remain a member because of the inefficient use of my contribution.

There are probably all kinds of marketing studies that the ACLU can cite to justify their junk mail tactics. For every certain percentage of people who are turned off and drop out because of them, they can probably cite stats that say an even greater number will send more money.

For those of us who don’t have much money—who try to pool it to gain access to places where our voices are drowned out by those with even bigger money—I find it disillusioning. And ironic.

I really want to join the ACLU again, badly. But I don’t like my pathetic few dollars thrown back at me in the form of trash.


War No More

February 16, 2007


[I posted this in early 2007 in the hopes that our derelict Congress would finally do its job of checking and balancing, but a year and a half after the great Democratic sweep they having proven so wimpy and impotent that they’ve managed the amazing feat of garnering themselves even lower approval ratings than Bush himself. I repost this article in memory of my former optimism. -EG]

“The time has passed for accepting this administration’s assurances at face value. The human cost of its repeated assurances is too great.”
(-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.)

Scratching their underarms, stretching and yawning, and batting their sleep-laden eyelids, our hibernating legislators are emerging from their caves to behold with a double-take the wrecked landscape—the result of six years of blissful somnolent denial, of handing the unchecked reins of government to a cultic, fanatical cabal then turning over to snore and get another 400 winks.

Yes, finally, maybe, the Congressional Iraq War debate is a sign that our absentee representatives have checked the alarm clock, seen that the time is way past for them to get up, brush their teeth and hair, dress the part and then hurry up and race to work to get busy and do their jobs, part of which is to check and challenge and, yes, even deny and disallow the extreme inclinations that obsess and self-delude the out-of-touch royals holed up in their fantasy palace of Versailles.

The sacrifice of those delusions is never borne by their well-heeled, secluded, blanket-wrapped originators; only by those easily persuaded or in denial themselves. Now that in our vengeful fury tens of thousands more have died and been injured than in the 9/11 attacks—very few of whom were actual terrorists and none of whom were the original 9/11 terrorists and most of whom have been our soldiers, innocent civilians and people who have since converted to insurgency as the result of our occupation—it is finally time to say enough is enough.

Saddam is dead. The weapons of mass destruction are elsewhere. They are wherever the old Soviet stockpiles are ending up, not in Iraq. Mission Accomplished. We’ve stirred the hornet’s nest; we whipped up this civil war. The glue that kept tribalism at bay, however heinous, is dissolved. We’re traipsing around lumpenly, fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong place, and leaving a mess—one that won’t be cleaned up or cleared up or organized any better or any more efficiently than the derelict and mishandled response to Hurricane Katrina. There are those who say we have to stay and finish what we started. At least they have one thing right, we started it. Neither Osama nor his minions were in Iraq, now they are. The Project for a New American Century couches its realpolitik in grand words, just like Bush. The subtext of the Project’s idealism becomes clear in action: to wage perpetual war. With living wage jobs shipping offshore, war keeps the remaining American business interests fat. It’s quite elegant in a way, send a taxpayer-funded war machine into a country, destroy it, then send more taxpayer dollars into the coffers of the privatized profiteers to “rebuild.” But when is the rebuilding done? When does the broken iraq_war_money.jpgseive that is this gravytrain end? It’s kind circular in a way. My American dollar goes from my wallet into the wallets of Cheney’s pals, ensuring the widening income gap and prepping us all to accept the lower New World Order wagescales. Iraq is the place—appropriately enough, the front—where this money exchange takes place. Like a Mafia money laundering scheme, more money goes in than seems to come out. It has been well known for several years (if you’ve paid any attention to the rightly skeptical alternative media) that $9-plus billion of your taxes have disappeared, unaccounted for, into the nebulous morass that comes with shady bribes and payoffs, no-bid contracts and unaudited overcharges. Only now is some of this actually being addressed.

So congratulations Congress. You’ve finally taken some wobbling, timid steps up to the plate. So hit a good one and bring all the runners in, and bring our young men and women home.