Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Snow Day

Take heed of this and get plenty of rest - Bob Dylan

December is a terrible month for me to get anything done. Not because I'm shifting to holiday mode, but because my family is, while my deadlines shorten and my workload increases. And I'm not even talking about this place, or the book I'm writing adapted from it. (There is a lot I want to get to here, but I keep hitting the snooze button at 2 AM.) And because I'd rather not post at all than make a half-assed attempt at it, I think I'd better change the sign in the window for the next two weeks.

I hope you have a good holiday, and I'll see you, refreshed, in the New Year.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Do You See What I See?"

If a space ship touched down
In my yard I would run
Right towards it, yelling
"Greetings, let's go have some fun!"
- Arthur's Songbook

On the evening of September 27 in the village of Premanon during France's seriously weird year of 1954, a 12-year old named Raymond Romand stepped out of his farmhouse and immediately saw in the yard an apparent humanoid entity "as tall as a door, and shiny, like a wardrobe with a mirror."

It approached Raymond and gently touched him, and he fell to the ground terrified. His nine-year old sister Janine and two other children, who had followed him outside to play, now saw it too. The entity moved away, and Raymond, encouraged by the presence of others, began throwing stones as it left. One sounded as though it struck something metallic. The entity left the yard for a downhill pasture, where the children observed it enter an object they described as a "ball of fire," which soon ascended into the sky.

The children knew their parents and their community well enough to realize this was something best kept to themselves. But the next day at school Raymond told a friend, who told others. When it was overheard by a teacher she called the police. At the spot of the "ball of fire," officers from Saint Claude and Les Rousses found four triangular indentations in the ground and a clearly defined area of compression 12-feet in diameter with grass heavily flattened, like a pinwheel, in a counterclockwise fashion. "In addition," Jacques Vallee writes in Challenge to Science, "a pole fence had been grazed and the bark of a pine tree was scorched five feet above the ground."

But to me, the most interesting aspect of the story is the reaction of Raymond's mother:

Throughout this investigation, Mrs Romand displayed a very strange attitude. She seemed deeply shocked by the whole affair and reluctant to let the interview take place. She refused to believe that Raymond might have seen something. A very pious, devout woman, she stated plainly that "flying saucers" and "Martians" could not exist and that she would rather believe that an evil spirit, or the Devil himself, was prompting her son to lie.... A newspaper reporter who went to Premanon and spoke to the woman remarked that her home was probably one of the few places in France where the subject of "flying saucers" had never been discussed at the dinner table. The children themselves never used the term "saucer" or "Martian." They said and repeated that they had seen a "ghost." The idea of a "flying saucer" was started by the adults in Premanon.

To Mrs Romand it became of paramount importance, for both her family's reputation in the community and her until-then unchallenged assumptions of the way things were, that her son must have made the whole thing up. Think about that for a moment, and you may see what a common response it is to information that transgresses our base-beliefs. Sometimes, the consequences of admitting certain realities are thought to be so grave we would rather believe a loved one a lunatic or a liar for testifying to them.

But Raymond and the children didn't change their story: whatever they had seen, it was what they had seen, and the best reference they had for it was not the "flying saucers" of adults' presumptions but rather, vaguely (and so perhaps most accurately), a "ghost." Raymond was punished for his resistance to admit a lie, and was confined to the house until the episode was behind them and normalcy restored.

Edward Ruppelt, director of Project Blue Book, came to respect the ineffability of the UFO phenomenon, yet he also said "next to the 'insufficient data' file was a file marked 'C.P.' This meant crackpot. Into this file went all reports from people who had...inspected flying saucers that had landed in the United States." To this, Vallee remarks that if "we do not refuse to study the UFO as an aerial object, we cannot logically refuse to study it when it has reported to have landed." Furthermore, "we cannot dispose of the sightings made by pilots, customs officers, and railroad engineers, people who are not prone to go berserk, by saying that they have 'merely' had hallucinations or invented a science fiction story."

We all have our meta-narratives about Life, the Universe and Everything by which we interpret events and perceive trends. We need them if we aspire to critical thought, but we also ought to be conscious of them and of what they represent: they're the mental scaffolding to support our modeling of the world and to build a case about it, they are not the world itself. And so they need to be flexible, and we need to be humble enough to reconfigure them when necessary according to new evidence and fresh insight. If not, we can find ourselves in rabbit holes of our own making that resemble nothing so much as The Princess Bride's battle of wits. ("Truly you have a dizzying intellect." "Wait 'til I get going!")

With respect to UFOs, it's a fairly common parapolitical conceit to subsume the entire phenomenon to mind control, and relegate everything that doesn't fit, Ruppelt-like, to the crackpot file. Such absolutism regards the paranormal as a competing and even threatening meta-narrative: if UFOs and "aliens" have been hoaxed and employed as screen memories, then that's regarded as the depth of their reality. No further investigation is required nor considered beneficial.

The Litvinenko story provides an interesting example of competing meta-narratives. The current Kremlin line is that the former spy was not assassinated, but rather unintentionally poisoned by polonium-210 he was peddling to al Qaeda for use as the trigger for a nuclear bomb. It's fascinating to watch this digested by some in the West who, if told a similar tale by the White House, would probably respond How gullible do they think we are? Polonium makes an unlikely choice of poison, unless the assassination was also a myth-making exercise to suggest the Chechens had the bomb. In any regard, answering the rhetorical Cui bono? is not so easy, unless you want to be a Wallace Shawn about it.

Senator Tim Johnson's critical illness is another. Could it be an assassination attempt? Naturally; it always could be. But let's keep our hypotheses in an open hand, and not a balled fist, especially at this early date. Otherwise our theorizing can lapse into soap opera every bit as unreal, though with the appearance of reality, as "Lonelygirl15"'s flight from a thelema-like cult. (Besides, Johnson's no Paul Wellstone, whom Dick Cheney threatened with "severe ramifications" for voting against the war. And to think the Republicans need another body in order to control the agenda is to mistake parties for partisanship and the Washington consensus for representative democracy. )

And regarding 9/11, "inside job" for some means making the hijackers disappear altogether, and so Daniel Hopsicker's ongoing investigation into Mohamed Atta's deep political demimonde will be dismissed as a "distraction," "disinfo," or a threat best disregarded. Their mental scaffolding has become a fetish, and is incapable of innovation or correction.

We need nimble minds about this stuff, and to always be ready to erect new scaffolding when the old no longer serves us well. And when we see a ghost, perhaps we ought to say we've seen one. Even if we don't believe in them.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Married to the Octopus

It can kill from any distance but you never see it strike - T Bone Burnett

For a long while I resisted the Diana story by the same solipsistic rationale Noam Chomsky resists John Kennedy's: she was inconsequential to me. (As John Judge assesses Chomsky's verdicts on the murders of Kennedy and King, "it's just a function of how much you liked the guy whether he was done in by coincidence or not.") I still find her so, but her slightness of gravity is misleading, because her life and possibly her death were no more about her than my judgement of either should be about me.

If little else is certain beyond the seldom acknowledged fact that Dodi Fayed was the nephew of Adnan Khashoggi, then the late admission that the US Secret Service "was bugging her calls in the hours before she was killed" establishes beyond doubt that this was a person of interest to actors who should be persons of interest to us. It's the kind of disclosure that is usually processed by an incurious media as a fact "that will only fuel conspiracy theories," without asking even the most cursory questions that the new evidence begs, like why were the Americans bugging Diana, for how long before her fatal crash had they been doing so, and is it plausible, as alleged, that they were doing this without a nod and a wink from MI6?

Sometimes you can tell a conspiracy by the high grade of disinformation that accrues about it, including the number and quality of shadowy "renegade insiders" eager to step up, speak out and muddy the waters. For instance, former MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson claimed both driver Henri Paul and photographer James Andanson, whose white Fiat purportedly struck Diana's death car before it lost control, were employed by his agency to spy on the celebrity couple. (Paul of course died in the crash, and Andanson was found dead in the woods three years later, an apparent suicide.) Former CIA agent Oswald LeWinter tried to sell to Mohammed Al Fayed apparently forged documents that spelling out in big, block letters an alleged DIA-MI6 assassination plot. And it may even be true, but to showcase the truth within the framework of a lie is to strip its consideration of credibility. (Regarding LeWinter, Al Fayed's attorney Mark Zaid told CNN six years ago that he "was responsible for disseminating a lot of the - what's been deemed disinformation about [the October Surprise]. He has shown up in allegations that Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered, he has shown up involving allegations of the bombing of Pam Am 103, and then he showed up in this latest endeavor of his. He is quite a man of mystery.")

Another man, and another mystery, though perhaps the same conspiracy, was George Smith:

I lost my job, my house, my wife and children because it all became too much for me... Today I feel under great stress again because the establishment is mounting a campaign against me. They are very powerful and privileged and have lots of money to pay lawyers to prevent me from telling the truth.

Former soldier, and footman and valet to the royals, Smith claimed to have been raped by Prince Charles' close aide Michael Fawcett (Fawcett and Charles, said Smith, were lovers). Diana interviewed Smith and taped his allegations years before they became public - such as they did - though what happened to the tape "became a matter of considerable controversy" upon her death. In a comic act of self-policing, the Prince's senior staff investigated Smith and found his claims without merit and forced his resignation. And then, less than two years after the story broke, Smith was dead of an "unknown illness."

Diana herself was dead three years after composing a letter to her former butler, Paul Burrell, in which she said "this particular phase in my life is the most dangerous. My husband is planning 'an accident' in my car; brake failure and serious head injury." (A few weeks before the crash, the Mercedes had been stolen from the garage of the Ritz Hotel. "Police recovered the car but found that its instrumentation had been tampered with," Kenn Thomas writes in The Octopus. The limo was then reconditioned. LeWinter's likely hoax document notes this, stating that the car was "rebuilt to respond to external radio controls.")

Lord Stevens has "been assured" that the 39 classified documents detailing Diana's final conversations "did not reveal anything sinister or contain material that might help explain her death." To put it another way, those who clandestinely bugged Diana have given their word there is nothing suspicious on the tapes they refuse to release, and that's good enough for the head of Scotland Yard's "exhaustive" inquiry.

Celebrity can blind us to the thing itself, particularly when beauty and youth are weighted with great wealth and generational power. (Paris Hilton's circle of rich and pantiless fembots is almost enough to make "elite mind-controlled sex slave" go mainstream.) That Di and Dodi meant nothing to me only means that I had no reason to wish them dead. Others, I can't speak for.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fairytale of New York

You promised me Broadway was waiting for me - The Pogues

Funny the things that choke people up. For George HW Bush, it's apparently Jeb (though more likely, for the curse-word his family name has become). For me, it's this song. And if it gets to you, too, you may know that December 18 will mark the sixth anniversary of Kirsty MacColl's death.

MacColl and her family were vacationing in Mexico, where she introduced her sons Jamie and Louie to her love of scuba. After one dive in the protected waters of Cozumel's coral reef, the family surfaced into the path of a 31-foot powerboat that had trespassed into the marine park, traveling at greater than 20 knots.

Then 13 years old, Louie remembers what happened:

She suddenly screamed, “Look out!” and tried to push us out of the way. The boat was already over us — I could see the propellers.... I was swimming in Mummy’s blood. I heard Jamie shout, “Where’s Mummy?” I screamed that she’d been hit, and to swim the other way and not look back.

Having desperately pushed her sons to safety, MacColl's back was ripped open by the boat's propeller, virtually severing her chest and left leg. "Apparently the paramedic threw up on arriving at the scene," says her mother, Jean. "But two boys have to live with those last memories of their mother for the rest of their lives."

The powerboat was the Percalito, and its captain 67-year old tycoon Guillermo Gonzalez Nova, chairman of mega-chain retailer Comercial Mexicana, one of Mexico's largest companies. Gonzalez Nova's two sons and their families were aboard, and one of the sons is believed to have been at the helm, though the story went that it had been Jose Cen Yam, an illiterate deckhand who had never before piloted the craft. (The MacColl's dive-master, Ivan Diaz, said in a statement to authorities that "After they ran over us, I saw Cen Yam jump forwards from the back of the boat, to the controls.")

Yam, who had trouble on the stand telling his left from his right, was sentenced to serve two years and 10 months, but was allowed to walk free after paying the equivalent of a £61 fine.

In the years since, the Justice for Kirsty campaign has seen a few small victories, but no justice. In May, the Cozumel federal prosecutor was found liable for breach of authority for having failed to register the MacColl appeal as a criminal investigation. And last February, after Bono dedicated "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For" to her memory during a U2 concert in Monterrey, Vincente Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar felt bound to say "the federal government is following this situation."

And that's where it lies, like so many other modern horrors: the crimes of privilege and crimes of state unpunished, because it is the privilege of state to judge itself and its own.

Warren Commission skeptics were rewarded with the House Select Committee on Assassinations, but when its original chief counsel Richard Sprague signaled that he intended to conduct a genuine investigation he was promptly replaced by the horrified powers that wanted no such thing. ("I demanded the records from the CIA," Sprague told Probe Magazine, "and now there was an abrupt refusal, and I subpoenaed them. At that point, [Henry] Gonzales, who was Chairman of the Committee, ordered the CIA, or told the CIA that they need not respond to my subpoena, and fired me, and ordered the U.S. Marshals come in and remove me from my office.") What they got instead was Robert Blakey, whose hedged presumption of a conspiracy involving organized crime made for a lovely limited hang out. The conspiracy nuts could have their conspiracy, but it was one in which elements of government were wholly absent. (Even when named, and known. For instance, Jack Ruby's mob connections received attention, but his police connections did not. Nor did his anti-communist gunrunning, where criminal conduct and intelligence work became indistinguishable.)

UFOlogists received similar treatment in 1968 with the Condon Report: an "independent" inquiry commissioned by the US Air Force, contracted to the University of Colorado. After years of pressing for an investigation, they were given the appearance of one, led by a man who didn't bother to mask his disdain for the subject.

A memo written in 1966 by project coordinator Robert Low to university officials before the contract was assigned demonstrates what kind of project was intended:

Our study would be conducted almost exclusively by non-believers who, although they couldn't possibly prove a negative result, could and probably would add an impressive body of evidence that there is no reality to the observations. The trick would be, I think, to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study but, to the scientific community, would present the image of a group of nonbelievers trying their best to be objective, but having an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer. One way to do this would be to stress investigation, not of the physical phenomena, but rather of the people who do the observing – the psychology and sociology of persons and groups who report seeing UFO's. If the emphasis were put here, rather than on examination of the old question of the physical reality of the saucer, I think the scientific community would quickly get the message....I'm inclined to feel at this early stage that, if we set up the thing right and take pains to get the proper people involved and have success in presenting the image we want to present to the scientific community, we could carry the job off to our benefit.

9/11 skeptics who shout themselves hoarse for an "independent investigation" should expect any hard-won fruit of their labours to prove just as artificial. So why continue to scream for one?

We don't need another investigation, least of all one conducted, or commissioned, by the few and guilty privileged. There have already been millions of independent investigations of 9/11. Some haven't amounted to much, because the investigators have been dazzled by the flash and sleight-of-hand of the Black Lodge's myth-makers. (And though it's great to see David Lynch question 9/11, it's distressing to see him wading about in Loose Change's shallow muck. I believe that being right for the wrong reasons is one of the last and greatest impediments to seeing justice done, because they are reasons which will never convict the guilty, and only sway the gullible.) But in spite of the disinformation, and sometimes because of it, we know enough to make a criminal accusation against elements of the United States government. What we lack is either the law to which they might be subject, or the will to do justice ourselves.

Gonzalez Nova's speedboat entered restricted waters at excessive speed, and after striking Kirsty MacColl, his patsy-deckhand was seen to take the wheel. No more investigation is required. Not for the MacColl family, and not for us. All we need now is justice, and to push our children out of harm's way. Neither happens by polite and patient request.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Radio, Radio

They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don't give you any choice
'cause they think that it's treason - Elvis Costello

An overdue post is in the works, but at least I've finally refreshed the playlist for RI radio. Some of the additions may be familiar, like Thom York's Harrowdown Hill and Eminem's Public Enemy Number 1, but most will likely be new, such as Paul Metsa's Jack Ruby, T Hallenbeck's Hymn to the Mothman and the Conspiracy Cantata of Yannis Kyriakides.

I hope you enjoy, if that's the right word, though I'm almost certain it's not. Some of the songs and my selection of them are meant to provoke thought, and not necessarily pleasure. But provocative thought has its peculiar rewards.

Please consider this an open thread, and I'll see you soon.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

"Rogue Elements"

Fingerprints, fingerprints
Where are you now my fingerprints?
- Leonard Cohen

In Blowing Up Russia, Alexander Litvinenko writes that "Freelance conspiratorial military operations groups consisting of former and current members of special armed forces units and the structures of law enforcement began to be set up in Russia in the 1980s.... [E]ven if it does not always organize the groups in the formal sense of the word, [the FSB] has controlled their activity to a greater or lesser degree from the very beginning."

This is the essence of the case for the "rogue element," that unnamed "intelligence sources" tout as the most likely agent for Litvinenko's poisoning, and possibly Yegor Gaidar's as well. Also, its beauty. Even when a murder weapon can be traced to state actors - the polonium 210 to a Russian nuclear plant or, say, the anthrax to Fort Detrick - the state can deny institutional culpability by claiming its assets acted without consent. And there is even some truth to the claim, but only because a state's intelligence is structurally dissociative: compartmentalized concretions of unadmitted will, providing deniability to the regime while enacting its ugliest measures.

"Rogues" could also charitably describe the "assassination squad" which former intelligence officer Mikhail Trepashkin attests has been set up by the FSB to eliminate enemies abroad. "Rogues" is the "bad apples" argument. It's to say a state is accountable for the crimes of its henchmen only if it first calls "Simon says." And how often does that happen? It's frequently said by many still that it was "rogue elements" within the CIA that were responsible for the assassination of John Kennedy and its subsequent cover-up, and not the CIA itself, even though those rogues have included some of its most senior and celebrated officials. If a new David Kelly investigation ever actually investigates his death, you can expect the trial balloon of "rogue elements" to be floated to relieve the pressure on the institutions of intelligence.

A lot of smart people have said Vladimir Putin didn't benefit by Litvinenko's murder, because he too obviously benefited, making him and his government the perfect frames. But if the government of Russia's a suspect, who's to prosecute? British investigators have preemptively "ruled out any official involvement" by the Russian state, though they go on to say only those with access to state nuclear laboratories could have carried it out. Naturally Britain would provide Putin an out: the damage to relations makes anything less a prohibitive disruption. (Similarly, Putin hasn't blamed Washington for 9/11, though several Russian commanders have publicly expressed disbelief at its account of the attacks.)

No one but his allies in the West can harbour necessary illusions of what Berezovsky may be capable, but neither should we believe Putin a white knight because of his tactical role as a counterweight to the White House. The lesson of 1984 isn't Smile! You're in Eurasia.

Blaming "rogue elements" spares the institutions of state, which is why the institutions breed them. And who could blame them for that?

By the way, Lisa Pease has reposted her groundbreaking original RFK assassination articles as they first appeared in Probe Magazine. (Updated versions can be found in The Assassinations.) If you haven't read them, you can't imagine what you don't know.