Monday, March 31, 2008

The Conspiracy Conspiracy

A while back my aunt passed away and, while looking up the cemetery on the Internet (location, directions, things like that), I found it has two claims to fame. First, it is the burial place of poet Alan Ginsburg. Second, no less than 141 web sites say it is the place where a man - a "former member of the Israeli Defense Force" who, of course, asked that his name not be used - was taking clippings of English ivy in October, 2000 and says he overheard three men talking, in Hebrew no less. He heard one of the men say, "The Americans will learn what it is to live with terrorists after the planes hit the twins in September."

Wait...this gets better...

When one of the men later asks if the upcoming (November 2000) presidential election will affect the plan, another of them replied, "Don't worry, we have people in high places and no matter who gets elected, they will take care of everything." Oy.

If you saw this on a tv show, you'd probably say "Who writes this garbage?" and change the channel.

I was reminded of this recently by new reports about the RFK assassination claiming new evidence of a multiple-gunman conspiracy. RFK being kind of a hero of mine, if you'll forgive someone my age still using expressions like that, the story caught my eye. Seems some new electronic enhancements of recordings made at the time show more shots fired than at first thought and that proves there was a second gunman and that shows there was a larger conspiracy that was covered up by the official investigation blah-blah zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

RFK assassination conspiracy theories are certainly not new. Reports of a mysterious woman in a polka-dot dress shouting, "We shot him!" came out almost immediately after it happened nearly 40 years ago. Other theories that made it all the way into publication include that Sirhan was hypnotized, that he had amnesia, and that the killing was arranged by Aristotle Onassis so that Kennedy wouldn't interfere with Ari's plan to marry Jacqueline. (Credible reports do suggest RFK would smack you if you referred to his sister-in-law as "Jackie.") Back in pre-Internet days, someone told me that it doesn't matter how ridiculous an idea is; if you can show it was published somewhere it will have instant credibility.

In the RFK case, it's easy to see how these theories started. There were surface inconsistencies: ballistic markings from test-firings of Sirhan's gun differ from those on the bullets that hit RFK; the coroner's report that RFK was hit in the back of the head, whereas Sirhan was standing to his right; two additional bullet holes found a in a door frame pre-maturely destroyed by investigators would have brought the total bullets found to 10. (Sirhan's gun held eight.) And then, of course, there's the woman in the polka dot dress. The manner in which the LAPD and District Attorney's office responded with secrecy and bureaucracy only added fuel.

Valid questions to ask, but they've been answered, and years ago at that, by people who didn't jump to conclusions. Ballistics differed because of barrel fouling caused by repeated test firings by investigators. (Ballistics of the first few test shots, before the fouling occurred, reportedly were a match for the three victim bullets.) The two unaccounted-for holes in the door frame were found to be too small to have been made by bullets. Analysis shows that shows RFK turned to his left just as the shots were fired, so that a bullet from the right would have entered the back of his head. Eyewitnesses do confirm there were at least two women in polka dots that night, but the campaign staffer who made the claim one of them was involved later failed a polygraph test and recanted. One of the "polka dot" women did say she ran from the room shouting, "he's been shot!"

For the human race to regularly put out hasty, nonsensical theories seems inconsistent with its mind-boggling history of technical, artistic, social and intellectual accomplishments. We've put men on the moon. (Wait...maybe that's not a good example.) In any event, something doesn't add up. Somebody - my guess is the government - is covering something up, and I'm going to find out what. I'll check some published materials and the Internet and get back to you.

Unrelated Item 1: Have It Your Way (Assuming by "you" is meant "Stephen King")

Is it just me, or is that rubber-masked Burger King character on the tv commercials really scary looking in a serious way?

Monday, March 17, 2008

"May You Live In Interesting Times"

It's St. Patrick's Day, when the world takes a moment from a hectic schedule to acknowledge the rich history and culture of Ireland and its proud people, and reduce them to green bagels, green paper hats, green beer and cardboard leprechauns. But I digress.
The last few days at work have been interesting, to say the least.

I suppose that sounds like the entries in countless other journals. Ho hum, why should anyone really care? Ok, so let me start this over again.

The last few days at my job working for the New York State government - yes, that New York State government - have been interesting, to say the least. The somewhat tumultuous times we were experiencing anyway took a you-can't-make-this-stuff-up turn last week when governor no. 54 became client no. 9.

It's not that this will affect my job directly - I'm way too low on the food chain for that. But with a new governor often comes new management for state agencies. And while they have no idea I exist, they do appoint people who promote people who designate people who, in some cases, have seen my name on an e-mail somewhere.  A change in top leadership can create turmoil under the most stable conditions. In recent months our agency has been seeing rapid organizational changes anyway, with more promised to come, and so a top-management change now would be turmoil squared. I've decided to take a wait-and-see approach, primarily because I'll be damned if I can think of any other idea.

Fortunately, events have wasted no time taking absurdity to heights Bill-and-Monica never got close to achieving. I don't want the state's economy being presided over by someone who thinks $4000 for two hours of his, um, special friend working under him (literally, in this case) is a good deal. (Some newspaper accounts of the recorded telephone conversations have reported this amount was agreed to after some haggling by the then-governor.) There's more absurdity in that the man who, as a hard line prosecutor, used wiretaps and monitored bank transactions to indict other people got caught by means guessed it...wiretaps and monitored bank transactions. Moral and legal issues not withstanding, the - sorry, I have to use the word - stupidity of that is stunning.

I think my favorite absurdity came earlier this week. It seems Ashley Dupre, the mistress in question, had some R-rated photos on her Facebook page and got upset when newspapers covering the story published them. Do you remember that old definition of chutzpah: killing your parents and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you're an orphan? With the new century seems to have come a new definition: posting pictures of yourself on the Internet and then taking legal action against someone because you consider the pictures private. I love this stuff.

One of the saddest spectacles has been the now-former governor parading his wife out to stand next to him while he makes his various public confessions. This has been widely - and, I believe, appropriately - criticized. Her efforts not to look completely mortified are gallant but unsuccessful. It's hard to know what he's thinking having her do that, except perhaps that as long as they're in a public place she can't disembowel him. If that's the case, it might be the most common sense he's shown in this whole episode.
Unrelated Item 1: Heather in the Sky with Diamonds. Large, Expensive Diamonds.
With the American economy currently in an extended downturn (in economist terminology, it "sucks") I'm seriously considering flying to England and seeing if I can get Paul McCartney to marry me for a few months. I'll keep you all posted on my progress.
Unrelated Item 2: With Special Guest Appearance By...
It's looking like the latest fashion in Washington is making "unannounced" visits to Iraq. Every week it seems the "Survivor: Baghdad" show features a different surprise guest doing essential fact finding, as if facts ever had anything to do with our engagement there. And, ok, while we're here, I suppose there's no harm in having our picture sent back home looking iconic and statesmanlike while meeting with the troops or with local officials.
Unrelated Item 3: Memories are Made of This
I don't think Dean Martin will ever get the full credit he deserved as one of the most superbly well-rounded entertainers of our lifetimes. Just thought I'd mention that. 

Saturday, March 8, 2008

March Forth

I just read a friend's blog entry about traveling as part of a group to Albany, NY to lobby the state government there about cultural funding issues. It reminded me of getting to march on Washington on a couple of occasions, lots of years ago, once during Bush XLI (I love that we number our presidents like Superbowls.) and once during the Clinton administration. These marches concerned housing issues, something I was active in at that time. (It was a period when I had time for political activity beyond turning off the radio whenever Bush starts to speak and saying, "oh, shut the hell up already.")
The trips, about five hours each direction from where I live, were made on a packed school bus, the seats in which were too small for us even when we were kids with much smaller seats ourselves. My travel-mates were strangers, but like-minded ones, so the trips were pleasant enough. For some reason, I remember one trip in which the adults had brought a lot of big signs about the importance of saying no to drugs. This was fine until we made a rest-stop half way down and we all made a run to the coffee stand that would have put to shame a bus-load of desperate opium addicts parking in a poppy field. (The other irony is that I'm drawing tokes myself from a now-cold-but-I-don't-care-just-give-me-the-damn-coffee cup as I write these words. But I'm not an addict. I'm a joy sipper. I can stop any time I want to. I just don't want to, that's all.)  
It was energizing, this idea of being one of countless thousands marching through the streets of this powerful place, and gathering within sight of the Capitol Building to hear important speakers. Coretta Scott King was one. Richie Havens sang. So did Rita Coolidge. Others as well.
The first march, large though it was, got relegated to the minor media coverage heap when Bette Davis died the same day and got our front page. (For the record, I don't blame Ms. Davis for this and, in fact, am pretty sure she wasn't any happier about it than we were.) The second time we scored a little better. I really wouldn't mind doing it again sometime.
Another Political Item
One of the hazards of not writing entries more often is that the ones that do get written are overburdened with topics. Bear with me please, dear readers, on some political analysis absolutely no one asked for.
On the Republican side, we now know John McCain is in. I guess even Mike Huckabee saw his prospects were dwindling as we had primaries in more and more states where people wear shoes and don't marry their sisters. His pulling out of the campaign reminded me somewhat of those tv-shows where someone tells his boss, "You can't fire me, I quit!" The man was trailing in delegates to Mitt Romney, who stopped running weeks ago, for crying out loud.
I like McCain, and although my disagreement with him on certain issues makes it impossible for me to vote for him, he has more of my respect than all of the other candidates combined. At the same time, if he's to keep his reputation as a guy who talks straight, he's got to stop doing things like campaigning in Texas by calling the Bushes two of the greatest presidents we've ever had. Most Republicans don't even believe that.
And don't you love the politicians who are coming out endorsing McCain now that he's already getting the nomination?
Among the Democrats, it's not surprising this is looking like it will go to the convention without yet being resolved. In policy terms, I don't think there are strong differences between Obama and Clinton, and the Democratic primary system of apportioning delegates in proportion to the popular vote, rather than doing winner-take-all, practically guarantees a photo finish. The real difference between the two candidates is less what they say they want to accomplish, and more about how it looks like they'll go about trying to accomplish it. It's the diplomat vs. the street fighter. Notwithstanding any ads which, as near as I can tell, are saying that you can call Hillary on the telephone at  3:00 am, either approach has some value.
Hillary, now on a first-name basis with the world (like Elvis, Liza, and Yanni) seems almost Shakespearian in her complexity and inner conflicts. It's hard sometimes not to feel there are two Hillaries: the compassionate social leader with the heart and intelligence to lead a nation to great things; and the disingenuous pandering politician who stands out even among other disingenuous pandering politicians. The latter, I fear, too often forms a crust around the former, though both are present at all times.
I also wish she would stop speaking in applause points, raising her voice at pre-determined moments in a kind of verbal "applause-please" pose that does nothing to dispel the image many have of her as insincere. It's painful to watch. The great speakers don't do that, and never did. They just speak, knowing that if what they're saying warrants it, the applause will come.
Regarding Obama, the oft-heard criticism is that his campaign has achieved cult status. That he speaks well and gets people excited is somehow framed as a liability. But read any book about leadership, and you'll see that the ability to get people excited about what they're doing is among the greatest qualities anyone in a position of leadership can possess.
Finally, I have to ask...why is it Stephen Colbert was told he couldn't run for president because his was not a serious candidacy, but now Ralph Nader can? Is a campaign centered on astute political humor really less valuable than one based on vanity?
Sort of Political Item, But Not Really
I meant to write sooner about the passing of William Buckley. It would be hard to find someone from whom I differ more politically. And yet he was someone whose writing I admired greatly. Regardless of whether one agreed with Buckley's content, his skill at creating sentences of mind-bogglingly complex structure and yet making them understandable was unequalled. The man juggled subordinate clauses that had subordinate clauses and managed to keep them all in the air, never dropping one. I think of him as one of two must-read-for-their-styles writers, Peggy Noonan for her gorgeous prose being the other.