Friday, April 28, 2006

Ultra Head Games, Pt. V

Studies and operations similar to the work done by Edward Bernays, J.B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov inspired the work of contemporary psychologists--most notably Julian Rotter, Robert Sears, Walter Mischel, Ronald Akers, Albert Bandura, and Kurt Lewin--developed Social Learning Theory (SLT). SLT posits that humans receive cues from the environment on how to act and what to think, concerns of both the behaviorist and cognitivist. People will respond even more quickly and radically if these social cues are first given by an authority figure. In Bernays’s case, the authority figure consisted of five leading designers. Once everyone fell in line with the leader, the desired behavioral shift followed--women bought Lucky Strikes.

The Nazis were among the first to utilize these principles as a method for systematically controlling large groups of people. Hitler appointed Josef Goebbels to organize all popular entertainment. Goebbels relied heavily on Bernays' book Crystallizing Public Opinion to create conformist and anti-Semitic propaganda. Goebbels introduced certain codes of behavior through film and radio shows in order to homogenize German thought. For example, the Nazis wanted to foster loyalty to the state over loyalty to anything else, even family. One popular movie to this end, Hitlerjungend Quex (Hitler Youth Quex), featured a young boy who joins the fascist society, and winds up getting killed by his socialist parents for handing out Nazi leaflets in a communist neighborhood.

Most examples weren’t that extreme, however, and often consisted of everyday messages concerning diet, personal grooming, and lifestyle, all deliberately planted by the Nazis, who stressed that any violation of these codes indicated some type of pathology. The only “cure” consisted of personal ridicule and ostracism until the targeted party conformed. Mind you, the Nazis weren’t really interested in hairstyles for aesthetic or practical reasons. Rather, these types of personal decisions indicated an individual’s tendency towards absolute conformity and obedience.

The Nazis also experimented with other methods of psychological control, such as altering neurological properties via chemicals – i.e. drugs. One of the first they tried in this effort was sodium fluoride. Yup, that’s right: the stuff in your toothpaste.

Late in the war, one of the pharmaceutical companies that the Nazis dealt with, Sandoz AG, came up with a chemical that just might have blown the lid off of psychological warfare when one of their research scientists, Dr. Albert Hoffmann, started feeling a little funny after a day in the lab. Neither dizzy, nor ill, Hoffman felt considerably euphoric. He left work early, and headed home on his bicycle, noticing that the colors of the grass and sky were unusually intense. He started thinking thoughts that he never conceived of before.

Once the feeling wore off, Hoffmann wondered what had caused it. Going back to the lab, he examined his work, eventually coming upon a vial of ergot derivative. Ergot is a fungus that feeds off of grain. Modern baking practices and flour refinement eliminate virtually all of it before the bread or cereal goes into your mouth. In earlier times, however, it was a constant menace. People who accidentally consumed some might wake up in a loony bin, or in some cases, charged with witchcraft, their heads in a noose.

Hoffmann worked nights in his Swiss lab trying to discover what made people react that way to ergot. Could it be an allergy, for example? He finally found out when he tracked down ergot’s toxin, a chemical called lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Sensory input sends a signal to the spinal column or brain when the body detects something. The actual message is a small chemical particle transmitted to each brain cell, or neuron, which picks it up in hair-like extensions called dendrites. LSD mimics the chemical that dendrites expect to receive from other neurons. Consequently, stimuli that have no external source are bombarding anybody who has ingested LSD.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ultra Head Games, Pt. IV (Really)

Edward Bernays, Freud’s student and nephew, was another shrink who went into the ad business. He boasted, in an essay titled “The Fine Art of Advertising,” about how he manipulated human behavior by controlling the psyche. In 1922, Lucky Strikes Cigarettes (The American Tobacco Company) hired him to expand cigarette sales to women, a group that could not smoke legally until a few years earlier. Bernays opted for a Type 'S' conditioning campaign. He set up a number of photo ops whereby famous sufferagettes brandished smouldering cigs in their hands as "torches of freedom."

The results of the campaign were kinda mixed. Bernays' PR efforts led to a dramatic increase in the number of female smokers during the 1920s. Problem was they were smoking every other brand except Lucky Strikes.

Bernay's client asked him to find out why women didn’t smoke their brand. His marketing research found that women didn’t buy Lucky Strikes because the package, at that time green with red lettering, clashed with hip fashions.

Triumphantly, he walked into the president of the company’s office and said “Great news. Women don’t like the green box. All you have to do is change the color of the package, and you’ll sell cigarettes.”

The president looked at Bernays as if the latter were wearing a straitjacket. “What? We’ve spent a lot of money on that design. We like the color. You want us to change it? No way.”

About to lose the account, Bernays had to think on his feet. “Well,” he countered, “how about if I change the whole fashion industry so that green is the ‘in’ color?”

“Now that makes more sense,” beamed the president. “How much is that going to cost?”

Bernays made up a figure. “Fifty thousand,” he answered, not knowing what else to say. He had no idea that the company president would take him seriously. The exact figure came to him at random, on the spur of the moment.

Nevertheless, the rest of the essay chronicles Bernays’ conspiracy to manipulate the entire fashion industry. The bulk of the money he spent on trips to Paris, where he bribed the leading fashion designers to create green wardrobes for the upcoming season. Since they were the ones considered the best, others copied them, creating their own green catalogues. By the spring of the following year, green was so in fashion that even rival cigarette manufacturers featured kelly-clad models in their ads. Consequently, Lucky Strikes became the most popular brand smoked by women.

As Garry Trudeau’s Mr. Butts character once commented, “They died happily ever after. Thousands of them.”

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ultra Head Games, Pt. II

Shady doings over at Langley led the public to find out about some bizarre things happening over at the CIA.

Daniel Ellsberg worked on a Top Secret project meant only for the Pentagon and top level Executive and Legislative personnel to see: a history of the US war in Vietnam. Although only one scholar among many working on the highly compartmentalized project, he managed to put some of the pieces together, and subsequently revealed the extent of CIA involvement in the conflict to the New York Times.

Richard Nixon worried about what other bombshells Ellsberg might drop. The President (or others acting in his behalf without his knowledge and consent--their story, very few buy it) ordered extensive surveillance on Ellsberg, and even went so far as breaking into his psychiatrist’s office in hopes of getting information to use against him. The Committee to re-Elect the President (CREEP, or CREP) used these same spies to bug the Watergate office of Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O'Brien.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post did a fairly thorough investigation of what seemed at the time to be a simple burglary, the actual charge on the police blotter. Bernstein, however, became intrigued after discovering that one of the burglars had in his possession the White House office telephone number of an ex-CIA man, Bay of Pigs alum Howard Hunt, who had recently become part of Nixon’s staff. Together, the reporters found that each of the five burglars had been contract agents for the CIA at one time. In fact, one of them was still on the Agency’s payroll.

The connection of the CIA to fixing the 1972 Presidential Election, illegal domestic operations and influence peddling gave the Company a black eye. Things would only go downhill from there. In 1974, former CIA Executive Asst. Victor Marchetti teamed up with State Department spy John Marks to write a scathingly critical book on American espionage titled The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. There, they outlined the illegal activities (including domestic surveillance) that the former witnessed or knew about due to his senior management position. In 1975, former CIA Case Officer Philip Agee wrote Inside the Company: A CIA Diary, which again dealt with malfeasance in the American spy networks. Also in 1975, the CIA was caught red-handed wiretapping American citizens, an obvious violation of its charter. Slowly, over the course of the 1970s, the 1948 Congressional fears seemed to have come true. The CIA started to resemble a secret police force.

In an attempt to restore at least the appearance of reform, President Gerald Ford appointed his Vice-President, Nelson Rockefeller, to head an inquiry investigating alleged wrongdoing by the CIA. The Legislative Branch of American government embarked on its own investigation, forming the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities -- usually referred to as the Church Committee in honor of its chair, Senator Frank Church (D-ID). Not to be outdone, the US House of Representatives formed their own committee, chaired by Congressman Otis Pike (D-NY). These investigations, which lasted from 1975-1976, brought to light the depths of official corruption, and served as a benchmark for public distrust in government.

Arguably the most damning revelations came from the stories that trailed these and other investigative efforts. When not busy perusing the Watergate scandal, Senator Sam Erwin (D-TX) chaired another ad hoc committee to investigate the misuse of government sanctioned “behavior modification” experimentation in 1974. Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) co-chaired another investigation on CIA mind control research in 1977. Along with a number of other disclosures and leaks, many in the press realized that the CIA had, at least, attempted to develop mind control techniques that would work on both individuals, and large masses of people.

Admiral Stansfield Turner, the Director of the CIA under President Jimmy Carter, testified before the Inouye/Kennedy committee, and did not fight a FOIA request by the aforementioned John Marks, who summarized the content of these documents in his 1979 book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. Turner made clear that the material disclosed to Marks and Congress did not represent the totality of brainwashing experimentation and operations. A previous DCI, Richard Helms, had apparently destroyed the bulk of paperwork surrounding the CIA’s brainwashing program.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Ultra Head Games, Pt. 1

A Look into the Science and Politics of Social Control

Trivia question: what would your college major be if you wanted to practice psychology in the Nineteenth Century?

No, it’s not a trick question. There actually were psychologists back then; however, they mostly called themselves something else--‘alienist’ (hmm), for example. Some, like Freud, were physicians. Sigmund could amputate your leg and interpret your sex fantasies at the same time. Most, however, simply called themselves philosophers.

So the answer to the trivia question: you’d study psychology in the philosophy department. That would slowly change in the 1880s. Some of the elite schools, Harvard and Columbia, for example, developed whole departments and curricula for the new discipline. Others would follow.

You’ve probably heard of the most famous of these first generations psychologists and their intellectual descendants: Freud, Erickson, Jung, Alfred Binet, and, later, Jean Piaget, Karen Horney and Erich Fromme, for example. Many refer to these shrinks as ‘cognitivists’, because they tried to understand psychic matters.

No, they didn’t make spare change setting up 970 numbers, nor did they sit around a crystal ball. Here, the word ‘psychic’ refers to matters related to memory and consciousness. For someone like Freud, it was paramount to understand how his patients both thought and felt in order to alleviate them of various neuroses that affected their physical health.

While many a pop (not to mention amateur) psychologist would like to think that they know Freud and the others, they probably don’t. Ironically, the cognitivists didn’t have as much influence as you might think. The cowboy shrink sometimes comes across certain themes, or labels, and relays them in the course of an argument for the express purpose of convincing people who disagree with him/her that they are mentally ill, and their points invalid. Many of these terms and concepts don’t come from Freud or the others, but rather, another school of psychology altogether. This school’s main concerns deal with predicting and influencing human behavior.

The behaviorists threw up their hands at trying to understand the psyche. Often they looked upon cognitivists as people believing in the occult. Jung, in particular, found himself accused of that many times, not only because he researched and wrote about such issues as alchemy and UFOs, but because he believed in the basic premise of the psyche. Since that pretty much relegated the cognitivists to little more than seers with graduate degrees, the behaviorists regarded themselves as the true scientists of psychology. Scientists, they would explain, examine observable phenomena, form their hypotheses, and test their premises. You simply cannot do that with something as abstract as a psyche. You can, however, observe and test behavior.

Behaviorism really didn’t outdo the cognitivists in terms of overall results, as it were. Still, this school became more influential because it dealt with certain questions that interested many in power. For example, does an employer really want to know if his/her workers are happy? Or does that employer want to know how to get the employee to work longer hours for less pay?

Fast forward to 1975. One facet of the US government was about to get busted for its extreme, cutting-edge research and utilization of behaviorist psychology.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

More 23rd-Mandalation Jokes

I gathered/wrote these jokes for my sister site, The 23rd-Mandalation.

Oh, Woody!

Before he starred and directed in his own movies, Woody Allen was a standup comedian of some note. In one of my favorite routines, Allen talks about the time the ghost of a 1939 Packard drove through his living room every night.

He called the American Psychics Institute to get some help with his problem. They told him to get the license plate number of the vehicle.

So he did.

They called back and told Woody that there was nothing they could do. The car, as it turns out, was a rental.

I Told You

A conspiracy theorist watches a skeptic as he paces nervously in front of the Grand Canyon. “C’mon,” she screeches. “I haven’t got all day.”

“Don’t push me,” the skeptic screeches back. “There’s a lot of thinking involved, here. I’ve got to concentrate, and you’re just making it worst.”

“Okay, okay,” says the conspiracy theorist. “Just take your time.”

After much contemplation the skeptic says, “Ah ha! I’ve got it!” He points to his arm and says, “This is my elbow.” Pointing to his backside, he declares, “This is my ass.” Pointing to the Grand Canyon, he triumphantly states, “And that’s a hole in the ground.”

“Hmm.” deadpans the conspiracy theorist. “I was wrong.”

An Old Gag from the Ether

During a midnight church service, the lights begin to flicker on and off, startling some of the congregation. Strange noises emanate from the church’s PA system, and the smell of sulphur begins to permeate the air.

Suddenly the lights go out. An apparition appears behind the pulpit and bellows, “I am Satan, in all my glory in majesty. Bow before me now, lest you truly want to suffer the tortures of the damned.”

The flock, en masse, screaming in terror, haul ass to the church exit. . . . except for one middle-aged woman sitting in the third row of pews. The devil looks at her and says, “Didn’t you hear me? I’m Satan.”

“I heard,” said the woman.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?”

“Why should I be?” she asks. “I’ve been married to your son for the last twenty-five years.”

I Don’t Know Where I Picked This One Up, but . . .

An elderly Ojibwa (Chippewa) gentleman and his grandson went hiking one day in a forest near the Wisconsin Dells. They stopped to rest on top of an eighty-foot bluff that overlooked a clearing.

As they sat, admiring the beauty of nature, they watched as a flying saucer landed in the middle of the clearing. They then saw an all-terrain vehicle screeching to the site. Two men in black suits got out of the car at about the time two gray aliens disembarked from the UFO.

The grays and the black suits began conversing, while the old man and his grandson looked on in amazement. Suddenly, one of the gray aliens noticed the Indians, and pointed them out to the other three. The four stopped their conversation in mid-sentence and approached the man and his grandson.

Before the black suits could say anything, one of the grays began to speak to the old man in fluent Ojibwa, and the old man responded in kind. The grays then waved bye-bye, ran to their ship, and took off.

The black suited humans raced after the grays, but to no avail. They then thought to question the old man and his grandson, but they had resumed their hike and couldn’t be found. After making composite sketches of the two and running them through face-recognition software, they finally tracked down the grandson.

The suits went to grandson’s house, and flashed credentials. “We’re from the NSA,” one of them explained. “We’d like to ask you some questions about what you and that old man saw yesterday.”

“Okay,” said the teen.

“Do you speak Ojibwa?”


“So can you tell us what the gray alien said?”

The teenager replied, “The alien told my grandfather that his people were visiting the Earth from another planet lightyears away. They needed a place to set up a refueling station, and were in the process of negotiating with the United States government for landing rights in exchange for advanced technology.”

“And what did your grandfather tell them?”

“Grandpa said, ‘Be careful of these guys. They break their treaties. The next thing you know they steal all your land, and kill off your buffalo.’”


Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Ripping Yarn

The UK expanded her intelligence activity during the Nineteenth Century. While most of the gruntwork now fell within the jurisdiction of the London Metropolitan Police (founded 1829-referred to by Londoners as Metropol, and by us outsiders as Scotland Yard), the most sensitive operations were still handled by the aristocratic clique that surrounded the crown. In this era, the real cloak-and-dagger aspects of intelligence and clandestine operations were truly a “gentleman’s” game, practiced solely by the elite for the purposes of maintaining the elite.

An example of this “gentleman’s game” may have possibly been exposed in 1895. In that year, Dr. Benjamin Howard, a member of England’s Royal College of Surgeons, gave an interview to The Chicago Sunday Times-Herald, and spilled the beans on an extremely sensitive domestic operation that occurred seven years earlier.

Queen Victoria was the penultimate ruler from the German house of Hanover. From the Eighteenth Century onward, political forces within England pushed towards a more limited role for the monarchy. Victoria’s ancestors faced ever-dwindling constitutional powers. Although Victoria had some constitutionally approved authority–- e.g., the power of line-item veto, which she actually exercised on occasion--she still had to cooperate with Parliament, which was likewise beholden to popular vote. As the last monarch of the Nineteenth Century, she indeed walked a tightrope trying to appease the House of Commons and public opinion, while at the same time maintaining the privileges of the nobility in the rigid class structure embedded in English tradition. Any hint of impropriety, any hint of scandal, or anything else that might turn popular factions away from the crown could therefore have been disastrous.

Lo and behold, such a disaster occurred in 1888, according to the Times-Herald’s source. Mary Kelly, Dr. Howard claimed, had served as a nursemaid to Prince of Wales Albert “Eddy” Victor’s illegitimate daughter. Prince Eddy, however, wanted the then-pregnant Kelly as a sex toy. Outraged, and mindful of the political climate, she attempted to blackmail him and the royal family into taking care of her and her baby.

Victoria allegedly responded by authorizing a hit on Kelly.

The queen’s inner circle advised her not to carry out the murder brazenly lest she arouse suspicion, potentially more devastating than the illegitimate child/prostitution/blackmail scandal. The point would be, they insisted, to bury her death among many others.

Today, we know the results of this supposed operation as the Jack the Ripper, or Whitechapel Murders. Pretty much everyone knows the story about some unknown madman, who murdered a bunch of prostitutes. But if we give any credence at all to Dr. Howard, then we have an eerie new story of domestic black operations. One might ask if there is anything outside the source that would corroborate the Times-Herald story.

Believe it or not, there are eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence produced as late as 2002 that point to that very conclusion.

Due to the nature of 1880s press coverage, many misconceptions about the Whitechappel murders took place, and to this day have never been corrected. First of all, the Ripper victims were not wildly hacked to death, but rather have a distinctive MO--a fact that led Scotland Yard to uncover a number of copycat crimes (thirty-four in all).

A number of other things mark Kelly as unusual, in terms of the five acknowledged Ripper victims. The other women were about the same age, and in similar health condition. Such isn’t unusual for a serial killer. Usually, there is some ritualistic or strategic reason for choosing homogeneous victims. While the other women were in their late-thirties to late-forties, Kelly was a twenty-something. Furthermore, the autopsy photos reveal that the other victims showed signs of poverty--badly curved spinal columns, dental problems, calloused hands, and so forth. Kelly, however, was in very good shape, a woman of clear skin, soft hands, perfect posture, and she possessed a head full of healthy teeth. In short, she had lived a life of luxury, a fact totally consistent with the lot of a lady-in-waiting.

Although police believed that there were only five victims. there is good reason to think that there was a sixth, forty-five year-old Emma Smith, the very first to die by the Ripper’s hand. If you’re wondering why the cops didn’t count her in the official statistics, I would speculate that it is probably because on that first night, someone interrupted the “Ripper,” and this allowed this first decedent to live for about twenty hours, during which time she gave a statement to police. According to her, she had picked up a very handsome, wealthy (from his clothes and his watch), younger man, and had taken him back to her flat. When they got to the door, a large, muscular man stabbed her with what she alternately described as a “bayonet” and “a sharp spike.” She was then taken inside by the larger man and a third accomplice, an elderly, left-handed man who, with a scalpel, proceeded to disembowel her on the spot.

The mark of the official victims is that they bear two distinct wounds: one made with a heavy-gauge knife (or bayonet?), and a number of clean, surgical incisions. From their angle, it was plainly apparent that the heavy-gauge blows were from a right-hander, the scalpel cuts from a southpaw. Here, we have further corroboration of the Chicago story, for Howard claimed that the murderous surgeon was no other than Victoria’s trusted advisor and personal physician, Sir William Whitney Gull, an elderly “gentleman” who just happened to be left-handed. By refusing to link this first murder with the others, the physical descriptions given by the deceased would languish into obscurity.

So who would the other assailants be? We will probably never know the identity of the bayonet stabber, most likely a foot soldier or a palace guard. The physical description of the young man who lured her, however, was consistent with that of Walter Sickert. A writer, cartoonist and actor, Sickert was also the guardian of Prince Eddy’s illegitimate daughter, the one whom Kelly had nursed.

In 1895, Howard knew only that Sickert had played some role in the killings, but was unsure as to the nature of that role. A later examination of evidence, however, links Sickert to the murders, and clarifies what part he played in them.

Forensic pathologist and novelist Dr. Patricia Cornwell fingered Sickert as the sole Ripper in her 2002 book Portrait of a Killer. She offers as evidence a series of letters to the Times of London by someone claiming to be the Whitechapel murderer, stating that he was “. . . down on whores . . . . and shan’t quit ripping them [hence the nickname]” The penmanship and writing style were similar to Sickert’s. Watermarks indicate that the Ripper letters were written on paper stock purchased by Sickert. Even more telling, some of the letters featured artwork that bore a striking similarity to some of Sickert’s cartoons.

As a forensic pathologist, however, Dr. Cornwell had an advantage over previous investigators in that she knew where to look for viable mitochondrial DNA. Sickert had always been her prime suspect, a bias she clearly states at the beginning of her book. After procuring a sample of Sickert’s, she then received permission from Scotland Yard to perform DNA testing on some of the letters that the Ripper sent to the Times. Most of the readings were inconclusive, due to their age and deterioration. After exhaustive searching, however, she found that the dried saliva on the back of the stamp of one letter positively matched Sickert’s, leading her to conclude that the case was finally solved: Sickert was the Ripper, and he acted alone.

Although Dr. Cornwell does her best to dismiss a possible conspiracy in the Whitechappel murders, she gives evidence of it. The letters themselves provide evidence of conspiracy. After all, if we buy into the Chicago tale, the point of the operation was to divert attention away from the Kelly hit, by masquerading it as one more in a spectacular line of murders by some monstrous individual. Problem was, the first two murders (or three murders, if you count Smith) received very little attention indeed. The Times published nothing about their deaths beforehand. So if the conspirators were to hide Kelly’s death in a series of sensationalistic murders, they would have to make sure that the killings gathered as much media attention as possible.

Dr. Cornwell’s psychological portrait of Sickert shows him to be something of a joker, a man who liked to taunt authority, and shock his friends. She describes some of his artwork that depicts themes of the Ripper murder that she insists that no one but the Ripper could identify. At the same time, she also notes, but dismisses, references to Sir William Whitney Gull and other possible co-conspirators. She also points out that Sickert’s curt resignation from the London desk of The New York Herald followed an incident when a “mysterious soldier appeared at the [office], and announced a murder and mutilation he could not have known about unless he was an accomplice or the killer” (pg. 271). Despite this turn of events, Dr. Cornwell offers no explanation as to why an unnamed soldier’s confession to Ripper-like murders would have spooked Sickert enough to quit his job, since she maintains that Sickert acted alone. In my mind, the event implies that Sickert feared that the soldier, possibly the bayonet stabber described to police by Emma Smith, would rat him out.

Official victims three and four were murdered about sixty-minutes and a hundred yards apart. The first victim of the night was found dead in her stairwell, and the blood still gushing from her indicated that she had died just moments before. A crowd of people had gathered to look at the pitiable sight when they heard screams. They traced the sound to a nearby fence, where they found the second victim convulsing in her final death throes. The police, who finally arrived in response to the first murder, went directly to the dying, disembowelled woman before them. Since the crowd had migrated to the fresher kill, the bobby in charge asked if anyone knew the identity of the second woman. An unknown, masculine voice identified her as Mary Kelly. Four hours later, however, Scotland Yard positively ID’d her as Catherine Eddowes. Mary Kelly was, at this time, still quite alive, and very pregnant.

The Times-Herald story doesn’t mention the misidentification of Eddowes, but the point seems clear. It wouldn’t be unusual if either Gull or Sickert had some reservation about the whole ordeal, for if Dr. Howard was correct, Kelly might very well have been a friend of theirs. By falsely identifying Eddowes as Kelly, they may have been trying to save the latter’s life, while at the same time satisfying the crown with false evidence that the operation was successful, and at a close.

By the time they finally got to Kelly, the last and most gruesome of the killings, public imagination took over the cover story from there. Copycat murders sprang up all over the place. Furthermore, the police eventually warmed to the cover story, issuing cryptic statements that they had in fact captured the Ripper, and/or he was dead. That didn’t stop the public from looking for a Ripper, however, nor did it keep them from lynching Jewish cobbler Nathan Kaminsky. (anti-Semitic fervor led many to believe that the Ripper murders were carried out, quite literally, in a kosher manner.) One thing the hysteria did accomplish: it drew attention away from the crown.

Dr. Howard claimed that he, along with the other doctors of the Royal College, had committed Sir Gull to the looney bin in 1889, where he died in 1895. The purpose of the commitment was to silence him. Remorseful about his role in the killings, Gull threatened to expose the plot. To cover their tracks, the crown then staged Gull’s death in order to mask the true reason for his disappearance.

Whether or not Dr. Howard was full of it, the fact remained that as the Twentieth Century dawned, the English were unsurpassed when it came to clandestine operations and gathering intelligence. At the same time, England drew closer politically to the United States. Eventually, the British urged the Americans to ally with them and become partners in their little spy games.
Americans, however, still tied to isolationist policies, felt that such “pranks” were strictly European business. Americans found the whole cloak-and-dagger thing rather distasteful, and beneath them. Former Secretary of State Henry Stimson put it this way: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Nearly Shut Down, I Was

In a dreamlike state, I’m holding a screwdriver in my hand. All sorts of strange sound bytes and images enter my brain.

Open the pod doors, Hal. . . .

There’s a fifty-fifty chance that we’ll survive
If we swerve off the road into the ditch. . . .

Charlie says, “I love my Good & Plenty”
‘Cause it’s finger-lickin’ good.
It’s finger lickin’good. . . .

Did you know that in America alone there are over

Fifteen million munchers? . . .

Bromo seltzer, bromo seltzer, bromo seltzer, bromo seltzer. . . .

Before me appears the image of St. Mary Magdalene dressed in a New York City Police Department uniform. Holding up a jar of Vaseline, she says, “If I rubbed grease on my bottom, then I’d have a shiny bottom.”

Into the lapis factory that produced this car.
Must have been weary and slow.
Must have been weary and slow.

The virgin St. Mary taps me on the shoulder and asks if I am a good witch or a bad witch.

In motion pictures underwater starring most of you-loop. . . .

Daisy, daisy
Give me your answer do. . . .

We’re being stripped if not stripped already. . . .

I’ve had the flu before. I’ve had numerous colds, and even a bout with pneumonia. But I had never been hit by something as bizarre as what struck me in recent days. The chills, the fever, the headaches, the nausea and so on I could expect. I didn’t expect to suffer from delirium as well. I hadn’t experienced anything remotely similar since my adolescent drug period.

It then dawned on me that I have been functioning somewhat, over the course of this illness. I’ve posted new material on the blog, I’ve responded in other blogs, and I’ve answered e-mail. Beats me what I might have said (I’ll have to go back through it all); but if I offended anybody, my apologies. Bear in mind, that I’ve been on another plane, lately.

In case you’re wondering, this post makes allusions to the movies The Wizard of Oz¸ and 2001: A Space Odyssey; my latest screenplay, nadylady061; Eric Salzman’s avant-garde piece The Nude Paper Sermon; and the songs “Got to Get a Nut” by Rare Birth and “Aqua Boogie” by Parliament.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Would a Soprano by Any Other Name. . .

Italian ethnics had settled Sicily since the days of the ancient Romans. In the tenth century, however, Sicily had become invasion central for a number of North African, Middle Eastern, and European groups who wanted this gem of an island. The most serious threats came after the Crusades when Arabic factions tried to take it over. The Sicilians formed a number of small terrorist cells in order to repel the attack, and their success endeared them to the locals. Over the centuries, they maintained their ranks by enlisting new recruits and inducting the offspring of its members.

Over the course of time, the descendants and initiates of these famous freedom fighters from days gone by still went around conducting their affairs in cells. Several of these bands went into the estate management business. Others formed elite theft squads called ‘Brigantaggia.’ Another group of cells dealt in underground business – e.g. prostitution, extortion, and so forth.

Since they had always been a rather informal collection of characters, they never decided on an official name. They only refer to themselves in such generic, or descriptive terms as “Family” or “This Thing We Do,” even today. Eventually, however, a name became associated with them. This name seems to have numerous etymologies, some more plausible than others.

The earliest, extant, documented reference to the term was found in a 1685 list of heretics spared by the Church after their conversion and penance, among them an ex-witch named Catarina la Licatisa, nicknamed Nomata ancor Maffia. Her enemies used the sobriquet to describe her haughtiness, her bravado, and ambition. Where did the term come from? At first, scholars thought that it might have derived from a Florentine slang word for ‘a pitiful person’. Others linked the term to the Piedmontese slang term ‘maufin,’ meaning ‘cutie.’

My friend’s mom, a US native who grew up in Sicily, gave me another etymology born from folk legend. According to her old world kin, the term came about when a number of brigantaggia rescued a young girl from a would-be rapist after her mother shouted “Ma Figlia! Ma Figlia! [My Daughter! My Daughter!].”

Most likely, the term came from the Saracens. According to one story, the Saracens initially came to Sicily before the Crusades. At first, they lived in caves, or mafie, in an attempt to hide from all the locals, who wanted them off the island. Yet, the word could very well come from the name of the Saracen sect themselves, the ‘Ma Afiir’, who went on to control Palermo. Sometime between the Tenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the word evolved in meaning and usage to denote a person who is gutsy, and won’t take shit from anybody.

During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the honored and legendary defenders of Sicily had pretty much devolved into criminals. After all, they were powerful and organized. They had maintained an aura of fear and loyalty among the peasantry for hundreds of years.

Italian officials attempted to control and demolish the Brigantaggia. Still, law enforcement had yet to use the term ‘Mafia’ to describe them, referring to them instead as a ‘unioni o fratellanze’ or ‘camorristi.

Playwrights Rizzotti and Mosca popularized the word in their 1862 comedy I mafiusi della Vicaria. Set in a prison, the play features the hierarchical structure and cutthroat nature that we nowadays associate with organized crime. Goethe University historian Henner Hess, one of the first scholars to do extensive research on the Mafia, writes that after the play, some of the original cells adopted the term as a name.

A few cells had already used the term Mafia to describe themselves, and had even begun to break it down into cute acronyms: for example, Morte Alla Francia, Italia Anela (“Death to France,” Italy groans) or Mazzini Autorizza Furti, Incendi, Avvelenamenti (“Mazzini authorizes theft, arson and poisoning).

In 1799, five men representing five separate cells used the name Mafia when they created their secret Masonic chapter (secret, because at the time, Roman Catholics weren’t allowed to be Freemasons).


Friday, April 14, 2006

Snips, Snails, Sugar & Spice

My best friend and I took to playing baseball every Sunday in Central Park until a flock of moviegoers ruined the outfield grass during a special screening of Disney’s Pocahontas. Some games, he brought his son, an adorable towheaded three-year-old with a Dennis-the-menace smile, to watch us. At first, I’d make a point of playing with him between innings so that he wouldn’t get bored watching the grownups. But his interest in me waned when he met a game-time playmate closer to his age. This new five-year-old companion had a sunny disposition, and a bright smile under her long raven ponytail, and she was precocious.

Sometimes she’d read a story to my young friend. Mostly, though, she would allow him to dictate the nature of his play. I remember once coming back to the bench only to hear him barking a stream of orders to her. The smile never left her face.

“You’re getting’ a little bossy, aren’t ya’?” I asked my friend.

His companioned turned, smiled broadly and said, “He’s always bossy.”

“Why don’t you two take turns deciding what to play next,” I said. My friend knew me well enough to understand my suggestion as an actual direction. Between outs, I’d look over and find the two laughing and playing as they hadn’t before.

But one day, just as I had managed to smooth out some dirt in front of third base, I saw the little girl silently sobbing, her face crimson red. I watched her father, another friend of mine, scowl at her before ascending the mound and taking his eight warm-up pitches. It didn’t take me long to figure out what happened. But I had no clue as to why it did.

Since I had gotten to know the little girl, and she seemed like kind of a goody-two-shoes (a nice goody-two-shoes, however), I wondered what she could have done to merit a spanking. Once the inning finished, I went over to my friend, and asked him if he knew what happened.

“Her daddy spanked her,” he explained, “because she pushed me.”

“Really? Why? Were you two playing?”
He nodded.

“Why did she push you?”

He shrugged.

“Did you push her first?”

“Yeah,” he said, almost surprised by the question. “But I always push her.”

Like I said, she had him by two years, five inches, and fifteen pounds. Obviously, she can’t make a habit out of pushing my friend. Because of the size disparity, she can really hurt him.

On the other hand, it’s just as obvious that she had had her fill of being pushed around. Even though I was his friend, not hers, I couldn’t really get angry with her for what she had done. And I noticed that his father didn’t seem to feel it necessary to instruct him that it wasn’t nice to push people around, even if they are bigger than you. Furthermore, dad got a little annoyed with me when I “suggested” that it might not be the thing to do.

I remembered the incident several years later when sitting at a restaurant booth, where I watched a young mother and her two kids, a boy of about three and a girl of about five. Each child had several toys to play with while waiting for their food. The little boy played with one of his toys, and ignored the others. The girl got bored with her toys, and began playing with one of her brother’s that wasn’t in use.

He cried up a blue streak so loud that the mother finally paid attention to them.

“What’s wrong?” asked mom.

“She took my toy,” said the boy.

“He wasn’t playing with it,” countered the girl.

“That’s your brother’s toy,” said mom. “Give it back to him.”

The little girl contented herself with her own toys. But after a while, her brother got bored with his one toy. Instead of playing with his other toys, he snatched one of hers while she was still playing with it.

“Mommy, he took my toy,” cried the little girl.

“What’s the matter?” asked mom “Can’t you share?”

In her book Racism and Sexism: An Integrated Study, Paula Rothenberg published the results of research that she conducted in elementary school classrooms. She interviewed a number of teachers about their attitudes and teaching philosophy. Even though she questioned them on a number of topics, she only wanted to examine one: whether or not teachers reacted differently to girls than they did to boys in the classroom. She asked about a number of topics because she didn’t want to tip off the true nature of her survey (that could have thrown off the results). But she did want to know if teachers detected any bias in their teaching habits when it came down to gender.

Expectedly, most teachers felt quite confident that they had no bias. A significant number of teachers, who identified themselves as feminist, felt that they might have a bias in favor of the girls. But when Rothenberg placed a video camera in the back of the classrooms for a few days, teacher bias--even among the feminists--was quite clearly in favor of the boys. Teachers tended to give praise to boys when they answered correctly, but didn’t say anything when girls answered correctly. Boys were usually encouraged to figure out answers to difficult questions, but not the girls.

When she replayed footage of the videotape back to the teachers taking part in the experiment, they were quite flabbergasted by their own behavior. Unless they saw it with their own eyes, they really couldn’t believe their bias. There were some, of course, who still didn’t see any bias after watching the video, and a few who challenged the fairness of the video editing. Nevertheless, evidence of different treatment according to sex persisted throughout the study.

I’m sure that the parents involved in the first two stories only meant the best for their children. I’m sure that all these parents honestly acted in accordance to what they felt was right. I’m just as sure they were unaware of any preferential treatment given to boys, just as the teachers in Rothenberg’s study were not aware they favored boys over girls.

Still, I wonder if parents encourage their sons to exert their will and manipulate their environment, while they encourage their daughters to defer to their brothers.

Admittedly, my observations were flawed and few. Nevertheless, they jibe with research on the subject. Since I am not a parent, I cannot say whether or not such is actually common, or understandable (especially in light of the fact that the girls in both cases were older than the boys), and I would greatly appreciate commentary on this. Nevertheless, it seems to me that, since birth, males and females inhabit two different worlds, even when they share the same space.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More Sex!

A continuation of the previous post, "Sex! Sex! Sex!"

Psychological factors play a large role in the human sex drive. The Kama Sutra, the Tantra, and other protocols, developed over the years to induce bonding in individuals who had entered into a marriage arranged by their parents. Totalitarians understand the cohesive power of sex, and deal with it accordingly. Some cults built around the aura of a charismatic leader fiercely restrict sex. By this, I don’t mean that they just preach abstinence from the X-rated stuff. They also want their followers to refrain from flirtation and fantasy. They often ask invasive questions to adherents, hoping to elicit confessions of dirty thoughts, and then chastize them for so much as admitting desire even to themselves. This way, individuals find it difficult to form bonds with each other, bonds that can sometimes challenge those between the subject and centralized authority.

Some cults do it the opposite way. They demand sex, sex, sex, and for an occasional change of pace, more sex. Here, the rationale is similar to those who practice abstinence. Since the central authority both initiates and directs sexual activity, and each member co-joins with multiple partners, the bonds of the former are much more powerful than the bonds between each other.

Sex is both one of our most primal and secretive urges. Even the more open societies regard sex with some degree of shame, especially if it happens outside the sanctification of marriage. Often the subject of blackmail attempts, sex is one of the few things that could actually scandalize those in power.

The orgy scene in
Eyes Wide Shut depicts some of the esoteric sex rituals in this context. The super-rich and powerful represent a micro-fraction of the world’s population. The sex serves to bond them together in an us-vs.-the- world type of solidarity. More importantly, it assures a degree of control. Reportedly, one of the first rituals of the Skull and Bones Society requires the initiate to lie naked in a coffin and confess his “sins” before his brethren. Some men have leaked that initiation practices of other secret societies have included homosexuality. Imagine what might happen to the Tom Cruise character, or any of the attendees of the EWS orgy if they broke their silence regarding any sensitive information on how the world is actually run. It would then be a simple matter to discredit such an individual by exposing their sexual relationships with others – especially if the partner happens to be a child.

Many of these rituals prominently feature children. I first heard about this in 1986 while attending graduate school, but could hardly believe it at the time. My last year, I lived off-campus, and spent a lot of time between classes, hanging out in the commuter room in the student union. One of my fellow commuters, Algernon (pseudonym), worked nights as a park ranger. When he didn’t show up for class one week, we were a bit concerned. But we really got worried when he finally showed up bandaged from head to toe; missing a tooth, both eyes blackened, and sans fingernails. Alger told us that somebody attacked him, and that seemed ridiculous. He was six-foot-six, three-hundred pounds of solid muscle, and knew karate. What the hell kind of opponent could do this to him?

Alger explained that while on his usual patrol he spotted a bonfire from a distance. He set out on foot to investigate, because the park had closed hours earlier, and he knew that nobody had any authorization to be there. As he came closer, he saw a number of people in grotesque disguises, and a masked figure at an altar. Too many people for him to handle alone, he called into his station for police backup. But help didn’t arrive before the ritual commenced. A girl--Alger estimated her age to be about seven years--was led to the altar and stripped naked. After an incantation, the man at the altar began to mount her. With backup slow in coming, and faced with the possibility of watching a statutory rape in progress, Alger decided to do what he could to stop the felony, but he couldn’t get past the gargantuan thugs guarding the site. With the help of other masked men, the guards beat Alger to the condition that I then saw before me.

The party disbanded and moved elsewhere. As soon as they left, other rangers found Alger and summoned paramedics. He intended to file a report on the incident the following morning, until his superior came to his hospital bed and had a “chat” with him. Just like the Tom Cruise character in Eyes Wide Shut, Alger listened as his boss informed him that the attendees comprised the upper echelon of Hamilton/Butler County (Ohio) society. They could kill him and his family, and get away with it. He further stated that no investigation would take place, and advised him to forget the whole thing.

I dunno. It’s hard for me to forget the image of a man that large and that powerful, and that frightened.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Sex! Sex! Sex!

A co-worker asked if I had seen Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut. I hadn’t. I meant to, since I’ve seen and enjoyed many of his classic works – Lolita, Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; A Clockwork Orange; and The Shining, for example. Unfortunately, my work-schedule prevented me from indulging in many of my favorite past-times, including movies. My colleague’s question, however, prompted me to buy a videotape of the film later. Lucky me. I got it on sale for two dollars.

Although I had read a number of reviews, they really didn’t convey any sense of the movie’s plot. Instead, the press harped on its stars, Tom Cruise and wife Nicole Kidman, the abundant nudity, the sex (one critic referred to it as Legs Wide Open), and the fact that Kubrick died before its premiere. The plot, however, is quite interesting, especially in light of the subject matter here. All in all, they were two of the wisest bucks I ever spent.

A physician (Cruise) gets mad at his wife (Kidman) after she confesses her lust for other men. He decides to get even with her by attempting a series of flings, which never seem to pan out. As luck would have it, he runs into an old friend of his, a pianist at a local jazz club. This musician friend then tells him about a side gig that’s really strange. He’s never told when or where it will be until shortly before it happens. Furthermore, he has to play blindfolded throughout, and he needs a password to get in. But on one night, the blindfold was looser than normal, and he managed to sneak a peek. All he could see were a lot of naked women running around with guys in cloaks and masks. The doctor, frustrated because his attempts to commit adultery have met with the success of Wile E. Coyote, thinks that anywhere naked women roam like that can’t be all bad. He convinces the musician to help him get in.

Doc buys the required costume and mask, and then takes a cab out to a plush estate. He enters a sprawling mansion where a room full of people don the same disguise. Inside, a ceremony takes place. Kneeling on the floor are ten cloaked women. A shaman of some type utters an incantation in a strange language while Doc’s friend provides the music. The women then stand up, disrobe, walk off with various men and an orgy begins.

One of the women goes directly to the physician and begs him to leave before he is killed. The doctor, however, isn’t going to miss any of the action, and demands that the naked masked woman reveal her identity. She tells him that she cannot lest she risk certain death. She stresses that he might die too if he doesn’t, for crissakes, leave.

Before he can, he’s caught. The shaman demands that the doctor remove his mask and take off his clothes. The woman who warned him stands before the crowd, and pledges to “redeem him.” They let the doctor go, warning him that if he didn’t forget what he saw, then they would have to kill him and his family. When he asks what will happen to the woman who stood up for him, the shaman replies, “No one can change her fate, now.”

The next day, Doc finds that his musician friend has disappeared. Furthermore, somebody has been following him. He reads in the local paper that a former beauty queen was found dead in an apparent overdose. He recognizes her as one of his former patients, and now fears that she might have been the naked woman in the mask. He is then summoned to a wealthy patient of his, a powerful businessman. The patient confesses that he was one of the people in the mansion that night. He saw everything. He also knew of the doctor’s continuing efforts to find his musician friend, and the woman who redeemed him. The patient reiterates the warning, adding that the people taking part in the ceremony were among the most powerful in the world.

I wonder how many people watching the orgy scene at the theatre had any idea about what Kubrick presented there. After all, have you ever participated in such an event? At a mansion? With the rich and famous?

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Burning Pits of Passion, Gore, and Cheap Special Effects

The CIA’s formal research into UFOs began with the Robertson Panel in 1953. Fearful that another phone tie-up, such as that which had occurred during the Washington sightings, would create a major threat to national security, the CIA set out on a campaign to “debunk” them. In his book Hollywood vs. the Aliens, Bruce Rux posits that the CIA set out to debunk UFOs by seeding a lot of money and disinformation--i.e. accurate information from a disreputable source--into the production of b-grade movies during the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

You’d often find these types of flicks at the local drive-ins, nicknamed ‘passion pits’ for reasons other than the on-screen sexual content. By the late-1940s, teenagers with no place of their own, found cars to be sort of a mobile bedroom. Drive-in owners consequently wondered why they were paying good money for real films, since fewer and fewer of their patrons actually watched them. They found it more profitable to play cheaply produced, cheaply distributed fare to serve as a background. If the movie were scary, all the better. Teenaged lads could prove their bravery by withstanding the countless scenes of gore that would rocket their dates into their arms for comfort. If the movie had (how shall we say?) tawdry content, then that could spice up the action too. Thus, over the course of the 1950s, a number of movies destined for the passion pits, proudly featured oodles of sleaze and blood, preferably at the same time.

Drive-in movies represented the epitome of disrepute. The films were horribly written, ineptly directed, and indifferently acted -- hardly things that would entice a true cinema connoisseur. The ‘passion pit’ moniker that they picked up during the 1950s made their audiences seem shady as well. The CIA might very well have seen them as the perfect vehicle for disinformation.

Former US Marine Ed Wood became a Hollywood legend for arguably being the worst movie director who ever lived. Yet, his first stab at professional filmmaking came at the behest of The United States Department of Defense, who asked him to prepare a series of documentaries on a major defense contractor, Autonetics Incorporated. Since he completed the series, we can safely assume that the Pentagon was satisfied by his efforts. They didn’t fire him after he made one or two. Surely they would have done so if the quality of that work weren’t at least fifty times better than the normal Ed Wood fare. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know how good those pictures were. All of Wood’s films for Autonetics are still classified.

While such efforts as Jail Bait, The Violent Years, and The Sinister Urge were god-awful films, many consider Wood’s masterpiece, Plan 9 From Outer Space, to be the worst movie ever committed to celluloid. I can personally vouch for the film’s lack of quality. For starters, it had a confused and bizarre plot. Secondly, most of the cast consisted of proudly untalented amateurs, who ponied up production money just so they could say that they made a movie. Worse yet, the film’s star died several weeks before it went into production.

Wood had used over-the-hill, monster movie icon Bela Lugosi in previous movies. Hampered in his later years by declining health and a virulent morphine addiction, Lugosi looked forward to working with Wood, a good friend and the only director who would hire him. With no script in mind, Wood decided to shoot some footage of Lugosi romping around in his Dracula costume. Lugosi wore the same outfit at his own funeral the following week. Undaunted, Wood saved two of the shots: a sequence that shows Lugosi exiting his house and smelling a flower, and another shot where Lugosi, dressed as Dracula, walks down a hill, strikes a vampire pose, then walks back up the hill. This is the about the only Lugosi footage you ever get to see in Plan 9 from Outer Space, and for that, Bela got star billing. Just so that the moviegoer didn’t feel gypped, thinking that he or she has shelled out money for what was billed as the great Lugosi’s last film, Wood repeated the second shot about thirty or forty times in the picture (that should give you some idea of why many consider it to be the worst film of all time).

Of all of his movies, some of which are actually watchable, Wood genuinely admired Plan 9 as his greatest work, his masterpiece. But it’s an odd film, even for Wood. One has to wonder why he made it.

Perhaps Wood launched the project because it would be the last chance to star his old friend Lugosi. But that doesn’t explain it’s content. Why not just make a monster flick if a vampire is what you wanted to base your film on? We do see some Robertson Panel themes in it. Nevertheless, while these themes and Wood’s intelligence background might have suggested that the movie was pure disinformation, it doesn’t necessarily explain the timing. Is there anything that explains both?

Not really. But, I’d like to interject an outlandish explanation all the same, based as it is (believe it or not) on another b-grade movie, this one made in 1995.

The Century Group Ltd., a Canadian telecommunications firm, produced a curious little flick titled Out There, and distributed it through IRS, a celebrated independent record label (home of the Go-Go’s), but not really a major player in the film industry. IRS sold it to the Showtime cable network, where it ran before committed to video.

Out There isn’t your typical B-movie. It sports a number of big name actors: Academy Award winners Billy Bob Thornton and Rod Steiger; June Lockhart, Jill St. John, Bobcat Goldthwait, Julie Brown, and (one of my favorites) slasher film victim PJ Soles. Thomas Strelich and Alison Nigh, two award-winning playwrights wrote the script, which at times contains some sparkling dialogue.

The corniness of the movie Out There doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact that it is replete with disinformation. The characters, through the course of the film, give the precise range and scope of the Project Blue Book inquiry. The props used are copies/facsimiles of real cultural artifacts. Serious and pertinent articles that were actually published in Penthouse and its sister publication Omni, figure into the plot. One of the protagonists is supposed to be a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. The picture in question actually won the Pulitzer in 1968. The classification of UFOs used in the movie is real.

Since the movie was accurate about so many arcane points of ufology, I wonder if it might have also been accurate about something else. Out There gives a rather detailed history of Plan 9 from Outer Space even though the script never mentions that movie by name. Instead, the 1995 movie transferred the circumstances of Plan 9 onto a fictitious film, Invaders from Uranus. Instead of being shot in 1957, Invaders from Uranus was filmed in 1969. The star was not Bela Lugosi, but rather Boris Karloff who, like his former colleague, died before the start of the production (and yes, Karloff actually died when the film says he did).

According to the Out There script, Invaders from Uranus served as a ruse to prevent discovery of a real UFO landing. Witnesses saw it and reports of it were coming in from all over the place. US intelligence therefore dispatched a team of filmmakers to provide a cover story. When people reported their CE3 experiences, the Sheriff, or other law enforcement officials would then say that they actually saw a movie set.

It’s fun to speculate that Wood might have made the world’s worst movie as a clandestine spy mission, but that’s all it is: speculation. Yet, Wood was immensely proud of this work. If the purpose of the movie was to obfuscate actual UFO activity, and if nobody suspected that Plan 9 from Outer Space was nothing more than the terrible film it appeared to be, then Wood could rightfully pat himself on the back for a job well done.

Passion pits went into decline during the course of the 1970s. The new megaplexes (or ‘ant farms’ as they’re called in the business--just in case you wanted to know how studio execs think of us when we pay that ten dollars for a seat) pretty much revolutionized the way in which films were distributed, thus turning single-run, repertoire, and drive-in theatres into white elephants. At present, only a handful of drive-ins still exist, and most play A-list, first-run features.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like. . .

I warned you. My life used to be weird.

Because I only had one day off, I decided against a visit to the Vatican, and caught the last train back to Naples. All seemed to go fine until a voice came over the loudspeaker ordering everybody off as soon as we reached the city limits. Assuming there was something wrong with that particular train, my fellow passengers and I simply waited for the next. But after several trains passed us and forced their passengers off too, everyone realized that mass transit simply wouldn’t take us any farther. There were no taxis, so I had to walk back to the hotel, through a really seedy-looking neighborhood, late at night, with over a thousand dollars (American) in my pocket. Naples had an astronomical crime rate due to high unemployment, so I silently predicted that I would get both mugged and lost, for I didn’t know where I was. I remembered the train station’s position relative to the hotel, however, and figured that if I followed the tracks, I would eventually get to the stop where I had gotten on. I made it through the would-be muggers, the con artists, and the rather aggressive ricciones (transvestite hookers).

After finally reaching terra cognita several blocks away from my hotel, I relaxed. Bad mistake. The road that led to the intersection, three blocks from the hotel, sloped down from a hill, and ran at about a thirty degree angle to the main street. A cement wall, about ten feet high, blocked the view of the off-street, making it difficult to see a car coming up to the stop sign. But since it was dark, I managed to see the lights of an approaching vehicle from behind the wall, so I waited at the curb for it to pass.

The car, a late-model, dark blue-green Mercedes, stopped at the intersection in front of me. Inside were a male driver and a woman, both dressed to the nines. Since there was no oncoming traffic, I figured that they would just take off. But they were engaged in a loud argument. The driver paid total attention to the woman, who was really giving him what for. After about thirty seconds of watching them bicker, I reckoned that they would stay there arguing for awhile, so I decided to cross the street.

Halfway across, while directly in front of the Mercedes’ headlights, I heard a sickening, ear-splitting crack. I turned to my left and saw the man taking his hands away from the woman’s neck. Her head was twisted almost 180 degrees backward. Her neck bended at a sharp angle. Towards the driver slumped her corpse, held upright only by its shoulder harness.

I sprinted directly to the hotel, found the desk clerk and said, “Get the police. I’ve just witnessed a murder.”

The desk clerk asked me to tell him what had happened. I told him just what I told you in the three previous paragraphs, and he said, “Go to the bar, and get a drink of whisky, or something to calm yourself. I will call the police.”

After an hour had passed, the desk clerk stepped into the bar. I asked him if the police were there. He told me that he didn’t call them.

“All right, I’ll call them myself.”

“But they don’t speak English,” he countered, offering the worse excuse I’ve heard to date.

“Somebody there’s got to speak English,” I said. I must have been ranting, because he told me to lower my voice. “I’ll go there myself, and I’ll figure out some way to communicate–“

”The police won’t bother to investigate,” said the clerk, in a strangely calm voice. “The woman was probably a prostitute. She might not have even been a woman at all, but a riccione. Those people are killed all the time, and buried in the hills. The police never investigate.”

I didn’t know why it mattered whether the victim were a prostitute, male or female, gay or straight. I figured that everybody has family, or at least someone who would miss them. How could I turn my back on this stranger, no matter who she was?

“I don’t care,” I snorted. “She was murdered right in front of me. I got a description of the car and the driver, and I remember the license plate. It won’t take any–“

The clerk then grabbed me hard, by the arm, his face turning from calm to angry. “All right. You said the car was a Mercedes, did you not?”

I nodded.

“The only people who drive Mercedes around here belong to the Mafia. Witnesses don’t live to testify. They’re ruthless.”

“I’ll take my chances,” I growled, deep into my defiant black man subroutine.

He shook his head. “You don’t understand. They won’t kill only you. There are Mafiosi in the United States. They’ll kill your family, and then they’ll kill you. Since you ran directly to the hotel, and you’re obviously a foreigner, they could very well come here and kill everyone, just so that they can be sure they got you. Do you now understand?”

After begging me not to say anything, and telling me stories of what happened to people who crossed the mob, I promised not to call the police after all. He finally relaxed and smiled. The next morning, I woke up early debating whether or not I should keep that promise. But as I approached the front desk, the clerk told me that some Mafia men had come during the night, and that he assured them that I wouldn’t say anything. I never did call the police.

Wherever the spirit of that woman resides, I hope that she can find it in her heart to forgive my cowardice. The way she went after that guy during her final seconds proved that she herself had no yellow streak.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Character Assassination

Before leaving the topic of the Martin Luther King Assassination, here's another post on a related subject.

The following is a declassified internal memo written by Special Agent J.A. Sizoo to William Sullivan, the FBI’s Assistant Director of counterintelligence during most of the 1960s. Dated 12/1/64, it states as follows (with the exception of the header, in its entirety):

[Censored] stated to DeLoach that he was faced with the difficult problem of taking steps to remove King from the national picture. He indicates in his comments a lack of confidence that he, alone could be successful. It is therefore, [sic] suggested that consideration be given to the following course of action:

That DeLoach have a further discussion with [censored] and offer to be helpful to [censored] in connection with the problem of the removal of King from the national scene [sic];

That DeLoach suggest that [censored] might desire to call a meeting of Negro leaders in the country which might include, for instance, 2 or 3 top leaders in the civil rights movement such as James Farmer and A. Philip Randolph; 2 or 3 top Negro judges such as Judge Parsons and Judge Hasty; 2 or 3 top reputable ministers such as Robert Johnson, Moderator of the Washington City Presbytery; 2 or 3 other selected Negro officials from public life such as the Negro Attorney General from one of the New England States [Sizoo’s referring to Robert Brooke, a Nixon friend who would later become a Republican Senator of Massachusetts]. These men could be called for the purpose of learning the facts as to the Bureau’s performance in the fulfillment of its responsibilities under the Civil Rights statute, and this could well be done at such a meeting. In addition, the Bureau, on a highly confidential basis could brief such a group on the security background of King [censored] the use of a tape, such as contemplated in your memorandum, together with a transcript for convenience in following the tape, should be most convincing.

The inclusion of U.S. Government officials, such as Carl Rowan or Ralph Bunche, is not suggested as they might feel a duty to advise the White House of such a contemplated meeting. It is believed this would give us an opportunity to outline to a group of influential Negro leaders what our record in the enforcement of civil rights has been. It would also give them, on a confidential basis, information concerning King which would convince them of the danger of King to the over-all civil rights movement. [Censored] is already well aware of this. This group should include such leadership as would be capable of removing King from the scene if they, of their own volition, decided this was the thing to do after such a briefing. The group should include strong enough men to control a man like James Farmer and make him see the light of day. This might have the effect of increasing the stature of [censored] who is a capable person and is ambitious.

There are refinements which, of course, could be added to the above which is set forth in outline form for possible consideration.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s hatred of Martin Luther King was no secret. Hoover publicly called King a ‘pathological liar.” King later met with the Director personally, and afterwards Hoover outwardly toned down his vitriol. Nevertheless, the above memo clearly shows that the FBI actively sought to silence King, or, in their own words, remove him from the national scene.

Obviously, if the FBI managed to prove that King were pathological and dishonest, they could reasonably expect the average citizen to ignore him. We know, for example, that Hoover had a tape, which allegedly proved that King had extramarital sex. President Johnson reportedly told friends and associates that the Director played the tape for him. Talk of a sex tape re-emerged in the 1980s amid discussion of creating a national MLK holiday, and repeated by William F. Buckley and other conservatives as fact.

The above memo, however, provides evidence that King’s alleged sexual dalliances were fiction.

First of all, it is largely through the eyes of hindsight that we see King as the premier black leader of the 1960s. The attention given to him by the FBI certainly affirms this notion. However, King had many rivals within the civil rights movement in 1964, and one could safely assume that one or all would have liked to have seen King fall, if for no other reason than to take on his HNIC mantle.

Either this proposed meeting never took place, or if it did, the featured ‘evidence’ failed to convince anyone. If the FBI had a credible recording of King having sex, they (through the assembled rivals, most of them politically conservative—such liberals as Bunche and Rowan were deliberately excluded) would have certainly had sufficient means to remove King from the national scene. And the memo makes clear that their intent towards King wasn’t to reason with him, or try to blackmail or use some other type of influence over him. The FBI simply wanted to get rid of him.

Sullivan, the recipient of the memo, personally mailed a copy of the tape to King, along with a note politely asking the Reverend to commit suicide. King played the tape for his wife and close associates, who described it as a cut-and-paste job, with sound bytes (some of which sounded as though they came from a specific party) taken out of context, and mixed together to produce something lurid.

According to the Church Committee Final Report, King had been under both audio and video surveillance. So, why not play a film of one of these trysts? Could it be because film and audiotape was far more difficult to manipulate than audiotape in 1964? Better yet, why not simply leak the tape to the press and watch King’s career slide out from under him? (Once again, I would refer you to the Church Committee Final Report, which gives copious examples of even lower dirty tricks routinely perpetrated by the FBI).

Most important, Sizoo is saying that DeLoach had one solution for removing King from the national scene, but that this capable and ambitious [censored] felt that he couldn’t pull it off. So, the memo details Plan B, the defamation/blackmail campaign. Well, Plan B is complicated enough, and history would prove that it wasn’t successful. Yet, the FBI had more confidence in this than they did in Plan A. What might that first option have been? How can you remove somebody from “the national scene” without discrediting, blackmailing, harassing, or sending him to the moon? Short of framing or murdering King, I cannot think of anything else this aborted plan could have been.

Sullivan had a change in attitude about a decade later, in large part due to his growing dislike of J. Edgar Hoover. He confronted the Director in 1971 and threatened to alert Congress of the Bureau’s ongoing dirty tricks. Hoover responded by calling him a “Judas,” to which he replied, “Sir, I am not Judas, and you are not Jesus Christ.”

Sullivan was found shot to death in an open field near his house several days before his scheduled testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Assassinations. The son of the local sheriff accepted the blame, but never faced any charges. The “killer” claimed that while out hunting, he mistook Sullivan for a deer--even though, as former Special Agent William Turner noted, the ex-Asst. Director didn’t have antlers, and walked on two legs, not four.

Of course, if called in front of Congress to explain his role in the King assassination, Sullivan might very well have had some very interesting things to say. Among other things, he would have had to explain the above memo and others like it.

In the end, it's possible that King did have at least one extramarital affair. If he did, I'd bet good money that the FBI never really caught him in the act.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend Martin?

Good things happen on April 4th, every year I’m sure. On this date in 1974, for example, Hank Aaron homered off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham to tie Babe Ruth’s record. The game temporarily stopped for a brief ceremony, whereupon the Reds asked Hammering Hank to say a few words to mark the historic event. Among other things, Aaron paid tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, pointing out that King had died on that very same day in 1968. The following day, sportswriters for the Cincinnati Enquirer characterized Aaron’s brief homage to King as inappropriate

April 4th 1968 wasn’t a good day for me personally. I spent the better part of it in the emergency room of Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, where I received medical attention for a broken thumb and collarbone, injuries I got from riding recklessly on my bicycle.

Dad and I returned home from the hospital and found my mother sitting cross-legged on the sofa in front of the TV. Her face was twisted in searing fury, and I assumed that my mishap earlier that day was the reason for it.

But of course, her anger that day had nothing to do with me. She had been watching the news coverage of King’s assassination ever since the story broke some five hours earlier.

All three networks broadcast King’s funeral live a few days later. The cameras frequently cut to the faces of some of those gathered. Many of the faces I didn’t recognize, but I assumed they were VIPs for there were other illustrious persons there, among them Harry Belafonte, Robert Kennedy and (surprisingly) Richard Nixon.

A month later, the press reported that a man named James Ray alone murdered the Reverend on his own initiative. Many now cite this supposition as the official explanation of King’s death. Most people do not realize, however, that there were two official explanations of the King assassination. The 1976-1977 Senate Select Committee on Assassinations found a probable conspiracy involving a racist cabal from St. Louis, a spurious explanation that still fingered Ray as the triggerman.

Ray did not live long enough to see the case against him unravel. Actually, it still hasn’t unraveled, at least to the degree necessary to force the official version to change once again. Nevertheless, a few of its loose threads are getting longer.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Good Grief! A Simply Irresistible Music Conspiracy!

As a musicologist, I sometimes have to assess things in a forensic capacity.

About ten years ago, while teaching a popular music course at one of New York’s fine colleges, I played the video of the Robert Palmer song “Simply Irresistible.” The next day, three fourths of my students reported having nightmares about it, and wanted to know why.

Repeated calls to Palmer (who was still alive at the time) were never answered, so I decided to track down his past. Because of the generous salary typically paid by most schools to adjunct faculty, I was able to fly first-class to Malta, the rock star’s native land, and examine records of his life. His birth certificate, grammar school records and other documents seemed, at first glance, to be in order. But something about them struck me as odd. I asked one of the local notaries about this and he told me that it was perfectly normal in Malta to fill out official government documents in red crayon.

I eventually found some ne’er-do-well relatives of Palmer’s in the Yellow Pages under “Leeches.” I thought about knocking on their door and asking if Bob had been by that day, but decided against it. According to ancient Maltese superstition, if Americans knock on your door, it’s because they want to invade your house and secure all the rights to your olive oil.

Instead, I deployed some equipment given to me many years earlier by famed telephone hacker Cap’n Crunch, and monitored the calls to all the numbers listed in the phone book. I noticed a lot of traffic going to and from Sebastopol, California.

The next day, I rented a twin-engine Cessna from the Maltese National Air Guard and flew directly to the Golden State, where I found, arguably, the biggest cover-up in the history of rock and roll: the late Robert Palmer was, in fact, Linus Van Pelt, formerly of Peanuts fame.

(Fig 1. Linus Van Pelt, alias Robert Palmer)

This was a difficult conspiracy to uncover, naturally, since Linus was a two-dimensional figure. Anyone who has ever been to one of his concerts can certainly attest to the fact that Robert Palmer was not two-dimensional. He only sounded that way. Sure, as a young kid with blanket in tow, Linus had only height and width. But never-before published results of a Little League investigation have revealed that Van Pelt had used anabolic steroids when playing second base for Charlie Brown’s team, and had thus bulked up somewhat. Snoopy was the first teammate to notice something amiss when Linus lined a single through the box so hard that opposing pitcher Peppermint Patty quit baseball for awhile, and took up hopscotch. By the next season, Van Pelt had gained one full dimension.

(Fig. 2. Van Pelt/Palmer after steroid scandal)

The “Simply Irresistible” video contained a number of subliminal clues alluding to the performer’s dual identity. First of all, there were the facial and cranial features. Both Palmer and Van Pelt had a slightly pear-shaped head that was wider at the bottom than at the top. But the parenthetical creases surrounding Linus’ eyes, a Van Pelt family trait (Van Pelt’s younger brother, Rerun, has them as well) are a dead giveaway. In the undoctored photo above, you will note that upon reaching adulthood Van Pelt/Palmer used pasty white makeup to conceal them.

Also in the video, between the breakdown and the last round of choruses, Palmer leans to his right at about a forty-five degree angle, with his hands behind his back, a tendency that Van Pelt amply displayed in numerous Schultz panels.

What disturbed my students, to the point where they had nightmares, were the accompanying models in the background. These women--all tall, raven-haired, heavily made up, and sporting identical coiffures--were obviously manifestations of Palmer’s sister, Lucy Van Pelt. Their oddly sensual movements therefore suggested an incestuous desire on Palmer’s part. The 75% of students who experienced nightmares all had siblings of the opposite sex. Since the relationship between Palmer and the models is subliminal, the “ICK!” factor registered only in the unconscious mind, hence the nightmares. Of the remaining 25% (ten students in all), three were gay, and thus immune to this particular depiction of flaming heterosexual perversion; two had same sex siblings; four were only children; and one simply fell asleep at the start of the class, so he missed the video’s showing.

Despite the fact that I traced the Palmer/Van Pelt connection, I’ve since wondered if my students were putting me on about the nightmares. After all, the date on which they reported the dreams was April 1st. Do you think they might have been pulling my leg?

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