Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Conspiracy Junkies

A while back I was party to a 9/11 conspiracy discussion with a chap who had a Doctorate in Grassy Knoll Philosophy.

For the record, I'm of the camp who thinks that:
(1) The airplanes flown into the twin towers brought them down;
(2) The Pentagon was hit by a plane and not a missile;
(3) War planes did not shoot down the fourth plane in Pennsylvania.

Very official story of me, I know. And anyone who thinks I'm a news media groupie had better take another look at my posts on this blog over the past few years.

Anyway, as the exchanges with the individuals who were half a bubble off plum were winding down, I was reminded of another conspiracy discussion I'd been involved in.

Once I was dining with a friend's out of town guest who offered as a lunch-time conversation topic the idea that not everything we've heard about the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust can be trusted, and that the persons murdered were far fewer than is commonly believed. In support of this point he cited the work of one Fred Leuchter. Curiously, my fellow diner couldn't recall Leuchter's name; I had to provide that detail.

Which tips my hand: I'd already read up on Leuchter's activities, and I replied that the report had been thoroughly discredited as fraudulent. I added that Leuchter had collected his samples for the cyanide tests from reconstructed buildings and not the original gas chambers.

My rebuttal was greeted with a dull, pod-person stare and a slight nod; the matter was dropped without further comment, and we moved on to other subjects.

Backstory
The Leuchter report was written in 1988 for the legal defense in the Canadian trial of one Ernst Zündel, Holocaust Denier (or, as his ilk prefers, "Revisionist"). Leuchter himself was an opportunist and professional witness who would say just about anything his employer required of him -- in this instance, for the grand sum of $38,000.

For the Zündel case Leuchter traveled to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Lublin-Majdanek to conduct a study on the presence of cyanide in the death chambers. Leuchter spent four days at the death camps scraping and stealing bricks and cement fragments. He then had the samples tested for the presence of cyanide. When what Leuchter arbitrarily deemed was only insignificant traces of cyanide were found, he declared that no gas chambers had been used to exterminate the Nazi's inmates.

Leuchter was entirely uncredentialed for the task he attempted:
* He was a history major, not an engineer;
* He had no formal training in toxicology, biology, or chemistry;
* He fraudulently represented himself as an expert in gas chambers.

The methodology of Leuchter's study was gravely flawed on several points:
* His collection method diluted his samples, making it impossible to gather accurate data about the presence of cyanide;
* He did not advise the chemist who analyzed the material as to where it originated or how it was collected, which further compromised the tests;
* He was unaware that the chambers from which took his samples had been rebuilt using a good many bricks that were not in the original buildings, thus skewing his findings;
* He did not consult any of the large documentation archive readily available at Auschwitz.

For the record, subsequent tests using methods to account for the variables Leuchter ignored or was unaware of refuted his conclusions. The cyanide was there.

Leuchter's testimony as an expert witness was accepted by the court, but his accompanying Leuchter report was excluded because of his lack of engineering credentials -- thus, the court accepted the report only as evidentiary display and not as direct evidence. Leuchter testified to the veracity of his findings under oath in the trial, yet on cross-examination he failed to provide satisfactory answers about rudimentary matters touching on his supposed field of expertise.

After hearing Leuchter's testimony, the presiding judge dismissed the report as "ridiculous" and "preposterous." The court ruled unequivocally that Leuchter's testimony was without merit on the grounds that he had no expertise whatsoever. Leuchter had also failed to demonstrate any concern for the truth, even while under oath.

An aside: Zündel's case was thrown out because the law under which he was being prosecuted was deemed unconstitutional. Zündel promptly declared that the courts had ruled he was innocent of any wrongdoing. He was later deported to Germany, where he served prison time for inciting racial hatred.

Analysis
I suppose conspiracy theories superficially simplify things. A conspiracy notion might make for a false or bad remedy when dealing with subjects outside one's area of expertise, but it is a readily grasped remedy, particularly for the intellectually challenged.

It also brings closure, which can be reassuring: people endure prolonged turmoil and uncertainty only with great difficulty. And our age excels in producing prolonged turmoil and uncertainty.

There's also the appeal to pride in having an insider's knowledge that most other people are not privy to -- sort of a modern day gnosticism. What smugness there is in knowing what everyone else has missed!

Some people, of course, could just be confused.

Others, meanwhile, are simply bigots.

Whatever the root cause, the modus operandi of the conspiracists is to neglect chronology, treat rumor as history, and use citations fraudulently; hypothesis morphs into fact, authorities that don't bolster a thesis are maligned, and the absence of proof becomes evidence of a cover-up. Dogged repetition is key to winning the day.

For my part, I tend to simply avoid that crowd. If I encounter them and they persist, however, I have few qualms about setting the record in order. Aside from the fact that bearing false witness is a violation of Commandment #8, I don't want to be complicit in their assault on reality by remaining silent.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Skirting the Issue

Richard and I were in an office meeting several years ago with four female colleagues. Jamesha was the lady in the delightful outfit with a colorful African-print skirt. The other three women were all wearing miniskirts.

The reason I noticed this last part is because the three women could not sit still during the meeting. For the hour when the six of us were making reports and giving status updates, the three women incessantly shifted and adjusted their miniskirts -- they were as fidgety as little boys on a long summer bus ride. It didn't matter that the lot of us were parked around a conference table and nothing eye-catching was revealed: the short-skirted ladies were clearly uncomfortable in their attire, pulling and tugging under the table to cover up as much flesh as possible. It was sad and comic and distracting all at once.

The happy exception was Jamesha: this confident and capable woman was a dignified individual who hadn't resorted to cheap (take that term how you will) wardrobe tricks to get attention and so "advance" her career.

Another time when the "career-minded" women were permitting themselves to engage in low-brow humor to show that they could do anything a man could do, Jamesha brought the issue to a close with the observation, "That must be some of that single girl humor." Delightful.

If you're too willing to sell too much, the meager remainder will leave you squirming to make up the difference.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Truth in Journalism

Source

Pope Benedict XVI urged journalists to "courageously serve the truth..."

That is certainly the way it should be. Pity the phenomenon is so rare.

"The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors."
- Thomas Jefferson

"News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it. After that it's dead."
- Evelyn Waugh

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Where's My Car?

A few months ago I was road-tripping my way from Columbus, OH to Charleston, WV on my state capitol tour. Along the way I made a stop in the college town of Athens, OH, where I took in a few familiar spots did some reminiscing.

I lived in Athens for about a year after I finished
undergrad. My wife and I were married there: after I received my diploma I moved north for our wedding, then passed time taking graduate-level English courses for fun and getting paid to sit with latch-key kids while the Mrs. finished grad school.

At the time I was still driving my first car: a hand-me-down tan 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera that my grandfather gave me when he retired to Florida. I drove that thing to pieces: when I finally traded it in years later, my feet would get wet during a rain because of the splash action coming up through the floorboard.

Sean's First Ride

That Olds got me where I needed to go, however, which is what counts when you're a starving college student (and then a jobless college grad).

It was a sunny Athens day in the Spring of 1992 that I'd finished up at the laundromat, loaded everything up, and then discovered that the car's engine wouldn't turn over. I gave it my best, but I finally had to throw in the towel and call some friends to come pick up me and my laundry. While I was waiting for my friends, I called a tow company to come get my car: I described the auto, provided the license plate number, and then (because the tow truck was taking its sweet time to get there) hauled the clothes home.

While I was folding the clothes at the house, the tow truck driver called me.

"I can't find your car."

"What do you mean? Are you at the Ambassador Laundry?"

"Yep, and I don't see your car."

"Great."

I hoofed it over to the spot where I'd left my car, and confirmed what the driver had told me. The fellow had cleared out already -- I couldn't blame him -- so I bugged the people in the laundromat to see if they'd observed anyone working with my car. No luck.

Where My Car Went Missing

I felt sick to my stomach. I tried to put a brave spin on the situation. "Well, if someone stole it, the good news is that at least my car is working." The people around me looked at me like I'd cracked.

I made my way back home and called around to the towing companies in town to see if they'd picked my car up. No dice. So I finally called the police and reported the car stolen.

I felt wretched. It was just a sick, helpless feeling. I moped around the rest of the day.

That evening the towing guy called me. "Your car will be ready in the morning."

"What?!" I shouted. "You said you couldn't find my car -- you mean you've had it all day?"

"Oh yeah," the guy said nonchalantly. "You just gave me the wrong license plate number, but I finally figured out which car you meant and towed it."

Sure enough, I'd described the right car to him, but in a distracted moment had given him the license plate number of my wife's car.

I was too relieved to give the guy grief, though he had given me a rotten time. When I picked the car up the next day I told him of my previous day's dilemma.

"That's pretty funny," he said.

Yeah, a real barrel of laughs.

Here's a run-down of the cars I've owned over the years.

1993 For Escort Wagon
I ground the clutch out of this one.

1993 Mazda MX-3
The Mazda's clutch wore out my left knee; this one left with the cat.

1995 Infiniti J30
Excellent for long trips, but this one had recurring electrical problems; declared "salvage" after a Chevy pickup rear-ended it.

2003 Honda Civic
The car I drive today; so far so good.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Palin on Kennedy

Source

From the article:

Palin addresses at length John F. Kennedy's noted speech on religion during the 1960 campaign...

"I am not the Catholic candidate for president," Kennedy said at the time. "I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic."

Palin...realized that Kennedy "essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are."

Palin is on the money: Kennedy was a sellout. He wasn't even a good politician either: he could get next to nothing done in Congress. His dance to appease anti-Catholic sentiment in the country only got him a bullet in the head.

So how should a Catholic conduct himself when he is running for office in a non-Catholic country?

I like the example of Old Thunder, Hilare Belloc. From 1906 to 1910 Belloc was a Liberal Party Member of Parliament for Salford South. During one campaign speech he was asked by a heckler if he was a "papist." Belloc took his Rosary from his pocket and said, "So far as possible I hear Mass each day and I go to my knees and tell these beads each night. If that offends you, then I pray God may spare me the indignity of representing you in Parliament."

Aside: Palin's mother is an ex-Catholic who had her daughter Baptized as an infant. Sarah has known only non-denominational Christianity all her life, but she did receive the Catholic Sacrament. She puts "practicing" Catholics like Biden and Pelosi to great shame.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Broken Coffee Pot

One of the office's coffee pots went belly up this week. This morning I applied the "Broken" warning sign, as shown here.

Work of the Blue Shirts?

My correspondence with the TSA and several airlines has largely been a one-way affair to day. The exception was this note to yours truly:

"Please understand we no longer perform searches at any of the airports we service and, therefore, have no control over the manner in which security screening is conducted and the use of Advanced Screening Imaging. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is conducting this procedure and we are required to comply with TSA directives."

My reply was essentially that they needed to quit passing the buck to TSA and start standing up for their customers.

On a happier note, the airport in Sanford, FL (Orlando) has decided to opt out of TSA involvement. Read the news for yourself here.

From the article:

* "You're going to get better service at a better price and more accountability and better customer service." - Larry Dale, Director of the Sanford Airport Authority

* "I think TSA is overstepping its bounds." - Congressman John Mica

* The airport will choose one of the five approved private screening companies to take over.

No word on criminal prosecution of TSA officials and agents. But Christmas is just around the corner.

Now, would you believe I'm flying Atlanta > Sanford next week to see my parents for Thanksgiving? When I pass through, I will make a point of finding airport officials so that I can both thank them and remind them to make sure the new security agency they use is an improvement. Too bad the change is supposed to take effect for 12 months.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Get Out of Yourself

"The center of the soul has an irrestrainable need which demands satisfaction. In reality, God alone can answer this need and the only solution is to immediately take the road leading to Him. The soul must converse with someone other than itself. Why? Because it is not its own last end; because its end is the living God, and it cannot rest entirely except in Him. As St. Augustine puts it, 'Our heart is restless, until it reposes in Thee.'"
- Taken from Three Ages of the Interior Life by Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Any number of times I've spoken with, listened to, or read individuals who said that ours is an especially restless age compared to ages past. This is true only in a superficial way. The human soul is always restless because it is immortal and it can never be satisfied with finite, material things. In ages past men in Western society found their remedy by turning to the infitely true, good, and beautiful God, where they found unending joy for their soul. Men today, meanwhile, don't trouble with God; as a result they're trapped in a reality limited by their mundane appetites, blasé attitudes, and vapid imaginings, and they are obliged to fill their lives with frenetic activity to distract themselved from this sad fact.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Refuser

Being someone who travels quite a bit with my my job, I've been able to enjoy more than one encounter with the invasive new "security" techniques being employed at various airports around the country. I've always refused the invasive, non-secure, and unreliable full body scans using the $200,000 x-ray devices.

Today I caught a snippet from a TSA spokesman who said that complaints have not gone up significantly with the new "security" techniques. Imagine people not so much as attempting to register formal complaints with an agency whose employees will threaten to suspend you from air travel for life if you don't shut up and do what you're told.

Now, a chap might still want to file a formal report. In fact I did so, at the TSA web site. Here's the message I left:

"Your full body scanners are invasive and inappropriate, and your full body pat-downs are insulting techniques that turn people into cattle. When someone refuses the scanner and you have a team of TSA agents all shouting, 'WE HAVE A REFUSAL!' you are clearly trying to embarrass people into complying. You don't make airports safer; all you're doing is dehumanizing innocent citizens."

In a more enlightened age TSA gropers would be shouted down by an angry mob for what they do to innocent travelers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

About a Year

It's been about a year since the terrorist gunman in Ft. Hood murdered and injured dozens of innocent people.

I haven't met Francisco, but his parents and sisters are good friends. The terrorist put a gun on him, pulled the trigger -- and missed. And then after the cops dropped the murderer, Francisco treated him too.

"None of my patients died," Francisco said. "I’m really glad for that."

http://www.kansascity.com/2010/11/05/2399496/kansan-awarded-medal-earned-in.html

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dies Irae, Dies Illa

Here is a recording of the monks of the Abbey of St Maurice and St. Maur in Clervaux, Luxembourg chanting the hauntingly beautiful Dies Irae, Dies Illa.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpvLPmv2FeY

I like the commentary from the chap who posted the video on YouTube:

The monks sing the seqeuence of the Dies Irae, which is traditionally said or sung for a Requiem Mass between the Epistle and gradual and before the reading of the Holy Gospel in the Traditional Catholic Mass of all ages. This beautiful sequence was removed from the Requiem Mass after the disaster which was Vatican II 1964 - 1968.

Our chap got the years of the disaster wrong (1962-1965), but his heart is in the right place.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Praying for the Deceased

All Souls' Day

When the days of the old covenant between Almighty God and His chosen people had been fulfilled, Christ defeated sin and death and so made it possible for men to enter Heaven through union with His mystical body, the Catholic Church. Those who are united with the soul of Christ’s Church share in the Communion of Saints, a locution describing:
* The faithful on earth (the Church Militant) who are fighting the temporal crusade for the Kingdom of God,
* The souls in Purgatory (the Church Suffering) who are making atonement in the place of purification, and
* The blessed in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) who are rejoicing in their eternal reward.

With our Lord as its head, this unity forms the Mystical Body of Christ, and benefits from a plenary exchange of grace and vitality between its members. Thus, through charity and obedience the members of the Church Militant participate in the same faith, sacraments, worship, and government, and aid one another through holy examples, constant prayers, and satisfactory works. These faithful also assist the suffering souls in Purgatory by prayers and sacrifices. The saints in Heaven, meanwhile, intercede with God on behalf of those who have not yet attained the Beatific Vision. The whole is vivified by life-giving activity of the Holy Ghost.

On November 2 Catholics unite in prayer for all the souls detained in Purgatory. The faithful who, during the period of eight days from All Saints Day, visit a cemetery and pray for the dead may gain a plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions, on each day of the Octave, applicable only to the dead. Also, between noon of November 1 and midnight of November 2, a person who has been to confession and Communion within the octave can gain a plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions, for the poor souls each time he visits a church or public oratory and recites the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory be to the Father six times.

Praying for the deceased is Biblical, after all. Consider: "It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead, that they maybe loosed from their sins." - 2 Macabees 12:46

If the reference to the book of Macabees gives you pause, consider that it was in the Scriptures that Christ Himself used.

The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred for a time from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, almsdeeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass.

The historical foundation is there too: Christians prayed for the dead from the earliest days of the Church.

"Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual."
- St.Thomas Aquinas