Saturday, August 28, 2010

Creative Writing Class (I be in one)

The few of you who read my stuff regularly have noticed that my posts have been few and far between. There are two reasons for this; I am back in college working towards a degree in Marine Geology so I am taking my general-ed courses so that I may transfer to CSUMB, and the other excuse is that I have been amusing my friends on Facebook with tales from my youth. Some of those stories may migrate over here in the future if I feel like polishing them up a bit.
The great news is that now I have a creative writing class, so much of what I write there will end up here after I get a grade for them. Three years ago I had been submitting writing for my book to various agents and publishers, and I never heard anything back from them. Then I got a short e-mail from one that said “you need to take some English and writing classes.” Ouch. Okay, so I signed up at Monterey Peninsula College (MPC, also known as “Elestero Tech” or “DMSU” [Dennis the Menace State University]) and went through the English 1A, 1B, and English2 classes. I lucked out and got a tough-grading professor who pushed my skills until I could integrate a quote with the best of them. I was also exposed to classic literature like Sophocles and Hemingway which gave me more options as a writer for tackling my 7th Infantry book.

The reason for taking the creative writing class is that I need to be pushed outside my comfort zone, and I need to bounce my work off the brains of people who don’t know me (friends are great, I love you guys, but I need to hear feedback from neutral or even hostile sources too). I already have a list of poets and poems to check out from our second day of class. Right out of the gate we have to write poems in the form of Haiku and Cinquain. I had never heard of a Cinquain before last Thursday. The Cinquain for is as follows:

Two syllables
Four syllables
Six syllables
Eight syllables
Two syllables
So you get something like this:

Where to hide them?
Flick them out the window?
Stick them under the table-top?
Eat mine.

I am sure this is exactly what the guy was thinking when he invented this framework. This is the kinda stuff you guys will have to endure from me through December.

I am pretty stoked as my professor, Henry Marchand, actually knows who Ambrose Bierce is which qualifies him to teach writing in my book. Plus he went to Penn State as did my high school English teacher, Mr. Scheckler, who was the first important person ever to believe in my writing. There must be something in the water at Penn State. Mr. Scheckler pulled me aside one day after class and told me to write him stories. He said that they would be extra credit, and that I would still have to do the regular assignments too. He said that the stories would not be graded for grammar; instead he said “just write, tell me a story!” So I did just that. My spare time was spent writing “Twilight Zone” type stories about parallel dimensions, time travel, and a double-crossing drug smuggler who gets his in the end.

Henry Marchand seems to be in the same vein of teacher. He knows that there is some great stuff stuck in everyone’s brain and he wants to get it out onto paper. He says that we will end up looking deep inside ourselves as we explore the writing process. You guys know that I have already done this, and that work is archived here. The class is orderly yet comfortable so I can’t wait to see what comes out of my brain.

Stay Tuned…

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Confessions of a Former Conspiracy Theorist.

My road to conspiracy kookdom began innocently enough. My dad gave me his copy of the Warren Commission abridged report along with a book of pictures that spanned that fateful day in Dallas. He got to see Kennedy in Florida as he reviewed the troops assembled there in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Dad said in passing that he never believed the Warren Report or that Oswald was the shooter. I was eight or nine years old at this time and I was way too young to understand things like the Watergate story that was dominating the news around this time. When you’re a kid you tend to believe your dad. So in a way I was already handicapped as I approached the subject of the Kennedy assassination.
The first serious exposure I got into this conspiracy world was a documentary called “The Men Who Killed Kennedy”, and it featured most of the mythology that surrounds the event. It is a good starting place if you wish to understand how conspiracy theories feed on themselves and spin into competing theories that soon do battle with each other. The movie’s theory is that Kennedy was murdered by a professional French hit man hired by powerful Americans via the CIA, who used the mafia as a proxy for hiring the hit man. Why? Vietnam, Texas Oil, Cuba, and all kinds of evil right-wing stuff.
The Men Who Killed Kennedy features all of the standard elements that you can find in just about every conspiracy theory:

1. New eye-witnesses with fantastic stories.
2. Former government/intelligence insiders who are shot in silhouette who say that the assassination looked like a professional job, but either have no direct knowledge about the events of November 22, 1963 but “know a guy who told them everything.”

3. Both the new witnesses and the government insiders “‘fear for their lives”.
4. Interviews with “Experts” who aren’t really experts in the subjects that they discuss.
5. Frame by frame analysis of film of the event but the analysis has a narrow focus.
6. Informants. In this movie’s case they are Mob guys. Bottom line on Mob Guys is this: Mob Guys don’t talk. They sure as hell don’t talk on camera. The ones who do are full of crap.

7. The Men Who Killed Kennedy also features an interview with the alleged assassin, but of course he can’t go into detail. He writes a letter that is put in the warden’s safe with instructions that if he is murdered that only then can the letter be released to the press. Oh yeah, the assassin is already in a French prison and will only speak to investigators if he is moved to the U.S..
8. Enhanced photographs showing, well, showing nothing but a mess that is open to interpretation.

These elements are usually present in conspiracy theories and should be a giant BS-flag whenever they appear.

Conspiracies are real, they do happen, but they tend to fall apart which is how we know about them. Watergate is a prime example of a conspiracy and how it unraveled. It started with a break-in at Democratic head quarters in the Watergate building in Washington D.C. There were guys arrested soon after. Then the Washington Post got a tip that someone should take a closer look at the guys who were arrested. It turned out that they had interesting pasts. Then the source, who became known as “Deep Throat”, would lead the Washington Post to more evidence that eventually lead back to the Nixon White House. From there Federal Investigators jumped in and eventually Nixon resigned and members of his staff went to prison. At every step there was evidence that lead to more evidence. This evidence was solid. While “Deep Throat” remained anonymous to the public his identity was known to the Washington Post. The Post never ran with Deep Throat’s claims, instead they double and triple-checked them before they were printed in the paper. Nothing about Watergate was open to interpretation because most of the conspirators confessed.
If the “Plumbers” had been less inept, would Nixon have gotten away with it? It is hard to say, but probably not because it had too many moving parts. Nixon had ordered the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to steal records. The problem is that there would have been other break-ins after Watergate and with each one the odds of being caught would grow.
Of the dozens of books that I have read about the Kennedy assassination the best one is Live by the Sword, by Gus Russo. It does two things; the first thing is that it firmly establishes Oswald as the lone shooter, and the second thing it does is outline the actual cover-up after the assassination. The cover-up was not to obscure Oswald and his possible accomplices, but to separate the President (and his brother the Attorney General) from their clandestine operations to kill Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Russo’s book isn’t perfect in that he falls into the trap of alleging that Cuba offered to allow Oswald to immigrate there as a reward for killing Kennedy. While he lays out his argument he has no actual evidence. However, the rest of the book is outstanding as it documents RFK’s suppression of evidence and shaping the investigation away from the CIA and Cuban nationals in the Gulf Coast area of the U.S.
I have written before about my conversion to reality. I had gone to Dallas to visit my brother and we went to the Dealy Plaza Six Floor Museum in the old Texas Schoolbook Depository building. Looking out onto Elm Street from the window next to the “Sniper’s Nest” one thing became immediately clear to me – it was an easy shot. Roughly 300 feet from the window to the fatal head shot, and with that rifle’s scope Kennedy’s head would have looked like a pumpkin. Then as I was checking out the famous grassy knoll the sound of a helicopter filled the plaza (they were filming the first X-Files movie a few blocks away) and I was stunned by the amount of echo the buildings cause. So those witness reports about shots coming from other locations around the plaza all made sense. In recent years recreations of the assassination have proven the devastating effect of the Mannlicher –Carcano’s round, and I have learned that the rifle was once sought after by Olympic marksmen and prized by elephant hunters because of the penetration power of the bullet. The Carcano was hardly the cheap piece of crap that conspiracy kooks had led me to believe. They also wanted me to believe that Oswald couldn’t shoot, which his Marine Corps records show otherwise.
Standing in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository that day it became clear that I had been fooled and willingly so. This made me a giant douche-bag. Worse still was the fact that I had bought into other conspiracies too like UFOs and secret societies. After re-evaluating those I felt like a bigger chump. Why was I such a giant sucker? This was depressingly easy to answer: I like being smarter than everyone else and I like the idea that I am special. Being “In” on the biggest secret of the 20th Century made me feel special and I ate it all up. I was too clever for my own good. Today I have learned to wait until most of the facts are available before I express an opinion on an event.
By September 11th, 2001 I was immune to conspiracy-itus. I had watched the conspiracy rise up around TWA 800, and it followed the usual patterns of the government conspiracy. Mysterious naval movements, witnesses who thought that they saw a missile fired, and later Pierre Salinger would come forward with exclusive footage from a radar screen. The thing is that the FBI brought the plane’s wreckage up from the bottom of the ocean and reconstructed it in a hanger. There was no evidence of a missile strike. So as I watched the events of 9/11 unfold I wondered how long it would be until a conspiracy would be woven from that day. It literally started the next day. I stopped by my friend’s place to discuss the attacks. He told me that he had received a fax listing all kinds of anomalies and that we were being fed a lie. He told me that the footage of the Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of the attacks was actually four years old, even though one of the cars in the footage is clearly a 2001 model.
It wouldn’t be until after the invasion of Iraq that the “9/11 Truth” movement would pick up steam. The first book was written before the invasion by Thierry Meyssan called “The Horrifying Fraud”, and it claimed that the Pentagon was not hit by American Airlines 77 but by a missile. Meyssan also believes that the Beslan massacre was carried out by the CIA to gain control of the Caspian Sea. While he is an obvious nut-job, his book was a big hit in France (the French also think the Kennedy was killed by the CIA too) and gave rise the domestic 9/11 Truth gang. The premier zeitgeist of the “Truthers” is the film “Loose Change”. “Loose Change” was written and directed by Dylan Avery and produced with his buddies Korey Rowe, Jason Bermas, and Matthew Brown.
“Loose Change” is a piece of work, and it contains all of the red flags that I mentioned. The first version insisted that there was some kind of a pod under the wing of the plane that hit the South Tower of the WTC, and then suggested that this was proof of the plane being under remote control. Although the first version of “Loose Change” had been released in 2005; at which time the American public was well aware of the Predator drone, for some reason they felt that a pod was necessary to enable remote controllability. The movie has had to be revised three times as the claims are soundly debunked. It is nowhere near the masterpiece that The Men Who Killed Kennedy is. Avery and his pals produced their movie right after they graduated high school, and I can see myself in their rabid zeal to expose the truth. I suppose that if the internet had been around in 1982 that I would have done something similar because I had bought into the whole thing. I genuinely feel sorry for them because they seem like nice guys but they are oblivious to the pain that they are causing the survivors of those attacks and the families of those who did not come home on 9/11/2001.
There is a larger problem today as I see it. While the 9/11 Truthers are clearly nut, there is a secondary layer of kooks that operate freely within the media and politics. The myth of vaccines causing Autism is prevalent today in the US and Europe even though the original report has been redacted from the British medical journal because it was a fraud, and the doctor who wrote it has been stripped of his license to practice medicine. Yet even after all of this the subject is still treated with a serious tone by newscasters. The CIA is still given way too much credit for things it could never possible pull off.
Today I am free from conspiracy-itus. I no longer see the Illuminate behind every tree. I review the issues of the day on their own merits and the facts that surround them. It is liberating because I don’t have to find a way to make them fit into some larger, twister conspiracy framework. I am amazed at the level of stupidity I was gleefully willing to indulge in. I consider myself lucky for finally seeing the light. It is easy to get sucked into conspiracies; I need to warn you about this fact. They are presented with enough facts to make them plausible. Before you know it you have bought into some seriously crazy stuff.

Be careful.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Back in the Sadlle

I can’t tell you how many times I have started and stopped trying to get into a simple exercise regimen. It is very hard to go from sloth to some kind of basic activity, I remember how hard it was the second time I began getting into shape back in 1993. I was trying out for the California Highway Patrol, and those first weeks were just a huge pain. It takes six weeks before the human body fully adjusts to a new physical tempo, as my doctor explained it to me in between sets at the gym. I am entering my second week of every-other-day sessions on the stationary bike and once again my body is feeling the change.
Suddenly I am walking with a little more authority and moving faster for longer. I am less winded climbing the stairs at work. My legs want to go places. The truth be told it seemed as if they swung themselves out of the bed and just dragged me along to the bike. I like the feeling I’m getting from my body, so I hope I am on my way to a healthier me.
Here’s what has made the difference from the recent failures. My boss suggested that I just put a colored dot on the calendar for every time I worked out. So each day when I get to work I see those blue dots accumulate I feel good, and adding another dot also makes me feel good. I’m kind of an addictive type, or a binge-type and right now I’m just building upon each session. This week I’m at 30 minutes on the bike, next week it will be 45. Then I will have to find stuff to add, and that will probably be weights at the Fitness Center once a week.
That is in the future. Right now it’s just one workout session at a time. Nothing fancy.