Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The UFO letter

The truth is way out there

Oh, look what I found in the archives! While rifling through a stack of old print-outs (yes, some of them even had perforated tractor-feed margins), I discovered one of my unpublished letters to the editor. We all know what happens to our unsolicited expressions of concern, outrage, agreement, etcetera: nothing, usually. As a rule, unless you're writing to a small local newspaper, your letter to the editor will vanish without a trace. Despite examples like that of one of my mentors, who actually got a letter published in the New York Times, writing to a newspaper is usually a waste of time (although the process of venting might be salubrious).

In this instance, however, my unpublished letter garnered a surprising response from the editor of the Letters section: “I really LOVE this letter. But I'm still not going to publish it. Sorry. We just don't have space for stuff like this.” I was charmed, of course, and regretfully but stoically set my missive aside.

The Internet, however, has plenty of room for “stuff like this”! Therefore today I share with you not only my previously unpublished letter, but the original letter to the editor to which it was a response. The year is 1998:
UFOs are real

Re “The reality of UFOs,” letters, March 1: It is amazing that we are still discussing whether UFOs exist. It has been more than 50 years since the UFO crash at Roswell, N.M., not to mention sightings over the past several hundred years. My own observations and interest go back to 1953, when, with several other skeptics, I co-founded one of the first “flying saucer” groups in the United States. Our club was called Civilian Saucer Intelligence and was based in New York City.

Whether the letter writers are part of the government disinformation coverup, I do not know. I do know, as do millions of others, that UFOs exist.

I recommend that doubters read “The Day After Roswell” by a former Pentagon official, Col. Philip Corso (Ret.). It contains a foreword by Sen. Strom Thurmond. It is doubtful that a man such as Thurmond would lend his name to any hoax.


Upon first reading this letter, I naturally reacted to the writer's use of “skeptic” in a way I found original and amusing. In his mind, “skeptic” obviously meant someone who refused to accept the debunking of flying saucer stories and was ready to embrace the notion of aliens joy-riding their round spacecraft all over the earth. I sat down at my PC keyboard and banged out the following:

Dear Editor: Little suspecting the dramatic events about to transpire, I was minding my own business while reading the Letters to the Editor in Friday's paper (March 27). I found “UFOs are Real” especially fascinating, particularly his speculation that letter writers who scoff at flying saucers might be “part of the government disinformation coverup.” Naturally I was trying to figure out what government disinformation was being covered up.

Of course, I was somewhat distracted by the irritating noise of a helicopter flying overhead. I could tell from the sound that the chopper had those extra-wide blades that are quieter than most. These are great for stealthy night missions, especially when the helicopters are painted the right color.

It was a relief when the chopper noise stopped, but shortly afterward my doorbell rang. On the front porch I found a tall man wearing a dark suit. I couldn't see his eyes because he was wearing opaque sunglasses.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, very politely, in a clipped voice that reminded me a bit of that actor Tommy Lee Jones. “I see that you're reading the Letters section of today's paper. Would you mind if I point out some things about the letter about UFOs?”

“Wow!” I exclaimed, “I was just reading it. What an amazing coincidence!”

The man gave me a tight little smile. “How fortunate,” he said. “Did you notice where the writer referred to 'the' UFO crash at Roswell, even though there are presently three alleged crash locations? Doesn't this suggest that the evidence is a little bit questionable?”

“You got me there,” I admitted, “although you know people found metallized fabric unknown to modern science anywhere on this planet except among balloon manufacturers. That's pretty compelling evidence. And the descriptions of alien bodies match pretty closely the appearance of the test dummies that the Air Force was tossing out of planes in parachute experiments in those years. I think this proves the degree to which aliens are willing to disguise themselves to fool us into thinking they don't exist. And don't forget that millions of people believe in UFOs.”

“Interesting point,” said the man. “Of course, millions believe in Islam while millions of others believe in Christianity. At least one of these groups has to be wrong. And millions of people believe that The X-Files is a documentary. Facts aren't really subject to popularity contests.”

“You got me there,” I admitted, “but how about that book that the writer mentioned? It's by a retired colonel and was endorsed by Sen. Strom Thurmond. That's pretty impressive, you know, with an endorsement by an authority like Thurmond.”

“No disrespect intended, sir, but these days 95-year-old Sen. Thurmond isn't even much of an authority on what day of the week it is. Besides which, he has issued a retraction of his book blurb, which was written because of his acquaintance with the colonel, not because he approved the unseen contents of the book manuscript.”

“You got me there,” I admitted, “but I'm sure that your cool and reasoned explanations must have some flaw in them. It's not as if retired colonels or other UFO enthusiasts would make up stories, delude themselves, fake alien autopsies, or observe bogus anniversaries in Roswell just to make money, acquire fame, or spice up their humdrum lives. I'll have to think about it.”

“Please do,” the man said. “And don't forget to write a letter to present these explanations to the public. As a concerned citizen, it's the least you can do, right?”

“Of course,” I agreed, but when I started to say something more, I noticed that he was suddenly gone. Anyway, I've been thinking about what he said and I've concluded that the man in the dark suit must have been wrong. UFOs must be real, because “The truth is out there.” I know, because popular media, tabloid television, the National Enquirer, and David Duchovny tell me so.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Automotive expression

A peculiar perspective on politics

We've all seen those cars that have been plastered with indicators of the drivers' passions and concerns. Many are the unimpressive tributes to offspring who manage to be “scholar of the week” at a local elementary school. Other people “heart” their dogs (or, less often, cats). My attention is caught, however, by political signs, especially time-worn emblems of campaigns past. Why do people retain these stickers on their cars?

I, for one, kept my Al Gore 2000 sticker on my car for the duration of George W. Bush's first term. When my father smirked and asked if I still hadn't gotten over losing yet, I replied that I hadn't gotten over winning and then being cheated of victory. Dad naturally considered me a sore loser (but seems not to recall this as he continues his hand-wringing over the electoral imposition of a black-power, totalitarian communist government in the 2008 election; apparently only Democrats can be sore losers—Republicans are instead in mourning for America). Later the Gore sticker was replaced with a “Worst President” emblem in which the W was fashioned to match the Bush campaign logo. (More sneering from Dad: “Oh, is that a tribute to Carter?”)

I similarly preserved my “No on 8” bumper sticker until the anti-marriage measure met its judicial demise. In fact, I never removed it. The sticker accompanied my car to its final resting place and my new(er) car has yet to acquire political detritus.

My mind was jogged in this direction when I parked next to a vehicle whose driver was evidently a disappointed Republican. The car sported two battle-torn campaign insignia. One was for McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. I noted that it was the original McCain sticker, not the McCain-Palin sticker that arose after the senator's ill-fated choice of running mate. For some reason, the driver had failed to upgrade her sticker.

But here's what struck me as odd: The second sticker was not a memento of the Romney campaign in 2012. Our unknown Republican driver had not found it in herself to announce her support of the Romney-Ryan ticket. Interesting.

What was the second sticker? A 2006 remnant of California's general election. The driver had supported Chuck Poochigian for state attorney general. The average reader is unlikely to have much recollection of that epic campaign. The incumbent attorney general was Jerry Brown, who blew Poochigian away without even breathing hard (which he is now about to do again with Neel Kashkari, the Republican nominee in the current campaign for California governor).

You can't psychoanalyze someone on the basis of two bumper stickers (unless you're a Fox News pundit, of course). Therefore I can't quite decide what the tale of two stickers implies. She rallied to an attorney general candidate whose fate was all but foredoomed. She then gave her support fairly early to a presidential candidate who had a fighting chance (at least until the economy tanked and Sarah Palin was revealed as a joke candidate; or perhaps our unknown driver came to McCain later but refused the McCain-Palin version of the sticker). She didn't bother to enlist in the effort to prevent Jerry Brown's return to the governor's office in 2010 nor the Republican presidential campaign in 2012. Disheartened? One might think so.

She hasn't given up pining for Poochigian and McCain, though.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Happy Nixon Resignation Day!

Pretending to draw lessons

It's the 40th anniversary of the resignation of our much-unloved 37th president, the only one of the nation's chief executives to have departed in this manner. Therefore it's natural to look back on Nixon's shameful example and attempt to draw lessons that we might usefully apply today. Of course, if you're a right-wing pundit you might prefer to distort things beyond all recognition as you declare that Nixon's crimes are ever-so-similar to what Barack Obama is currently doing. Here's how Ben Boychuk does it:
Public opinion all but guaranteed Nixon’s impeachment and ouster 40 years ago. Public opinion all but guarantees Barack Obama won’t be impeached today....

Whether Obama deserves impeachment is another matter. Here Nixon’s case remains instructive.
Cue the imaginary scandals!
Nixon broke his oath of office. He disregarded “his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” He “repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens.” In particular, Nixon used the IRS, the FBI and the Secret Service to harass and punish his political enemies, alleged the second of three articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee approved in 1974....

Perhaps the same could be said of Obama. His IRS singled out tea party and other conservative groups for excessive scrutiny, although nobody so far has managed to turn up the proverbial “smoking gun” linking the president to those abuses.
That's right. Boychuk is flogging the multiply-discredited “IRS scandal,” neglecting its origins in the cherry-picked factoids disseminated by the deliberately dishonest Darryl Issa. As a result of a deluge of new political groups claiming 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, the IRS gave a lot of attention to so-called “tea party” groups—and liberal groups, too, though you wouldn't hear that from mission-driven Issa.
Obama has been lax, at best, about taking care that “the laws be faithfully executed.” From waivers to the Affordable Care Act’s mandates for unions and politically connected businesses to invoking “prosecutorial discretion” to exempt 1 million illegal immigrants from deportation, Obama has pushed executive authority to the limit.

Now the president is mulling an executive order that could, in effect, grant amnesty to some 6 million illegal immigrants. Yet the Constitution clearly reserves the power of “naturalization” to Congress, not the president. Does that matter anymore?
Boychuk spins the notion of “waivers” from the ACA as if they are exemptions handed out as political favors, rather than executive decisions based on easing the implementation process (something President Bush also did for Medicare Part D and which the Supreme Court deems within the president's executive authority).

Note also Boychuk's invocation of the N-word: naturalization. Whether or not Obama issues executive orders affecting the status of undocumented residents, he will certainly not be offering them “naturalization,” which entails citizenship and voting rights. That, however, is what Boychuk wants to imply, causing tea-partiers to clutch their pearls and swoon. Given complete inaction by the House of Representatives while a continuing crisis percolates on our southern border, the president will have to act without the assistance of the derelict legislative branch. It is well within his authority to declare that no one will be denied due process and summarily deported.

Although Boychuk claims that the president is pushing his authority “to the limit,” it is an obvious and necessary perquisite of his position to set priorities. Shall we haul the so-called Dreamers into court and prosecute them as illegally residing in the country where they've spent their lives since childhood and deport them back to native lands many of them don't even remember because of their youth when their parents brought them across the border? The Department of Justice has enough to keep it busy without also taking on foolish and unfair prosecutions of life-long residents.
Violating the oath of office? Usurping congressional authority? Using the might of the presidency against political foes? Not trivialities. Or, at least they weren’t 40 years ago.
And they're not trivial today, either. They're merely nonexistent.