Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Category — Interesting Stuff

Among the Truthers: Life in Conspiracy World

In Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground, journalist Jonathan Kay, an editor at the National Post in Canada, examines the history of conspiracy theory in America and takes a long look at some of the people and ideas behind the 9/11 Truth movement.

I feel a lot like Kay in that I did an honest search of 9/11 theories. After reading the Truth material and the official Commission Report and many books, including The Looming Tower, and watching, ad infinitum, the videos of the event, like Kay, I concluded that it was much more likely that al Qaeda operatives hijacked four jets, of which three hit their targets than it is to believe that American neo-cons used passenger jets to hit three iconic, already explosive-rigged buildings, attacked the Pentagon with a missile and made several hundred people go away, presumably under hidden identities, never to be seen by their families again.

And like Kay, I don’t consider “truthers” to be, as he puts it, nutbags. If al Qaeda committed the crime, why do so many people believe that Cheney did it?

If you’re looking for more on thermite in WTC debris, or analyses of how Building 7 collapsed or what flying object hit the Pentagon, you won’t find it here. But if you want to better understand why so many people believe in things like this, it’s good background. Kay devotes chapters to conspiracism’s history and mythology, its psychological and religious roots and its advancement through media and academic and activist networks. Especially interesting are the sections on earlier alleged conspiracy plots – Ku Klux Klan, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Holocaust revisionism JFK etc. Kay does a great job of showing how many of the old themes and mythologies are woven into many of today’s conspiracy theories.

He also makes a good point that, though conspiracy theories have always been with us, it is the Internet that has accelerated and advanced the 9/11 Truthers’ cause and conspiracy theory in general. Virtually anyone with web access is free to check any of this out in the privacy of your own home. Gotta love it.

(More of my thoughts about 9/11 Truth.)

December 3, 2011   No Comments

A (Yawn) 4/20 Event at CU

This year we were joined by Lenny Bruce, Mick Jagger, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and Dennis Hopper.

I took the bus over to 4/20, the Smokeout that has taken place at 4:20 p.m. on April 20 at least back into the 1980s on the Quad of the University of Colorado. Waiting at the bus stop on Table Mesa, I watched groups of kids mostly, with surfboards and phones, walking toward the campus, talking and texting. At every stop, more people piled on, more than I’ve ever seen on a Dash, almost all of whom got off at Euclid south of the Quad. Four other people on the bus were writing; I was the only one with paper, which at least I found amusing.

A group of people made their way through the crowd with signs that suggested burning weed instead of oil.

I met Gil at the Pleasant Street stop a little after four, and we joined the throngs walking into the Quad, which was already jammed with smokers, hangers-on and the curious by the time we got there, just like the other time I attended two years ago. Airplanes dove in close, one with advertising trailing behind it, others, no doubt, filming. Police stood around looking bored, although there were, according to the paper, 11 people arrested for possession, a minor offense in Boulder.

A string band played quietly near the south steps of Old Main, where a photographer was stationed on the roof. Since cell-phone times are a bit off, there was a solid cheer and the smoke became thicker at 4:19, at 4:20 and 4:21. This one has become more of a media event than anything else. I found myself taking pictures of other people taking pictures of what was going on.

This magic moment: Balloons bounced and flags flew through the thickening smoke as the time grew closer to 4:20.

The papers said there were 10,000 people there, but the number could just as easily have been 15,000, many no doubt lured by the publicity generated by local media and a chance to get a buzz with strangers.

That was about it, and we were back in Gil’s office by 4:35.

A string band played quietly over by Old Main.

For all the media attention given it — Playboy magazine (it still exists?) declared CU the top party school in the country mostly because of this three-minute event, TV stations hype it because they have video from last year, and the local paper, the Camera, has been hyping this for days  — this is a real snoozer of a happening.

April 21, 2011   1 Comment

Buck Rogers and the U.S. Budget

The cutline beneath this illustration actually says: "An optimistic artist's rendering of a fully operational Maritime Laser Demonstrator." And this is what is off limits to the budget debate?

I found this “news story” from LiveScience on the MSNBC website It begins with a catchy headline and lede to draw your attention, but it’s really just a glorified press release.

Navy Raygun Disables Boat With Laser Weapon

“With their (sic) new high-energy laser weapons, the U.S. Navy has succeeded in combining buccaneers and Buck Rogers. Called the Maritime Laser Demonstrator, the ray gun quickly disabled a small boat in a recent test.”

Wow. Cool. Just like in the movies. Ray guns. Buck Rogers. Buccaneers. It even includes a video of the “Maritime Laser Demonstration.”

The story goes on to explain that the high-energy laser properly functioned as a weapon on the high seas, something “offensive lasers” have had difficulty with, and that “the lessons learned while developing the laser may prove more valuable than the laser itself.”

And here’s the clincher: “Such lasers could one day protect military vessels from the same kind of tiny boat that almost sunk the destroyer U.S.S. Cole by augmenting the small machine guns already aboard American warships.”

The U.S.S. Cole, you will remember, was attacked by al Qaeda suicide bombers from a small boat on Oct. 12, 2000, in Aden harbor, Yemen. Seventeen U.S. soldiers were killed and 39 injured in the blast, which blew open a huge hole in the destroyer. The story says “ONR developed the laser in conjunction with the defense company Northrop Grumman. The program had a ceiling value of $98 million, and took about two and a half years to complete.” Which begs two questions: a) How many other “offensive lasers” have we built before this one? b) is the U.S. spending at least $100 million and probably a lot more to make sure a small boat with suicide bombers can’t take out a destroyer in a harbor again?

And you gotta love the use of  “could one day” to remind us that this is an early test of some weapons system designed for the future. The cost doesn’t matter, though, because it’s part of the military budget, which makes up enough of a percentage of the total U.S. budget that cuts in its excesses alone could probably make up for most of the one percent our lawmakers and president spent six weeks dithering on about while network news ran countdown clocks on the government shutdown. And that those of us whose money goes toward it have no idea what the hell’s going on.

But what’s interesting is that while we just endured one of the most disgusting, embarrassing debacles in executive/legislative history over a total of one percent of the total budget – with more to come on another couple of percentage points – our government develops weapons programs that we “could” use years down the road and probably will sell to other countries for their wars. And all we ever hear about it is some MSNBC press release that today passes for news in the U.S.? Or this intriguing “infographic” explaining how laser technology can be used to create mayhem and blind people? (Apparently not the laser technology that optometrists use.)

This is just the tiny tip of the iceberg? When will we have a debate in this country over our secret military budget? When will we even be able to see the military budget? When will we ask why, in the name of “security,” we as a country are the major arms supplier in the world? When will we ask why not cut back on future weapons programs instead of arguing over Planned Parenthood?”

April 13, 2011   No Comments

Kilroy Is Still Here!

I don’t remember much about my father, but one thing has stuck in my mind over all these years: It’s this little story he would tell while sketching a funny character on a piece of paper. I have not been able to remember the story, or what the cartoon actually looked like, but I distinctly remember Garold drawing this little caricature and telling a story around it as he penciled it in.

I have tried everything to figure out what that illustration was.

Seeing this face gave me a wild case of déjà vu.

Now, all those decades later, that little mystery has been solved. One of my RSS feeds is linked to the Urban Legends Reference Page, and I recently found one about the Kilroy Was Here phenomenon. I took a look at the drawing and got an wild sense of déjà vu.

I began looking around for more about Kilroy and the illustration. Its etymology is unclear, but it is certain that G.I.s in World War II got into the spirit of spreading “Kilroy Was Here” around the globe. The stories are legion, but their ubiquity during this time helped them become synonymous with U.S. presence around the world. YouTube has several Kilroy Was Here items, including this old novelty recording of “Kilroy Was Here,” by Ted Fio Rito and his Orchestra, with Bozo the Clown as the voice of Kilroy – perfect for the character as drawn, don’ think?

Among the many stories about Kilroy on the semi-official website for Kilroy is this one: “(Under Water Demolition – later Navy Seals) divers swam ashore on Japanese held islands in the Pacific to prepare the beaches for the coming landings by U.S. troops. They were sure to be the first GIs there! On more than one occasion, they reported seeing ‘Kilroy was here’ scrawled on makeshift signs or as graffiti on enemy pillboxes. They, in turn, often left similar signs for the next incoming G.I.s.”

This is probably where Garold ran into Kilroy, and, along with the déjà vu,  it strengthens the case that Garold, who was shipped home from the beaches of New Guinea with malaria in 1945, impressed his young sons in the early 1950s by telling a story while drawing four horizontal lines in the same plane. Then he added the nose and fingers as he explained more to fill in the blank spots in the lines. Then the eyes, the head and finally a little sprig of hair, and Kilroy, with his long nose, is peering over the wall. You couldn’t really tell what it was until he added the last lines, and he would say, triumphantly, “Kilroy was here.” I loved it and would ask him to do it over and over again, and he obliged many times.

At this point, I am grateful for any knowledge of my father. Thanks to Kilroy for giving me another small morsel.

April 6, 2011   No Comments

Sweet Lunacy Comes to YouTube

It was ten years ago, on March 24, 2001, that Sweet Lunacy: A Brief History of Boulder Rock, was first screened at the Boulder Theatre, the opening act for the 25th reunion concert of Dusty Drapes and the Dusters.

Don Chapman and I had worked on and off for more than two years on the documentary, commissioned and funded by a grant from the Boulder Arts Commission for Boulder Municipal Channel Eight. We filmed a host of people who had been part of the music scene in Boulder from the 1950s, when Ray Imel Sr. and Rex Barker opened Tulagi, through the Astronauts, Flash Cadillac, the Dusters, Michael Woody and the Too High Band, Judy Roderick, Zephyr, Firefall, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and many others  into the 1980s, when the Fox Theatre began hosting live shows, and boiled down more than 30 hours of interviews into a one-hour documentary.

Don put the finishing touches on it that morning, and standing there watching it amongst my friends and more than a thousand people for whom it was made was one of the great hours of my life. It has been showing regularly since its release on Channel Eight.

But for ten years, that’s the only way people could see it. Because of budget and staff cuts, Channel Eight no longer makes copies of the film available. At present, it is only available if you have access to Channel 8, and it is not on a regular schedule, so it is truly accessible to only a scant few people.

Meanwhile, requests for it have remained pretty steady over the years. It was originally made for VHS (remember that?), and in a digital world many people who only have it in that format might no longer be able to access it. Others who were interviewed or played a part in the film have never seen it. I get emails inquiring about it, but beyond burning and sending a physical copy, there is no legitimate way for people outside of Boulder to see it.

The arts commission’s only charge to Don and me was to get it in front of as many people as possible, and the way to do that today is to make it available on YouTube. It needs at least the chance to go viral.

It’s now at sweetlunacyboulder, chopped into four easily digestible 15-minute segments, thanks to the lovely and talented Lauren Winton. I have added some notes so you know what’s in each segment, and I’m sure I’ll be playing with annotation and other stuff to make it more easily understood. More about Sweet Lunacy and its making here.

If you are interested in screening the film, please contact me at leland.rucker@gmail.com. But most of all, please, enjoy.

April 1, 2011   1 Comment

The Hills are On Fire

The fire earlier this afternoon west of Boulder.

The fire earlier this afternoon.

Another dangerous fire, as always whipped by shifting, gusty winds, has closed all the roads into the foothills west of Boulder.

I got a few photos from south Boulder this afternoon, this one from the trail around the CU property off Table Mesa. Although the TV stations have been following the story all day, we really don’t know much. It’s burning up there west of Lee Hill Road and east of Four Mile Canyon Road, which is where it apparently started about 10 a.m. this morning. There are hundreds of homes up there, and reports are now saying that dozens of structures have burned. Thankfully there are, so far, no casualties or injuries. But firefighters have no control at this point.

I first saw the cloud about 11:45 a.m. I had been having coffee with a friend, and there was no sign of anything at 11:30. Fifteen minutes later, the huge cloud looked almost apocalyptic to the west and north.

The winds have calmed, and it’s cooling off now, and I’ve been listening to the police radio on a website. Evacuations are taking place on Lee Hill and Olde Stage Road, although many people on both of those roads refusing to leave. The Olde Stage Fire wasn’t that long ago.

It’s dark now, and the slurry bombers have stopped running. We drove out to the reservoir on Cherryvale Road just a few minutes ago. The western hills looked a scene from Mordor in the Ring Trilogy. Several fires could be see from near the mouth of Boulder Canyon all the way north to Lee Hill Road, and flames occasionally flared. The photos of burning houses are already filling the news websites. The smell of smoke permeates the air.

September 6, 2010   5 Comments

Five Points: Prayer Box/Bike Rack

If you missed services, you can still get a word in -- or park your bicycle. (click to enlarge)

I’m not a religious man myself, but I found this combination drive-by bike rack/drive-up prayer box irresistible. It is part of the Kingdom of Glory Christian Center at the corner of 25th and Welton streets.

The double use applies to the center itself, which is located in a former True Value hardware store. In a nice irony, the former tenant’s sign still sits above that of the current one.

The church and prayer box are a short walk from the 25th Street station of the D light-rail line.

For its members, the Kingdom of Glory Christian Center is a true value. (click to enlarge)

August 31, 2010   No Comments

Five Points: Sonny Lawson Park

Scoreboard at Sonny Lawson Park. The vacant lot across the street is scheduled to be turned into high-end condos.

The offices where I work are in Denver’s Five Points district. Free Speech TV, where I have been happily employed the last year, the jazz radio station KUVO and TV station KBDI are located at 2900 Welton Street, just two blocks north of the conjunction of Welton Street, 26th Avenue, 27th Street and Washington Street, the five-way intersection that gives the area its name.

Architecturally and politically, Five Points is an important part of the history of Denver, one of its oldest neighborhoods and now again, as it has many times in the past, is in transition. I have been walking the maze of streets that give this area its unique feel (more about the maze some other time), both the commercial area in and around the Five Points intersection and the adjacent residential neighborhoods. and I have become both curious about and fascinated with the area.

I take the D-train light rail from 18th and California to the 29th and Welton stop, the last before Welton Street and the light-rail end at 30th and Downing St. Along the way, the train passes Sonny Lawson Park, at the intersection of Welton Street and Park Avenue West. It includes a lighted baseball field, and though I have never seen athletic contests there, I understand that during the summer, it is used every evening for everything from city softball leagues to sloshball. There is a shaded, landscaped area to the east (beyond the left field fence) with a basketball court and children’s play equipment that has been integrated with the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library.

There is a certain serenity in its simplicity. No matter what time I pass, the park is always in use as a popular location for people to hang out and meet. Transients can be seen in the mornings spread out on cardboard and blankets along the outfield fence beneath the trees, but as the day goes on, families and kids move in and pickup games form on the basketball court. No matter the temperature, and it has been hot this summer in the late afternoons, it is always cooler beneath the trees.

I found that the park, named after Denver pharmacist and political activist Sonny Lawson, is a stop along the Beat Experience Tour, mostly because Jack Kerouac wrote about a night he spent at the park while exploring Neil Cassady’s childhood neighborhood.

The park is near downtown Denver at the western edge of the Park Hill residential district.

“Down at 23rd and Welton a softball game was going on under floodlights which also illuminated the gas tank,” Kerouac wrote. “A great eager crowd roared at every play. The strange young heroes of all kinds, white, colored, Mexican, pure Indian, were on the field, performing with heart-breaking seriousness …  Near me sat an old Negro who apparently watched the games every night. Next to him was an old white bum, then a Mexican family, then some girls, some boys — all humanity, the lot. Oh, the sadness of the lights that night!”

That was written almost a half century ago,  and although the gas tank is gone, it describes Sonny Lawson Park even today and opens up another piece of the history of this area. Neal Cassady, upon whom Kerouac based Dean Moriarity, the protagonist of On the Road, grew up in Curtis Park, attended school and church in the neighborhood and played baseball on this very field. White kids like Kerouac were drawn to the underground black jazz scene in the many clubs around Five Points, just a few blocks east of Sonny Lawson Park. More on that relationship as we find out more about this historic area.

August 13, 2010   No Comments

The Garmin Boys Are in Town

The familiar Garmin logo. (click to enlarge)

I was biking to my Sunday morning radio shift. Heading through a parking lot near KGNU, I noticed a familiar logo on a truck. It was the colors of the Garmin Transitions cycling team on a convoy of vehicles. including this one, a couple of team cars and vans. A quick Google search finds that they are parked outside the team’s Boulder offices.

I have been impressed with the Garmin team since its inception. Team Director Jonathan Vaughters has taken a serious stand against doping. And though the team suffered through a nightmare Tour de France, losing Robbie Hunter and Tyler Farrar to broken bones, the performance of Ryder Hesjedal, who rode well and wound up in seventh place, bodes well for the future.

As a huge fan of cycling, it’s nice to have one of the sport’s premier teams in town. The recent announcement that there will be a tour of Colorado next year, possibly including a ride through Boulder, is icing on the cake.

Here's the fleet. (click to enlarge)

August 9, 2010   No Comments

Return of the Datura

This datura flower lasted only one night.

The datura have returned to the yard this year, more a scouting party than a full brigade. They are volunteers, and they show up in only in a small area along a stone path just at the edge of the canopy of our spruce tree, so they exist in a place where they are shaded except in the afternoons. The plant has a way of wilting when the sun is intense and then rebounding after dark.

Datura bring forth mysteriously beautiful, often short-lasting flowers that bloom at night. Besides their natural magnificence, datura, when ingested, are both hallucinogenic and toxic, with a long cultural history. I have not ingested one of the enticing flowers, and after reading several accounts of people who did, I won’t be finding out for myself. But it makes the plant even more mysterious to me.

Last summer no volunteers showed for duty, after a banner year in 2008, when we had many blooms on several plants.

But this flower lasted only one night. The afternoon sun “melted” it, and it didn’t come back.

Click here to see a shot of our 2008 bumper crop.

August 5, 2010   No Comments