Wednesday, June 4, 2008
The 10-year-old and her 8-year-old brother, Skylar, opened for business a few days ago and say they plan to staff the roadside stand for about four hours a day.
Aleft the cat partially paralyzed. The children's father said a veterinarian has recommended amputation of the leg so that Patches can have a more normal life.
The cost of the surgery, medications and other care could run as much as $700.
For thirsty passers-by, the cost of helping out is just $1 for a bottle of water and 25 cents for a packet of powdered lemonade or fruit juice.
Aspen said she'll "do this as long as it takes" because Patches is one of her favorite pets.
A woman accused of having a knife in public has walked free from court - saved by a sausage, lawyers said today.
Jane Bellas, 29, from Penrith, Cumbria, avoided a miscarriage of justice after being spotted handling the foodstuff, Carlisle crown court heard.
Bellas was arrested in her car near her home on January 31 after officers spotted her with a kitchen knife. Bellas protested her innocence, telling police officers she needed the knife for her job on a fast food stall in Penrith's market square.
But the local council was unable to confirm that she had a licence, and she was charged with having a knife in a public place without good reason. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)ploughed on with the prosecution, appointing solicitors and gathering evidence from the police.
But Tim Evans, a barrister in the case, told Carlisle Crown Court yesterday a sausage had saved the day. Council records showed food inspectors had earlier seen Bellas "tinkering with a generator while handling a sausage", Mr Evans said. This proved the defendant had a valid reason for carrying a knife in public: her occupation.
The Crown offered no evidence against her. Bellas was formally found not guilty and given £10 to cover her travelling expenses.
A spokesman said: "The CPS keeps all cases under continuous review. In this case, new evidence came to light that Jane Bellas had a valid reason for carrying a knife in a public place. We accepted that the knife was for use at her place of work. Therefore we offered no evidence."
Bryan Bonner's mock video used DIY digital effects and a store-bought costume to show how easy it would be for Stan Romanek to fake his evidence of alien life. The fake, pictured at left, was released the day before a news conference when an actual still from Romanek's footage was released (right), though bloggers have picked up the Bonner footage as the "real" thing. (Stills via the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society and the Rocky Mountain News)
f real life were anything like a sci-fi movie, Stan Romanek might just hold the future of mankind in his hands. Judging from his own (now very public) accounts, Romanek has had a staggering amount of contact with extraterrestrials. He has photographed a so-called flying orb emblazoned with what appears to be a face. He has met aliens in person, and drawn sketches of their vast eyes and swollen craniums. And late last week, Romanek stirred up a Web frenzy by showing a room full of reporters in Denver a brief clip of what he says is an alien peering into his window.
Clearly, this is no coincidence.
In what amounts to a bizarre new kind of viral marketing, the footage screened on Friday—to be included in an upcoming documentary about Romanek's experiences—is also part of a ballot initiative to create a commission that would formalize contact with aliens. The man heading that effort, 54-year-old Jeff Peckman, has a curious political track record running parallel to his extraterrestrial PR. In 2003, he campaigned for an initiative to reduce Denver's collective stress levels, using such measures as group meditation and the playing of sitar music in public buildings. But Peckman's efforts to promote Romanek's footage have been considerably more successful, garnering national headlines and an appearance on Larry King Live. And the hyperbole is frustrating the already combative cult of UFO followers, skeptics and believers alike.
"We saw this guy trying to pass off things that looked paranormal as something related to aliens," says Bryan Bonner, head of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society, which has been recreating Romanek's photos and videos for several years—to disprove him. That's because the same type of evidence once used by paranormal scientists to indicate the presence of ghosts is now being doctored by amateurs as proof of alien life.
Neither Romanek nor Peckman responded to requests for comment for this article, but their new footage—for now reduced to a single night-vision still image they've made public—and the ensuing fakes, headlines and hysteria have shed light on what researchers monitoring the field say is an increasing trend of hoax hype in a digital age.
The Watchdogs of Photoshopped FameBonner and his team of investigators, who specialize in reports of haunted houses, actually saw the video months ago, when he says it was making the rounds in the UFO community as Peckman was garnering interest for a 4000-signature ballot initiative to start an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission in Denver. "It sparked our interest, but he seemed like another nut off the street," Bonner remembered. "Then he says he has evidence."
Bonner assumed that the Romanek footage was that so-called evidence, and with Peckman's press conference preview on Thursday confirming this, Bonner's team put together a mock video of its own that night. To counter claims that it would have taken thousands of dollars for Romanek to create a convincing, blinking prosthetic creature, the investigators from Rocky Mountain Paranormal rented a dummy alien from a costume shop, then spliced together quick-and-dirty special effects to make its giant eyes appear to blink.
In a strange twist, Bonner's mock video has been embedded on various blogs and linked on forums, mistaken for the actual Romanek footage. But that's an increasingly common mistake when so much can be made to look real with even an amateur's desktop software. "The problem with any data—I don't care if it's a video, a photo, electromagnetic readings—it can be faked," Bonner says. "And because of the digital age, it can be faked easily."
One film, released in 1995 to some notoriety in the geekosphere, purported to show a military autopsy performed on an alien. More than a decade later, the filmmaker changed his story, claiming that the video recreated footage he had seen, which had degraded before he was able to gather the necessary funds to buy it. And a few months ago, an anonymous source released footage of another alien autopsy, although the corpse in question is a rubbery, toylike thing, roughly the size of a baby chimpanzee. No explanation has been provided for where the video came from, why the alien is so small, or why there's such an obvious edit before the creature's entrails are removed (they also change color). "Any evidence is only as good as the reputation of the group that gave it to you," says Bonner.
By that measure, Stan Romanek is a problematic source. The evidence he has presented since his first reported contact in late 2000 is full of red flags. One photo posted on Romanek's Web site shows what he interprets to be a UFO covered in bubblelike pods. The next UFO he encountered had a classic flying-saucer profile. Another one appears as a sphere with barely visible facial features. According to Bonner, Romanek has also tried to talk with aliens using the classic paranormal "Frank's Box" gadget, which is generally a modified car radio that picks up random snippets of speech from AM stations—often for attempted communication with the dead. Even less consistent are Romanek's personal encounters, which include mysterious wounds that glowed under a black light, a chair that spun on its own, and an ominous black silhouette moving through his home.
At Friday's news conference, according to a video on the Denver Post's Web site, Peckman deflected those inconsistencies by citing public sentiment—a majority of Americans do believe extraterrestrials exist—and saying the new footage would help push awareness for his alien oversight board in the local November election. "There's already quite a bit of information out there—there's momentum, there's support, and I believe it will pass," Peckman said. "I don't think it would pass today, because there's been too much denial of information, too much misinformation."
The Gadget-Built Currency of ConspiracyIn the sprawling community of hardcore extraterrestrial believers, footage like Romanek's is not only rare, but widely derided. Clark McClelland, a former Spacecraft Control Operator at NASA who claims to have seen extraterrestrials firsthand, called the Denver footage "a pathetic disclosure."
The central currency of this subculture is evidence of "orbs," unexplained glowing balls that appear only in photographs. James Randi, a professional magician and legendary skeptic, whose foundation is still offering $1 million for verifiable proof of the paranormal, receives a handful of orb photographs each week. "Most of the photos aren't fakes," he says. "These are just people who don't know how to operate a camera." The orbs themselves are not only easily explained, but even more easily replicated. "The majority are dust motes that are brightly lit. With an infrared camera they show up particularly well," Randi says. Even with a standard camera, spotters can create their own suspicious balls of light with a particulate that's close to the lens and properly illuminated by the flash.
Lens flare can also be easily misinterpreted for the presence of an orb, particularly when the apparent object winds up with something that could be described as a face. Laying aside the ridiculous engineering implications of a head-shaped spacecraft, there's nothing new—or mysterious—about seeing faces where they shouldn't be. "It's a condition we all have, called pareidolia," says Bonner. "It served an evolutionary purpose. When we were out in the bushes, trying to fend for ourselves, it meant we didn't get eaten by the big fuzzy thing trying to kill us before we killed it. We still have those instincts, but we don't know how to interpret it. So we look at clouds, or orbs, and we still see faces."
When they aren't deliberate hoaxes, the oddly shaped spacecraft that populate so many UFO shots are often just misinterpretations of digital artifacts. Tweaking an image in a program like Photoshop can only exacerbate things, as an object is either intentionally or accidentally crafted into a more intricate vessel—deeper shadows, a more metallic sheen, even a more distinct face. All of which can be—and has been—debunked or recreated by photographers and video experts.
But in both Bonner and Randi's experience, explanations and counter-evidence tend to fall on deaf ears. "They need what we call a ‘woo-woo solution,'" Randi says. "They resist all attempts to rationalize. They see the thing demonstrated for them, replicated for them, and they'll just shake their heads and smile—and walk away."
|Enlarge||By Alastair Grant, AP|
|The grave of playwright William Shakespeare, front with flower, near the altar inside Holy Trinity Anglican Church in the bard's hometown of Stratford upon Avon, England.|
By Gregory Katz, Associated Press
LONDON — Fix the gravesite. But don't touch the bones.
That's the work order, in a nutshell, for brave architects contemplating a fixup job for the deteriorating gravesite of William Shakespeare inside the Holy Trinity Church in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.
The illustrious bard is believed by many to have personally penned the threat on a stone marker above his grave.
"Blest be the man that spares these stones," it reads. "And curst be he that moves my bones."
That's all well and good, but the stones above his grave are starting to flake and fall apart. Clergymen have trod on the stones for nearly four centuries, and the foot traffic is taking its inevitable toll.
People who love the church and its place in British literary history want to fix it — provided they can do so without digging up Shakespeare's remains and facing the mysterious threat.
"We're avoiding the curse," said Josephine Walker, a spokeswoman for the Friends of Shakespeare's Church group. "We are not lifting the stones, we are not looking underneath, and the curse is for the bones underneath, so the curse is irrelevant for this work."
"It's our wish that we conserve this without anyone knowing we were there," said architect Ian Stainburn, who is working on the project. "We want to conserve it as it is and slow down the natural process of decay but we don't want to recut it. It's really a challenge."
The restoration work is delicate because the church, 100 miles northwest of London, is not only a functional house of worship where Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 but also a treasure popular with visitors from around the globe.
"We get 100,000 tourists a year, but they don't walk on the stones," Walker said. "But the clergy have to when they give communion, and the stones are flaking away, the surfaces are coming off. We want to clean the surfaces and then very gradually ease in some transparent grout and hold the surfaces together. Then we want to move the altar rail so that when the clergy give communion they don't have to walk over the stones."
The planned work on the gravesite, which has not yet been approved by the various agencies that oversee historic sites, is part of a much larger restoration of the church that began two years ago, Walker said.
The group is trying to raise an additional $8 million for the entire project, she said. One of the most urgent tasks is to repair the main nave windows, which are in very poor shape.
"The metal work is eroding and disintegrating," she said. "That's a really big, major job that has to be done, hopefully next year."
At least they don't face a centuries-old curse if they repair the windows. If they get the money and the approvals, they can do the work without worrying about angering the Bard's ghost.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Some things are self-evident: Murder is wrong, kindness is good and 75 million years ago, a ruler of a Galactic Confederacy rounded up billions of his own citizens and shipped them to Earth (then called Teegeeack), tied them to volcanoes and used hydrogen bombs to blow up their bodies. Adultery is bad. Lying is wrong.
Yet somehow, some statements made by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, even those having nothing to do with the religion, have actually come into question by critics who often refer to them as "exaggerated" and "laugh out loud retarded."
It seems L. Ron really, and we mean really wanted to make it clear that he had some extraordinary credentials when it came to his understanding of spirituality. And what do most of us require in a spiritual leader? Nothing less than full membership in a Native-American tribe.
Lucky for L. Ron, the Blackfoot Indian tribe of Montana recruited him and made him a blood brother in a really cool tribal ceremony that probably featured a whole lot of feathers and peace pipes and dancing and whatnot. And, oh yeah, that was when he was just four-years-old. Those injuns must have really recognized great perception and timeless wisdom in little L. Ron when he wasn't crapping his pants.
And then, as if his followers wouldn't be crapping their pants in excitement over his Blackfeet Indian connections, L. Ron also insists that he spent his adolescence sitting at the feet of shamans of the Orient, eventually applying their ageless wisdom to produce--TA-DA!--Scientology.
L. Ron lived in Helena, Montana when he was four. The nearest Blackfoot Reservation was over 100 miles away. Still, he could have made the trek for the blood brother ceremony ... if the Blackfoot tribe actually conducted that sort of ritual. But oops, they didn't. As our friends at Wikipedia point out:
"The white Blackfeet historian Hugh Dempsey has commented that the act of blood brotherhood was 'never done among the Blackfeet,' and Blackfeet Nation officials have disavowed attempts to 'reestablish' Hubbard as a 'blood brother' of the Blackfeet."
Probably just an innocent misunderstanding. But what about his travels to Asia, you ask?
There is some authenticity to Hubbard's story. His father, Harry Hubbard, was actually stationed in Guam at the US Naval Base, so, yeah, young Hubbard did have the opportunity to spend some time in Asia. What did Hubbard learn from the wise men there? From his actual diary:
"They smell of all the baths they didnt take. The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks here."
Not Pictured: Enough white people for Hubba
From the dust jacket of Hubbard's 1957 book All About Radiation:
"...we have the sane and sober views of a medical doctor on the physical facts and consequences of the actual atomic blast and the diseases resulting from it.
L. Ron Hubbard, who was one of the first nuclear physicists in the United States, has interpreted these facts and related them to human livingness, governments and the control of populations."
Did you catch all that? The original dust jacket of Hubbard's treatise on all things radiatory makes the claim that he is BOTH a nuclear physicist and a medical doctor. Both. But it could have happened, right?
Hubbard flunked out of the only course he ever took in nuclear physics. And because his grade point average was abysmally low, he eventually dropped out of college altogether. However he did get a degree from Sequoia University, an unaccredited college that apparently offered degrees in charismatic cult leadership.
But hey ... college degrees aren't everything. Look at Bill Gates, Michael Dell, most of the Cracked writers--all highly successful people who couldn't cut it in the classroom. Doesn't Big L. fit this category? He was a smart guy, right?
Not about nuclear physics, apparently. A 1965 Australian inquiry into All About Radiation ended with the scientists of the world getting together to basically laugh at how stupid Hubbard is:
"The Board heard evidence from a highly qualified radiologist who has made a special study of radiation and its effects. He said that Hubbard's knowledge of radiation, as displayed by his writings in All About Radiation, was the 'sort of knowledge that perhaps a boy who has read Intermediate Physics might, with a lot of misapprehensions and lack of understanding, demonstrate' ... "
We're pretty sure that, in the middle of a lot of extra words, they just said Hubbard knew less about physics than a confused child. That's about the strongest rebuke you can get from a community that tends to frown on words like "dumbass."
He Said:After participating in nearly every battle conducted during World War II, Hubbard left the war with more medals than God, and severely wounded in every body part you can conceive of, human or alien. Here's what he claimed in My Philosophy, published in 1965:
"Blinded with injured optic nerves, and lame with physical injuries to hip and back, at the end of World War II, I faced an almost non-existent future. My service record states: 'This officer has no neurotic or psychotic tendencies of any kind whatsoever,' but it also states 'permanently disabled physically.'
And so there came a further blow--I was abandoned by family and friends as a supposedly hopeless cripple and a probable burden upon them for the rest of my days. Yet I worked my way back to fitness and strength in less than two years, using only what I knew about Man and his relationship to the universe. I had no one to help me; what I had to know I had to find out. And it's quite a trick studying when you cannot see.
I became used to being told it was all impossible, that there was no way, no hope. Yet I came to see again and walk again."
As proof, we have this painting that often gets include in Scientology materials on the subject. The artist was totally in the room!
While L. Ron did serve during World War II, his greatest feat was nearly starting a war with Mexico by conducting unauthorized gunnery exercises in Mexico's territorial waters. Before serving him a formal admonition and actually demoting Hubbard for his jackassery, his commanding officers made the effort to call Hubbard a complete idiot in a report:
"Consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation...Not considered qualified for command or promotion at this time. Recommend duty on a large vessel where he can be properly supervised."
As for those pesky life-threatening injuries sustained during patriotic battle ... eh, not so much. It seems L. Ron was a big fan of the infirmary ward, but not for optic nerve damage, debilitating back injuries or anything that would prompt three concerned medical experts to feverishly attend to him, as illustrated in the above photographic evidence.
Here are a few of the ailments Hubbard complained of (notice we didn't say "was diagnosed with") during his time in the military, and even after his time in the military, when he frequented the Veterans Administration hospitals with his medical benefits:malaria
psychological trauma from hardcore combat
bursitis again, this time with calcification
And remember, the VA documents Mr. Hubbard applying for benefits for these ailments during the 1950s, the exact time when he is claiming to be the pinnacle of manhood due to his amazing self-curing feats of fantastical awesomeness. Though you have to be impressed with a guy who can conceive of elevating pinkeye to optic nerve damage. Mad props indeed.
One of Scientology's big selling points is that they claim they can get even the worst crack head off drugs in seconds flat. And Xenu help you if you're on any kind of psychological medication of any sort. Because those pills are going to send you straight to crazyland and you're going to wind up losing your wallet to some wackjob with something called a medical degree. That's only if he doesn't rape and murder you first:
"A psychiatrist today has the power to (1) take a fancy to a woman (2) lead her to take wild treatment as a joke (3) drug and shock her to temporary insanity (4) incarnate [sic] her (5) use her sexually (6) sterilise her to prevent conception (7) kill her by a brain operation to prevent disclosure. And all with no fear of reprisal. Yet it is rape and murder ... We want at least one bad mark on every psychiatrist in England, a murder, an assault, or a rape or more than one ... This is Project Psychiatry. We will remove them."
That's from the confidential memo "Project Psychiatry" (February 22, 1966).
So we can see that Mr. Hubbard certainly had a reasonable understanding of the psychiatrist/patient relationship. But surely his insistence that Scientologists abstain from drugs of all sorts must have come from his own spotless standards of clean living, right?
L. Ron was certainly a fan of clean living. Because in his universe, clean actually meant "drug fueled" and "paranoid" and "GOOD LORD, DID YOU SEE HUBBARD'S STASH? HOW IS HE STILL ALIVE?"
It seems that L. Ron had a long and erotic love affair with drugs of all sorts, in spite of the religion he created that advocated abstinence from drugs, even the life-saving drugs. In 1967, Ron wrote his third wife, Mary Sue:
"I'm drinking lots of rum and popping pinks and greys."
The 'pinks and grays,' are assumed to be uppers and downers, not grapefruit and gravy-flavored Skittles as previously thought.
At one point, Hubbard took to the sea, as most charismatic cult leaders do, and it appeared he ran a cozy little society aboard his yacht. One witness made the following observation upon walking into Hubbard's cabin:
"It was the largest drug chest I had ever seen. He had everything!"
And his own son, L. Ron, Jr. said:
"I have personal knowledge that my father regularly used illegal drugs including amphetamines, barbiturates and hallucinogens. He regularly used cocaine, peyote and mescaline."
But despite all that, it appears his favorite drugs were actually the psychiatric kind. He loved those so much that when he died in 1986, it was discovered that he had been habitually injecting himself with Vistaril, a drug used for "acutely disturbed" patients and for those suffering from alcohol withdrawal, among other things.
Yes, it appears that L. Ron had a stash that could make the average '80s metal band hold a tearful intervention.
His 1981 pamphlet The Way to Happiness was the first moral code (in the history of the universe) based entirely on common sense. By following the 21 precepts outlined in this revolutionary, yet common sense approach to morality, entire communities are transformed into Utopian paradises that resemble the everything-is-made-of-candy room in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Unlike most moral codes, which are based entirely on Jello Pudding Pops and the lyrics to Journey songs, Hubbard's world-altering grocery list-slash-booklet was offering the world principles that heretoforthwith had never, not even once, been organized and stated so conveniently. And thus they were revolutionary.
It turns out that there was already a few "morality codes" or "bullet points for being good" that had been established in list format! Some even predating Hubbard's by at least 100 years! There's this one list, called 'The Ten Commandments' that even had some of Hubbard's same points! Observe:
The Ten Commandments
Author: God, or maybe Moses
# 9 - Do not murder.
The Way to Happiness
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
# 8 - Do not murder.
Well, maybe Hubbard let it slip his mind. All moral codes are bound to overlap at one point:
The Ten Commandments
#5 - Honor your mother and father
The Way to Happiness
# 5 - Honor and help your parents.
Oh come on L. Ron, that's just sloppy. You didn't even attempt to realign the numbers.
In addition to the moral precepts clearly stolen from every other list of moral precepts, Hubbard did offer some innovation with his own list. Such as:
#2 - Be temperate.
#6 - Set a good example.
#9 - Don't do anything illegal.
#17 - Be competent.
And if you don't think those startlingly clever, first-time-ever-stated-in-human-tongue precepts don't work, take a look at some actual testimonials from the official 'Way to Happiness' website:
"I learned how to be a person, and I learned how to treat others the way they want to be treated."
"I learned not to steal people's things, not to kill people, not to punch people. And to not take other peoples' shirts. And to not put fire on in the house."
"I love your organization's booklet entitled The Way to Happiness. I've read it three times already and have shared it with others. Its philosophy parallels mine so closely it is unbelievable."
-J. C., Lieutenant Governor
It truly is unbelievable, Mr. Governor! And thank Xenu that Hubbard taught Olivia how to stop acting like a wombat, and how to act like a person instead. And Anthea's family should definitely get down on their knees and thank their L. Ron bobble head that little Anthea stopped stealing their shirts. And stopped putting fire on in the house.
So perhaps we've been to hard on the man. After all, in these people's lives, apparently only L. Ron Hubbard knew how to solve the fire in the house problem.
If only L. Ron were here ...
Are you consistently putting fire in your house? Do you find yourself reaching for the flamethrower to solve every little problem? Then perhaps L. Ron Hubbard has something to teach you after all.