Just in time for Halloween, another haunted house story, but this haunted house story is one about a haunted pool room, called--what else--the Flying Saucer, located in Nashville, Tennessee. The pool room is a converted train station. Paranormal investigators are hot on the trail. Read more here.
The Guardian's John Hooper reports that the Tunisian pilot at the controls of that Tuninter jet that ditched in the Mediterranean in August of 2005 has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. An Italian court ruled that instead of praying, he should have been taking action, including trying to land safely at a Sicilian airport. Other Tuninter employees, including the director-general of the firm, also received jail sentences. Sixteen people died in the crash. Read more here.
Via iTricks, more FBI/TSA fun: a magician who claimed to have mailed himself to Vegas from Syracuse, New York got himself investigated for his trouble. Of course it was a hoax. Wade Live (real name Wade Whitcomb) says he did it to benefit a friend's website. Here are photos purporting to show the trip. The feds have closed the book on this one after ruling it never happened. More here from the Magic Newswire. BTW, the feds don't usually take kindly to having their time wasted....
"There was a telltale sign of who created this mess because there was TSA tape over some of the props they had broken....Several props were damaged...."
According to Mr. Sylvester, when he finally made contact with the agency, the TSA employee who responded was at best neutral on the subject. Mr. Elliott suggests that the TSA seems well on the way to developing a "secret manual" on dealing with the public. Oh, dear. Meanwhile, he quotes Mr. Sylvester on TSA policy and public perception.
"As a magician, and as someone who understands perception better then most, I can honestly say with great confidence that the TSA is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. Any truly committed terrorist would not be effected (sic) by TSA in the least. The problem with the function of TSA is that their heads are pointed in the wrong direction. Instead of interviewing the people, and making making sure they know who is flying and why, they herd us like unintelligent cattle and go through all of our luggage to see if we have anything that could be used as a weapon or that can be flammable. In fact, the whole airplane is flammable and can be a weapon."
As Mr. Elliott notes, who knows better than a magician how to detect illusions?
In a similar vein, here's Penn Jillette's story of his encounter with (I think) a TSA screener at McCarran Airport in 2002. And his partner Teller recounts his adventure with some Newark TSA screeners, but his meetup is less, shall we say, confrontational. I suspect that most people, when asked to explain questioned contents of their luggage, take the non-confrontational route. "Do you want to fly today?" is the magic sentence. For most of us, the answer is yes. Note that the TSA launched a blog sometime ago to open up communication with the public. Comments are lively and the spleen-venting is prolific.
MSNBC.com offers this story about Hollywood's haunted sites. They include Universal Studios, the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery, and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where Virginia Rappe, the young woman at the center of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's trial, is buried. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, you'll learn a lot about Hollywood history.
This calico makes magic for a lonely train station in Japan. Tama the cat has vitalized the economy of the town of Kishikawa, just by wearing a stationmaster's cap at a rakish angle. People in cat-mad Japan are coming from all over to snap pix of the pretty kitty. Of course she'd say it's her purrsonality. Look and listen. But maybe she's saying, "Ok, you've had your fun. Now get this unstylish thing off my head. It's against the Rules, and what's more, it's animal cruelty."
MSNBC.com offers this list of "spooky walking tours"--among the cities listed with such offerings are Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, and Seattle. I've visited some of the "creepy" areas in New Orleans, and have done the "spooky tour" in Baltimore, visiting Edgar Allan Poe's grave. That's interesting, but I have to say that I didn't think it was exactly "creepy." But then maybe my "creep" tolerance level is higher than the average bear's. And some of one's enjoyment depends on the skill and knowledge of the tour's guide, as well as the comfort of the transportation provided. I did think visiting Mr. Poe's grave was worth it, though. He is a great writer.
I have to say that I'm of two minds concerning this campaign if it were tried here. On one hand, I'm all for engaging the debate. At least in the U.S., religious messages seem to be everywhere, and atheist and agnostic messages, well, not so much. Despite conservative Christian clamor that Christians are "persecuted" in this country, I fail to see any signs that such a thing is true. Most people claim to be Christians, most people claim to go to church, at least on the Christian holidays. Consider the flap over whether Senator Obama is a Christian or not. He says that he is, and we have no reason to doubt him, any more than we have reason to doubt what Senator McCain says about his faith, but the controversy just won't go away. A gentle reminder that some people, by some estimates, as much as 15-16 percent of the U.S. population is atheist, agnostic or "unaffiliated," and that these beliefs and belief systems are protected by the First Amendment, just like those of the Religious Right (which seems to forget this fact, every so often), would be welcome.
On the other, I'm not certain that I particularly want to be urged, on a city bus, or a city park bench, to buy ideas like peanut butter. But I can avert my eyes (Cohen v. California). Nor do I relish the idea of open ideological warfare, which might be the outcome of this kind of advertising, though it's better than real warfare, which we're seeing in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite honestly, could people successfully take out these kinds of ads in some parts of the U.S. in the kind of ideological climate we have now, and have had for some time? I think not, but perhaps things are changing. This country does tend to seek balance, does tend eventually to seek the middle, so perhaps they are.
Legally, could an atheist or agnostic group purchase advertising space on city buses for a campaign like the one in the U.K.? It depends on whether the city considers its buses public forums. If it does, as does Madison, Wisconsin, then I would think that if it accepts ads from, say, the local Catholic and Methodist and Unitarian churches urging people to come and worship, it would have a difficult time rejecting ads from a freethinking group urging people to consult their Hitchins or Dawkins. (Note that I don't have any indication that Madison has accepted any such ads from any religious group). If a city hasn't so designated its buses, then the city will have (or should have) set up standards by which it decides to accept ads, and it can accept or reject ads based on suitability, public policy, etc. But it would still need to be consistent in its acceptance of these ads, and it would need to give notice of these standards.
In spite of this doctrine, though, I really do think anyone who would try to buy advertising space for such a message on city buses in a city that had designated its buses public forums would have an uphill battle, simply because of the existing prejudice against atheists, agnostics and "unaffiliated" folks. As many as 53 percent of the U.S. electorate still won't vote for someone for President who doesn't attend church or says he or she doesn't believe in a supernatural being. If a city bus carried such a message the incumbents in office might find themselves in real jeopardy of being tossed out of office come election day. Sad. And to tell the truth, I think that people with an extreme religious or ideological message of another sort would also have trouble (think a sect that practices polygamy, for example). As far as I'm concerned, that's not the way it's supposed to work. I would hope that we could discuss these ideas calmly and dispassionately, like adults. But some of us don't. We yell, and shout insults, some of us from the pulpit, and condemn those who don't worship as we do, secure in the belief that the other person is going to the other place (which isn't the one we would choose for ourselves, if it exists). What a comfort.
Nick Pope, who headed the the British Ministry of Defense's UFO investigations in the early 1990s, writes in an op-ed piece in today's New York Times that "A healthy skepticism about extraterrestrial space travelers leads people to disregard U.F.O. sightings without a moment’s thought. But in the United States, this translates into overdependence on radar data and indifference to all kinds of unidentified aircraft — a weakness that could be exploited by terrorists or anyone seeking to engage in espionage against the United States."
I assume that he means that the U.S. government is skeptical, and not that Americans in general are skeptical, about U.F.O.s. In any case, he's assuming that the U.S. government actually doesn't investigate. I wouldn't assume that just because we don't hear about an investigation, there isn't an investigation. A government at war isn't necessarily going to tell us that it has opened such an investigation, particularly if it could easily make itself the target of ridicule.