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TV Review: TWA Flight 800

TWA 800 wreckageEver since I first wrote an essay about my experiences with TWA Flight 800 for the Wall Street Journal in 1997, which elicited a stern response in a letter to the editor from the chairman of the government’s national transportation bureaucracy, the NTSB, I have followed the various investigations, conspiracy theories and concerns about the nation’s greatest unsolved commercial aviation mystery, the crash of TWA 800, which happened 17 years ago today. A new television documentary adds to the body of evidence.

The 90-minute program, titled TWA Flight 800, airs tonight at 8 pm ET on an obscure cable TV channel called EPIX (co-owned by Paramount’s Viacom, Lionsgate and MGM). Having seen an advance preview, I can say that it’s not entirely objective, it’s not a good (let alone great) film or documentary and there are a few structural issues with the documentary, which is co-produced by an amateur sleuth with whom I was once acquainted named Tom Stalcup. Tom was a young physics student in Florida when we both participated in an independent investigative group years ago. I know him to be a serious investigator. His film, whatever its drawbacks, is more convincing than anything the government has claimed about the plane crash, in which 230 lives were lost.

I remember the day well, as I have written in numerous newspaper articles from the Journal essay to my recent remembrance in a suburban Chicago newspaper. The EPIX program does not reconstruct the day’s events or attempt any type of logical progression that would support a proper narrative structure, which is what prevents it from being a fully persuasive film for a general audience. Instead, Stalcup, who is never properly introduced, despite appearing on camera, presents numerous aviation and former government investigators, as well as dozens of eyewitnesses, in a cluster of firsthand accounts that seriously undermine the government’s investigation, cast doubt on the Clinton administration’s handling of the crash and raise several new and disturbing problems with the government’s version of the facts. TWA Flight 800 also simulates, quite convincingly, what really happened to the Boeing 747.

Stalcup and those who worked on the investigation postulate that the plane was brought down by a series of three projectiles, such as missiles, rockets or some sort of military ordnance, that exploded outside the aircraft.

From a nearby Olympic Airways pilot who witnessed the explosion, who says he saw a “light coming out of the sea”, to several whistleblowers, witnesses and forensics experts, the film is loaded with clear, logical presentations of facts, many in sequenced segments. Someone who worked on the investigation says the FBI was “almost abusive”. Other charges include tampering with evidence, deliberately re-tagging plane fragments to be identified as being found in a different part of the debris field, intimidation and threats by the government against eyewitnesses, and what this team regards as the “smoking gun” of evidence that the crash was caused by an exterior explosion near the plane that crippled its capacity to function; a radar track moving at a speed of Mach 4. If it all sounds complicated, it is, which is why TWA Flight 800 is best consumed by aviation, forensics, explosives, medical and metallurgy experts.

But the cable TV program is must viewing for an intelligent and informed general audience currently threatened by the rise of a government that inverts foreign and domestic Islamic enemy threats and increases total government control over our lives.

“Every time there was a problem, it was ignored [by leading government investigators]“, one whistleblower says in tonight’s documentary. “Objectivity went out the window,” says another. Their cumulative credentials appear to be impeccable; they represent nearly every aspect of the crash and subsequent investigation, which concluded very calculatedly, that an explosion originated in the center fuel tank, a finding which is not an identification of the cause of the crash.

Stalcup and company shoot down that assertion, too, showing why they believe that the evidence shows that the explosion originated outside the aircraft and could not possibly have originated in the center fuel tank. Time and again, this complex presentation of facts and abstractions results in raising doubt. The government’s claims that hundreds of witness testimonies to missile trajectories, streaks of light and plumes of smoke amount to “mass misperception” (seriously) are more preposterous in retrospect than they were in the 1990s. The CIA’s animation video is labeled by numerous experts as ludicrous; it is thoroughly discredited.

Why believe this bunch? It’s fine if after watching this program you don’t, according to Stalcup, whom I recall as a single-minded graduate student. Rejecting faith, he responds, when asked: “I don’t want people to believe me. I want them to look at everything and see what it says.” He proceeds to depict, present and display countless assertions – too many and without proper integration or contrasting information – about key government investigation discrepancies, splatter patterns on the wing, NASA testing wreckage for nitrates (with positive results) and media bias in favor of the government’s distorted version of the facts, especially by NBC News. Watching TWA Flight 800 can be a gruesome experience – photos of twisted cadavers are displayed – but the program is compelling.

“We will know what happened to that airplane,” the government’s lead investigator, James Kallstrom, who has publicly denounced the TV program, said after the crash. TWA Flight 800 proves beyond a reasonable doubt that, as of this writing, he was wrong and it strongly implies that he lied or was ordered to lie. Given everything that’s happened since July 17, 1996 – the worst attack in U.S. history, by religious fundamentalists on 9/11 using airplanes as weapons and widespread government dishonesty, conspiracy and corruption – it is impossible to ignore this new and potentially crucial part of the investigation.

On one hand we have a government that lies as it insidiously expands into a fascist state that was led at the time by a pathological liar whose vice-president, Al Gore, led a government commission on the TWA 800 disaster and is known for chronic and constant lies and distortions about the climate and the result is a $40 million, four-year investigation that failed to identify the cause of the worst plane crash in U.S. history. On the other hand we have experts in medicine, aviation, military ordnance, explosions, crashes, transportation safety and testing and engineering – besides eyewitnesses – who claim the government fouled up, failed, lied or covered up. The upshot of Stalcup’s theory and program, which observes that no witness was ever allowed to testify, is that he wants the government to re-open its investigation. Even incompetent Kallstrom accepts that proposition. But it is a mistake to keep taking the word of those who work in a government with no credibility at all on almost any subject.

As Stalcup puts it, in recapping the impetus for what turned a Sunshine state physics student into a crusader for truth, justice and what amounts to a more objective approach: “it seemed odd to me that [the government] was so focussed on what [the cause] was not – rather than what it was.”

Anyone who wants to know what caused the crash of TWA 800 should watch this program and decide for himself.

Chicago in the Summertime

Sitting in the room where I wrote my first stories as a boy, I am looking out at the lush green trees and lawns of Chicago’s north shore suburbs while taking a break from writing an article for a local newspaper, preparing for a course on one of my favorite writers, O. Henry, at Chicago’s first Objectivist Conference (OCON) and looking forward to my first visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesinin Spring Green, Wisconsin.

On the eve of this year’s OCON, I’ve posted an exclusive report about Ayn Rand in Chicago, where the philosopher lived in 1926 when she first came to America from Soviet Russia, returning in 1947 and again in 1963, when Rand faced the threat of an initiation of physical force at McCormick Place, where her scheduled lecture, “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” sold out. I spoke with the event’s organizer, who remembered Leonard Peikoff as “brilliant” in an exclusive interview, and architect Harry Newman, who attended the lecture with his wife Ruby as part of Rand’s entourage, and Ayn Rand biographer Shoshana Milgram (who is also a friend) gave me an enormous amount of useful information. I think the article, intended for print publication and posted on Capitalism Magazine, may be the single most comprehensive article about Ayn Rand in Chicago.

Both Ayn Rand and Chicago represent the spirit of 1776, independence – a virtue in the Objectivist ethics and a crucial characteristic to creating a great industrial city on a great lake – so posting this piece today, on the Fourth of July, when we celebrate America’s independence, makes me happy. Though I fear that the spirit of individualism is diminished across the disintegrating West, by refueling my own spirit and writing these stories during a hometown visit, my goal is to reignite that all-American spirit of ’76.

George W. Bush

America’s 43rd president, George W. Bush, spoke out today to denounce Edward Snowden in the name of national security.

The former president has no credibility on national defense or the nation’s self-interest; he opposes both on principle.

George W. Bush, an amicable person whom I met and interviewed in Los Angeles when he was running for president, holds the same fundamental ethics – self-sacrifice, the opposite of self-interest – as his father’s disastrous presidency and, as I’ve written, he is the logical predecessor to the current destroyer in the White House; Bush made Obama possible (which is why I endorsed John Kerry for president in 2004).

From the moment he took the oath of office, George W. Bush opposed in action every founding American ideal and every principle of secular republican government. In foreign policy alone, to leave aside his wicked welfare statist policies, which led to ObamaCare, Bush backed down when Communist China seized one of our spy planes and crew, proposed the creation of a Palestinian state and he failed to stop or avenge the worst attack in American history despite enormous evidence that an attack was imminent.

Once the religious fundamentalist enemy destroyed America’s financial, military and most meaningful symbols, he appeased and negotiated with state sponsors of Islamic terrorism (North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran), groveled before the United Nations for months, turning the other cheek and ordering our Marines to stand down in Iraq at Fallujah, refusing to bomb mosques in Najaf, dropping food packages not bombs in Afghanistan, chronically putting the lives of others before the lives of our own soldiers, and, ­ in each instance, acting explicitly for the sake of others, not in America’s self-interest.

That President Bush strongly defended the second Bush administration’s policy to spy on Americans and came out 100 percent in favor of the Obama administration should come as no surprise: his entire administration, intentionally or not, was single-tracked in taking the United States of America down. He is a disgrace to the nation. That he now stands with Barack Obama to lay a wreath where Islamic terrorists mass murdered Americans at the U.S. embassy in Tanzania in 1998 is the perfect concretization of the two presidents most morally responsible for America’s downfall. Bush and his protege Obama appearing there amounts to a ceremonial dance over the graves of dead Americans, the eleven murdered there, the hundreds that preceded them under Carter, Bush’s father and Clinton and the thousands – all unavenged – who have been mass murdered since.

But you don’t have to take my word for it that George W. Bush embodies selflessness in national security. Here are the words, spoken in defiance of Bush’s moral philosophy in 2004, of those Bush sacrificed:

“It seems as if [U.S. commanders] place more value on obeying the letter of the law and sacrificing our lives than following the spirit of the law and getting the job done.”

Lance Corporal Devin Kelly, 20, Fairbanks, Alaska

“We feel [the U.S. government] cares more about Iraqi civilians than they do American soldiers.”

Corporal Brandon Autin, 21, New Iberia, Louisiana

“Every day you read the articles in the States where it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s getting better and better. But when you’re here, you know it’s worse every day.”

Lance Corporal Jonathan Snyder, 22, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

“[The enemy] don’t give us any leeway, they don’t give us any quarter. They catch people and cut their heads off. They know our limits, but they have no limits. We can’t compete with that.”

Lance Corporal Jeremy Kyrk, 21, Chicago, Illinois

“We’re basically proving out that the government is wrong [that Iraq is making progress toward civilization],” he said. “We’re catching them in a lie.”

Lance Corporal Alexander Jones, 20, Ball Ground, Georgia

“When we get called out, we’ll sit there staging there for an hour. By the time we’re ready to move, they’re up and gone. A few weeks ago, the Iskandariyah police station was under attack. We staged for damn near an hour before we went out. It’s stupid. You have to wait to get approval.”

Private First Class Kyle Maio, 19, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

“[Asked if he was concerned that the Marines would be punished for speaking out, Autin responded:] We don’t give a crap. What are they going to do, send us to Iraq?”

Corporal Brandon Autin, 21, New Iberia, Louisiana

These are the men of the great United States Marines Corps – among the best soldiers on earth – the branch of American military ordered by President Bush to stand down at Fallujah, Najaf and anywhere a mosque stood between America and defeating the enemy. Their lives were at stake in Iraq and their words are a stinging reproach to rationalistic and religious Americans who silently yet actively accepted the end of America that George W. Bush accelerated in earnest.

Syria as a Flashpoint

Iran-Flag-635x357Here comes the Islamic proxy war that Professor John David Lewis warned about during my 2011 interview, though he identified the sides as Saudi Arabia and Egypt versus Iran and Syria – which is in civil war – before Syria itself became destabilized. But I think he was remarkably close in his forecast and he is right that, as he told me, “if Iran gets nuclear weapons—and then the Saudis do, too—that would be very bad for the rest of the world.”

Syria is fast becoming a battleground for warring factions of religious fanatics. The dictatorship has been allied with Islamic totalitarian Iran, which opposes Islamic totalitarian Saudi Arabia (both are barbaric regimes demonstrably hellbent on destroying the United States of America and the West), and the Syrian rebels are allied with Saudi Arabia. With Saudi-backed, Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt recently terminating relations with Syria, and with the Saudis reportedly ready to arm Syria’s rebels with missiles while Iran is reportedly sending 4,000 troops to the other side to fortify the dictatorship, Israel is in serious danger, the West is threatened and the world is heading toward or on the brink of what could become another world war. I agree with those urging that the U.S. stay out of the conflict – Obama supposedly supports the Saudi side – but as Dr. Lewis warned, military proliferation in the Middle East is trouble for the West.

salargeBoth Iran (now ruled by a mystic devoted to Ayatollah Khomeini named Hassan Rohani) and Saudi Arabia are evil regimes that the U.S. has supported, aided and abetted or appeased for decades, despite overwhelming evidence that both Moslem dictatorships seek to annihilate the West, from Iran‘s long Islamic war against us to the fact that Saudi Arabia is linked to the worst attack in U.S. history. The world is getting darker and darker, with the evil forces of religion thrusting their swords against one another for now, which looms ominously large for the few still fighting for enlightenment and reason in the West. The summer of 2013 could be one of the bloodiest we have ever seen. We should all expect nothing from the Nothing leader and we must keep a close, vigilant watch.

Movie Review: 42

MV5BMTQwMDU4MDI3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjU1NDgyOQ@@._V1_SX214_Jackie Robinson is the subject of the poorly named 42, an overly sentimental movie about how to change a culture one man at a time that can’t help but be powerful and moving. Unlike other fact-based historical films centering upon an individual, such as Good Night, and Good Luck and Schindler’s List, there is fundamental truth at the core of 42, that one should be judged on his character and rise or fall on his ability, and it helps that the writer and director of the thoughtful, old-fashioned, heartstrings sports movie is the same person. His name is Brian Helgeland (Man on Fire, Robin Hood) and he is white.

That a white artist is so moved to tell this tale of an American baseball player who broke the color barrier, led by a Bible-thumping sports businessman who simply wants to get into heaven (Harrison Ford) and that he tells it with honorable intentions and skill is a sign of how much has changed since the Dodgers first hired a black athlete to play ball. The writing is crisp, for the most part, with some outstanding lines that make you want to cheer and the leisurely plot moves along. The score by Mark Isham is too much and the cliches seem inevitable since we’ve seen this kind of movie many times and some inconsistencies – rows of little pig-tailed girls asking for a baseball player’s autograph in 1947 and Pittsburgh being the butt of jokes – are off the mark but 42 offers an important and uniquely American tale.

That’s why you shouldn’t expect the usual race-baiters (you know who they are) to praise this movie, unless they think they can gain from doing so. With an actor I’ve never heard of named Chadwick Boseman, who’s a dead ringer for the good-looking Jackie Robinson, with Nicole Beharie as his wife, playing talented Robinson as an intelligent, proud athlete who used both his charm and being underestimated to his advantage on and off the baseball diamond, 42 does right by Mr. Robinson. As with Walk the Line, Lincoln and other well-made biographically-themed pictures, (including The Iron Lady, about the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), we don’t really get to know the subject in the deepest sense. Instead, we get a glimpse of his essential characteristics at particular points in time.

But it is a look at the whole man, from his rejection of a moral obligation to serve others – “we don’t owe the world a thing” – to his insistence on knowing why Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who recruited him to play baseball for Brooklyn, did so and what’s in it for him. In one of the best scenes, and contrary to sports and black stereotypes, Jackie Robinson is an equal to his wife during a scene in which he admits that a racist almost got the best of him and it is refreshing to see a hero with fallibility, not feet of clay. As we move from racist Florida and the South, which get off too easy as far as I’m concerned, to Philadelphia and southern Ohio, regions hardly known for racial tolerance, Jackie Robinson faces irrational ideas and actions from teammates, fans and other teams. Some of them change, some do not, and the young black couple from southern California – where the Dodgers play today – adjust to the new normal. Rickey, capably portrayed by Ford playing crusty to the hilt, guides Jackie Robinson and the ball club along the way, dodging Catholics, bureaucrats and others who stand in the way of justice and objectivity about what it means to play – and what it takes to win.

In fact, playing to win and make money is one of the better themes in 42, which unabashedly endorses money as the root of all good; money is neither black nor white, as one character says, it’s green. Though there’s not enough baseball in the sepia-toned film, which features too many characters tagging along, sports scenes and the plot’s pace feel a bit like a day at the ballpark. Time is suspended and winning is everything which, in this case, means winning men’s minds one by one, inning by inning, run by run. Evoking America’s racist past with key symbols, from buses, trains and fields to Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning towering in the background as a team struggles to unite, 42 cashes in its lessons about a great baseball player and honorable man who should be remembered for refusing to sit in the back of the bus – yes, Jackie Robinson did that, too – so he could be his best and play ball just like everyone else.