Tag: Libel

Day 992: The John Wilkes Booth World Tour

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When John Wilkes Booth was crouching in Richard H. Garrett’s tobacco barn, listening to Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger’s orders to surrender, he decided to go out with a bang. He refused the surrender, then once the barn was lit on fire he took a bullet to the neck, delivered by Sergeant Boston Corbett. He was dead by the break of dawn, less than two weeks after he had prematurely terminated the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre.

Or was he?

Way out in the sprawling suburbs of historical perception there exists the notion that the man whose life was snuffed to a nub in that barn was actually a man named James William Boyd, a Confederate soldier who looked enough like Booth that his body passed through ten pairs of identifying eyes (not counting the pair that aimed the gun that took his life), as well as an official autopsy. The composers of this theory also posit that the government knew about the mix-up and let it happen. Because where is the fun in a murder without a deep and sinister government conspiracy?

As for the “real” John Wilkes Booth… well, on the off-chance that this is all true, we can say with a relative certainty that Booth was, in fact, this guy:

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One day in 1873, some eight years after the furor over the Lincoln assassination had been pressed between the leaves of history, Memphis lawyer Finis L. Bates met and befriended a liquor and tobacco merchant named John St. Helen. It’s good to get to know the man who sells you booze and smokes, and Bates was particularly taken by John’s ability to spout Shakespeare from memory. The two became good friends outside the seller-consumer relationship.

Five years later, John St. Helen was on what he believed to be his deathbed, profoundly ill. He confided in Finis Bates that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth. He asked Finis to advise his brother, Edwin Booth, of his demise. Then he recovered. Read more…

Day 986: James Randi & The Magic Of Truth

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One of the television landmarks of my childhood involved magicians/dissectors-of-bullshit Penn & Teller, performing the classic splice-the-assistant trick. They then performed the trick once more on a transparent stage with transparent props in order to reveal the gadgetry and choreography that had effectively deceived us. My mother loathed the bit; to this day her stalwart faith in pure magic remains uncompromised. For me, it was an awakening.

I saw Penn & Teller’s commitment to debunkery as an invitation to question the unexplained, and to search for the truth tucked under the throw-rug of perception. This curiosity need not be an omnipresent obsession – I would much rather share in the astounded guffaws of David Blaine’s close-up audience than pry into the secrets of his masterful sleight-of-hand – but when trickery is but a front for a more nefarious purpose, this well-worn skepticism is a handy frock.

James Randi has been an activist for truth and an intrepid explorer of paranormal hucksterism for decades. When Copperfield transformed the Statue of Liberty into furtive air on national television, Randi made no effort to deflate our collective entertainment. But when pseudo-psychics make ludicrous claims of otherworldly powers in their pockets, James Randi is there to reach in and show us the lint of deception.

Naturally, he has pissed off a lot of people along the way.

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The Amazing Randi rose to fame as a magician in 1956 when he broke Harry Houdini’s submersion record by having himself locked inside a sealed coffin beneath the surface of a hotel swimming pool for 104 minutes on The Today Show. But while Randi was happy to entertain a gawking audience, he was always critical of the mysticism that people would invite into their lives as fact. While employed by the Canadian tabloid Midnight, he penned a recurring astrology column by simply rearranging horoscopes from other publications and pasting them randomly under each sign. Read more…

Day 978: Doc Brinkley’s Magical Goat Balls

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It makes perfect sense. If a man is having a hard time encouraging his noble groin-soldier onto the battlefield, perhaps his problem is a lack of testicular fortitude. If only he could harness the power of nature’s potential through his impetuous manhood. If only he could possess the unflinching might of goat balls.

That’s right: goat balls. These testicular orbs of revered bleat-meat might cure all your ills, male or female in nature. Such was the reasoning behind Dr. John R. Brinkley’s infamous medical gifts, and such was the foundation of his fortune. If you skim past the wrongful death suits, the federal investigations and the sheer audacity of his backhanded disregard for ethics and common sense, Dr. Brinkley could be seen as the medical luminary of his day.

But we aren’t going to skip those parts. For his lifelong devotion to greed, fraud, and the scrotal strength of the capra aegagrus hircus, we’re going to tell the whole of Dr. Brinkley’s story.

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Shortly after the birth of his daughter in 1907, John Brinkley enrolled at Bennett Medical College in Chicago, a school of questionable repute due to its focus on ‘Eclectic medicine’, which is somewhat like modern herbal / homeopathic medicine, except with less Far Eastern wisdom and a lot more guesswork. He never finished, and he failed to pay his back tuition, which prevented him from transferring to another school. Eventually he did what any enterprising young would-be healer would do: he bought a diploma from a diploma mill in Kansas City. Read more…

Day 783: On The Attack – Scientology Puts On Its Ugly Face

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Not being particularly fond of organized religion, I nevertheless try to approach such topics with tact and compassion. So long as you’re not trying to bomb me, regulate my sex life or tell me how much bacon I’m allowed to cram into my eat-hole, I won’t attack your beliefs. But when it comes to Scientology, something about the organization clumps my britches. I’ve written before about the church’s vicious corporal punishment and member imprisonment, but I was already a little skeeved by this church, even before that. Something about the entire thing just ain’t right.

That’s not to say that the church’s lower-ranked adherents aren’t finding solace and comfort in whatever weirdness they are taught (and I’m not singling out Scientology with that word – if you look deeply enough, there’s weirdness in all religions). But for a church so damn young they have seen more than their fair share of scandals, lawsuits, and outright criminal activity.

This is no religious persecution either. The Church of Scientology has gone to ridiculous lengths to strike back against critics and vocal opponents, so much so as to suggest a staggering insecurity regarding the foundation of their beliefs. Maybe they just want to keep the tax credit, I don’t know. But there’s no excuse for the way they tormented Paulette Cooper.

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In 1968, Paulette had recently scored a Masters degree in psychology, and she kicked off her freelance writing career by penning an investigative look into L. Ron Hubbard’s newfangled scientology religion. Paulette sifted through a lot of Dianetic dirt, and made herself some mighty powerful enemies in the process. How powerful? Once her book, The Scandal of Scientology was released in 1971, some of the higher-ups in the organization made it their mission to destroy her.

Not to quash the sales of her book, mind you… they wanted Paulette’s life on a flambéed skewer. Read more…

Day 444: The Lexicon Gets Jiggy With It – Words From The 90s

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As a full-time juggler, manhandler, and crass exploiter of words, I sense a giddy little lightning shiver of excitement when a linguistic topic floats to the top of the chum-pile for selection in my daily tithe. I’ve marveled at some of our most recent additions to the western lexicon, today I tripped over a list of words coined in the decade that truly heralded the inescapable Information Age: the 1990’s.

A lot of words on this list are still lilting in the air, often getting plucked by someone’s voice and dropped into conversations without fanfare. We know what a webisode is, the term LGBT is commonplace, and we’re all familiar with the internet meme. The word ‘blog’ is everywhere. Some people have called this site a blog, which I suppose it is, though I prefer the term ‘endurance experiment’.

Here are a handful of terms who surged in the 1990’s and have since dropped off my radar.

Disneyfication

In the 90’s, it was important to differentiate between Disneyfication, McDonaldization and Walmarting. Disneyfication is what everyone fears about the new Star Wars movies – it involves stripping the original from its real character and repackaging it in a sanitized, child-safe format. Some complain that Times Square is Disneyfied, closed off for safe pedestrian travel, packed full of approachable chain restaurants and tourist sights, and sadly lacking in the pornographic theaters and random masturbators that made the area a true adventure back in the 1980’s. Read more…

Day 190: The Craft Corner Meltdown Of 2012

The following exchange took place in the tiny ‘Crafts Corner’ section of the free paper known as the Whismarck Weekly Bugle. The regular feature had been penned by Doris Haverton, owner of Basket Bonanza, since October of 1983. Last spring, because a rival basket store opened up within the Whismarck town limits, paper editor Tony J. Pezsnecker felt it would be fair if he offered the new store owner a chance at writing every other week’s column.

Craft Corner – March 11, 2012

Greetings, Whismarckians! I’m Jerry Mainway, proprietor of the Basketorium, now open for business on Secondary Highway 265, a half-mile past that Denny’s that burnt down in ’07. I am not merely a curator of fine baskets. I stock deals, people. Incredible deals for all your basket needs. You want an 18-inch woven bamboo straight from the slums of Bangalore? We got ‘em, only $22.95. Looking for a reed splint basket to hold a bunch of marbles or something for the shelf beside your Blu-Ray player? We got ‘em, as low as six bucks apiece. You won’t find better deals at any lesser basket store. Flame on, basket lovers!

Craft Corner – March 18, 2012

Hello, loyal readers. Like you, I was quite taken by surprise by last week’s Craft Corner. While I understand giving equal time to all members of the community, I would never stoop to using this forum as a platform for selfish advertising. Last November I showed you how to craft a basket full of potpourri using dead flower petals, cucumber skin and dental floss. The gentleman who filled this space last week clearly has no respect for the Whismarck craft community; he merely wants to turn a profit. Not only that, but boasting that one’s product was made in ‘the slums of Bangalore’ strikes me as utterly classless and ethically suspect. I apologize for the rant; in two weeks I’ll give you some great ideas for a hanging tulip display to decorate your home for the exciting spring season! Read more…