Loco Lawsuits: People Laughed at Me for Shooting Myself

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reportedly has one of the most challenging handgun qualification courses in the federal government. It mandates quarterly training firearms training and semiannual firearms qualification to ensure agents “maintain a high level of proficiency in the use and safety” of their weapons. So it would probably be a bit embarrassing if an agent shot himself while demonstrating gun safety to children.

That’s what happened to Lee Paige while making a drug education presentation to about 50 children and parents at a community center in Orlando, Fla., in April 2004. As he talked about the importance of gun safety, he displayed his handgun. “I am the only one in the room professional enough, that I know of, to carry this Glock 40,” he told the group. Almost immediately after, the gun discharged, wounding Paige in the leg. The incident was reported in the press but without identifying Paige.

Even though his wounds were self-inflicted, Paige sued the DEA.

Lee Paige displaying the handgun

A parent videotaped his presentation and turned the tape over to the DEA. During the DEA investigation, the tape was copied several times. Ultimately, Paige, a 14 year veteran of the DEA at the time of the incident, was suspended for five days. The videotape was returned to the parent but with the portion with the firearm removed. In March 2005, video of the incident began circulating on the Internet. It also was shown on several television shows, including the Jay Leno Show, CNN Headline News, Fox News, and the Jimmy Kimmel Show.

A year later, Paige sued the DEA. He said he’d become “the target of jokes, derision, ridicule and disparaging comments,” as well as “embarrassing and humiliating comments.” Paige claimed that because the DEA had exclusive custody of the portion of the video in which he shot himself, it was responsible for its disclosure.

Paige’s complaint was dismissed by the federal district court. The U.S. Court of Appeals agreed, although it said the DEA wasn’t blameless. The court said the DEA hadn’t invaded Paige’s privacy because the incident occurred in a public place and he knew a parent was using a video recorder. And while the DEA hadn’t violated the federal Privacy Act, the court said its actions demonstrated the need for federal agencies to safeguard video records “with extreme diligence” in the internet age. “The DEA’s treatment of the video-recording – particularly the creation of so many different versions and copies – undoubtedly increased the likelihood of disclosure and, although [it didn’t violate the law], is far from a model of agency treatment of private data,” it said.

Paige certainly wasn’t the only law enforcement who drew unflattering attention by accidentally shooting themselves in public. But you have to wonder if filing a lawsuit long after the fact minimizes your notoriety.

Speaking personally, you can have my gun, but you’ll take my book when you pry my cold, dead fingers off of the binding.

Stephen King, TIME, June 19, 2000

The apocryphal Bible hoax that won’t die

Between 1879 and 1896, the Rev. William D. Mahan, a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, issued three editions of previously unknown contemporary accounts of Jesus Christ’s life. There’s virtually unanimous agreement that his work is a fraud, and Mahan’s church suspended him for falsehood and plagiarism. Yet the last version, The Archko Volume, is sold today to readers who praise its historical documents and their importance.

Mahan issued the first work, a 32-page pamphlet called “A Correct Transcript of Pilate’s Court,” in 1879. Its origin story is unusual. Mahan said he met Henry Whydaman, a German, in Missouri in 1856. Whydaman told Mahan of spending five years in Rome and coming across a document called Acta Pilati (“The Acts of Pilate”) in the Vatican library. He said it was an official report from Pontius Pilate to Roman Emperor Tiberius of Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

Many called it a fraud. Later investigators also did, including Goodspeed, the author of several books about Apocrypha. He pointed out that, among other things, neither the name of Mahan’s brother-in-law nor the bank he used to transfer money to Whydaman appear in New York City records. Additionally, there was no record of a Father Freelinhusen at the Vatican, and darics were ancient Persian coins not used in the 19th century. In analyzing the content, Goodspeed was blunt: “The whole work is a weak, crude fancy, a jumble of high-sounding but meaningless words, and hardly worth serious criticism.” In 1941, Goodspeed discovered an 1842 pamphlet published in Boston virtually identical to Mahan’s work. That pamphlet, in turn, copied a short story published in Paris in 1837.

The criticism didn’t dissuade Mahan. In 1884 he published The Archaeological and the Historical Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds with nine more previously unknown works joining “Pilate’s Court.” Mahan said they were the result of a 10-year investigation and trips he and two experts made to Rome and Constantinople. The new documents included interviews with “the shepherds and others at Bethlehem” when Jesus was born, an interview with Mary and Joseph (reportedly living in Mecca at the time), and a report from Jewish high priest Caiaphas on the resurrection of Jesus.

The book quickly drew even more fire.

“Pilate’s Court” was some 1,200 words longer than the original pamphlet. Mahan said they reviewed the original in the Vatican library. While it was “more than satisfactory,” he claimed seeing it allowed the expansion of what he’d published. Apparently, the “true copy, word by word” from Father Freelinhusen wasn’t.

Perhaps the most damning evidence came from Rev. James A. Quarles, then president of the Elizabeth Aull Seminary in Missouri and later a philosophy professor at Washington and Lee University. About one-quarter of the book was “Eli’s Story of the Magi,” taken from a parchment Mahan said he found in Constantinople. Quarles established that much of that story was copied verbatim from Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur, published four years earlier. Goodspeed would later observe, “The freedom and extent of Mr. Mahan’s copying of ‘Ben-Hur’ are almost beyond belief.” Quarles also presented evidence indicating Mahan didn’t travel to Rome or Constantinople. Mahan never proved he went nor the existence of the two experts accompanying him.

Mahan’s response was odd. In a November 13, 1884, letter, he told Quarles there were some “misprints” in the book he hoped to revise but stood by its authenticity. Yet he also wrote that the book was:

paying us about 20 dollars [$641.50 today] per day, and its prospects and popularity are increasing every day. You are bound to admit that the items in the book can’t do any harm, even if it were false, but will cause many to read and reflect that otherwise would not. So the balance of good is in its favor.

This good outweighs falsity argument didn’t impress the New Lebanon Presbytery, which governed Mahan’s ministry. On September 28–29, 1885, the Presbytery heard evidence on four charges against Mahan, including plagiarizing Ben-Hur and not going to Constantinople. The 17 members unanimously agreed that he copied “Eli’s Story,” but a slight majority acquitted him of the travel charge. The Presbytery suspended him for one year, and Mahan promised to no longer sell the book.

Mahan still wasn’t deterred. On September 10, 1886, the Presbytery said the suspension “was more the result of sympathy for him and his family than a desire for rigid administration of the law.” It learned, though, that Mahan continued selling the book and planned to bring out new editions. As a result, the Presbytery suspended him indefinitely or until he complied with the Church’s dictates. Church records contain no evidence of reinstatement.

The Presbytery was right. Several new editions, all without “Eli’s Story,” were published from 1897 to the end of the 19th century. By then, the work was known as The Archko Volume. Some 90 pages containing seven letters “regarding God’s providence to the Jews” written by “Hillel the Third” replaced the Ben-Hur plagiarism. If Hillel the Third existed, the letters indicate he was “writing before he was born” and some 450 years after, according to Richard Lloyd Anderson, a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University.

One of the book’s ten documents, a letter from Emperor Constantine requesting 50 copies of the Bible, was authentic. Even then, Mahan ventured into the incredible, claiming he transcribed it from the first page of one of Constantine’s Bibles in Constantinople. The identical letter, though, first appeared in a 4th-century biography of Constantine.

Mahan died in 1906 without proving the original documents existed. He wrote in The Archko Volume that “the time has been too long and the distance to the place where the records are kept is too great for all men to make the examination for themselves.” Apparently, the “Eli’s Story” parchment “evaporated,” Anderson observed, and no one ever found the other documents.

Yet The Archko Volume still lives. At least six editions were published in the U.S. in the last ten years. Moreover, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Walmart all sell new copies online. “The book obviously thrives because it is too easy to confuse what we would like to find with what is authentic,” Anderson said. In the end, Mahan created what may be the Bible hoax that won’t die.

Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.

Isaac Asimov, Yours, Isaac Asimov: A Life in Letters

(Originally posted at Medium)

Weekend Edition: 5-1

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The self-righteous rule out the possibility that they are what has gone wrong.

Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms, Fourteenth Selection (1994)

The Vatican’s time machine?

It had to be true. After all, it was there in black and white in La Domenica del Corriere (“Courier Sunday”), a long-established weekly news magazine: “Invented: a machine that photographs the past.” Not only was there a diagram of the machine but a photograph of an ancient event — the face of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. Moreover, the story came from an Italian Benedictine monk who said he was part of a Vatican-funded team that invented the “Chronovisor.”

Father Pellegrino Ernetti was a noted musicologist who also studied physics. Ernetti worked on an audio project involving Gregorian chants at the Catholic University of Milan. Listening to one of the tapes in September 1952, the school’s founder, Father Agostino Gemelli, was convinced he heard his dead father’s voice. Ernetti wondered if sound somehow continued to exist in some way. Gemelli was president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and obtained funding for a team led by Ernetti to explore the question.

Ernetti said a team of 12 people worked for years on the project. French priest Francois Brune, a friend of Ernetti’s, would later report that Ernetti only identified two: Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi and rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. In his May 2, 1972, interview with La Domenica del Corriere, Ernetti said the group discovered that sound and light disintegrate into different energy forms. Using a series of antennas made of three mysterious metals, the Chronovisor reconstructed residual electromagnetic radiation left over by numerous processes. A sensor could select a specific location, date, and even a particular person, and the reconstruction appeared on a cathode ray tube.

The device was more television than a time machine. It didn’t take someone physically into the past, only allowed past events to be viewed and recorded. Hence, the name Chronovisor. Ernetti told the magazine that the scientific team viewed the crucifixion of Christ and other events, but he believed the device was dangerous because it could pick up thoughts. Notably, Ernetti did not provide a photo of Christ’s face. The Milan-based magazine said it received it from an anonymous man.

Article in La Domenica del Corriere

In his 2002 book, Le Nouveau Mystere du Vatican (“The New Mystery of the Vatican”), Brune said Ernetti told him they recorded Christ from the Last Supper to his death. According to Brune, these weren’t the first or only events the team viewed. They observed speeches by Cicero, Mussolini, and Napoleon, looked at a 2nd-century Roman market, and saw a 169 BCE performance of the play Thyestes by Roman poet Quintus Ennius. Only fragments of the play still existed, so Ernetti transcribed the entire performance as proof of the Chronovisor’s existence.

Ernetti told Brune they disassembled the machine after the experimental stage because of fear it could reveal anything that happened in the past, including state secrets. The claimed destruction led to conjecture that the Chronovisor still exists, stashed away in the Vatican Secret Archive. Yet, there seem to be more grounds to doubt the machine ever existed.

Several months after the story in La Domenica del Corriere, another Italian magazine received a photograph of the face of Christ on a woodcarving in a church in a small Umbrian village. Aside from being reversed, the image was virtually identical to the photo in La Domenica del Corriere. A Spanish sculptor made the woodcarving in 1931 based on a nun’s vision. According to Brune, Ernetti said it resembled the Chronovisor photo because the nun saw the actual crucifixion, just as they had.

Ernetti’s other “proof” also seems problematic. Katherine Eldred, a doctor in classics, was asked to study and translate Ernetti’s Thyestes for the English edition of Austrian Peter Krassa’s 1997 book about Ernetti. Eldred noted that Ernetti’s transcription was only a tenth as long would be expected, and a number of the words in it weren’t part of the Latin language for another 250 years. She also said that the wording suggested limited Latin skills, which one wouldn’t expect of someone who wrote in Latin.

Krassa also published a letter reportedly from an unidentified “distant relative” of Ernetti. It claimed that on his deathbed in 1994, the monk confessed that the Christ photo and Thyestes manuscript were fake. Ernetti also supposedly said Fermi had nothing to do with the Chronovisor, although, notably, he insisted the machine was real. Brune, whose book awaits an English translation, says any such confession was false and forced by church authorities.

Despite no hard evidence of its existence, any time machine in the Vatican Secret Archive is exceptional fodder for all kinds of tales. But why would an educated and respected monk invent and stand by such an outlandish story for decades? A definitive answer may require a machine that can see past events and read the participants’ thoughts.

All investigations of Time, however sophisticated or abstract, have at their true base the human fear of mortality

Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

(Originally posted at History of Yesterday)

An astronomer helped fake Britain’s first UFO contactee story

Kenneth Arnold could never have imagined the consequences when he reported seeing nine shiny objects flying rapidly past Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947. He told reporters the next day that they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.” The “flying saucer” age was underway, ceaselessly barreling ahead to this day.

UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings were so numerous that by February 1955, TIME magazine would remark, “Simply sighting flying saucers is out of date — the big spin now is to spot them landing and to hobnob with their interplanetary passengers.” The comment came in the magazine’s review of Cedric Allingham’s book, Flying Saucer from Mars. Allingham, described as a 32-year-old “thriller-writer, amateur stargazer, and bird watcher,” reported that while on vacation in northeast Scotland in February 1954, he encountered and visited with a Martian.

Skeptics noted that Allingham’s experience came within months of the British publication of Flying Saucers Have Landed by Californian George Adamski. Adamski is considered the first person to publicly claim to be a “UFO contactee,” someone who’s had direct contact with extraterrestrial beings. He said that on November 20, 1952, a large translucent UFO landed near him in a California desert. The pilot, a Venusian named Orthon, left the ship to converse with Adamski through telepathy and hand signals. Adamski’s book sold 65,000 copies in the U.S. and 40,000 in England in only a year.

Allingham said he was bird-watching when a 50-foot flying saucer landed beside him, as happened to Adamski. The alien used a sketch drawn by Allingham to show he was from Mars. He also indicated he’d visited Venus and the Moon. Akin to Adamski, Allingham communicated with the Martian with gestures. Like Adamski’s Venusian, the Martian expressed concern about humankind’s wars. Allingham took a photo of the visitor — but from behind. His pictures of the Martian spacecraft were more blurry but similar to Adamski’s pictures of the Venusian craft.

Allingham was hard to find once his book appeared in October 1954. The only apparent report of him making a public appearance came from Hugh Downing, former Air Chief Marshall of the Royal Air Force. He wrote that Allingham spoke to “our local Flying Saucer Club” in January 1955. The club members “were all strongly impressed that he was telling the truth about his actual experiences, although we felt that he might have been mistaken in some of the conclusions which he drew.”

“Cedric Allingham”

Allingham’s publisher first explained his unavailability by saying he was on a U.S. tour. Later it announced Allingham had tuberculosis and was in a Swiss sanitarium. In 1956, the publisher announced Allingham had died.

Although skepticism always surrounded his story, it took 30 years after Allingham’s reported death to debunk it. The July 1986 issue of Magonia magazine, which had its origins in the Merseyside UFO Research Group, carried an investigation by Christopher Allan and Steuart [sic] Campbell. It revealed Allingham never existed. Instead, he was the creation of British amateur astronomer Patrick Moore and his friend, Peter Davies.

Davies admitted Flying Saucer from Mars was a prank attempting to capitalize on Adamski’s book’s popularity. Davies said someone he wouldn’t name wrote the book and he revised it. Moreover, Allingham’s photo on the book jacket was, in fact, Davies standing next to a telescope owned by Moore. Davies also admitted it was he who spoke to the UFO club.

Allan and Steuart used several methods to identify Moore as the author. A computer analysis of Moore’s writing style and Flying Saucer from Mars showed numerous similarities, although they acknowledged that Davies’s revisions prevented saying they were identical. They compared the Allingham photo with one in one of Moore’s astronomy books of a telescope in his garden. The telescope and garden background were identical. Also, they said, Moore said in a book that he met Allingham at the UFO club lecture. They assert Moore is the only person who claimed to know Allingham.

Moore never admitted involvement with Flying Saucer from Mars, perhaps because of his status. Although an amateur astronomer, he compiled a catalog of astronomical objects, and an asteroid was named for him. Moore was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and president of the British Astronomical Association. He published more than 70 books on astronomy, many for the general public and children. Before his death in December 2012, Moore had a monthly astronomy program on BBC television for 55 years. He was knighted in 2001 for “services to the popularisation of science and to broadcasting.”

Yet, Moore was recognized as eccentric, was a critic of ufology, and unafraid of pranks. His first BBC television appearance came in a 1956 debate about the existence of UFOs. According to Allan and Steuart, Moore sent a hoax UFO sighting to his local newspaper and spoof letters to the newsletter of the Aetherius Society, a UFO religion. They also said he invented a rocket expert to comment on an alleged UFO landing in southwestern England in July 1963.

Regardless of Moore’s involvement, it’s clear no Allingham existed to communicate with a Martian. Given Flying Saucer from Mars sprung from Adamski’s book, it might also be considered an early component of what the Atlantic magazine would later describe as “the UFO-industrial complex.”

The reliable (UFO) cases are uninteresting and the interesting cases are unreliable. Unfortunately there are no cases that are both reliable and interesting.

Carl Sagan, Other Worlds

(Originally posted at Medium)