Monday, January 26, 2015

E.T.s, exposes and sweaty dudes

I just finished reading AREA 51: AN UNCENSORED HISTORY OF AMERICA’S TOP SECRET MILITARY BASE, by investigative reporter Annie Jacobsen. I found it for $3 at Books-a-Million. It’s a fascinating book, although I’m not convinced it contains “the complete and total truth.” Still, she reveals more about the military base (you know, the one that the government won’t acknowledge actually exists) than has ever been revealed before. I highly recommend it to anybody interested in the subject—and how could anybody not be? I mean, aliens. Hel-LO.

Okay. In case there’s somebody out there who isn’t familiar, Area 51 is a super-secret facility located in the barren desert of Nevada. Also known as “Groom Lake,” after the dry lake bed located on the property, or more mysteriously as “Dreamland,” it is (and this much we know for sure) the base where experimental aircraft are created and tested. It’s so top secret that even the President of the United States doesn’t know everything about it. Again, we know this is factual. Bill Clinton, during his presidency, tried to obtain information on the base and its clandestine activities only to run into a stone wall. We know Dreamland exists; these days anyone with access to google earth can look at it from space. We know what they do there, in a vague, generalized sorta way. But there are legends, too, which might be true. The story goes that, after a flying saucer (or flying saucers, plural, as some sources say that there were TWO separate sites) crashed in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, the debris—and the bodies of the dead aliens the crafts contained—was taken to Area 51 for study. In the late 90s, a man named Bob Lazar came forward with an incredible story. He had worked at Area 51, he said, and had seen the spaceships himself, been told they originated from another planet, and told to “reverse engineer” them and figure out how they worked. Lazar claimed to have seen an alien being examined by men in lab coats. When he first revealed his story, the government did exactly what would be expected and denied everything, proclaiming Lazar a fraud. However, Lazar was able to prove that he had in fact worked at Dreamland. Unfortunately, subsequent investigations revealed that Lazar had lied about other things, his educational pedigree, mostly, and this forever stains his credibility regarding everything he says. Lie about one thing and get caught, it’ll make people doubt EVERYthing you say, right? Doesn’t mean everything you’ve said is false, but it will always have that question mark hanging above it.

Supposedly, our stealth bomber makes use of technology developed by study of the flying saucers. Supposedly, a lot of the technology we use today, from fiber optics to cell phones, came about as a result of Roswell tech. There’s no proof for any of it, but there are lots of rumors. Who knows the truth of it? Annie Jacobsen claims to know. I believe her. At least I believe she is truthfully telling us the things that she herself was told by her “sources,” some of them named and some remaining anonymous. I don’t know that her sources, though, were being completely honest with her.

Here’s the skinny: Jacobsen claims that a pair of flying saucers did in fact crash at Roswell. All those eyewitnesses, the rancher, the townspeople, the local mortician, who claimed to see the debris and the dead aliens were telling the truth. The government’s cover story—that the crash was just a weather balloon with a dummy strapped to it—was complete hogwash, she tells us. But she says that the UFOs originated not in outer space but in Cold War Russia. This is proven by the fact that the “flying discs” had Russian writing on them. They were sent to America to cause a War of the Worlds-type panic amongst the American populace much larger than the one Orson Welles set off with his infamous Halloween night radio broadcast. Too bad for the Soviets that they crashed, Jacobsen says, and the US got hold of the tech.

How about the aliens? Jacobsen says that her sources told her the bodies were actually human. They were human beings, experimented on and altered by the evil Nazi mastermind Joseph Mengele, who had entered into a deal with the Soviets the same way Werner Von Braun and his ilk had sided with the US in the days after World War 2. Is this scenario more plausible than the alien take on things? It’s certainly possible. And it’s clandestine and shady enough to satisfy the X-Files contingent out there. It does seem like an awful lot of trouble for the Russians to go to just to scare the begeezus out of their enemies. But such a panic could potentially undermine the American infrastructure enough to make it worth the while. And let’s be honest, the idea of a crazy Nazi scientist in league with the Soviets to genetically and surgically alter human guinea pigs and make them look like aliens is hardly any scarier than the idea that we have been visited by intelligent beings from another planet, is it?

I have a couple of problems with the big reveal, though. One, how would Mengele know what aliens are supposed to look like, in order to make his experiments resemble them, if he wasn’t basing it on descriptions that already existed? Did Roswell actually start the whole alien thing? Did we get our current idea of what an alien looks like—big head, big eyes, little scrawny body—from Roswell? If that’s the case, then Mengele probably based his design on what such a being should theoretically look like. Big heads imply bigger brains, thus greater intelligence, for example. And it’s worth noting that contemporary scientists, in suggesting what human beings may look like in millennia to come, as we continue to evolve, offer up a visual representation that resembles in no small way the classic “alien” physicality, ie big heads and big eyes. Was Mengele just ahead of his time in his guesswork? Could be.

More problematic for me is this: After the Russians went to the trouble to manufacture mock aliens to pilot their top-secret flying machines (also developed with acquired Nazi tech), with the intention that the crafts were to land and the pilots were to get out and walk around, just long enough for people to get a good look at them and panic accordingly, they had to know there was at least some possibility that the crafts could crash (which they did) or be shot down. Why, then, if what they wanted was to create a panic by creating this illusion, would they ruin this illusion by embossing their saucers with Russian writing? “Don’t worry, guys, it’s just us!” is what that writing might as well have said. “No spacemen here!” The eyewitnesses who saw the actual crash site in Roswell DID describe writing on the craft, yes, but some of those eyewitnesses were trained military men (one who came forward with the truth on his deathbed). Would he have failed to recognize Russian writing, attributing it instead to some extraterrestrial civilization? Possibly. Maybe even probably, if we force ourselves to adhere strictly to Occam’s Razor. But it doesn’t make sense to me that the Russians would put the writing there in the first place, thus guaranteeing the spoiling of their illusion in the event of a crash.

Something that DOES make sense to me is this: Those in charge at Area 51, knowing that in this day and age they can no longer get away with just denying the facility exists, knowing that the Internet has made it possible for the common man to learn more, much more, about them and their base than they would like, would instead resort to a secondary kind of smokescreen. That they’d use a conspiracy theory to further their own ends. That they’d hint at a shadowy cover-up of the facts, just not the REAL shadowy cover-up, in order to protect those facts. As I said, I believe Ms. Jacobsen is reporting with complete honesty the things she was told. But was she told the REAL truth? It’s all smoke and mirrors, and puzzles within puzzles. It is worth noting that Ms. Jacobsen herself admits in her book that she doesn’t know why her sources chose her to reveal their secrets to, or why they did so at this time. Maybe because she’s a credible reporter, highbrow news rather than tabloid, and thus more likely to be believed. As for why now, I’ve already made my guess. The cat’s partially out of the bag.

Or she could have it right. Nazi-created mutants instead of aliens. Who knows. Certainly not me. It’s interesting to read about, either way. For me, it’s all about a good story, anyway. Always.

Several years ago, my buddy Scott (renowned Historical Fiction and Fantasy novelist Scott Oden) and I went on a long road trip to the American Southwest. Scott was going through an ugly divorce and I thought it best for him to get away for awhile. As I was planning a trip and would welcome the company, I dragged him along. We went through Cross Plains, Texas, home of the legendary writer Robert E. Howard, most famous as the creator of Conan the Barbarian. We saw dinosaur footprints and a meteor crash site where the meteorite in question had landed on a wooly mammoth. (You can’t make this stuff up, folks.) We saw Carlsbad Caverns, on a day (and night) when their famous flock of bats refused to put in an appearance. And we drove into Roswell.

Roswell, New Mexico ought to be thankful for that UFO crash back in the 40s. It turned what would otherwise be a typical southwestern ranch town into a tourist mecca. They have a cool UFO Museum there now, dedicated to all things concerning the crash. They have an annual UFO Festival. There are also a few other “unofficial” UFO-themed tourist traps, to which Scott and I gladly contributed money. And, as one might expect, Roswell is now home to its share of crackpots. We saw a perfect reproduction of the pyramid complex in Giza, rendered in limestone gravel (just like what’s lining every rural driveway and back road in the country—again, you can’t make this stuff up). And when we went into this one little UFO “museum” slash general store, literally as soon as we’d walked in the door and the little electric chime had sounded, the guy behind the counter, with sweaty forehead, leering countenance and eyes as wide as a crystal meth tweaker, leaned out across the countertop and shakily asked us: “So, you two ever seen any ALIENS?!!” We politely replied that we’d only made contact with the South-of-the-Border kind and quickly left the establishment.

I do have to wonder if that guy has read Ms. Jacobsen’s book, and if so what he thinks of it. Does it make him happy or angry to have a NEW new conspiracy theory to dwell on? If he still owns that little junky store, does he now lean out over the counter and unnerve his customers by demanding: “Have you ever seen any genetically-modified Nazi Russians?!!”

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with my work, and certainly isn’t news to anyone who know me personally, but I am a True Crime junkie. Why? I dunno. I credit my high school Sociology teacher for first lighting that particular fuse, when we spent one six weeks my senior year studying criminology and abnormal psychology. She had this guy (I can’t remember his name, unfortunately) come speak to the class. He was pen pals with Charles Manson and had met Ted Bundy. He told us all sorts of creepy details about serial killers. I found him completely creepy—and yet there was something there that caught in my mind, snagged my curiosity. I wanted to know more. These days, while I’m not in correspondence with any infamous killers, I do know a lot more about them, the whole lot of them, than does the everyday guy on the street. I’ve read a lot on the subject. Some would say too much. I can rattle off the names of serial killers the way your average guy can with sports figures. I can explain the difference, or lack thereof, between a psychopath and a sociopath, (Note: The terms are mostly interchangeable. Either is correct.) and what separates a “psycho” from someone who is psychotic. (There’s a BIG difference.) I know the names of the FBI’s top profilers and have read their books. Hazelwood; Douglas; Ressler; DeLong. In short, I would dare call myself a minor expert on the subject.

Which probably means that, today, people think that I’m creepy and weird, the way I thought that guy back in high school was freakish. Maybe I am—but those like me are freakish in a completely different way than the freaks that fascinate us. We study them because we seek to understand. And that’s a worthy pursuit.

If I’m honest, the seeds of my strange passion probably got sown way before high school. I grew up hearing stories about a friend of my mother’s who was murdered shortly before I was born, by far the biggest crime to ever occur in the tiny hamlet wherein I lived as a child. She had disappeared in broad daylight, only to turn up a couple of days later, strangled and stabbed and dumped on the side of a road less than a mile from my childhood home and from where I still live. Little kids listen to everything, and my little ears overheard every conversation the “big folks” were having about the crime and who might have done it. The killer was never caught. Had the crime taken place today, it would be a slam dunk. The victim had hair, red hair, underneath her fingernails, and some of the murderer’s skin. DNA evidence, right there. But this was the early 70s and there tweren’t no such thing back then. And, as all too often happens, the evidence got lost over the years. They no longer have it to test. Likely the crime will never be solved.

There might have been some justice. MIGHT have been. The man my mother believed to have committed the offence, a local roustabout with flaming red hair and a bad reputation, was himself murdered a few years later by a member of his own family. (Also within a couple of miles from where I grew up.) There is still debate over who exactly pulled the trigger on that one, but no one was ever charged. The killing was ruled to have been in self-defense. Could be the local police were just happy to be rid of the guy.

Anyway, I pretty much cut my teeth on unsolved murder, and this fixation was fattened up like a goose being prepared for pâté by that high school Sociology class. As a storyteller, I suspect there may be something deeper at the root of it. True Crime is the great universal, Mythic parable of Good versus Evil, played out on the most mundane, i.e. most common, stage. On the level of the everyman. We may not comic book supervillains in the “real” world where we live, but that’s only because they don’t have super powers. There is no greater evil in this world than a violent sociopath. Give that sociopath a super power and you’d need the combined might of the Avengers or the Justice League to take him down. But if the villains in our world are human, no matter how monstrous they may be, so are the heroes. The heroes are the cops and FBI agents who track these beasts down. And those stories are as grand and epic in scope as the greatest myth or fiction. Maybe that’s why I’m such a True Crime junkie. Like I said, I don’t know. I also love mustard more than ketchup. Why? Better to ask what difference it makes. I like what I like. No more need be said.

I don’t watch much television. Lots of movies, but little TV. But if the TV is turned on, 99% of the time it’s tuned into Investigation Discovery. Nothing else that appeals to the masses even remotely appeals to me. Reality shows? Sitcoms? Singing competitions? You couldn’t pay me to watch that drivel. Or you could, but I wouldn’t come cheap. Nor do I like the 15 or 16 different versions of CSI that currently run on network television. Those are just retreads. I want the real thing. The documentaries that air on ID are real in a way that “reality TV” will never be.

There’s one new show that blurs the lines a little, though. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it for that very reason. BREAKING POINT stages interventions with criminals by their friends and family members, overseen by an expert. I watched the series debut the other night. At first I almost turned it off. My bullshit meter was going off. No way this can be real, I said to myself. This is like those repossession shows they run on ID’s siter channel, Discovery. You know the ones I’m talking about. Some hefty guy in a towtruck goes to repossess a car, owner of said car catches him in the act, comes out and they start swinging, shades of Jerry Springer. Don’t buy it, peeps. Repossession men are instructed to never so much as lay a finger on a person. If a repossession is interrupted, they are told to leave immediately so as to avoid any physical confrontation. I’ve know people who do repo work, and they are quick to tell you it’s the first rule of the job. You NEVER get into an altercation with the person whose property you are trying to repossess. That’s why they always sneak around in the dead of night. Companies have lost their shirts in lawsuits because some repo guy barely touched a victim. So those big, beefy guys going and beating up people to repo their cars? Fake. Totally fake. Or, if those fights are genuine, then those people are getting paid off so as not to press charges or file lawsuits. Still fake, in my opinion.

I initially suspected BREAKING POINT was likewise staged. But as the show progressed, I began to believe what I was seeing was real. All those people couldn’t be such good actors, my lovely better half pointed out. But were they paying off people, the way the repo shows do? Problem with that is, this show involves CRIMES. As in, they are filming and documenting someone, pre-intervention, actually committing crimes. The girl in the episode I watched confessed on camera to being part of a kidnapping and assault. So, here’s my take on it: If the show IS completely real, as I now suspect it is, what’s going to happen when some cold case detective who happens to be watching sees the solution to some particular case aired on nationwide television? The producers of the show won’t be able to simply pay off a whole police department the way they would a drunken redneck upset over losing his bass boat. The cops don’t play that. Bride one cop, sure. Bribe a whole squad? Nuh-uh. The cameramen in the show I watched filmed the girl shooting up heroin. Maybe that won’t have the cops coming after her. But that confession to kidnapping and assault? Let’s just say I wouldn’t feel comfortable admitting such a thing, if it were me. And they filmed her on her way to buy drugs, resuming the chronicle afterwards, when she was stoned and passing in and out of consciousness. It’s safe to say they were then present at the actual sale. Really, how long is it going to be before some detective comes along with a court order for the producers to hand over their film footage to be used as evidence in a case? The authorities also aren’t really going to care if the person profiled in that week’s episode has an epiphany and agrees to go into rehab or doesn’t, not when a serious crime has been committed. Not unless the statute of limitations has expired.

You can say you heard it here first. If BREAKING POINT continues for any length of time as a series, eventually what I described IS going to happen. The producers of the show will become involved in an investigation whether they like it or not. That filmed footage will become somebody’s exhibit A. It may well be that, so long as they are getting good ratings, the producers don’t care. They have nothing to lose, so long as they comply with those inevitable court orders and hand over the tape. The criminals being profiled, though? I don’t know how smart it is for them. And the families of those criminals, the ones turning to this show for help, might they unintentionally be providing the catalyst for their loved one to go to jail, the thing they hope to avoid by staging the intervention in the first place? I’m telling you, folks. It’s gonna happen.

I’m also kinda looking forward to the next episode.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The new Republican-controlled Congress gets revved-up today. Big fat hairy deal, as Garfield would say. Those expecting CHANGE!, those expecting a house cleaning, those expecting ANYthing other than business as usual are either (a.) tragically, perennially idealistic; (b.) delusional; or (c.) stupid; and they are all (d.) destined to be disappointed. Call my cynical. But you can also call me right.

To get elected to office, any office, takes money. If it’s a big office, the office of a Congressman, for example, it takes a LOT of money. Money that is supplied by special interest groups. Special interest groups that are expecting to be repaid for their investments. And since the politician intends to run for RE-election when the time comes and thus will be needing MORE money, he has to keep his special interests happy. So he sells out. His principles. His constituents. His soul? Depends.
The only difference between a Democrat and a Republican is the particular people they have sold out to. The ones with their hands on the purse strings. And what about US, the common citizenry? We are left to either (a.) do the Captain Picard face palm and sigh with weary resignation; or (b.) fall in line with the sheeple who listen to the loudmouth pundits, letting them convince us this is a war of good against evil (with whichever political party you they favor being the white hats and the opposing party playing the heel) and either cheer that our team is in control or lament that our side is on the defensive. And then (c.) in a couple of years, when all the idealists have had enough time to get good and disillusioned with the current crop of the same-old, same-old, we’ll do the whole messy dance over again. It’s a gain of musical chairs, with the Donkeys and the Elephants taking turns at disappointing the American people. The only ones who ever get what they want are the purse-stringers.  And the politicians, if they’re good enough lap dogs, get to keep their jobs.

I kinda feel sorry for the honest politicians out there, with “honest” being a relative term. The game forces them to become compromised, to the point that even the ones who go into it with good intentions soon have to learn to juggle between serving the public good and keeping the gravy tap flowing. It’s the same as being a car salesman. The very nature of the process does not allow a person to remain completely honest.
It’s a lousy system, no question. What’s sad is that it’s the best system human beings have ever been able to come up with, and the best they ever will. And those of us not swallowing the tripe spoon-fed to us by the loudmouths, those of us who really get it, the face-palmers—we have to work with what we have. Live with the squeaky, rusty, dysfunctional system and the compromised officials we elected because the kind of person we’d really want in office could never in a bazillion years GET elected, and hope the current crop of cronies can manage to keep it between the lines.
All that being said, there are some issues that shouldn’t BE political issues at all. The environment, for example. Should be a common sense subject. A public health subject. It isn’t, because the ones doing the polluting, they’re stuffing money into the pockets of the politicians. And the loudmouths on TV have convinced their sheep that the other side, the “bad guys,” are just out to wreck the economy with their “needless” oversight and restrictions. The “bad guys” want to take their jobs away. Which is exactly what the big polluters WANT people to believe. That way THEY get to keep screwing the little guy and wallowing in all the money they’re stealing from him.
Take that argument about the environment and apply it to any one of several topics. The bottom line is always the same. Those with the big money are not interested in the common man. They are interested in making more money. And the politicians have no choice but to cow down to them. What can the public do? If the politician in office screws us over too bad, we can vote him out. And elect some other crony we hope won’t screw us over to the same extent. That’s the system, folks. And it’s the best we’ve got.
I don’t really have a big point to make. Just thinking out loud, with keystrokes. Reading the news headlines about how the new Congress may approve the Keystone Pipeline. They know better. They know this pipeline is not really in the public’s best interest. But the fat-cats are yanking on those purse strings. I hope the new cronies will have enough spleen not to sell us out on this one. Gas prices are down, so there’s SOME hope. Fewer sheep bleating over how much they’re having to pay at the gas pump, believing the answer to the problem is just to drill for more oil and refine more gas, when in reality that would only INCREASE the problem. And increase the money the polluters have to stuff into their bank accounts.
Anyway, it should be quite a show, for those who enjoy watching such things. Me, I’m gonna go watch some paint dry. Anybody care to join me?