Re: site relocation

Look, I know the site looked better before. As time goes on, I’ll find a better way to use Word Press to get the look I want, but for now, it seems essential to change away from Blogger and their content warning, which also keeps the site’s posts from being indexed by Google.

I feel that it’s a shame. I’ve been using Blogger for this site since 2002.

But it’s time.

The proper bookmark is now http://othercrap.com

While it is true that James Garfield was actually killed by his own doctors, the part about Alexander Graham Bell is not stated accurately. He did not mislocate the bullet. Indeed, if Bell had been permitted to use his metal detector the way he wanted to, he might have saved Garfield’s life, even after all the bungling the doctors had done previously. While the metal bedsprings did present a problem, Bell’s methods could have overcome that. The greater problem was simply that Doctor Bliss had staked his reputation on the fact that the bullet was on the right side of Garfield’s body, and would therefore not let Bell examine Garfield’s left, where the bullet actually was.

I’m about to go off on a tangent …

Because his presidency was brief and not especially memorable, we learn little about Garfield in school, which is a shame, because he was in many ways the greatest man we ever elected to the office. He was as smart as Jefferson or either Adams and distinguished himself in many different fields.

His early career in academia was just about unbelievable. He entered college without the funds to pay tuition, so he spent his freshman year working as a full-time janitor and handyman in the school. Just one year later, he was teaching literature and classical languages. He did not apply for the teaching positions. The administrators simply recognized his extraordinary ability and appointed him. By the time he was 26, he was college president.

He then became a lawyer, passing the bar without the benefit of a legal education and eventually arguing before the Supreme Court. He also served as a preacher who was considered the premier orator of his era. He continued in those professions for a short time until the Civil War broke out, at which point he enlisted in the Union Army. His career as a soldier was again incredible. By the time he left he was a major general.

His career in the House was also incredible. He was nominated by admirers while he was still a soldier, and did not campaign. He was elected anyway. He was perhaps the only man in America who consistently held the moral high ground above Abraham Lincoln. Garfield admired the Great Emancipator in many ways, but found Lincoln to be a pussy, both in his indecisive conduct of the war and in his wishy-washy attitude toward slavery. Indeed, although they belonged to the same party, Garfield did not even support Honest Abe’s re-election to the Presidency, although neither did he oppose it. In retrospect, Garfield was right about the war in every way. On the slavery question, Garfield held the moral high ground above Lincoln, no small accomplishment in its own right, but Lincoln was a political pragmatist who had to hold together a fragile coalition, and could not always afford to pursue moral right without compromise. Garfield did not actually wield much power, so he could afford the luxury of moral certitude. After Lincoln’s death, however, Garfield became a skillful compromiser, but not on civil rights. No man of the era more strongly and unambiguously championed education and voting rights for African-Americans than James A Garfield.

His rise to the Presidency was similar to his reluctant entry into the House. He didn’t want to be President, and made absolutely no effort to get the office. He made no effort to get nominated, but was nominated anyway – after he drew the convention’s attention by making a speech nominating another candidate. After the nomination, he barely campaigned, but was elected anyway. He was the last member of the House to rise directly to the Presidency.

You may have noted a common thread in the stories above. He did not choose to be a professor, a congressman or the President. In each case, his competence and intellect were so universally admired that he was essentially handed the job. He was also known to be brilliant in both the bar and the pulpit. The only other career he actively sought was in the military, and he was obviously pretty damned good at that as well.

He accomplished all of that despite being raised in dire poverty. He was born in a log cabin, and his father died when he was 18 months old.

If you are interested to learn more about Garfield, I can tell you that Candice Millard’s “Destiny of the Republic” is a very readable bio.

Kanamara Penis Festival, Kawasaki, Japan

On the Scoopy Calendar, this is the second most important holiday of the year, after William Shatner’s Birthday

These are our holidays:

March 14: Steak and BJ Day

March 22: William Shatner’s birthday.

First Sunday in April: Giant Pink Japanese Penis Day

July 31: National Orgasm Day

Sept 19: Talk Like a Pirate Day

Oct 24: F. Murray Abraham’s birthday.

Dec 23: Festivus

Like Easter, GPJPD it marks the beginning of Spring. I keep hoping they will make the pink peeps penis-shaped to commemorate the convergence.

A repeated word of warning for those who hope to attend: do NOT try to smuggle giant pink penises into Japan from other countries. In addition to the fact that you would face the dire legal penalties for giant penis smuggling (imagine Midnight Express, except with giant penises), there are simply good reasons why you should not do so.

  • First of all, they would not be sacred. Only giant pink Japanese penises have been blessed. That would be like trying to pass off a bottle of Ozarka from 7-Eleven as Holy Water in the Vatican.
  • Second, the Most Honorable Japanese Department of Agriculture and Giant Genitalia is concerned that introducing a new strain of giant pink penises into their eco-system could cause the native strain to mutate or die out. It’s the same reason why you can’t take frogs to Australia.

The main thing to remember is that there is simply no need for you to take such a risk. There are plenty of giant pink Japanese penises to go around, and that means a fun day for one and all.

Thomas Jefferson never said any of these things!
It has long been a technique of the unethical and/or the downright stupid to add gravitas to their pronouncements by claiming an origin from an acknowledged genius. Before the internet and cable television, such misinformation was generally confined to discussions between individuals, and it was difficult back then for one person to publish or broadcast misquotations without somebody else fact-checking the claims. The self-publishing capability of the internet, however, has made it a simple matter for a person to promote a personal agenda by merely typing an opinion beneath the solemn visage of an acknowledged sage, then posting the .jpg on a social media site or a blog. Sometimes these misquotations go viral. I hate the word “viral” in this context. It’s actually more of a plague than a virus.

Here are some other examples:

Confucius never said: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” How could he? Very few people got to “choose” a profession in China 500 years before Christ. In fact, Confucius did say almost the opposite. He argued that the enlightened master should be wise in choosing our work for us! “When the person in authority makes more beneficial to the people the things from which they naturally derive benefit;– is not this being beneficent without great expenditure? When he chooses the labors which are proper, and makes them labor on them, who will repine?”

Benjamin Franklin did not say, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither,” mainly because he was a genius, not an idiot. The very essence of “civilization” involves people banding together and surrendering absolute liberty to create mutual security. Before the dawn of civilization, our cave-dwelling ancestors discovered that absolute freedom is not such a good thing, except for the strongest and most violent among us. Franklin did say, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” With those essential qualifiers, the statement becomes indisputable. Without them, it is gibberish.

John Stuart Mill did not say “Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives,” again because he was not a fool. In fact, the LEAST-educated people, high school dropouts, vote overwhelmingly for liberals. Among those with no high school diploma, President Obama beat Governor Romney 64-35. On the other hand, the MOST-educated people also vote overwhelmingly for liberals (55-42 Obama). Using educational achievement as a reasonable surrogate for intellectual capability, it can fairly be argued, at least in the context of modern American politics, that most stupid people are liberals and that most smart people are liberals. (That reality renders the liberal coalition highly fragile.) Everyone in the middle tends to be conservative. Here is what Mill actually said: “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative.” Get it? Not “conservatives,” but “THE Conservatives” with a capital “C.” He is not referring to “conservative” with a lower-case “c” as a general political philosophy, but with an upper-case “C” as a specific political bloc in 19th century England whose members were, in Mill’s esteemed but pompous judgment, chowderheads, presumably because they often disagreed with him, thus failing to suitably acknowledge his genius to his satisfaction.

Einstein never said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” If he had said it, an editor would probably have re-worded it to employ a more suitable verb than “surpass” (“suppress,” perhaps?). A movie called “Powder” claimed (fictionally) that the great physicist once said, “It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.” The movie’s version at least includes proper grammatical parallelism, and may even be a wise observation, but I can’t give you a link to the real quote because the real Einstein never said that or anything like it.

Pretty much every aphorism attributed to Mark Twain is spurious.

The U.S. Presidential IQ hoax was a mid-2001 e-mail and internet hoax that purported to provide a list of estimated IQs of the U.S. Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush.

It was reprinted as if factual by the ever-gullible Guardian, and was cited in a Doonesbury cartoon as if it represented reality.

In reality, we have a good handle on only three Presidential IQs.

JFK was tested at 119 by his prep school.

President Bush the Younger scored 1206 on the pre-1974 SAT, which converts to an IQ of about 129 on the Otis scale. (There was a close correlation between SAT and IQ in those days. The correlation was dependable enough that MENSA accepted a 1250 score for membership at that time. Over the years the tests have been revised, the correlation no longer exists, and MENSA no longer accepts SAT scores in its admission process.)

Richard Nixon was one of the gifted students studied by Terman in his longtitudinal study. Nixon biographer Roger Morris says RMN tested at 143 when he was in Fullerton High School in California.


Al Gore was never elected President (or was he?), but we also have a pre-1974 SAT score for him. He scored 1355, which is equivalent to about 137-138 on the Otis scale, and would place him in the upper 1%, about in the same league as Nixon.

Abandoned States: Places In Idyllic 1960s Postcards Have Transformed Into Scenes Of Abandonment

The author did a wonderful job of morphing the old images with his own modern ones, thus truly bringing the transformation to life.

If you grew up in NY or the surrounding states, you may have spent a summer or two in the Poconos or The Catskills, particularly if your family was Jewish. The resorts there were places where entire families took long summer vacations together. They featured modern facilities, good food, top-drawer entertainment (this was the famed “Borsch Belt”), and all sorts of healthy recreation. It was that era’s version of a Caribbean cruise, with just a hint of today’s Las Vegas.

I never spent a summer at any of these places, but my family always stopped to eat some of the famed deli cuisine when we traveled from Lake Ontario to the urban caverns of The City. Route 17 was our Yellow Brick Road even if The City boasted no emerald glow.

Nobody from upstate called that city “New York” then, because we were all from New York, even the upstate rubes. One simply said “The City,” and the meaning was clear to everyone. Boston and Detroit were cities, and I lived in a city, but those in the center of the world lived in THE City. Some of my teachers were from The City, and they felt it cast them in a superior mold to that which formed us locals because their city was tougher, smarter, and more energetic than any experience we or any outsider had known. The City was coarser, yet somehow also more refined, than our humble origins. Some of those men bragged of hard childhoods in Hell’s Kitchen or comfy ones on the Upper East Side, but most of those tough, quick-tempered grandsons of Erin were forged in the fires of the Outer Boroughs.

That yellow brick road of my childhood is brown and crumbling today. The most imposing resorts were shuttered long ago, but they were glorious in their day. Grossinger’s, the most famous resort in the area, and supposedly the inspiration for “Dirty Dancing,” had its own golf course, many tennis courts, a ski area with a snow-making machine, indoor and outdoor pools, and a massive theater. Elizabeth Taylor married Eddie Fisher there; Jerry Lewis performed there; Jackie Robinson went there to relax.

Today? The reflective moments of “Dirty Dancing” accurately predicted the demise of the Catskill family resorts:

“It’s not the changes so much this time. It’s that it all seems to be ending. You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons? It feels like it’s all slipping away.”

And slip away it did. Like the resorts, that “way of life is fall’n into the sere.”

The Grossinger golf course is still functioning, but …

Gothamist explains:

“Today, Grossinger’s still has everything you’re looking for—if what you’re looking for is exquisite decay.

The drive there is is a beautiful, albeit sad, experience. State route 17 winds through the Catskills, past boarded up summer camps, through predominantly Orthodox Jewish communities and down near-abandoned main streets. Up a hill and past a guard shack plastered with “no trespassing” signs, Grossinger’s appears on the horizon.

Much of the resort has been demolished; what’s left has been thoroughly picked through over the years. The cabins and cottages that dot the grounds are unsafe to enter, their floors badly rotted, their roofs a deluge of splintered wood. Nobody is home at the Jennie J hotel, which has been thoroughly torn apart. Every bit of copper and steel plucked from its walls, every bathroom smashed apart.”

(That article in Gothamist has many pictures of the former resort’s current state of decrepitude.)

Catholic church gives blessing to iPhone confession app

I predicted this 25 years ago with my “Saintly Father Greg” sketch. Referenced here. Saintly Father Greg was a hip priest who was trying to reverse his parish’s sagging attendance trends by making Catholic rites “more dang fun.” I didn’t get into trouble for the computerized confession joke, which was obviously tame enough that real priests thought, two decades later, that it wasn’t a joke at all! I did get several angry calls and letters about my proposal for a new all-you-can-eat communion buffet, “including both traditional liturgical entrees and now – new Mexican style!”

That was actually based upon a joke I used to tell the family about my Incredibly Rich and Saintly Admiral Uncle Dick, who was “so holy he went back for seconds on communion.”

Incredibly Rich Admiral Uncle Dick was a Navy guy. Sort of. His entire naval career consisted of two weeks in the Philippines. He went to Cornell in a special accelerated ROTC program that was meant to assure a steady supply of young officers during WW2, because Annapolis couldn’t turn them out fast enough. At that time the high command thought the Pacific war would go on forever, which it might have, if not for the atomic bomb. At any rate, Uncle Dick was pushed through Cornell in three years by attending classes non-stop, including summers. A 20-year-old Not Yet Rich Ensign Uncle Dick graduated in June of 1945, took a brief home leave, then got shipped out to Manila just about in time for the war to end. Given that he flew to Manila, I don’t know if he was ever on a boat, but in his mind he was Admiral Fucking Nelson, and a distinguished hero who fought in “the big one.” Of course his brothers ridiculed him, especially my Uncle John, a likable, reckless, down-to-earth guy who had lied about his age to enlist, then volunteered for the most bad-ass combat he could think of – jumping out of airplanes in enemy territory. Since Admiral Uncle Dick couldn’t impress any adults with his tales, especially with Uncle John around, and since he was my godfather and I his only nephew, and since he had no children of his own, I was his designated audience at family gatherings. Needless to say, his stories and photos were the bane of my existence.

Uncle John, who was a real war hero and might actually have had interesting stories, never told any stories at all. He was embarrassed about some of the things he did when he was in the service, although those things actually made him seem like more of a bad-ass to me. For example, my dad told me that Uncle John liked jumping out of planes so much that he actually turned WW2 into an entrepreneurial enterprise, by taking other guys’ jumps for them during the training period, and getting paid handsomely for that by the other guys who really didn’t want to do any crazy shit until they actually had to.

Anyway, that’s not the end of the Uncle Dick story. Those two weeks in Manila were his only active duty, but his nifty free Cornell degree required him to spend many years in the Naval Reserve, which he actually enjoyed. Unmarried and childless, with no girlfriends or hobbies that we knew of, Uncle Dick had only one source of pride – being in the navy. He never got called up for service during the Korean conflict, for reasons not known to me or my dad. By the time Vietnam came along, Saintly Uncle Dick had been promoted several times just from his reserve service, and when he put on his dress uniform he had more ribbons than Patton. Of course, they were things like the “naval reserve meritorious service medal,” which he got for perfect attendance at reserve meetings and summer camp, and the “good conduct medal,” which he got for not asking any embarrassing questions at those meetings. I think he had about 20 of each of those medals. And he also had the “ww2 victory medal,” which he got for his two weeks in Manila.

In 1961 JFK tripled our military presence in Vietnam. In 1962 he tripled it again. At this time, well, Uncle Dick wasn’t actually an admiral, of course, but I think he was a lt. commander, which might actually have put him in a position of moderate responsibility somewhere. He was still in his mid-thirties then, so the navy might well have called him up and assigned him somewhere. Fortunately for America, the U.S. Navy was able to see what was also obvious to our family, that Incredibly Rich and Saintly Admiral Uncle Dick, although quite intelligent, was a total dickhead.

The Hillary Clinton Russia Uranium One Conspiracy Theory (Doesn’t Make Any Sense)

It’s hard to believe anybody thinks there is anything there, but research is difficult and requires sober, rational thinking. As Mencken noted, one thing is always lucrative, and that is “underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” If you throw something out and defend it with a straight face, no matter how silly it is, there will always be people who believe it. The Pyramids were built for grain storage? The world is flat? The universe is 6000 years old? Sure, tell me more.

The whole case against Hillary is preposterous, but the right-wing spin doctors have thrown it out, and people will believe it, so let’s review the case again, shall we?

First I’m going to give you a very quick summary of the uranium market, because it is important to understand it, and very few reporters enjoy mathematical analysis, so they have generally concentrated on Clinton’s involvement in the deal:

1. How big is the deal itself?

It is so small as to be virtually non-existent. The entire commercial uranium market in the USA is 25,300 tons per year. Of that, only 2,800 tons are mined in the United States. Of that, Uranium One, the controversial Canadian company owned by Russian state mining interests, only constitutes 300 tons of that market. That’s it. A whopping 11% of the domestic market, therefore 1% of the total market.

As Clinton’s opponents have stated, Uranium One has 20% of the commercial, domestic uranium mining capacity, but those opponents fail to note that the actual production of the company is less, only 11% of the uranium mined in the USA. But even if they produced ALL of it, it would STILL be insignificant, because 89% of America’s commercial uranium is mined overseas.

2. But can’t they just give all of our uranium to Russia?

First of all, they can’t even sell that uranium to Canada, even though they are theoretically a Canadian company. Their charter forbids them to export uranium mined in the USA.

Second and perhaps more important, what the hell would Russia do with it? They don’t know what to do with all the uranium they have now, except sell it to us. Russia, along with its buddies Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, currently accounts for 38% of the uranium purchased in the United States. If they wanted to tighten the screws on us, they would do it with that 38% from their mines, not the other 1% from ours.

3. Does Uranium One have any power at all?

Not a lick. In fact the opposite is true. The USA holds all the cards. Since they are such a tiny portion of the market, our commercial users of uranium could easily stop buying from them completely and fill that 1% elsewhere. Since Uranium One can’t export the uranium, if we stopped buying from them, they would essentially have no business at all. They have to sell to us or close the mines. Why do you think those mining assets were for sale in the first place? They are in a very vulnerable position, completely at our mercy.

Most mainstream sources have covered the political side of the deal, and I’ve already noted that the deal is insignificant to begin with, so I’ll just give a top-line summary.

A Russian company paid money to purchase controlling interest in a Canadian company which owned mining assets in the USA. Because of US laws involving strategic assets, a nine-person panel, consisting of representatives from nine different US agencies, had to approve the sale. None of them objected. One of the agencies is the Department of State.

The State Department was represented on the matter by the Assistant Secretary assigned to the Foreign Investment Committee, Jose Fernandez. He made the decision not to object to the sale. Hillary Clinton never got involved in any way. (It’s not clear whether she even knew about it, except as another matter in a very large in-box. We presume that Fernandez filed a written report to Clinton, and that she chose not to override him, but he pointed out that she never weighed in with him at all, so his decision stood.)

In other words:

1. The whole matter is insignificant.

2. Hillary had only 1/9 of the power to approve. It was approved unanimously.

3. Hillary did not even exercise her 1/9 to influence the decision. One of her subordinates, the one with specific expertise in that field, made the decision. Mrs. Clinton had no specific knowledge in this area, and presumably had actual significant matters to occupy her time.

Did the Clinton Foundation get a massive donation ($131 million) from one of the former owners of Uranium One?

Sure, but it was before Clinton was Secretary of State.

And, equally important, by the time the deal happened, in fact 18 months before Hillary became Secretary of State, that guy (Frank Giustra) had already sold his stock in Uranium One!

Moreover, it’s not surprising that Giustra contributed so much, considering that the donation specifically went to “The Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership,” which is a specific initiative within the Clinton Foundation. I hear that guys tend to support causes named after themselves.

Or to word it another way, his donation to the Clinton Foundation had nothing to do with the sale of Uranium One, nor could it have, given the timing.

But even if it had, Clinton did not get involved in that decision.

But even if she had, there was nothing wrong with the decision

And even if it had been a bad decision, the deal was insignificant to the uranium market.

Ugly no more.

Eli Wallach, “The Ugly” from the classic Leone western, has passed at 98. How old is that? You know the famous scene in The Godfather where the director gets a horse’s head in his bed? Well, that was supposed to be based on a real incident in which Frank Sinatra was cast as Maggio in From Here to Eternity. The details of that story have been debunked by everyone concerned, but the fact of the matter is that Sinatra was given a role that had already been cast – the original Maggio was Eli Wallach!

The Wikipedia entry on Wallach tells the story this way:

Wallach is central to one of the most infamous show business legends. In 1953 he was cast as Angelo Maggio in the film From Here to Eternity, but was abruptly replaced by Frank Sinatra before filming began. Sinatra went on to win an Oscar for the performance, which revived his career. Sinatra purportedly used pressure from his underworld connections to get the part, an incident that inspired the Johnny Fontane character in the classic 1972 film The Godfather. To spare Sinatra embarrassment, Wallach says he turned down the role to appear in a Tennessee Williams play, claiming: “… whenever Sinatra saw me, he’d say, ‘Hello, you crazy actor!'”

Wikipedia, as is its wont, is being less than encyclopedic, and is not sticking to objective fact there. To my knowledge, Wallach has never claimed that he received any incentive or pressure to drop out of the Maggio role. If there is a secret, he has kept it well. He simply says that he regretted dropping out of the movie to take a stage role.

Having dealt with some mob types during my years in the late Pinball / early Video Game era, I would say that intimidation, ala the horse’s head, was unlikely. The wiseguys know very well that one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar. Moreover, somebody who is threatened becomes an enemy, while somebody who accepts a lavish bribe becomes an accomplice who cannot ever tell the story without compromising himself. My guess is that if anything at all happened in Sinatra’s favor, it’s that Wallach was offered what seemed like a tremendous opportunity elsewhere, and the producer who offered him that opportunity was rewarded handsomely for doing something he was probably quite pleased to do, given that Wallach was already a Broadway star at the time, and possibly the single best interpreter of Tennessee Williams’ male characters. (He won a Tony in 1951 for The Rose Tattoo.)

But that’s just me speculating.

Anyway, how old was Wallach? He made his Broadway debut during WW2 – and he was a late bloomer. He was already 30 at the time!

How old was Wallach? A year and a half older than John F Kennedy.

How old was Wallach? He and Walter Cronkite were best buds as Longhorn undergrads at the University of Texas, where they appeared in a student play together, circa 1934. According to Wallach, as cited in the linked article, Cronkite played a coroner and Wallach was the corpse.

 

So long, Stasiu. 

A great player and a great gentleman, he was the last of the baseball dinosaurs.

“I never heard anybody say a bad word about him – ever,” Willie Mays said in a statement released by the Hall of Fame.

I grew up in the blue-collar Polishtown section of Rochester, New York, so The Man has special significance to me. Stan grew up a generation earlier in a blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, and played ball for our own Rochester Red Wings before getting called up by the Cards. And the old Red Wing Stadium was right in the heart of Polishtown, within walking distance of St. Stan’s church!

I don’t think that church was named after Musial, but if you ask me who was the most popular figure in the eyes of that baseball-mad Polish community, I’d have to say it was pretty close between Stan and Jesus. And I’d have to give a slight edge to Stan, because Jesus was a little slow getting down the line in those sandals.

I don’t have to tell you baseball fans how good Stan was, but I’ll remind you of some of his superlative achievements. He won three MVPs and finished second four other times. He led the league in slugging six times. He also led the league in OBP six times.

In 1948, Stan had one of the greatest years anyone ever had, perhaps THE greatest. He narrowly won the slugging average crown, by a mere 138 points! He missed by one from leading the league in homers. That one stinkin’ homer cost him the triple crown, and that’s the closest any National Leaguer has come since World War Two. But wait, there’s much more. He also led the league in doubles and triples that year. And, most amazing of all given that he had 103 extra base hits, he also finished fourth in singles, and seventh in walks! He had 429 total bases and the second-place guy had only 316. Stan also led in on-base percentage. And runs scored.

But the real measure of Stan the Man as a ballplayer and as a man was this comparison to his AL rival, Ted Williams:

Yes, Teddy Ballgame was even better than Stan with a bat in his hand, but Williams was booed at home. Musial was applauded on the road.

That says it all.

A Review of Area 51: An Uncensored History

The Sane Portion of the Book:

This book about the mysterious Area 51 has been written by an L.A. Times reporter named Annie Jacobsen, based on interviews with five top insiders: a former commander of the base, a test pilot who flew experimental aircraft there, a radar specialist, an aircraft fuel specialist, and an engineer.

Area 51 actually served a fairly prosaic Cold War function as a base for testing top-secret experimental aircraft designs, but this simple truth about the area demonstrates how so many wild stories originated. There were plenty of mysterious underground tunnels and other underground facilities, and strange-looking aircraft were tested there. Using unusual designs and materials, the engineers were trying to accomplish many different things, one of which was to circumvent Soviet radar. To this end, many jets were formed in such odd shapes that they might easily be mistaken for alien spaceships, and those eccentric designs were not merely exposed once or twice in the dead of night, but soared through thousands of daytime flights into areas visible by commercial airliners, where they could have been and sometimes were spotted.

When it comes to matters involving experimental aircraft, I was convinced that Jacobsen was thorough in her interviewing and accurate in her conclusions. To the extent which I can verify her assertions, they fit well with the known facts. She also has some great photographs which illustrate her story and back up her claims.

By the way, Area 51 is no longer much of a secret. Just about nothing above the ground can be hidden from all those satellites up there. (Link)

The Crazy Stuff:

Unfortunately, Jacobsen poisoned the worthwhile aspects of her book with some truly nutty connections to the famous Roswell UFO incident. According to one of her sources, the popular Roswell stories are kinda true, but don’t involve aliens. His claim is that Stalin’s Russia created an unpiloted drone aircraft, more like a rocket, full of grotesque humans who had been the subject of horrific Nazi experiments. The Russkies shot this plane/rocket to the USA, where it crashed quite famously in Roswell, New Mexico. The point of the mission was to create a panic, ala War of the Worlds, in the assumption that gullible Americans would assume them to be space creatures.

I’m not quite sure how this panic was supposed to benefit Russia, but I guess we could allow the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a mad idea from the mad Stalin.

But some of this just doesn’t add up.

Of course, there is the fact that former Soviet officials are trying to cash in on tell-all books now that Soviet archives have been declassified. Surely one of them would have brought this kind of material to a publisher, and surely a publisher would have jumped on it.

But that’s not the big problem. There is the matter of the timeline. Area 51 could not be connected to Roswell in any way. The Roswell incident occurred in 1947, but Area 51 was completely abandoned between 1945 and 1955.

Jacobsen also said in her NPR interview, “A flying disc really did crash in New Mexico and it was transported to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and then in 1951 it was transferred to Area 51, which is why the base is called Area 51.”

That claim is completely unsupportable. The base in 1951 was just as forlorn as in 1947. There was nothing at Groom Lake (aka Area 51) in 1951 except an overgrown airfield that had been abandoned after WW2. According to newly declassified documents about the origin of the site: “In April 1955, LeVier, Johnson, Bissell, and Ritland flew out to Nevada on a two-day survey of the most promising lakebeds, including Groom Lake. The abandoned airfield that Ritland had remembered was sandy, overgrown and unusable, but the three-mile-wide dry lakebed was perfect.”

The alleged 1951 transfer of Roswell artifacts cannot explain how Area 51 got its name. Perhaps those remains existed and exist still. Perhaps they may have gone somewhere near Area 51, but they did not go there because, as Gertrude Stein once famously remarked about Oakland, there was no there there.

Here’s the really weird part of it: Jacobsen would have rejected the statement she made in the NPR interview if she had just read her own book! She took much of her material from the same source I quote above, Roadrunners Internationale. She correctly identifies the origin of the Groom Lake project as 1955, and in a sane portion of her book she interviews a different source who says that the Roswell remains were taken to another area – “Area 22” – in the Nevada desert. That is possible, because Area 22 was actually part of a government testing area in 1951. The mysterious Area 51 was not. At that point it was just abandoned land adjacent to a bomb-testing area, right next to the government’s “Area 15.”

By the way, the same guy who told her about the Roswell remains being the source of Area 51’s name, and about the Nazi/Stalin collaboration, also told her that the USA was performing the same kind of Nazi medical experiments in the USA:

“We were doing the same thing,” he said. “They wanted to push science. They wanted to see how far they could go. We did things I wish I had not done. We performed medical experiments on handicapped children and prisoners.”

“But you are not a doctor,” I said.

“They wanted engineers.”

Yes, you read that right. Her source claimed that he personally committed crimes as heinous as those perpetrated by Dr. Joseph Mengele. Oh those wacky Nazis – they were really just like us! Her source was either a pathological liar or one of the biggest monsters of the 20th century, but she kept talking to him – and quoting him!

What else did he say?

Well…

  • He also claimed that the Soviets not only had mastered hover-and-fly technology in 1947, with the craft moving at incredible speeds, but could also operate the craft remotely from the USSR.
  • He also claimed that he and his team had reverse-engineered that same Russian technology and had conquered hover-and-fly technology way back in 1951. “We figured it out. We’ve had hover and fly technology all this time.”
  • He also mentions that two of the surgically-altered children in the alleged Soviet aircraft were still alive: “Two of the aviators were comatose but still alive, the men would have to transfer them into a Jell-O-like substance and stand them upright in two tubular tanks, attached to a lifesupport system. Sometimes, their mouths opened, and this gave the appearance of their trying to speak. Remember, the engineers were told, these humans are in a comatose state. They are unconscious; their bodies would never spark back to life.”

    That particular source was obviously nutty as a fruitcake, or may have been getting a kick out of pulling Jacobsen’s leg. Either way, she should have realized it, should have discredited every word out of his mouth, and should not have printed any of his demented ramblings. So why did she include his bizarre statements? Given that the sane parts of her book clearly identify 1955 as the beginning of the Groom Lake facility, why did she even include anachronistic 1951 Roswell material in a book that is supposed to be about Groom Lake?

    Well, we can speculate about the answers to those questions at length. My guess is that she thought a dry book about experimental aircraft being tested in the desert was not destined to be a best-seller, but even a little Roswell craziness would sell books, and a wacky Nazi connection would sell a LOT of books.

    But then again I am a cynic. Form your own conclusions.

    Summary:

    The Road to Area 51 is actually two works in one. Part One is a sensible piece of research about a Cold War facility used to test experimental aircraft in secrecy. Part Two is absolute nonsense – historical and scientific gibberish. The second part undoubtedly adds immeasurably to the marketability of the overall project, but it completely undermines the credibility of the first part.

    Reader comment:

    (by Kevin W)

    Enjoyed your take on the Area 51 book. I’m a History PhD student working on the early Cold War, so the NPR interview also piqued my interest. A quick Google search of Jacobsen brings up this Snopes article.

    Seems she’s a bit of an alarmist by trade.

    On the Stalin/Nazi UFO claims, her story is complete shit, as you point out. But I can’t resist offering some fascinating historical context.

    Over the course of 1947, the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Allied powers met several times to negotiate the fate of postwar Germany and other pressing postwar issues. Most historians consider the eventual collapse of these talks to be the definitive start of the Cold War.

    Consider the chronology of how things developed over that summer of 1947. On June 5, George Marshall delivered his famous speech at Harvard offering economic aid to Europe. The Marshall Plan initially included the Soviets and all of the countries they occupied in what would become the Eastern Bloc. The State Department gambled that Stalin would turn down the aid and thus cede the moral high ground to the US in negotiations. That’s exactly what happened when the Soviet delegation walked out at the beginning of the Marshall Plan Conference in Paris. The conference started on July 12,1947.

    To put that in perspective, the Roswell air base held the infamous UFO press conference on July 8, 1947. The crash itself supposedly took place some time in the previous month.

    In other words, according to Jacobsen, some time between Marshall’s speech and the Paris Conference, Stalin green-lighted a mission to send an experimental aircraft full of mutants over the continental US. He apparently developed the technology for this mission in collaboration with Nazi scientists – some of his least favorite people. And, keeping in mind this was two years prior to the Soviet development of an atomic bomb, Stalin apparently thought June 1947 would be the perfect time to provoke the world’s only nuclear power.

    But, to make it even better, don’t provoke them with the Red Army, the world’s largest and most seasoned fighting force and the reason the Allies won the war. No, let’s make some fake aliens and re-create the reaction to some pre-war radio broadcast. That’s the ticket. Never mind that 5 Enola Gays will be over Moscow a couple days later.

    Poking the US with a sharp, fancy stick – while in the middle of deciding the future of Europe – might have been Hitler’s idea of a good time, but Stalin was a bit more coldblooded than that – still a ruthless killer, but in a calculated way.

    Anyway, preaching to the choir, I realize. Sorry for the extended rant, but I feel better now.