Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mobilizing to Storm Area 51: A Few Reasons Why It's One of the Most Asinine Ideas Ever

It would seem that a large number of people are talking about storming Area 51 in Nevada.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 60 years, you know that Area 51 is a government test facility. Some people believe that there are aliens (possibly alive, probably dead), alien technology and so on.

These people think that if their numbers are sufficient, they should be able to capture this area. Their motto is "They Can't Shoot Us All."

I'm going to address these two ideas separately.

First, aliens.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11. The spacecraft that carried the three astronauts to and from the moon, the command module, could fit in a two car garage. It had roughly the same space and weight at a modern minivan (with surprisingly less technological advancement but that's another blog post).

In order to hurl a spacecraft of that size to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, in a time span of 25 years, it would require the same amount of energy that the entire United States consumed in 2009.

Consider what it takes to generate that kind of energy.

Proxima Centauri has no planets that seem to meet the criteria needed for intelligent life to develop. Any alien life would have to travel a much greater distance which would require even more energy.

For the sake of argument, let's say that aliens did manage to get to Earth.

They've traveled more than 25 trillion miles across unimaginable spans of space and managed to keep their crew alive for the decades (if not centuries) it took to cross that void. Their technical prowess is far beyond what we can even imagine.

Then they crash outside Roswell, New Mexico?


Pun intended, the odds against aliens in Area 51 are astronomical.

Now, the intended raid.

Like it or not, the United States has enemies in the world. That means we need a military and that military needs weapons. In this modern, technological age, that means advanced weapons. When we develop weapons to give us a strategic advantage, we don't want our enemies to know about them.

Sometimes, we have to keep secrets.

Facilities like Area 51 exist to protect those secrets.

Anyone trespassing on the Groom Lake Testing Facility (the actual name of this facility) is subject to arrest, imprisonment and fine. Anyone resisting arrest could be subject to much worse.

To those who say, "They can't shoot us all," I offer a challenge:

They might not have to shoot everyone.

Just a few. Maybe just one.

Do you think it's worth your life to enter this base? And for what?

Have you ever seen an Air Force A-10 in action?

I have. The weaponry on the A-10 can take out a tank. I don't even want to consider what a single strafing run would do in a crowd of a thousand people.

Then multiply that by a few strafing runs in a crowd of tens of thousands.

Think they can't shoot you all?

Guess again.

Why not mobilize this kind of energy towards a worthwhile goal like letting the Senate know they aren't doing their jobs? Feeding the hungry? Building homeless shelters?

That's worth getting a bunch of people together for.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Case of (and for) Coulrophobia

NB: This is from a Facebook post I made in 2013. I'm reposting it here so a friend who couldn't see it on Facebook can see it here.

Coulrophobia is a fear of clowns.

Let's face it. Clowns are goddamned creepy as hell. The white face, the big gaping red smiles, the weird hair and clothing... what's to love about that?

I get a bit creeped out by clowns but I have a damned good reason beyond their general creepiness.

When I was a kid, my grandmother dragged my sister and me to funerals. She was a funeral junkie and we had to go with her. I was about 5 when I saw my first corpse in a box. Sometimes, the relationship with the dearly departed might be tenuous at best. One time, I got dragged to the funeral of the uncle of my Cub Scout denmother because my grandmother thought I should attend.

When I was about seven or so, her brother-in-law died so she schlepped us to his funeral. At the gathering afterwards, my sister and I sat bored. We knew most of the people but they were there to talk grown up talk. Nobody really noticed two bored kids.

Then we spotted her. We didn't know who she was.

She wore what looked like a square dance dress but it was black with white polka dots. This was accented with white petticoats, white gloves with lace at the wrists, patent red leather pumps with a matching purse, black fishnet stockings and a black pillbox hat with a small veil. Her face was made-up with thick, white pancake makeup. The stubble of her shaved eyebrows showed through this. With an eyebrow pencil, she had drawn in high, arching eyebrows that made her eyes look like a McDonald's sign. Her eyeshadow faded from pale green to purple. She had a perfect circle of red rouge on each cheek. Her lipstick had been applied outside her lip line to form a cupid's bow. Her hair stuck out from under the hat in what looked like a bright orange Brillo pad. When she smiled, she revealed crooked teeth stained yellow from years of smoking.

Based on her appearance, the question my sister asked her seemed natural.

"Are you the kind of clown who does funny tricks or magic tricks?"

The woman screamed at us, "Get away from me, you little bastards!"

This was Nell, who was married to my grandmother's brother, Ashley.

About six months later, we'd hear of Nell again. What follows is from the police report I read in 1981.

One evening, Ashley fell asleep in his recliner watching the 10:00 news. Nell came up behind him and pulverized his head with a two pound blacksmith's hammer. The report I read said that she was probably aware of what she was doing when she delivered the first blow but the next 50 or so, she was just swinging.

She then doused his body with cooking oil, set him on fire and left the house.

Neighbors called the fire department when they saw smoke pouring from one of the windows of Nell and Ashley's house. The first fireman in the door vomited on the floor. The fire had pretty much burned out to reveal what was left of Ashley Gilson in the metal frame of his recliner. A streak of blood, skull and brain matter ran across the ceiling and wall behind his chair. His head was gone. His fingerprints had been burned away. The closest anyone ever got to making a positive ID on his body was when my great-grandmother identified his wedding ring.

Nell was found at a local bar, drinking beer and acting like there wasn't a problem in the world. An officer approached her and told her that her husband was dead.

Without putting her beer down, she replied, "Must have been suicide."

The officer said, "Mrs. Gilson, what really happened?"

After this "intense" questioning, she related the whole story then lead the police to the place she had hidden the hammer, a copse in a tombstone at a nearby cemetery.

She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental hospital near Salem, Oregon. From time to time, they'd call my grandmother to tell her that Nell had made another attempt at suicide.

After about 8 years, Nell was released and nobody ever knew what became of her. I'm sure she's dead by now. If not, she'd be 105 or so.

Until I reached my teen years, I'd see her in my dreams. She'd be in her funeral get-up and carrying a bloody hammer.

I think my fear of clowns is reasonable.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

I Ain't 'Fraid of...

In a Facebook post on a friend's page, folks were talking about ghosts.

You might want to grab a snack because this might be a long one.

Just this very morning, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. It seemed to dash quickly across the doorway to the kitchen. For the briefest moment, I thought it was our cat.

Our cat died 6 months ago.

At some point in your life, you might have had a strange feeling, seen something you couldn't explain or had some kind of odd sensory experience.

It wasn't a ghost.

It wasn't a flying saucer, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, a chupacabra, a vampire or any of the other myriad denizens of cheap novels, tabloid headlines or "history" channel programs.

What was it?

I don't know. But neither do you.

The human mind is a pretty amazing thing but we all have to admit that it's not infallible. It can be tricked. It can even trick itself.

When you think you see something, your mind wants to fill in the gaps and will often try to make sense of that sensation.  So it will attribute that sensation to something it knows, sometimes from experience and sometimes due to exposure to your culture and media. It will attach the meaning to what it most closely resembles.

This morning, my brain was convinced it saw the ghost of our cat.

But what did I actually see?

I don't know.

Believe it or not, that's an entirely satisfactory answer. It's satisfactory because it's true. I really don't know what I thought I saw.

I'll entertain some possibilities of what it might have been based on actual experience and more likely explanations.

It might have been the shadow of  bird flying past the kitchen window. Given the angle of the sun this morning, it's not the best explanation but it's possible.

It might have been an afterimage of my tablet screen. I'd been talking with my wife while holding my iPad in my lap. The screen was bright and at the periphery of my vision so when I looked back at the tablet, that afterimage could have looked like it was moving across the entry to the kitchen.

This latter explanation is plausible.

But the truth of the matter is that I don't know and will probably never know. And I'm OK with that.

At times like this, I often apply what is called the law of parsimony (often mistakenly called Occam's Razor which is almost but not quite this): the answer that requires the fewest assumptions is likely the correct one.

Which is more likely?

  1. In defiance of the laws of physics, some vestige of my cat has remained in the house she occupied for nearly 11 years and appeared briefly in my peripheral vision only to completely disappear when I looked directly in that area.
  2. A transient visual phenomenon (possibly an afterimage) was at the periphery of my vision and my fallible human mind interpreted it as seeing my departed cat.

Logic dictates it was the latter.

But even if I never know exactly what I saw, it's erroneous thinking to attribute it to something supernatural. There is probably a perfectly mundane (if unsatisfying) explanation.

And this applies to things other than my experience this morning.

I leave you with these things to consider:

Unknown doesn't mean unknowable.

Unexplained doesn't mean inexplicable.