RAT STEW: TV, and HistorLatelyy – What’s Been In My Head

Never HappenedA few days ago in Omaha, near where I live, a man was killed by gunfire at a park. He was driving and tried to escape the bullets by going cross-country, breaking through a split-rail fence onto a grassy field. He died of his wounds.

Police immediately arrested two young men, one 16 and one 15 years of age. They at once announced a search for a third boy,12 years old. He showed up today, extradited from Wisconsin, where he’d somehow gone, perhaps helped by relatives. He is charged with first degree murder, having been part of what appears to have been an ambush. The dead man was lured to the park and into a kill zone.

Little kids killing. We barely blink these days.

This numbed lack of reaction was not always the case, not even in America. Only a few days before this latest Omaha homicide I finished reading the 1985 true-crime account, Death of Innocence by Peter Meyer. ISBN: 0-425-09080-9, 327pp, the Berkley 1986 mass market pb edition.

In Essex Junction, VT two 12 year-old girls cut through a wooded strip of land, taking a well-worn path used by most of the kids. They’d come out of the school late due to one having to stay to present a music teacher with a test. Her friend waited.

In the trees they were grabbed from behind and dragged through underbrush to a clearing where two young men, one 16 and one 15 years of age, stripped, raped, then strangled, shot with bb pellets, and finally stabbed both girls. They left them for dead under two abandoned mattresses.

No one found them.

One, however, regained consciousness and, horrifically wounded, got to her feet and managed to walk out of the woods to a railroad where workmen spotted her. They radioed what they saw and told dispatch to call the police. The girl was naked and covered in blood. She was immediately carried by a concerned man to a place where the ambulance could reach her.

“What about my friend?” she asked.

This began the backtrack into the woods, starting where she’d emerged. The clearing was found and someone spotted a sad little hand barely visible under one edge. That girl was dead.

Meanwhile the surviving victim, even as doctors worked frantically on her, managed, in breathy whispers, to describe the attackers to an outraged, unbelieving police detective. She proved both brave and mentally sharp, offering enough to start an investigation that quickly spread statewide.

As this unfolded the boys who’d done it continued with their lives as if nothing had happened until the newspapers began circulating composite pictures developed with the surviving girl’s help. Their families and friends began to know who was responsible, and one of the boys even told friends they’d done it.

This senseless crime shattered the small Vermont town’s image of itself as a peaceful haven from the violence, especially among youth, then beginning to ravage the nation’s big cities. It made people begin to lock their doors, escort their children to and from school, and show up at public events in droves to protect their kids from possible harm.

This set of crimes also set up a public debate over juvenile law that continues to this day. Prevention or punishment? Engagement or control? Lenient or harsh?

Everything was blamed, from parents, teachers, and society to TV, sugar, and music. What remained undeniable was the steep decline in restraint, perspective, and control demonstrated by each succeeding generation. Where once there might have been an exchange of harsh words, shoving matches gave way to fist fights, ambushes, and knife-fights. Guns were never far behind in such confrontations, almost all stolen from home, where they’d been kept for home safety.

Peter Meyer’s meticulous, impeccably researched account leads us through the crimes and its ripples with neither melodrama nor sentimentality. He analyzes as he goes, digging deeper than a mere recital of events, seeking context and clarity where none is likely to be found. His work illuminates our perennial dilemma: Is it age or crime that determines society’s response?

Along the way we learn many absurdities arrived at by what began as good intentions. Kids of 17 were not considered capable of crime, only of delinquency. That means everything from shoplifting a pack of gum to murder counted not as crime but only as a kind of lapse of socialization. Frowning adults talking to them was the only result. Pleading with them. These kids were lumped into state institutions not equipped to deal with them, timid thieves along with hardened, brutal punks in the same places, places not legally permitted to hold them against their will. The worst of them simply walked away, knowing their age granted impunity.

Magically, at age 18, delinquency became crime and the full weight of the legal and penal systems crushed down upon them.

In response, some states lowered the age at which criminals would be handled as if adults as low as ten, while in other places more was spent on remedial or palliative measures.

Despite its age, Death of Innocence remains a seminal work well worth reading. As the murder in Omaha last weekend shows, we have not progressed much if at all. Any intelligent analysis of juvenile crime and what to do with it would benefit from including this book.


Ghost shows that over-dramatize are failures. Presenting factual accounts by real people, then dramatizing their stories in a plain way, is much more effective.

Many disagree, preferring fiction, or fictional tone. That’s okay, room for everyone in the unseen realms.

Plain accounts carry more impact and interest. They are easier to relate to our own experiences. For most of us, straightforward accounts offer at least a chance of useful insights and helpful attitudes. Those others, the over-heated histrionic kinds, seek only to provoke terror and horror. Entertainment is their goal, while unadorned anecdotes give us communal voices around the fire.

UFO shows often go wrong, too, in the re-enactments. How many times have we seen the Lonnie Zamora case performed? It’s been acted out for so many shows they all blur, yet each is different. While this matters little, perhaps, it does offer imprecise impressions of something that really did happen to a real person, a New Mexico deputy sheriff no less. Skepdicks can then use these unfocused and conflicting skits and bad SFX as reasons to sneer away the core story and its implications. The punters also end up with warped views.

FIRE IN THE SKY, the movie made from the Travis Walton abduction case, is a good example of what happens. His account told bluntly what happened, and his claims checked out when investigated, but Hollywood producers said the Greys, which he also reported, “had been done” and insisted on adding scenes of surreal mothership horror, pure fiction, to soup up their film. They lied to pander, hoping for a bigger profit by appealing to the suckers.

This is fine. It’s how the entertainment game is played, sure. It also destroys any chance of plain accounts making it to the public. Whether in movies or on TV, paranormal is a genre, not an investigation. No ghost, UFO, or other paranormal event is handled with respect for fact or participant. The result is mindless nonsense bandied about as if it means anything more than a slight pay-day for cynical rich narcissists.

I’ve noticed Canadian productions tend to be calmer, clearer, and sharper in focus. Far less production, far more content. Location shooting, testimony from those involved, and sensible commentary prevail in Canadian fringe shows. Perhaps it’s due to a healthy immunity from America’s madness.

Independent documentaries often lack slickness but make up for that with gems of new information. When Michael Moore’s superb film-making skills earned him Academy Award notice, naysayers desperate to discredit him used that very skill to accuse him of manipulating audiences and facts. Had his work been crude they would have used the crudeness against him, of course, but we see how this works now.

It works to keep minds closed on either side of the paranormal debate. Each advocate skews reality to sustain a chosen, cherished illusion.

From this we see anti-intellectualism moving just under the surface, along with the delusional, anti-reality policies and actions of America’s right wing these days.

Yes, from ghosts and UFOs to sociopolitical analysis of propaganda and keeping a duped populace stupid and thus easily herded.

Josh Gates, who has helmed two excellent shows thus far, DESTINATION: TRUTH on the lamentably-named SyFy Channel and EXPENDITION UNKNOWN on Travel Channel, goes to see for himself, a good approach. He is sane, good-humored, and grounded in rationality. A member of the Explorer’s Club, he deals more often with Ripley’s Belive It Or Not reality rather than the paranormal but he has co-hosted or guested on a few GHOST HUNTERS shows with a sense of humor intact.

Troubled wrecks like Ryan Buell of PARANORMAL STATE on A&E Channel, fare worse. They tend to lock into a single view, usually fearful. Buell, for example, always seemed to end up confronting demons in his paranormal investigations. It was all about him and his darkness. Turned out he was closeted gay and had a severe cancer to deal with, and his personal demons quite obviously affected the show’s approach, interpretations, and overall morose tone.

Yes, misfits can play paranormal too. On the other side, though, we find the likes of Zak, Aaron, and Nick on GHOST ADVENTURES. Curious and lively, seeking to explore further the paranormal after being freaked out during a lark in an empty hotel years ago, these guys offer constant surprises. While the evidence they come up with may underwhelm much of the time, they know how to produce an entertaining, engaging, and varied set of shows. Their choices of places to investigate are interesting in themselves, and they present history clearly and with some wit and charm.

In ANCIENT ALIENS, everyone’s favorite hair, along with its owner/ operator Giorgio Tsoukalos, maintains interest mostly by showing to great effect the many spectacular places visited or referenced during the discussion of a forgotten global civilization and the interpretation of myth and legend in extraterrestrial contact terms. What makes many angry are the pointed questions aimed at mainstream consensus realty, the answers to which no one can seem to cite.

Anti-intellectual America is the morbidly-obese part of the Bell Curve and the outliers are almost pushed off the chart these days, when they’re not shrieking in Congress or voting to curtail reality in favor of their cherished delusions.

It’s sad to watch the empire decline, idiocy dominating as fascist capitalism becomes oligarchy and a new dark ages looms to swallow even hope of long-term, maybe short-term, survival of our species.

Of most species.


I live in the middle of the eastern edge of Nebraska, near Omaha. The other day we could smell British Columbia and Saskatchewan burning. Our air was hazy. Air-hazard alerts were issued twice in Omaha, so dense was this forest fire smoke. The sun stayed red all day, like a blood spot in an egg yoke.

Our world is so fragile and so much smaller than we allow ourselves to realize. Our children kill now, our air kills, water is nearly gone, food is broken and often toxic, our bodies are beyond health-care’s reach and edging into palliative desperation.


Started reading a new anthology, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine, edited by Jeani Rector. This may be her last, she says. It is going out on top, it seems. 293pp, 31 stories, an article, and a forward, all brief, is what this book contains. Majority of stories are probably under 2000 words, most about 1200 – 1500. Even your attention span won’t be strained much, noddy.

The first story, “Tapeworm” by Martin Rose, is gruesome, human, and accurate, providing a well-observed desperation anyone who wants to lose weight will recognize.

Old pro William F. Nolan, some of whose fiction was dramatized on TWILIGHT ZONE, is up next with a zinger, after which Joe McKinney gets us inside what really happened when Cronenberg filmed THE THING, especially those chilling scenes with the dogs…

There are 30 stories here, too many to cover individually, but let it be known this is unabashed, good-old rip-snorting horror, the kind you grew up reading. Choose your duds carefully, most of these are live rounds already chambered and pointed at your guts.

Too often we see semi-clever ideas fleshed out just enough to slip past harried editors needing coherent material for deadline-haunted pages they can’t pay much to fill. Magazines are scarce and the anthologies tend to be rote, based on silly themes. We hope each we buy will contain just enough to sustain our interest. We settle. Good enough is good enough.

Since when? That’s what Jeani Rector yelled, and stood against. Seeing her go is a loss to all horror readers.

Remember, a magazine or anthology has only the editor’s taste, and sometime a theme, tying otherwise disparate stories together. Well, those and the genre’s milieu, I suppose. Mostly it’s the editor’s taste, though. It had better overlap yours enough in the Venn diagram of art and commerce, or you’ll move on.

Good taste, yes. That’s what I said. We know how rare good taste is. You can find ice-cream that makes you thin a lot easier.

Brava, by the way, to Rachel Coles, for her “Nails In Your Coffin”, which is downright Poe-esque.


Lincoln became myth because so many wrote about him. His pivotal role and time, his character and actions, the effects of all these and more make him mythic in the way of the Caesars.

He once got challenged to a duel so, as the challenged with the right of choice, he chose swords in a small clearing with a center line that could not be crossed. His longer reach gave him advantage. At the last minute an older man intervened and stopped the duel, but he would have savaged his opponent. Think about that.

Oh, duels were illegal, too, and as a lawyer, he knew it.

As a younger man, his cruel, quick wit won him advantages over many a ridiculed political or legal opponent, but it earned him many enemies too. He later went from low- to high-road tactics, which led him to being considered a great statesman.

His anti-slavery stance came from his outrage that some gained from the hard, hot work of others. His own childhood taught him how difficult and draining physical labor was. Further, he may have equated slave owners with his father, a determined dirt farmer who drove himself and his family hard.

Lincoln rose above a hard, harsh childhood and sketchy education by reading. His early career was typical personal ambition; he was driven by a wish to escape his impoverished circumstances. Only later did he drop the greed to become thoughtful and philosophical. he was, remember, a lawyer. Adversarial law teaches wit, cruelty, and a lack of empathy that allows a kill-shot instinct.

He became thoughtful during his five years away from politics, from ages 40 to 45. Anti-slavery speeches brought him back into politics during the Kansas-Nebraska act debates. His famous speech about a house divided against itself cannot long stand was delivered during this return to political activity.

He had chronic depression, familial, and took Blue Mass, essentially pills of mercury, even early in his Presidency. He saw their effect on himself and stopped using them, to much improvement. This ability to observe, think, learn from, and change behavior let him rise into greatness, being a rare trait, especially among narcissistic politicians.

Frederick Douglas was a frequent visitor to Lincoln’s White House and taught Lincoln to grow away from ingrained bigotry, using Lincoln’s detestation of injustice as the main leverage.

He loathed injustice of any kind, another legacy, it is thought, from his overbearing father.

Lincoln’s final speech, three days before Booth shot him, endorsed black suffrage. This incensed John Wilkes Booth; was the conspiracy to kidnap and ransom Lincoln galvanized toward murder by this speech?

JFK spoke of the Gnomes of Zurich, international banksters, just before being pink-clouded, remember. Certainly speeches often signal changes many do not accept and cannot tolerate. Look how the right wing loses the dregs of what passes as its collective mind each time President Obama makes a speech.


Enough literary, historical, and other nattering.

Be soon and write well.

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Random Notes of Passing Interest

Gimlet Eye II

Father’s Day this year falls on Litha.


SOM 1-01, Special Operations Manual, is the one dealing with retrieving downed UFO’s and crew. It was mailed on film to UFO and aviation writer Don Berliner in 1994 after he’d attended an air show in Phoenix, AZ. It may well date back to just after the Rosewell Incident in 1947 and indicates many retrievals, otherwise why need a protocol? Later supposed crashes follow the specified protocol precisely and all efforts to debunk SOM 1-01 have failed. It passes all scrutiny so far.


Robert Bigelow, billionaire, bought all of MUFON’s UFO documents, over 70,000 & growing. He also cut a deal with the USAF so all UFO reports are routed to his MUFON group. It’s his number now one is directed to.


Mycroft stays in the Diogenes Club to keep from being swamped by the world. Sensory overload is kept at bay to let him focus on running the UK. Holmes is out-and-about, thus has a manic-depressive cycle from being either overloaded or understimulated. It’s why he uses drugs. In both cases we have portraits of people so observant and aware as to be nearly crippled by ordinary life.


Did they show Tesla’s nephew the wrong room when he responded to news that his uncle had died on the 33rd Floor of the New Yorker Hotel in NYC? That would have been the easiest way for them to sort, pack, and steal Tesla’s notebooks and other papers, as well as shipping the body to the morgue after examining it. Maybe after making it.


Tesla died at 87. He held over 700 patents. Why was he destitute? Punishment by the oligarchs and robber barons.


Einstein and Tesla were born at a time known as the Opening of the Gates of Wisdom in the Jewish Zohar mystical tradition.


Tesla reported experiencing intense flashes of light followed by a flood of ideas and a spurt of creativity during which he would not eat, sleep, or do anything but work. Parallels PKD, who reported bright pink light imparting information from what he called VALIS, Vast Active Living Information System. Tesla said we’re receivers. Said electric energy and information is all around us, permeates us. All we need do is tap into it. He cited energy, vibration, and frequency as the three-part key to the universe. Resonance. Sound energy, which some say was used to move the megaliths in ancient times.


Tesla’s Nobel Prize was skotched by a cabal of enemies including scientists and industrialists. He kept having democratic ideas to benefit everyone free, and they wanted to sell, market, profit. Tesla anticipated Einstein, Bohr, and Rutherfurd but was and is ignored as one of the great minds of all time, except among us fringers. Many feel this was due to his pursuit of and talk of ETI. He calculated the ET presence was millenia old and ongoing. He thought it likely ETIs influence us even now, which is enemies seized upon and called madness.


In 1931, Tesla converted a Pierce-Arrow to electric and demonstrated it for the press, achieving speeds over 90mph. We are only now being allowed access to such technology and if you doubt it’s permission, find and watch the documentary WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR.


Tesla slept as little as two hours a night. Was an extreme germophobe, preferred working in almost complete darkness, and was obsessed with the number three. He would circle a building three times before entering, further evidence of OCD. He lived at the Hotel New Yorker from 1934 – 1943, when he died. He constantly talked of the sequence 3 – 6 – 9 as a power spiral. “If you knew the magnificence of 3 – 6 – 9, you would have the keys to the universe,” he wrote.

If we had the keys to the universe we’d misplace them and someone would steal the universe. Perhaps they already did.


I often feel my life is encrypted to keep me out.


The David H. Koch Fund For Science sponsors NOVA on PBS, even as the same money source disburses millions to skew science, warp science, and even suppress and negate science to benefit Big Oil, to blur Global Warming evidence, to deny the harm of exploiting and piping tar sands, to lie about coal being clean, to keep fracking secretive and to deflect notice of the harm it does, and to promote other agenda items meant to protect capitalism’s depredations from fact.


Dragons must be herbivores, which means the fangs depicted so often are wrong. It’s methane that makes them viable. They’d belch huge gouts of methane, then ignite it by clacking flint-embedded teeth. The flint comes from them chewing rocks in their mountain lairs. The methane would also help them fly. To kill a dragon, use a flaming arrow or incendiary round. Dragons would need swamps, jungles, or cultivated fields to feed from, since they’d eat exclusively vegetative matter, like cattle. They would only nest or lair in caves for protection from lightning and humans. Were dragons, as dinosaurs are now thought to have been, feathered?


Sometimes my fear is slippage, that my gears are not meshing but I’m not noticing.


1200 deaths and counting, projected to reach perhaps 2500, have occurred in the slave-like dangerous conditions in which the latest World Cup stadium is being built. Why? The construction company is using Grover Norquist’s formula for how to treat workers. Yes, the GOP’s main strategist’s ideas are killing people in droves, needlessly, to save a company money from a corrupt FIFA.


Thailand loves Hitler. WTF?


Genug genesh.

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Our Occulted History by Jim Marrs, A Review


Our Occulted History:
Do the Global Elite Conceal Ancient Aliens?
by Jim Marrs
Wm. Morrow, 2013, hardcover
382pp, notes, index

A Review by Gene Stewart

Jim Marrs? Aliens? Must be some kind of joke.

He wrote Crossfire, which, blended with Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins, became Oliver Stone’s JFK. That was no joke, and Crossfire remains the definitive book covering the JFK assassination.

He wrote Rule By Secrecy, Alien Agenda, Rise of the Fourth Reich, and Trillion Dollar Conspiracy, for others. Each nailing down the details for topics as diverse as the shadow government, Nazi influence in today’s world, and the systematic looting by the 1% of America’s wealth.

Trained as a journalist, he uses a reporter’s approach to gather and sift information from a wide variety of sources. He investigates and correlates a vast array of material for each book with impeccable research and solid citations. Investigative reporter by training and instinct, he delves into our conventional, approved history and finds a gold-mine of suppressed information, which he presents clearly and entertainingly.

Jim Marrs is like your wise old uncle who’s seen most of it and can guess the rest if you get him in a good mood.

Our Occulted History focuses on how ruling elites warp the story of how things got the way they are now. Occulted means hidden. Blocked. We are not allowed to see many things dealing with our own history.

One of them is the Ancient Alien question. He explores the evidence for the possibility that Ancient Alien influence may well have shaped our so-called civilization. Further, he reveals evidence that it’s still with us, guiding us if not calling the shots.

Marrs does not shy away from the outré. He surveys Von Däniken and Sitchin, giving their questions and interpretations fair due, then takes us into our own DNA, where there is strong evidence of binary coding and inserted sets of genes received all at one time. It happened, somehow, precisely when homo hominid became homo sapient, the brain explosion that took us from small animals to technological masters of much of the planet.

That humanity underwent a sudden, mysterious increase in brain power, and consequent abilities to control our environment, is undisputed. What caused it, or did it? The more science looks at the evidence, the more it seems to have been done deliberately by a higher intelligence.

Were the so-called gods of our superstitious past actually star people? Sky people? People with advanced technology who came from other planets or even other dimensions would prove good suspects in the brain expansion mystery, when we not only had our brain capacity boosted but received, too, a set of genes not acquired over time and natural selection. A packet, inserted, is what it looks like, and the information in those genes remains unknown, although the early research is provocative.

Suppose, then, a small cabal of elite humans and perhaps hybrids continue contact with the ETs who did this for us so long ago. Talk about a shadow government; high tech may well mean something to them that we would look upon as impossible magic.

Many scientists in the early days of UFOs, from the 1940s on, quickly concluded something unsettling: If these craft represented a group advanced enough to make and use them, then such a group would be extraterrestrial OR would exist parallel to us, or among us, unseen somehow.

Leaving aside interdimensionality, we might postulate the various groups of so-called supernatural beings observed through history, the faerie folk and spites and pixies and leprechauns, the demons and djinn, the spirit people of many cultures, might actually be due to glimpses of this parallel or ET group. Some ETH theorists say they live among us, or that they’re taking us for genetic hybrid experiments to let them do so. Others talk of spacetime portals and multiple worlds, permeable by technology we do not yet have.

Or do some of us have access to things like time travel? Is the Montauk Experiment rumor or fact?

Secret societies and privage groups of influential, wealthy people may know. In fact, they may benefit from their position as unofficial emissaries of the 99% of us on Earth who have no idea, no E-ticket letting us in on the hair-raising truth.

Our Occulted History is at core a presentation of evidence that leads to terrifying, at least unsettling conclusions. Certainly, as Henry Ford and others have said, history is a lie, agreed upon.

By whom is the lie agreed upon? What does the lie allow them to do with the rest of us not privy to the secrets? Or is the secret that there is no secret?

For those who think history is a series of random events, this book will either amuse or enrage you. For those who wonder, or who suspect that our history is shaped by unseen forces, influenced if not controlled by small cabals of wealthy elite who just might have access to information sources the consensus media sneers at and calls fringe and worse, for those people this book will prove compelling.

Either way, Marrs is always readable and interesting, and the evidence he discusses can be confirmed on your own, if you wish to dig a little. His excellent notes and index make researching accessible, if you wish to pursue the leads that brought him to these conclusions.

For the open-minded, Our Occulted History offers the chance to change the way you see the world and our history in it.

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Bird Box by Josh Malerman, A Review


Bird Box by Josh Malarian
Ecco, 2014, 1st edition, hardcover
Special cut-out dust jacket
Special cover, 262pp

A Review by Gene Stewart

Malorie and her two kids, a boy and a girl, are left alone by a deeply unnerving plague of sorts. Perhaps it’s an alien invasion. Maybe it is supernatural. Maybe nature herself is taking revenge. No one knows.

All anyone knows is, a glimpse of these shadowy intruders is enough to drive you mad. You will try to kill others and yourself with wild violence. If you glimpse one of them, what ever they are, you will have no hope.

Oddly, these things do not intrude into houses, unless there is an opening. Openings are shut, windows blocked, doors locked and guarded. No one dares look out. Yet some must fetch water from a well. Some must seek loved ones stranded where ever they may have been when the things came.

If the are even things.

Malorie raises her children with them all wearing blindfolds. She teaches them to listen, developing their hearing and refining it until they can identify things to an amazing degree. They are stuck in a house lucky enough to have a well. Her forays to fetch water, blindfolded, feeling her way, terrified of encountering the things, are epic tests of nerve she does not always pass.

Food become scarce. They need to go find others. Safety in numbers. She has heard a few snippets on radio that works less and less. She has even received startling phone calls. Some are from desperate, dying people. Others offer shelter. Try to get here, they urge.

To walk to the house next door, not knowing what is there, whether the things have gotten in, not knowing if it’s booby-trapped, knowing only it is dangerous to do this blind, is what Malorie determines to do. She wants to see if she can find food or other useful items.
This novel is beyond nerve-wracking. It is a conceptual nightmare executed carefully. Malerman’s writing is taut and precise. He gets details right, with the eye of a poet. Or ear. Or touch.

Other people are found, or find Malorie. She takes a harrowing trip on the river, her children listening for things, telling her what they hear. Sometimes they don’t know. Other times it is crazy people seeking to kill or be killed.

How or even if she and her kids get through this ordeal, where they might even go to escape a world gone dark and dangerous, is something you’ll have to read for yourself.

Know that Bird Box, and yes, there is reason for the title you will not guess, beyond the metaphorical aspect, is well worth reading. Spectacular horror dark fantasy suspense mystery science fiction Malerman debut.

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The Ancient Alien Question by Philip Coppens, A Review


The Ancient Alien Question:
A New Inquiry Into the Existence,
Evidence, and Influence of
Ancient Visitors
by Philip Coppens
Career Press/New Page, 2012
320pp, 8p color insert, b&w illos throughout,
notes, bibliography, index

A Review by Gene Stewart

Featuring an introduction by Erich Von Denizen and a cover with a Mayan pyramid set against a nebula with four glimpses of ancient places and artifacts in circles at the pyramid’s base, the first impression is Uh-oh. This could be one of the those breathless compendia of rhetorical questions matched to wild speculations. It could be an overly-somber volume crammed full of recherché data somehow confabulated into a grand theory that you know boils down to the simplistic assertion: Aliens.

Instead, Coppens confounds both true believers and hardened skeptics by presenting factual information clearly, examining it logically, and dismissing outré notions while never closing his mind to possibilities.

Have we been visited by ET in the past? Did these EBEs influence us culturally or even genetically? Do ancient places and monuments, artifacts and traces tell us anything about such things?

Coppens covers these and other questions systematically. He presents us with both startling facts confirmed by consensus science and alarming demonstrations of flaws among scientists. We learn that academia has done a poor job of investigating evidence it cannot refute, to see what it might mean. Ignoring things until they go away is hardly conducive to advancing human knowledge, yet that is what has most often been done.

Alternative theories, rather than being welcomed and tested, confirmed or demolished by the scientific method, are brusquely dismissed out-of-hand by those holding politically-accepted established views. A good example is the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau in Egypt. It shows water erosion, something that could only have happened over tens of thousands of years, and only tens of thousands of years ago, when the climate there was much wetter. It’s a desert today; no opportunity for vertical water erosion occurs. Yet there are the marks, in front of everyone since the Sphinx’s body was dug up in the 1920s. It being in a desert, no one “saw” this plain fact.

It remains denied to this day as Zawi Hawass, the head of Egyptian Antiquities, defends his own version of history, which places Ancient Egypt at the pinnacle of ancient civilizations, which pleases his political masters.

A glance at the pyramids leads to interesting speculation, too. Are those huge stone blocks quarried? Or were they poured? The latter would make it much easier to have built the huge pyramids, which took only 20 years or so each, as recorded in verified Egyptian records.

Geopolymers may be the answer. A chemical process whereby artificial rock can be created using chips of rock, stones, debris, and various other elements such as potash and plant resins, into a large rock or stone, or block, indistinguishable from natural stone. Indistinguishable but for the shapes we find, which are man-made and fit so perfectly together as to be impossible to shape with copper chisels.

Interestingly, small artifacts such as certain vases and statuettes were produced in Ancient Egypt using the process of geopolymerization. It was obviously known and used. Why not for larger projects?

Dr. Joseph Davidovits, a French chemical engineer with multiple overlapping degrees, first mooted the geopolymer notion about the Great Pyramid in 1974. Davidovits is the father of geopolymers and a giant in is field. His theory would mean the Ancient Egyptian workers would have had no huge blocks to move, no ramps needed, and repairs could be made easily by recasting stones. The amazing accuracy would be relatively easy to achieve without having to deal with tremendous sandstone blocks.

He proved the density of the pyramid stones differed from the stone still in the quarry. They differ chemically, too. Mud from the Nile, shells in the sediment, lime, natron salts, caustic soda… He asserts that Imhotep, the great genius engineer and builder of Ancient Egypt, also the great Alchemist, would have known this method and used it, as is proven by the structures.

Yet, despite proving his theory in geology, chemistry, and engineering, his work remains ignored by Egyptology. This is due to the strict separation among the sciences maintained by academia. Scientists of different fields ignore each other’s work.

This is but one brief, fragmented, poorly-presented example from a clearly-written, fascinating book full of such insights, revelations, and surprises. Coppens never falls into any given belief system. He sticks to facts and does not let the wilder extremes distract from the analysis. He dismisses Sitchin after showing how wrong those translations were, how imaginary in many cases. He does not diver headlong into the ETH either, even as he points out that we are the space aliens, due to panspermia.

Yes, we fell from the stars, amino acids cooked by interstellar radiation, carried by comets and other debris, dropped into an atmosphere grown from volcanic and bacteriological out-gassing. There those building-blocks of life from space found warm tidal pools and began the binary on-off dance that produced ever more complex biochemical devices that eventually took on all the attributes we call life.

This is the best overview to read if you would wade into the Ancient Alien question set without instantly going over your head in speculation and cynical storytelling. The late Philip Coppens has left us a superb guidebook to these topics, and his sensible, pragmatic tone is to be emulated.

Reading The Ancient Alien Question changes one’s view of history for the better, and opens one to possibilities yet to be confirmed, if only we can encourage scientists to get out there and investigate what all the baffling, intriguing, and suggestive evidence adds up to, what it means.

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Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon, A Review

Bleeding Edge Pynchon

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
Penguin, 2014, 477pp, trade paperback

A Review by Gene Stewart

This is the single best book about New York City and about 9/11, just as Pynchon is the best living writer.

In it, NYC is as much a character as anyone, with personality and moxie enough to stand up to the likes of Maxine Tarnow, independent fraud investigator, mom, separated wife, wild woman, and occasional noir detective type tougher than a Jewish Princess at a discount Gucci sale.

This being a Pynchon novel, everything is malleable depending on what reflection in which facet of paranoia, conspiracy, or just plain surreal real life you’re momentarily captivated by. This is not a novel to read if you want sweaty revelations about Who and Why and so forth, nor is it the book to change your life away from corporate America’s rat maze.

9/11 does not show up until page 316, for example, so it’s not a dissection of the angst that cast a pall over NYC after that series of events. This is a novel about NYC, and for hard core New Yorkers, 9/11 was just one of many speed bumps on the way to continual evolution. It’s not a book to read so you can understand the details of the conspiracy; who knows them?

It IS the book to read if you want to laugh, cry, and keep reading late into the night to see what more can possibly happen, impinge, or waft by in a could of hints, winks, and nudges to real people caught up in complicated, often baffling, always unresolved real life, which just keeps going.

Pynchon’s narrative voice matches NYC perfectly and reveals character even in descriptions, which are often simultaneously hilarious, appalling, and layered with references. As always, his insight is X-ray and his sarky asides laser, acid, or worse. He pegs everything his roving gaze touches on. Having pegged, that gaze moves on to penetrate everything else.

Maxine is fantastic, both grounded in family and in touch with her neighborhood basics while able to party the night away dressed like an uptown Shania Twain in pursuit of leads instead of song hooks. She packs heat, she knows what to do with it, and sex is definitely an option, now and again, depending.

It feels as if all of NYC somehow crams subway-wise into this novel. Incredible sense of place, astounding evocation of location, sensory overload at every turn. How NYC is that?

His narrative voice is as brilliant as anything James Joyce ever crafted. It is entirely of the city Pynchon calls his home without a trace of forced mimicry or false accent. Here is the first paragraph, two sentences not so simple but utterly correct as to time, place, and person:

“It’s the first day of spring 2001, and Maxine Tarnow, though some still have her in their system as Loeffler, is walking her boys to school. Yes maybe they’re past the age where they need an escort, maybe Maxine doesn’t want to let go just yet, it’s only a couple blocks, its on her way to work, she enjoys it, so?”

That is genius, delivering information telepathically while shoveling attitude and setting up plot, all elegantly in two sentences.

For those who dote on Pynchon’s vaunted vocabulary, fear not, there are words herein to send anyone to a dictionary, only to be delighted at further, deeper word-play than was suspected.

I cannot express how much I enjoyed this book. It is perhaps my favorite Pynchon since Gravity’s Rainbow, certainly a vault past the wonderful, ultimately mystical “other” detective mystery, Inherent Vice, which was West or Left Coast where this one is East Coast Deluxe.

How about tossing aside this Man Booker Prize snobbery and Stockholm Syndrome prejudice against Yanks and bestowing a Nobel Prize for Literature on Thomas Pynchon while he’s still around to say cool stuff about it?

Meanwhile, go discover his books and be elevated. Start with this one and you’ll immediately be immersed in the best writer’s most personal world.

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The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins

Girl On Train

The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2015
323pp, hardcover

A Review by Gene Stewart

A lonely woman on her daily train commute notices a pile of clothing beside the track. She is Rachel, doing her best to cope in an indifferent world now that she’s on her own again. She looks forward each morning and evening to catching glimpses of the backs of suburban houses, of the doll-like people living in them. She makes up stories about their lives, especially for one house, and one couple. Onto it, and them, she projects her dream of domestic bliss and perfect harmony.

When she sees something shocking seem to occur at this perfect oasis of suburban bliss, as the train idles at a regular stop, Rachel, frantic and certain, if a little tipsy, reports it to the police, so beginning a complex waltz of suspicion, betrayal, revelation, and danger.

Elements of Hitchcock, as the dust-jacket blurbs breathlessly proclaim, inform this story. Touches of Patricia Highsmith grace it, too, and not just via the oblique, ironic reference to Strangers On a Train. There is a taint of noir, a stab of the transgressive, and many flavors from gritty real life. Most of all there is narrative, the voices of two woman conflicting into a sordid dance macabre. Who is to be believed, the scorned, often drunk ex wife or the bitter new prettier younger interloper? Is it the woman whose only fault is to love, or the calculating, manipulative sociopath smiling as she holds a baby?

Which is which?

Bafflement and fascination in equal measures carry the reader along on a sometimes claustrophobic, sometimes breathless plunge into domestic confusion and suburban melodrama, all presented in a cold, reportorial prose honed by the writer’s work as a journalist. It is a book of private depth and public appearances. We delve into character even as we are perhaps misled by events, or the claims put upon them.

Keeping the reader off-balance while pulling the reader eagerly along is no small feat and Hawkins delivers it with aplomb. Evocative, tactile, sodden, blurry, sharply focused, sly, oblique, ironic, direct, blunt, shockingly forceful, the book wrings amazing changes on the characters and events without once slipping, without once taking a false step into self-parody. On one level not alluded to in the text directly, this is a damning indictment of a certain class and section of society, especially for commuters, suburbanites, and other fellow travelers. On another, it is a personal story of coping, courage, and confession, revealing the kinds of gnarled scars relationships, real and imagined, can deliver.

The Girl On the Train is a chiaroscuro of bright surfaces and dark interiors. Appearances and inner lives do not necessarily match, and reading this excellent book reminds us what face value can be worth. Nothing is what it seems, unless it is. Pretending you can tell them apart is the risk we all take every time we meet someone, even those we live with in our own homes.

Subversive would apply as a description of this novel. Compassionate would work, too. Insightful, revealing, and deadly. Memory and envy clash, covetousness and disdain fight, and real, flawed people struggle and are put at great risk.

This book is enthralling in ways we may not wish directly to acknowledge. Suspense and insight balanced on a rail, waiting for the next train. Take it and ride along spellbound.

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The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, A Review

Art Forger

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2012
355pp, trade paperback
notes & discussion questions

A Review by Gene Stewart

First, this novel is a fascinating tour through Boston’s art world, high and low. Mostly low. Everything pivots on the notorious real-life theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of thirteen paintings, cut from their frames, worth an estimated billion dollars. Not a sign of any of them has ever surfaced and the myriad rumors have all proven hollow.

Narrator of the book is Claire Roth, an artist whose personal life has sabotaged her career. Seeking to help another artist, her boyfriend at the time, crawl out from under depression that prevents him from painting, she begins a painting in his studio. She goads and prods him into guiding her and ends up doing the whole painting herself. This painting goes on to make his career and fortune, and as fame gathers around him, he first distances, then dismisses Claire’s contribution. He starts believing he painted it.

From there the plot continues to twist and tangle. Claire, talented yet ignored, becomes a pariah when she tries to prove it was she who painted the work being celebrated. It seems experts are not as expert as they claim.

Claire’s skills and techniques lead her into painting high-end reproductions of Old Masters, in their style, complete with cracks and other faked signs of age.  By the time Claire is approached by Aiden Markel, the gallery dealer who made her ex boyfriend famous with her painting, she is primed to fit perfectly into what he proposes.

“All you’ll be doing is painting a reproduction. Nothing illegal in that. Law enters only if you sell a reproduction as an original. That’s fraud.”

Art fraud, a dark business worth billions, is not simply catering to collectors who crave works of art to horde for themselves alone. Turns out many stolen masterworks are used as collateral to fund arms deals and other black market schemes and crimes. At least forty percent of paintings hanging in galleries and museums today are likely forgeries, and there exists no central clearinghouse to keep track. Worse, authentication is more art than science, although technological advances help make forgery more difficult. This applies only to those few paintings tested by such methods, however, and, as this novel shows, many duplicate paintings are displayed as if the sole original all across the world. Curators rarely if ever check with their colleagues to see if a newly-acquired painting — often donated, which is no crime even if it’s a fake — is an original and is legitimate.

Claire knows all this as well as the subtle methods by which forgers fake the evidence authenticators look for.

She is then presented with a painting to copy, and it turns out to be one of those stolen in the notorious Gardner Museum heist, a Degas, one she begins to suspect, as she studies it, may be itself a copy, one done in Degas’s time.

Mystery deepens and layers as Claire’s expertise leads her into research that uncovers historical fraud, personal secrets, and astounding cover-ups. Who is doing what and why baffles her and leads the reader on a fast-paced mystery even as the art world is uncovered layer by layer to reveal fossils few every get to see.

The Art Forger combines intelligence, poise, and crisp writing with mystery, romance, and danger, all presented through real people the reader cares about. It is a superb novel on all its many levels and layers. A superb literary thriller in every sense.

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Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, A Review


Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
Harper, 2014, 1st edition, hardcover
285pp, deckled edges, special end papers,
cut-out dust jacket, illustrated cover

A Review by Gene Stewart

If you’re familiar with the Alex Rider YA series, the BBC-TV series Midsomer Murders, or the BAFTA-winning series Foyle’s war, you know the work of Anthony Horowitz combines well-realized characters grounded in well-researched and expertly-presented historical contexts, served with plenty of action and surprise set-backs, twists, and revelations.

Moriarty is the second novel he’s written in the Sherlock Holmes world, the first having been The House of Silk, authorized by the Doyle Estate.

This one takes place during the three-year Hiatus after Holmes & Moriarty ostensibly plunged to mutual destruction at Reichenbach Falls in Germany. As many writers since, including Doyle’s Watson, have pointed out, rumors of at least Holmes’s death were greatly exaggerated.

It features none other than Athelney Jones, whom we met glancingly in Watson’s tale The Sign of Four, in which he is referred to dismissively as an imbecile when he arrests an entire household on suspicion of murder. He’s given fully human characteristics by Horowitz, afforded respect, dignity, and a lovely family, and is in all manner refurbished from Watson’s harsh assessment.

A mass murder at Bladeston House in London, family and servants alike killed in their drugged sleep, sets things tilting toward a downward rush.

Jones joins a Pinkerton detective, Frederick Chase, in tracking down Clarence Devereux, a fiendish criminal mastermind come to London hungering for control of Moriarty’s scattered, headless crime syndicate. New York City’s equivalent to London’s Moriarty brings New World methods, a ruthless brutality chief among them. Jones and Chase quickly discover they are after a game that is afoot high and low throughout London, seemingly always a few steps ahead of them, and able to strike from dark places unseen by any witness.

Chase knows Devereux has come to London from his untouchable crime-boss throne in NYC with a letter of introduction to Moriarty himself. He knows the vicious Devereux had plans to kill Moriarty and take control of both New York and London, setting up a trans-atlantic crime organization that would easily spread its cancer to all of Europe.  With Moriarty dead, consolidation would swiftly doom London to a new epoch of even darker crimes.  Devereux is, due to greed and violence, even worse than Moriarty ever was.  He must be found and stopped, if the body count does not become too high to surmount.

Tagging along, the reader is immersed in detailed Victorian settings, from dark Whitechapel back alleys crawling with vermin inhuman and otherwise to the grand ballroom of the American Legate’s Embassy, where none other than Robert Lincoln, the assassinated President’s son, holds court and where, they find, their quarry may have diplomatic immunity despite heinous crimes.

A headlong plunge from ever-worse dangers, ever more twisted situations, leads the reader to the shocking, amazing, and admirably devastating end of the story. Narration has rarely been handled as well.

Top-drawer entertainment with plenty of vintage local color. If you stay alert and look them up, you’ll add new words to your vocabulary, and new ideas about the world of Sherlock Holmes. Altogether a wonderful book.

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What Editors Do, A Rebuttal

Editing Image

It strikes me that editors asking for changes is simply another way of stripping our voices from the work. Whatcha think? Yes, a good editor can focus a work but I don’t see that happening more than once in every hundred billion sentences. If then. I think changing a writer’s content and execution is a scam, a con job to keep “editors” in business, and to get our stuff to conform to what ever “sells”. Which is of course decided ahead of time. Copy-editing is vital. Errors diminish. Beyond that, is it your work, or a collaboration? Is it your voice, or a translation?

This is part of what every writer struggles with. If you don’t accept the bullying, you don’t get to play.

Self-publishing sets writers free from this. It also demonstrates how very few who call themselves writers can actually write without backup.

Turns out most writing is more chorus than soliloquy.

The farther back in writing history one goes, the less editing was done. Could Tristram Shandy even have been published had there been editors wagging fingers and shaking heads over its excesses? Admittedly that’s an extreme example but look at Finnegans Wake. Joyce could not even get Ulysses published error free, thanks to editors and typesetters “correcting” his work, let alone the magnificence of Finnegans Wake.

Ah, you say, ears perking: That stuff’s unreadable self-indulgent artsy-fartsy bullshit.

Let us look then at poetry. We’ll squint, it won’t do you much harm. To make the point, an anecdote: Dylan Thomas, drunk, lived above a pub. He usually came down at 5. One day he came down late and was asked why. “I spent the entire day placing a comma. Then I removed it.”

His point: Poetry requires precision, not editors. Editing poetry is something done only in graduate courses where the goal is, yes, indoctrination into the latest fashion or the newest acceptable pattern. “How quaint, you RHYMED your poetry? Wow, it’s automatically dreck; we do NOT rhyme anymore…” And so on.

Poetry requires precision on the part of the poet.

Guess what? Short stories and novels are no different, if writers but shoulder the responsibility for their own work.

One’s fat is another’s lean.  Look how Reader’s Digest Books condense novels.  It’s called bowdlerizing, regardless of intent.  Homogenizing.  Like the newspaper USA TODAY, it’s calculated to make it easy to read, to scan, to digest, to understand.  It uses the Flesch and Gunning-Fogg indexes to reduce things to a fourth-grade reading level and vocabulary.  Modern readers cannot even read Victorian newspapers, let alone fiction, without great difficulty.  We have degraded.

“We’re just cutting fat, so the story flows,” editors cry.

Mark Twain’s digressions, ramblings, asides, and ruminations are precisely what give his work his voice, yet that would be “fat” to be “cut” to improve “story flow” to any “editor”.

“An Editor would edit the Word of God,” Isaac Asimov once wrote in frustration.

Yes, I’m an outlier. I don’t do the fat part of the Bell Curve.  I’m in good company, though.

This is why self publishing is opportunity and burden, encouragement and threat. Take responsibility for one’s own writing and self publishing is liberation that allows your genuine, unfiltered, unaltered voice to reach readers. Anything less than precision in all levels of your work produces only dreck that readers will ignore.

From cradle to grave, the old saw goes. In writing, it’s From cover to rave. It’s yours to earn, if you can, that acclaim. Carry your own weight.

All you have to lose is the filter, the bottleneck, the gate-keepers.

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